The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali
'The wise, by means of an inner
concentration on the "ātman" ('adhyātmayoga'), thinking him who is
placed in the cavity (in the heart), whose abode is impervious, who
exists from times of old, leaves both grief and joy.'
available : March 2016
Table of Contents
The Causes of Sorrow & their Mechanics
'When you forget
yourself and put your wholehearted effort into facing every moment, you
can do something, and simultaneously you can rest in the continuous flow
of life energy. Then you really enjoy your life.’ –
: Each Moment Is the Universe, Shambhala – London, 2008, p.25.
Yoga-Sūtra is divided into four books :
Because of its brevity, the Sanskrit is tense and so the balance between
accuracy and meaning is rather difficult to maintain, as the available
variety of renderings evidences. This writer has been working on the text
for a few decades, and found Feuerstein’s basic take to be the most
rewarding, combining scientific insight and critical analysis, while
stressing yogic experience.
‘Yoga is the inhibition of the modifcations of the mind.’ – Taimni, 1991,
‘When flux halts, consciousness is like a transparent jewel. “Grasper”, “grasping” and the “grasped” coincide, anointing consciousness.’
Feuerstein’s work influenced my earlier translations of the Sūtra (in English, French and Dutch). They return here, except for a few minor changes introduced to further clarify the text. To the English translation a shorter one has been added. This aims to be succinct, less preoccupied with the Sanskrit and offering, when possilble, an alternative sense.
Feuerstein situates Patañjali in the third century CE, placing him outside the Sāmkhya and identifying his system as Kriyā-Yoga instead of the traditional ‘asta-anga’ Yoga. I can only agree. In the English commentary following the translation, the Yoga-Sūtra is confronted with the Buddhadharma. Patañjali’s notion of constraint and the Buddhist Jhānas (as described in the Pāli Canon) are compared. Patañjali's contribution to the understanding of concentration (‘dhāranā’), contemplation (‘dhyāna’) and union (‘samādhi’), together constituting ‘constraint’ (‘samyama’), is highlighted as a teaching to be integrated in the Buddhist view on meditation (‘bhāvana’). Buddhist authors translate ‘dhyāna’ as ‘meditation’, or as ‘concentration’, some even identify it with ‘samādhi’ ...
The critical demarcation between the ontology advanced by Patañjali and the teachings of Buddha Shākyamuni (ca. 563 - 483 BCE), involves the difference between substance (‘svabhāva’) and its absence (‘nirsvabhāva’). While this may seem to merely point to a metaphysical or philosophical issue, it nevertheless has severe impact on practice, as will be pointed out.
The outstanding soteriological difference between Classical Yoga and Buddhist Yoga is the absence of theism in the latter. Lord Buddha returns to the original, ‘magical’ sense of yoga, implying the empowerment or initiation of the individual to attain without any help from God. While he does not reject the existence of God (is not atheist), he does not refer to Him (non-theist) and proceeds to identify an alternative (transtheist). We know from the Samyutta-nikāya (II.106) the Tathāgata had ‘seen the ancient way and followed it’. His two teachers were advanced masters of Hindu Yoga. Arāda Kālāma taught a pre-classical Sāmkhya at Vaishālī, while Udraka Rāmaputra was an adept of Yoga. Buddha rejected the exaggerated ascetism of these upanisadic ascetics because it did not end suffering irreversibly. Shākyamuni also opposed Brahmanic ritualism. His way was beyond metaphysical formulas and mystical rules and regulations (deemed ‘idola mentis’). In his analyis of psychomental life, no ‘ātman’ or ‘purusa’ was found ... The self is a process, not a nature. As a process it is impermanent, as are all things, Buddhahood included. So ‘anātman’ moves Buddhist Yoga away from Hindu Yoga altogether, clearly one of the reasons it became non-orthodox (like Jainism). In Hinduism, the self is permanent, and self-existing.
‘Having meditated on the ‘ātman’, as bodiless among bodies, as permanent among the impermanent, and as great and pervasive, the wise man grieves not.’ – Katha Upanisad, I.ii.22.
There are those who say Shākyamuni was nothing more than a Hindu secterian. They are wrong. He introduced ‘anātman’ to indicate he rejected the self-existing, inherently existing, unchanging (‘avasthitam’) nature (‘svabhāva’) of what exists, selfhood included. Buddha is not a theologian, but an experientalist. The absence of an inherently existing self (be it universal, as in later Advaita Verdānta or merely phenomenological) is a revolutionary doctrine, making his view leave the Hindu fold, becoming unorthodox. Most of philosophy East and West is substance-driven, and so any process-driven view stand out and makes a huge difference, especially when they manifest as communities of Buddhist practitioners (‘sangha’).
This absence of a permanent self is not a rejection of the self, nor linked with the impossibility of absolute truth and reality to exist conventionally, as a datum of yogic practice. The Buddhadharma embraces bliss as long as being continuous (nirvanic or ‘true’ peace), it is also impermanent.
For the Buddha, salvation is the result of a personal effort to understand and at the same time experimentally know the truth. Understanding must exceed mere speculation and the experiential approach may never overwhelm the unconditional. One is ‘saved’ by attaining ‘nirvāna’, moving beyond the plane of profane experience, being reborn (possibly in this life, so the Mahāyāna will affirm) into the sacred life one cannot define or describe.
In the Buddhadharma, this principle of universal relativity (‘svabhāva-shūnyatā’) is carried through and so even applies to Buddhahood and absolute truth. The Lesser Vehicle, seeking salvation for oneself alone, focuses on the absence of an inherently existing self (an ‘ātman’ or ‘purusa’). In Mahāyāna, realizing the awakening of all sentient beings, all phenomena are attended. For the highest conceptual tenet system, the Prasangika-Mādhyamaka or Middle Way School founded by Nāgārjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE), all sensate and mental objects lack own-form or essential, substantial, inherent existence. The Middle Way school rejects both eternalism (substances, i.e. permanently existing essences) and nihilism (existence has no permanent foundation whatsoever). The Vedas, Brahmanism and Shaivism, i.e. what we now call ‘Hinduism’, is eternalist. Patañjali endorses the eternalist point of view. Buddha advocates to steer between both extremes. Everything exist as impermanent, but in that what changes the absolute exists.
What is at stake here ? If substance is out, then what makes the absolute ‘absolute’, in other words, what is the ‘absoluteness’ of the absolute ? If there is no self-powered entity, then how can anything peaceful, stable and blissful or supramundane be found ? If the Absolute Being, as ‘substance of substances’, no longer guarantees the existence of the world, then how is existence even possible ? Without God the world must surely end !? If the absolute is no longer defined by substantiality, or Beingness, then what makes the absolute stand out so it can still be identified as absolute ? How can there be anything in existence if no absolute being shared by all making this possible exists ? Buddha responds by saying all phenomena possess impermanent conventional and absolute properties, and that Insight Meditations allows the mind to experience this first hand.
When substance-thinking has bewitched the mind for a long time, it seems as if the absence of substance is the affirmation of nihilism or annihilationism, the notion ongoing becoming has nothing permanent in it, the perspective all is indeed mere perspective, eclipsing the other possibility, namely absolute existence, the pivot necessary to let relativity stand.
The Middle Way avoids the charge of annihilationism because something remains after the false ideation superimposing substance on impermanent process has been removed from the mind. This something is the totality of all phenomena (‘dharmadhātu’), the network of dependent origination, the sea of processes constituting the togetherness of all actual occasions. Unsubstantiality (the absence of substantial existence, not of other-powered existence) does not imply absolute non-existence, the absence of ontological principal (nihilism). When substance is negated the dependent interconnectivity between all possible things remains. While designated by the conceptual mind in terms of concepts, phenomana exist as interconnected, relative wholes with their determinations and conditions. When the wise see emptiness, they see dependent origination and vice versa (Chandrakīrti).
How does this relate to the existence of the absolute ? In this highest tenet system of Buddhism, absolute truth (‘nirvāna’, ‘Dharmakāya’, ‘tathāgatagarbha’, ‘sugatagarbha’) exists conventionally, and is therefore not ontologically different or transcendent. It is a distinct property of each and every object. There is no Platonic separation or gap (‘chōrismós’) between two ontological planes, one relative (becoming) and one absolute (being). Relative and absolute truth are both impermanent and therefore other-powered dependent-arisings, not existing from their own side. The difference is merely one of substantiation. Relative, conventional reality reifies its objects and is therefore a contaminated dependent-arising. Absolute, ultimate reality thoroughly and with no exceptions, negates all possible reification (substantiation, essentialisation) and so is an uncontaminated dependent-arising. In ultimate logic, not a single substance is found.
In other words, independent (‘svatantra’) and substantial (‘svabhāva’) objects, be they sensate or mental, are not established and so non-existent. If objects nevertheless appear as such, then they are illusionary in the sense of dream-like, operational but deceptive. Ultimate logic analytically shows the hypothesis positing substances to lead to invalid consequences. All of existence, both relative and absolute, is found to lack substantiality (fixed essences or a ‘self’) and so is deemed ‘empty‘ (‘shūnyatā’) or ‘self-empty’. This emptiness is not nothingness or voidness, but merely the absence of substantial existence, nothing more or less. When lack of own-form (‘anātman’) or selflessness is attended, dependent origination is experienced. All phenomena are then ‘blissful’, for not deceptive. This unity of wisdom and bliss defines Buddhahood.
Study and reflection lead to understanding emptiness. This initiates Buddhist philosophy. Only meditation realizes and so ‘sees’ emptiness. The difference is central. In the former case, the best conceptual insight (‘prajñā’) is at work, while in the latter case, this can be completely stopped with direct, experiential prehension (‘jñāna’). The goal of Buddhist meditation is to actually exist in what appears, whatever that is. The ‘dharmadhātu’ or suchness of anything is the totality of dependent-arisings logically and functionally defining it (its ‘mahāmudrā’), of which the awakened mind (‘dharmakāya’) is the subjective prehension. So Buddhist philosophy (logic and ontology of how things actually exist), always walks hand in hand with Buddhist meditation (indirect, conceptual and direct, non-conceptual experience of interconnectedness).
Suppose, so the substantialist objects, the absence of substance is
indeed the case. Then how can anything absolute stand ? If the absolute
exists conventionally, how can it escape the transient nature of the
latter ? How can the ever-changing nature of becoming be combined with the
notion of something being complete and true in all situations, for all
possible things ? How can the everlasting be found in the transitory ? At
first sight this seems impossible, much like finding silence in a lot of
noise. Buddha nevertheless consistently clarified this. And this is
perhaps his greatest teaching.
Nick Evans in Viranchyāsana
With thanks to Yogi Nick Evans who was so kind and generous to share his chanting of the Yoga-Sūtra.
The chanting of the book is preceded by an invocation and ends with a short prayer.
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Wim van den Dungen,
Antwerp - 2016
firstname.lastname@example.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography
Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.
initiated : 20 I 2014 - last update : 29 I 2016 - version n°1