This laya is the greatest block during meditational techniques; it is the obstacle of unconsciousness. People reach a certain stage in their practices where they are unable to maintain awareness. They get lost in a hazy reverie or fall asleep. To progress in unfolding one’s dormant potential and to tread the spiritual path, one must pass beyond this laya.
The method of overcoming this obstacle is by doing karma yoga and by interaction with the outside world. This laya is excessive tamas in one’s nature. By intense karma yoga one can elevate one’s nature so that it becomes more rajasic. This will counteract the tendency for laya to occur in meditative practices. It is through work in the outside world that one will exhaust one’s samskaras (problems and negative attitudes, etc.). It is these samskaras that cause this unconscious state to arise. They tend to clog the mind and prevent clarity. It is through karma yoga and interaction with other people and life in general that one recognizes and eventually removes one’s problems. It is by doing karma yoga that one is able to cross the barrier of unconsciousness – the ‘abyss of death’ (according to verse 11). When the mind has been harmonized and purged of gross phobias, problems, neuroses, etc., then one can maintain awareness to cross the sea of laya (unconsciousness). It is after this point that one starts to explore the superconscious realms of being.
What is the meaning of gaining ‘immortality through vidya’ in verse 11 ? It means that when one has crossed the ‘valley of death’ – the tendency to become unconscious in meditation – then one expands awareness to an unlimited degree. One is able to transcend the fetters of existence and eventually merge into a state of samadhi, the state of immortality, beyond the limitations of the mind.
Verse 11 contains the essence of spiritual life. It emphasizes that the serious spiritual aspirant should be both extroverted and introverted, practising meditation or watching the process of the mind to develop inner awareness, while simultaneously working in the world to resolve any mental and emotional problems. This is the path of light where the ida is balanced with the pingala. It is this path of light that leads to the rising of the kundalini within sushumna. It is this path of light that leads to spiritual awakening.
The path of light (devayana) and the path of darkness (pitriyana) are also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 8:23 onwards), where they are called the northern and southern paths of the sun. It has the same profound implications. In the Prashna Upanishad, the sage Pippalada gives a similar analogy and the same message in response to a question by his disciple Kabandhi. There are many other scriptures that discuss the same theme. If you are interested, look in the ancient texts yourself for confirmation.