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Yoga Sutras - I


Kaivalya Pada

To contemplate these things is the privilege of the gods and to do so is also the aspiration of the immortal soul of men generally – though only in a few cases is such aspiration realized.



Throughout its long and largely unrecorded history, Indian thought preserved its central concern with ontology and epistemology, with noetic psychology as the indispensable bridge between metaphysics and ethics, employing introspection and self- testing as well as logical tools, continually confronting the instruments of cognition with the fruits of contemplation. Through its immemorial oral teachings and a vast variety of written texts, the fusion of theoria and praxis, theory and practice, was never sacrificed to the demands of academic specialization or the compartmentalization of human endeavour. Diverse schools of thought shared the conviction that true understanding must flow from the repeated application of received truths. Coming to know is a dynamic, dialectical process in which thought stimulates contemplation and regulates conduct, and in turn is refined by them. Although an individual who would be healthy and whole thinks, feels and acts, gnosis necessarily involves the fusion of thought, will and feeling, resulting in metanoia, a radically altered state of being. The Pythagorean conception of a philosopher as a lover of wisdom is close to the standpoint of an earnest seeker of truth in the Indian tradition.

Indian thought did not suffer the traumatic cognitive disruption caused by the emergence of ecclesiastical Christianity in the Mediterranean world, where an excessive concern with specification of rigid belief, sanctioned and safeguarded by an institutional conception of religious authority and censorship, sundered thought and action to such an extent that it became common to think one way and act in another with seeming impunity. The chasms which opened up between thought, will and feeling provided fertile soil for every kind of psychopathology, in part because such a fragmentation of the human being engenders inversions, obsessions and even perversities, and also in part because for a thousand years it has been virtually impossible to hold up a credible paradigm of the whole and healthy human being. The philosophical quest became obscured in the modern West by the linear succession of schools, each resulting from a violent reaction to its predecessors, each claiming to possess the Truth more or less exclusively, and often insisting upon the sole validity of its method of proceeding. The slavish concern with academic respectability and the fear of anathemization resulted in the increasing alienation of thought from being, of cognition from conduct, and philosophical disputation from the problems of daily life.

Indian thought did not spurn the accumulated wisdom of its ancients in favour of current fashions and did not experience a violent disruption of its traditional hospitality to multiple standpoints. The so-called astika or orthodox schools found no difficulty in combining their veneration of the Vedic hymns with a wide and diverse range of views, and even the nastika or heterodox schools, which repudiated the canonical "authority" of the Vedas, retained much of Vedic and Upanishadic metaphysics and almost the whole of their psychology and ethics. Indian philosophical schools could not see themselves as exclusive bearers of the total Truth. They emerged together from a long-standing and continuous effort to enhance our common understanding of God, Man and Nature, and they came to be considered as darshanas or paradigmatic standpoints shedding light from different angles on noumenal and phenomenal realities. They refrained from claiming that any illumination which can be rendered in words – or even in thoughts – can be either final or complete.


It may be pointed out here that a system of philosophy however lofty and true it may be should not be expected to give us an absolutely correct picture of the transcendent truths as they really exist. Because philosophy works through the medium of the intellect and the intellect has its inherent limitations, it cannot understand or formulate truths which are beyond its scope.... We have to accept these limitations when we use the intellect as an instrument for understanding and discovering these truths in the initial stages. It is no use throwing away this instrument, poor and imperfect though it is, because it gives us at least some help in organizing our effort to know the truth in the only way it can be known – by Self-realization.
I. K. Taimni

The ageless and dateless Vedas, especially the exalted hymns of the Rig Veda, have long been esteemed as the direct expression of what gods and divine seers, rishis or immortal sages, saw when they peered into the imperishable centre of Being which is also the origin of the entire cosmos. The Upanishads (from upa, ni and sad, meaning "to sit down near" a sage or guru), included in the Vedas, constitute the highest transmission of the fruits of illumination attained by these rishis. Often cast in the form of memorable dialogues between spiritual teachers and disciples, they represent rich glimpses of truth, not pieced together from disparate intellectual insights, but as they are at once revealed to the divine eye, divya chakshu, which looks into the core of Reality, freely intimated in idioms, metaphors and mantras suited to the awakening consciousness and spiritual potentials of diverse disciples. However divergent their modes of expression, they are all addressed to those who are ready to learn, willing to meditate deeply, and seek greater self-knowledge through intensive self- questioning. The Upanishads do not purport to provide discursive knowledge, conceptual clarification or speculative dogmas, but rather focus on the fundamental themes which concern the soul as a calm spectator of the temporal succession of states of mind from birth to death, seeking for what is essential amidst the ephemeral, the enduring within the transient, the abiding universals behind the flux of fleeting appearances.

From this standpoint, they are truly therapeutic in that they heal the sickness of the soul caused by passivity, ignorance and delusion. This ignorance is not that of the malformed or malfunctioning personality, maimed by childhood traumas or habitual vices. It is the more fundamental ignorance (avidya) of the adroit and well-adapted person who has learnt to cope with the demands of living and fulfil his duties in the world at a certain level without however, coming to terms with the causes of his longings and limitations, his dreams and discontinuities, his entrenched expectations and his hidden potentials. The sages spoke to those who had a measure of integrity and honesty and were willing to examine their presuppositions, but lacked the fuller vision and deeper wisdom that require a sustained search and systematic meditation. For such an undertaking, mental clarity, moral sensitivity, relaxed self-control and spiritual courage are needed, as well as a willingness to withdraw for a period from worldly concerns. The therapeutics of self-transcendence is rooted in a recondite psychology which accommodates the vast spectrum of self- consciousness, different levels of cognition and degrees of development, reaching up to the highest conceivable self- enlightenment.

Upanishadic thought presupposed the concrete and not merely conceptual continuity of God, Nature and Man. Furthermore, Man is the self-conscious microcosm of the macrocosm, where the part is not only inseparably one with the whole but also reflects and resonates with it. Man could neither be contemplated properly nor fully comprehended in any context less than the entirety of visible and invisible Nature, and so too, ethics, logic and psychology could not be sundered from metaphysics. "Is", the way things are, is vitally linked to "must", the ways things must be, as well as to "ought", the way human beings should think and act, through "can", the active exploration of human potentialities and possibilities, which are not different, save in scope and degree, from cosmic potencies. A truly noetic psychology bridges metaphysics and ethics through a conscious mirroring of rita, ordered cosmic harmony, in dharma, righteous human conduct that freely acknowledges what is due to each and every aspect of Nature, including all humanity, past, present and future.

The ancient sages resolved the One-many problem at the mystical, psychological, ethical and social levels by affirming the radical metaphysical and spiritual unity of all life, whilst fully recognizing (and refusing to diminish through any form of reductionism) the immense diversity of human types and the progressive awakenings of human consciousness at different stages of material evolution and spiritual involution. The immemorial pilgrimage of humanity can be both universally celebrated and act as a constant stimulus to individual growth. Truth, like the sun shining over the summits of a Himalayan range, is one, and the pathways to it are as many and varied as there are people to tread them.

As if emulating the sculptor's six perspectives to render accurately any specific form in space, ancient Indian thinkers stressed six darshanas, which are sometimes called the six schools of philosophy. These are astika or orthodox in that they all find inspiration in different ways in the Vedas. And like the sculptor's triple set of perspectives – front-back, left side-right side, top- bottom – the six darshanas have been seen as three complementarities, polarized directions that together mark the trajectory of laser light through the unfathomable reaches of ineffable wisdom. Each standpoint has its integrity and coherence in that it demands nothing less than the deliberate and radical reconstitution of consciousness from its unregenerate and unthinking modes of passive acceptance of the world. Yet none can claim absoluteness, finality or infallibility, for such asseverations would imply that limited conceptions and discursive thought can capture ultimate Reality. Rather, each darshana points with unerring accuracy towards that cognition which can be gained only by complete assimilation, practical self-transformation and absorption into it. At the least, every darshana corresponds with a familiar state of mind of the seeker, a legitimate and verifiable mode of cognition which makes sense of the world and the self at some level.

All genuine seekers are free to adopt any one or more of the darshanas at any time and even to defend their chosen standpoint against the others but they must concede the possibility of synthesizing and transcending the six standpoints in a seventh mode which culminates in taraka, transcendental, self-luminous gnosis, the goal of complete enlightenment often associated with the secret, incommunicable way of buddhiyoga intimated in the fourth, seventh and eighteenth chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

Although scholars have speculated on the sequential emergence of the darshanas, and though patterns of interplay can be discerned in their full flowering, their roots lie in the ancient texts and they arise together as distinctive standpoints. It has also been held that the six schools grew out of sixty-two systems of thought lost in the mists of antiquity. At any rate, it is generally agreed that each of the later six schools was inspired by a sage and teacher who struck the keynote which has reverberated throughout its growths refinement and elaboration. As the six schools are complementary to each others they are traditionally viewed as the six branches of a single tree. All six provide a theoretical explanation of ultimate Reality and a practical means of emancipation. The oldest are Yoga and Sankhya, the next being Vaishesika and Nyaya, and the last pair are Purva Mimansa and Vedanta (sometimes called Uttara Mimansa). The founders of these schools are considered to be Patanjali of Yoga, Kapila of Sankhya, Kanada of Vaishesika, Gautama of Nyaya, Jaimini of Purva Mimansa and Vyasa of Vedanta, though the last is also assigned to Badarayana. All of them propounded the tenets of their philosophical systems or schools in the form of short sutras, whose elucidation required and stimulated elaborate commentaries. Since about 200 C.E., a vast crop of secondary works has emerged which has generated some significant discussions as well as a welter of scholastic disputation and didactic controversies, moving far away from praxis into the forests of theoria, or reducing praxis to rigid codes and theoria to sterile formulas. At the same time, there has remained a remarkable vitality to most of these schools, owing to their transmission by long lineages which have included many extraordinary teachers and exemplars. This cannot be recovered merely through the study of texts, however systematic and rigorous, in a philosophical tradition which is essentially oral, even though exceptional powers of accurate recall have been displayed in regard to the texts.

Nyaya and Vaishesika are schools primarily concerned with analytic approaches to the objects of knowledge, using carefully tested principles of logic. The word nyaya suggests that by which the mind reaches a conclusion, and since the word also means "right" or "just", Nyaya is the science of correct thinking. The founder of this school, Gautama, lived about 150 B.C.E., and its source-book is the Nyaya Sutra. Whilst knowledge requires an object, a knowing subject and a state of knowing, the validity of cognition depends upon pramana, the means of cognition. There are four acceptable pramanas, of which pratyaksha – direct perception or intuition – is most important. Perception requires the mind, manas, to mediate between the self and the senses, and perception may be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate perception reveals the class to which an object of knowledge belongs, its specific qualities and the union of the two. Indeterminate perception is simple apprehension without regard to genus or qualities. In the Nyaya school, indeterminate perception is not knowledge but rather its prerequisite and starting-point.

Anumana or inference is the second pramana or means of cognition. It involves a fivefold syllogism which includes a universal statement, an illustrative example and an application to the instance at hand. Upamana is the apt use of analogy, in which the similarities which make the analogy come alive are essential and not superficial. Shabda, sound or verbal expression, is the credible testimony of authority, which requires not uncritical acceptance but the thoughtful consideration of words, meanings and the modes of reference. As the analytic structure of Nyaya logic suggests, its basic approach to reality is atomistic, and so the test of claims of truth is often effectiveness in application, especially in the realm of action. Typically, logical discussion of a proposition takes the form of a syllogism with five parts: the proposition (pratijna) the cause (hetu), the exemplification (drishtanta), the recapitulation (upanaya) and the conclusion (nigamana).

However divergent their views on metaphysics and ethics, all schools accept and use Nyaya canons of sound reasoning. A thorough training in logic is required not only in all philosophical reasoning, exposition and disputation, but it is also needed by those who seek to stress mastery of praxis over a lifetime and thereby become spiritual exemplars. This at once conveys the enormous strength of an immemorial tradition as well as the pitiable deficiencies of most professors and pundits, let alone the self-styled so-called exoteric gurus of the contemporary East. Neither thaumaturgic wonders nor mass hypnosis can compensate for mental muddles and shallow thinking; indeed, they become insuperable obstacles to even a good measure of gnosis and noetic theurgy, let alone authentic enlightenment and self-mastery.

The Vaishesika school complements Nyaya in its distinct pluralism. Its founder, Kanada, also known as Kanabhaksha, lived around 200 C.E., and its chief work is the Vaishesika Sutra. Its emphasis on particulars is reflected in its name, since vishesha means "particularity", and it is concerned with properly delineating the categories of objects of experience. These objects of experience, padarthas, are six: substance (dravya), quality (guna), and karma or movement and activity (forming the triplicity of objective existence), and generality (samanya), particularity(vishesha) and samavayi or inherence (forming a triad of modes of intellectual discernment which require valid logical inference). A seventh object of experience, non-existence (shunya), was eventually added to the six as a strictly logical necessity. The Vaishesika point of view recognizes nine irreducible substances: earth, water, air, fire, aether (akasha), time, space, self and mind, all of which are distinct from the qualities which inhere in them. The self is necessarily a substance – a substrate of qualities – because consciousness cannot be a property of the physical body, the sense-organs or the brain-mind. Although the self as a substance must be everywhere pervasive, its everyday capacity for feeling, willing and knowing is focussed in the bodily organism.

Since the self experiences the consequences of its own deeds, there is, according to Vaishesika, a plurality of souls, each of which has its vishesha, individuality or particularity. What we experience is made up of parts, and is non-eternal, but the ultimate components – atoms – are eternal. Individuality is formed by imperceptible souls and certain atoms, which engender the organ of thought. At certain times, during immense cosmogonic cycles, nothing is visible, as both souls and atoms are asleep, but when a new cycle of creation begins, these souls reunite with certain atoms. Gautama asserted that even during incarnated existence, emancipation may be attained through ascetic detachment and the highest stages of contemplative absorption or samadhi. Though the Vaishesika school wedded an atomistic standpoint to a strict atheism, over time thinkers accepted a rationalistic concept of Deity as a prime mover in the universe, a philosophical requisite acceptable to Nyaya. The two schools or systems were combined by Kusumanjali of Udayana about 900 C.E. in his proof of the existence of God. Since then, both schools have been theistic. The Jains claim early parentage for the Vaishesika system, and this merely illustrates what is very common in the Indian tradition, that innovators like Gautama and Kanada were reformulating an already ancient school rather than starting de novo.

The Purva Mimansa of Jaimini took as its point of departure neither knowledge nor the objects of experience, but dharma, duty, as enjoined in the Vedas and Upanishads. As the accredited sources of dharma, these sacred texts are not the promulgations of some deity who condescended to step into time and set down principles of correct conduct. Rather, the wisdom in such texts is eternal and uncreate, and true rishis have always been able to see them and to translate that clear vision into mantramic sounds and memorable utterances. Hence Mimansa consecrates the mind to penetrating the words which constitute this sacred transmission. Central to the Mimansa school is the theory of self-evidence – svata pramana: truth is its own guarantee and the consecrated practice of faith provides its own validation. Repeated testings will yield correct results by exposing discrepancies and validating real cognitions. There is a recognizable consensus amidst the independent visions of great seers, and each individual must recognize or rediscover this consensus by proper use and concentrated enactment of mantras and hymns. Every sound in the fifty-two letters of Sanskrit has a cosmogonic significance and a theurgic effect. Inspired mantras are exact mathematical combinations of sounds which emanate potent vibrations that can transform the magnetic sphere around the individual as well as the magnetosphere of the earth. Self-testing without self-deception can become a sacred activity, which is sui generis.

From the Mimansa perspective, every act is necessarily connected to perceptible results. One might say that the effects are inherent in the act, just as the fruit of the tree is in the seed which grew and blossomed. There is no ontological difference between act and result, for the apparent gap between them is merely the consequence of the operation of time. Since the fruit of a deed may not follow immediately upon the act, or even manifest in the same lifetime, the necessary connection between act and result takes the form of apurva, an unseen force which is the unbreakable link between them. This testable postulate gives significance to the concept of dharma in all its meanings – "duty", "path", "teaching", "religion", "natural law", "righteousness", "accordance with cosmic harmony" – but it cannot by itself secure complete liberation from conditioned existence. Social duties are important, but spiritual duties are even more crucial, and the saying "To thine own self be true" has an array of meanings reaching up to the highest demands of soul-tendance. In the continual effort to work off past karma and generate good karma, there is unavoidable tension between different duties, social and spiritual. The best actions, paradigmatically illustrated in Vedic invocations and rituals, lead to exalted conditions, even to some heavenly condition or blissful state. Nonetheless, as the various darshanas interacted and exchanged insights, Mimansa came to consider the highest action as resulting in a cessation of advances and retreats on the field of merit, whereby dharma and adharma were swallowed up in a sublime and transcendental state of unbroken awareness of the divine.

In striving to penetrate the deepest arcane meaning of the sacred texts, Mimansa thinkers accepted the four pramanas or modes of knowledge set forth in Nyaya, and added two others: arthapatti or postulation, and abhava or negation and non-existence. They did this in part because, given their view of the unqualified eternality of the Vedas, they held that all cognition is valid at some level and to some degree. There can be no false knowledge; whatever is known is necessarily true. As a consequence, they saw no reason to prove the truth of any cognition. Rather, they sought to demonstrate its falsity, for if disproof were successful, it would show that there had been no cognition at all. The promise of gnosis rests upon the sovereign method of falsifiability rather than a vain attempt to seek total verification in a public sense. Shifting the onus of proof in this way can accommodate the uncreate Vedas, which are indubitably true and which constitute the gold standard against which all other claims to truth are measured. Mimansa rests upon the presupposition of the supremacy of Divine Wisdom, the sovereignty of the Revealed Word and the possibility of its repeated realization. Even among those who cannot accept the liturgical or revelatory validity and adequacy of the Vedas, the logic of disproof can find powerful and even rigorous application. As a method, it became important to the philosophers of Vedanta.

Vedanta, meaning "the end or goal of the Vedas", sometimes also called Uttara Mimansa, addresses the spiritual and philosophical themes of the Upanishads, which are considered to complete and form the essence of the Vedas. Badarayana's magisterial Brahma Sutras ordered the Upanishadic Teachings in a logically coherent sequence which considers the nature of the supreme brahman, the ultimate Reality, and the question of the embodiment of the unconditioned Self. Each of the five hundred and fifty-five sutras (literally, "threads") are extremely short and aphoristic, requiring a copious commentary to be understood. In explaining their meaning, various commentators presented Vedantic doctrines in different ways. Shankaracharya, the chief of the commentators and perhaps the greatest philosopher in the Indian tradition, espoused the advaita, non-dual, form of Vedanta, the purest form of monism, which has never been excelled. He asked whether in human experience there is anything which is impervious to doubt. Noting that every object of cognition – whether dependent on the senses, the memory or pure conceptualization – can be doubted, he recognized in the doubter that which is beyond doubt of any kind. Even if one reduces all claims to mere avowals – bare assertions about what one seems to experience – there nonetheless remains that which avows. It is proof of itself, because nothing can disprove it. In this, it is also different from everything else, and this difference is indicated by the distinction between subject and object. The experiencing Self is subject; what it experiences is an object. Unlike objects, nothing can affect it: it is immutable and immortal.

For Shankara, this Self (atman) is sat-chit-ananda, being or existence, consciousness or cognition, and unqualified bliss. If there were no world, there would be no objects of experience, and so although the world as it is experienced is not ultimately real, it is neither abhava, non-existent, nor shunya, void. Ignorance is the result of confusing atman, the unconditioned subject, with anatman, the external world. From the standpoint of the cosmos, the world is subject to space, time and causality, but since these categories arise from nascent experience, they are inherently inadequate save to point beyond themselves to the absolute, immutable, self-identical brahman, which is absolute Being (sat). Atman is brahman, for the immutable singularity of the absolute subject, the Self, is not merely isomorphic, but radically identical with the transcendent singularity of the ultimate Reality. Individuals who have yet to realize this fundamental truth, which is in fact the whole Truth, impose out of ignorance various attitudes and conceptions on the world, like the man who mistakes an old piece of rope discarded on the trail for a poisonous serpent. He reacts to the serpent, but his responses are inappropriate and cause him to suffer unnecessarily, because there is no serpent on the trail to threaten him. Nonetheless, the rope is there. For Shankara, the noumenal world is real, and when a person realizes its true nature, gaining wisdom thereby his responses will be appropriate and cease to cause suffering. He will realize that he is the atman and that the atman is brahman.

Although brahman is ultimately nirguna, without qualities, the aspirant to supreme knowledge begins by recognizing that the highest expression of brahman to the finite mind is Ishvara, which is saguna brahman, Supreme Reality conceived through the modes of pure logic. Taking Ishvara, which points beyond itself to That (Tat), as his goal and paradigm, the individual assimilates himself to Ishvara through the triple path of ethics, knowledge and devotion – the karma, jnana and bhakti yogas of the Bhagavad Gita – until moksha, emancipation and self-realization, is attained. For Shankara, moksha is not the disappearance of the world but the dissolution of avidya, ignorance.

Ramanuja, who lived much later than Shankara, adopted a qualified non-dualism, Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, by holding that the supreme brahman manifests as selves and matter. For him, both are dependent on brahman, and so selves, not being identical with the Ultimate, always retain their separate identity. As a consequence, they are dependent on brahman, and that dependency expresses itself self-consciously as bhakti or devotion. In this context, however, the dependence which is manifest as bhakti is absurd unless brahman is thought to be personal in some degree, and so brahman cannot be undifferentiated. Emancipation or freedom is not union with the divine, but rather the irreversible and unwavering intuition of Deity. The Self is not identical with brahman, but its true nature is this intuition, which is freedom. Faith that brahman exists is sufficient and individual souls are parts of brahman, who is the creator of universes. Yet brahman does not create anything new; what so appears is merely a modification of the subtle and the invisible to the gross which we can see and sense. Because we can commune with this God by prayer, devotion and faith, there is the possibility of human redemption from ignorance and delusion. The individual is not effaced when he is redeemed; he maintains his self-identity and enjoys the fruits of his faith.

About a century and a half after Ramanuja, Madhava promulgated a dualistic (dvaita) Vedanta, in which he taught that brahman, selves and the world are separate and eternal, even though the latter two depend forever upon the first. From this standpoint, brahman directs the world, since all else is dependent, and is therefore both transcendent and immanent. As that which can free the self, brahman is identified with Vishnu. Whereas the ultimate Reality or brahman is neither independent (svatantra) nor dependent (paratantra), God or Vishnu is independent, whereas souls and matter are dependent. God did not cause the cosmos but is part of it, and by his presence keeps it in motion. Individual souls are dependent on brahman but are also active agents with responsibilities which require the recognition of the omnipresence and omnipotence of God. For the individual self, there exists either the bondage which results from ignorance and the karma produced through acting ignorantly, or release effected through the adoration, worship and service of Deity. The self is free when its devotion is pure and perpetual. Although the later forms of Vedanta lower the sights of human potentiality from the lofty goal of universal self-consciousness and conscious immortality taught by Shankaracharya, they all recognize the essential difference between bondage and freedom. The one is productive of suffering and the other offers emancipation from it. But whereas for Shankara the means of emancipation is wisdom (jnana) as the basis of devotion (bhakti) and nishkama karma or disinterested action, the separation between atman and brahman is crucial for Ramanuja and necessitates total bhakti, whilst for Madhava there are five distinctions within his dualism – between God and soul, God and matter, soul and matter, one form of matter and another, and especially between one soul and another – thus requiring from all souls total obeisance to the omnipresent and omnipotent God.

Suffering is the starting point of the Sankhya darshana which provides the general conceptual framework of Yoga philosophy. Patanjali set out the Taraka Raja Yoga system, linking transcendental and self-luminous wisdom (taraka) with the alchemy of mental transformation, and like the exponents of other schools, he borrowed those concepts and insights which could best delineate his perspective. Since he found Sankhya metaphysics useful to understanding, like a sturdy boat used to cross a stream and then left behind when the opposite bank has been reached, many thinkers have traditionally presented Sankhya as the theory for which Yoga is the practice. This approach can aid understanding, providing one recognizes from the first and at all times that yoga is the path to metaconsciousness, for which no system of concepts and discursive reasoning, however erudite, rigorous and philosophical, is adequate. More than any other school or system, Yoga is essentially experiential, in the broadest, fullest and deepest meaning of that term.

Hermes, June 1988
by Raghavan Iyer

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