Thursday, March 22, 2007

a consideration of the yoga sutras (7)

Paul Mason has very generously quoted from Guru Dev on the topic of “salvation”. If I understand correctly, 'anta meM bhii sad.hgati hogii' were Guru Dev’s exact words. First of all, this gave me a much better understanding of what illiteracy might be like. But when we translate from one language into another, our own, the tendency is to find the same concept in our language that we encountered in the language from which we are translating. So, obviously “salvation” in English is assumed to be what Guru Dev was saying. Except, it is very unlikely that Guru Dev meant in Hindi, in India in the first half of the 20th Century, the same thing that someone in the West in the beginning of the 21st century might understand as “salvation”. Therein lies the rub.

If you were raised in a Muslim community, whether in the West or East, “salvation” is unlikely to mean the same thing as it does for a Christian person raised either in the West or East. If you are not a religious person of any persuasion, “salvation” is unlikely to hold any kind of meaning similar to either Christians or Muslims. So, we might ask, what was Guru Dev talking about!

“Salvation” then, as a word or a concept, has no inherent meaning. Assuming that Guru Dev was talking about YOUR understanding of “salvation” is not going to help you understand what Guru Dev was talking about. It all becomes just more vṛtti.

In order to understand what Patanjali is talking about, we must pay very close attention to sutra # 2: yoga is the cessation or absence of vṛtti. Yoga is mind free of conceptualization, pre-conceptions, notions, ideas. Yoga is mind. Just mind.

Patanjali is not talking about what we, you or I, might think yoga is. He (they, whatever and whoever wrote/redacted this text) is not talking about our understanding. First of all, he is making it clear that we have to first have no notions so that we will understand the explanation he is giving.

This is how I see the first three chapters or sections of the Yoga Sūtras, the Yoga Darśana. Patanjali had, in effect, to be careful. Going against the priests whose notions, ideas and control/power was “law” might me awkward, to understate it delicately. Therefore we see the language of the religion of the day with the caveat that we must be free of preconceptions (thus disregard what you think you know and listen to what is being said).

In sūtra 23 he says that by surrender to īśvara, that which is great, yoga comes about. What is “great”? He defines īśvara (that which is great) in 24-26 and then says that praṇava is the signifier/calling-card/clue of īśvara. I translated praṇava as “reverberation”, that which reverberates with our understanding. It’s at best an inadequate translation. What reverberates is not something outside ourselves, something we can point to and say, “this is it”; but it is something within, mind, what he has been talking about from sūtra 2.

In this section, he gives some indication how we might come to a better understanding of that reverberation/praṇava.

28: it (praṇava) is realized by study (japa, repetition). Patanjali very clearly does NOT say “by assuming you already know all about this and have to pay no attention to what I/Patanjali am saying”.

29: and (ca, moreover) obstacles go, as well as (also) cetanā arises from that (see 28, from study/repetition, “japa”). Cetanā is from the root cit. Cetanā means intelligence (NOT IQ), the state or quality of sentience, that what which makes sentient beings sentient. This is another reference to citta. From study of praṇava, from contemplation or curiosity about that which reverberates with what is being discussed (not some vibration about which Patanjali is not talking), obstacles [to] and awareness [of] (cetanā) arises.

30: these are the obstacles that go: “sickness (disease? it is unclear), doubt, carelessness, laziness, hedonism, delusion, lack of progress and inconstance” (quoting from Hartranft). Patanjali cautions that that which distracts (vikṣepā, rouses up) citta is an obstacle, barrier (anatarāyā).

(Thinking Guru Dev was using your definition of “salvation” would be vikṣepā.)

31: these barriers cause problems “distress, depression or the inability to maintain steadiness of posture or breathing” (Hartranft).

32: the means of subduing the distractions follows.

So common: when we set about to do the spring cleaning, go to the gym, go on a diet … suddenly there are so many reasons to do something else. Patanjali was obviously aware of this. Not much new under the sun as the Biblical writer lamented. The good news, however, is that if you really want to set about freeing mind from vṛtti, not getting mucked up with vikṣepā, here’s what you can do to get started:

33: prasādana, calming, settling citta [is as follows]: (you can) radiate friendliness [more about this when we talk about section 3], compassion, delight [or] equanimity toward good/bad, distress/pleasure.

This might sound quite familiar. Those who have been involved in Buddhist teachings recognize this as the Viharas, the divine abidings.

Whether Patanjali borrowed from Buddha or Buddha from Patanjali or they both knew an older source is immaterial. The technique works. Be kind, radiate compassion towards everything whether it is good or bad, painful or pleasant.

OK, not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are so naturally kind and considerate. For others (no blame here) it isn’t easy and might be such a strain (again, no blame) as to be an obstacle. So …

34: vā, or [thus it follows; “vā” can also mean ‘like’, [it is] like [this]) (one may) vidhāraṇa, suppress, maintain, stop, support the pracchardana exhalation. Hold your breath? Well, that’s what it says. Those familiar with the biography of the Buddha know that he practised holding his breath until his ears rang and he almost passed out. In the Buddha’s later teaching on ānāpānasati (mindfulness, sati, a Pāḷi word coming from Vedic smṛti) of āna (in breath) apāna (out breath), he says to be aware of calmness on the out breath. It is a little more difficult, to begin with, to notice calmness on the in breath.

Very common. When someone is having a bad day, we are likely to tell her or him to just take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Apparently Patanjali and the Buddha knew this too. Thus, if cultivating compassion and equanimity towards good and bad, pleasure and pain isn’t your thing, you can follow, be aware of the calming quality of the outbreath, of just letting go. For the exact words, this might seem a leap. But the Buddha’s teaching and Patanjali’s teachings seem so similar at this point that this seems reasonable. Like Patanjali, the Buddha also taught to be free from the overlay of conceptualizing (vṛtti). So, (34) support the exhalation, note the calm on the exhalation?

35: or/vā (as above) watch/note the steadiness of manasa (faculty of discrimination, the internal organ of perception and cognition) as activity arises in it.

If cultivating compassion and equanimity isn’t your cup of tea, this might not be either. But some students are quicker at some things than others. So some might be able to note that no matter what arises in the mind, the mind in which those things arises doesn’t change.

My observation is this: Patanjali is listing a series of teaching tools, learning tools. The word vā meaning ‘or’ simply indicates something like this – try this and see what happens, or try this and see if it works for you, or try this if other things are difficult. PāḷI

36: vā (another thing that might work for you) notice the luminous, free of sorrow. Jyotiṣmat means luminous, that which has a pure quality, something celestial, in the world of light, the sun (surya, something we’ll talk about when we come to part three). The word comes from jyotis, light, brightness (of the sky). Monier-Williams translates jyotiṣmati as spiritual, pure. Apte, another author of a comprehensive Sanskrit dictionary, translates jyotiṣmati as “a state of mind permeated by sattaguṇa, a tranquil state of mind”.

If we assume we know what luminous is we miss the point. Looking at many definitions, we get a sense of the word that is different from the conclusions we might leap to if we only consider the word as an English word with which we could or might feel comfortable, familiar. Thus, 36 suggests this alternative: just notice that pure viṣokā (sorrowless quality; one of the perfections gained from the study of yoga). Could this be another reference to the Buddhist divine abidings or another reference common to both Patanjali and Buddhist teachings?

Some can notice this clarity/luminosity/brightness, some can’t. There is no blame if you cannot; you simply use it if you can. Patanjali is suggesting you go with what you can; at least, this is what I understand these sūtras to mean.
37: vā/or be aware of things free from attachment (vītarāga, colourless; i.e. things about which you could care less). This seems to be another reference to exactly the same thing or teaching found in the Buddha’s doctrine/Dhamma (Pāḷi from the Sanskrit dharma).

Sometimes, when we are bored numb, aware of things about which we could care less, we notice that there is something behind this, some reverberation/praṇava. Maybe sometimes we notice that there is something (praṇava) other than what we are noticing.

38: vā/or ālambana, (a basis, noting, being aware of, considering [see 37]) jñāna (of, on) sleep (nidrā)/dream (svapna). Jñāna is to know, be aware of. If you think about sleep/dream you have to wonder, I think, where it is taking place. You know you were’t “there”, most adults do; children can have a difficult time of this. If you know it wasn’t “real” (whatever real is), where/what was it? Where does “real” take place?

This will also become clearer, oddly, when we consider “sun” in section three. But for some, it might already be clear what the teaching/technique, exercise is all about.

39: or/vā dhyānāt the ablative (–āt) from-dhyāna, as-a-result-of-dhyana, coming-out-of-dhyāna, serene reflection? Serene reflection is actually a Zen term. Sometimes, when you are just gazing (perhaps) or mentally pondering, just aware of something that is neither compelling nor repulsive, neither attractive nor off-putting, just aware of it without any special labeling of it, that is serene reflection and what I think Patanjali is in reference to here. Dhyāna will, of course, be referred to later in the yoga sūtras. The text says, yathāabhimata, as desired, or more likely “as you please”. The usual translation “on any desired object” doesn’t seem quite right.

Vā, or serene reflection as you please. – Something that is going to work for some and not others.

40: I like Hartranft’s translation here: “one can become fully absorbed in any object, whether vast or infinitesimal”. It is based on his understanding of how he translated the previous sūtra (or through meditative absorption in any desired object). I like it, but it isn’t what these two sūtras say. – (39) Or serene reflection as you please (40) this mastery (skill, ability [if y’got it]) extends from least to greatest. It isn’t a matter of being absorbed in an object. This would be a misunderstanding of citta, īśvara and praṇava as Patanjali has been using these words. Īśvara, praṇava and citta are not objects, not something material, not out there. They/this “awareness” is mind.

If you can do dhyāna/serene reflection, awareness that is non-conceptualizing, then that awareness that is non-conceptualizing extends or reaches from least/faintest to greatest (from the greatest magnitude to the utterly minute). He’s saying it does not have limitations because you have no conceptualizing going on. He is not, I am convinced, referring to dhyāna in reference to or on an object, but to dhyāna in and of itself as a very useful skill. Later in the sūtras, we will see that it is possible to cultivate dhyāna. Here it is just another skill he is helping the student(s) see if they have got so that their progress can be based on what they can do to begin with.

Curiously, the Buddha, the night of his awakening remembered something he had done as a child, just a non-conceptualizing awareness. He did it as a child, but apparently hadn’t been taught it.

41: the vṛtti decrease as these abilities already present are utilized. You find what you can do and, doing that, utilizing that, you progress and this enables a letting go of the vṛtti that cloud clarity of citta. He uses the lovely example of the jewel, maṇi. It is the same word we hear in the Tibetan mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG. But here it is more like a piece of crystal (I doubt glass existed in Patanjali’s time as we have it today, transparent or like crystal, another meaning of maṇi). If you place a small crystal ball (most lapidary stores sell small crystal balls, a pure, clear marble will do the same thing) on a piece of cloth, the crystal is so completely saturated (añjamantā) that it is not present to the eye. The colour or pattern of the cloth is so completely absorbed in, reflected by the unblemished crystal or marble that it doesn’t seem to have any quality of its own. Patanjali is saying that the mind is like this.

There is just this wonderful non-quality-something-ness (praṇava) that makes everything else possible. This is what the sutras from 2 to 41 are trying to get across.

42: (this is almost a little comedy, I think) if mind is overshadowed by what is in it (thought mixed with ideas and meaning), you’ve missed the boat. He doesn’t actually say “you’ve missed the boat”, he says: otherwise (tatra) it’s just thought mixed with ideas and meaning, not pure mind that you’re noticing.

43 to 51 next time.

a consideration of the yoga sutras (8)

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