BHAVAPRATYAYO VIDEHA PRAKRTILAYĀNĀM.
Those who merely leave their physical bodies and attain the state of celestial deities, or those who attain the state of celestial deities, or those who get merged in Nature, have rebirth.
At this point in the sutras, it’s easy to get discouraged. We’ve been talking about these high levels of spiritual progress, and we start thinking, “I’ll never get there. I can’t even sit for five minutes without making a to-do list in my head.” So, with sutra 1.19 Patanjali gives us a bit of encouragement.
Here we meet the concept of rebirth, which you don’t necessarily have to take literally, although I think it makes the most sense if you do. Basically, nothing you do is lost. If you do good works, that energy goes somewhere, helps someone, makes the world a better place. If you spend your money, you no longer have the money, but it goes somewhere and has an effect in the world. All of your actions are this way, and that’s why we have karma.
Likewise, if you spend your life meditating and doing yoga, you might die before you reach your enlightenment (sorry to be a downer, but it happens), but that doesn’t mean your efforts are lost. Patanjali says people who leave this world after making even a little progress will come back to continue their journey. They will pick up where they left off and continue to grow. Even if you think reincarnation is a bunch of mumbo jumbo — and it might be, but it makes as much sense as anything else in the world, so I’m willing to roll with it — then you can still see that the goodness you put into the world does not go to waste.
Some translations focus on the fact that some people due to their karma are born with what appears to be an advantage or a leg up on enlightenment. Don’t worry about them. The runner with the most advantageous placement in a race may still be the slowest. Don’t spend any energy comparing yourself to others, and do not assume that because someone started out ahead of you that they will always be ahead. Pursue your yoga and no one else’s, and your effort will never be wasted.