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Introduction to Classical Yoga

Historical & Philological remarks
Understanding Important Terms
Short Bibliography

©  Wim van den Dungen

Completely Revised Edition :

The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali

English, French and Dutch Translations
with Buddhist Commentary

by Taurus Press, 2016
available in EPUB and POD format.

Historical & Philological remarks

History :

(§ 1) The available evidence about the author of these Sûtra's is not without the usual confusion typical for more than one Indian text. Earlier scholars affirmed that Patañjali -the yogin- and Patañjali -the grammarian- (who wrote the Mahâbhasya in the 2th century B.C.) were most probably not the same person. According to the intelligent mayority these Sûtra's are the product of the third century A.D. This school of yoga is known as 'classical'. Legend explains how Patañjali was an incarnation of Visnu, called Ananta. In the 11th century A.D. Al-Bîrunî translated the Yoga-Sûtra in Arab. This allowed one of the six classical schools of philosophy of India to directly influence Sufism. These Sûtra's may be regarded as the 'Crown' of the 'darsana' (point of view) called : 'yoga'. No commentary on these Sûtra's by a member of the classical school has been found. The two classical commentators (Vyâsa in the 5th & Vâcaspati Mishra in the 9the century) were outsiders (Vyâsa belonged to the school of Sâmkhya).
(§ 2) The story of yoga goes back to the Indus-civilization (3th & 2th millenium B.C.), expanding from the Arab Sea till the first mountains of the Himalayas. Eliade & others found evidence of early forms of yoga. Carved seals in the south (Mohenjo-Daro) suggest Siva. Iconographical material only. The literal start of the yoga system is to be found in the commentaries on the Veda's, especially Katha, Svetâsvatara, Maitrâyanîya, Îsa, Mundaka, and Mândûkya. Around the time of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ (i.e. chapters 13 till 40 of the sixth book of the great epic Mahâbhârata) all various forms of yoga were present (hatha, karma, bhakti, jñâna, mantra, kriyâ, kundalinî, sahaja, laya, dhyâna, nâda etc.) but a systematic & synthetic picture was lacking. The Yoga-Sûtra of Patañjali, also called the 'Royal Path' or 'Râja Yoga' offers this, although not in a simple & straightforward manner.

Philology :

(§ 1) As the reader may have observed, most punctuations necessary for an accurate transliteration of the Sanskrit-terms are not supported. However, 'Siva', 'Visnu', 'purusa', 'Îsvara', etc. are not written as 'Shiva', 'Vishnu', 'purusha', 'Îshvara', etc. Important terms are left untranslated, whereas 'samâdhi' is rendered as 'union' and 'samskâra' as 'reactors'.
(§ 2) This work is a technical treatise on yoga, not a popular digest. Most renderings of this text are naive because they misunderstand the importance of this fact. Mysticological investigations make it belong to the category of canonical discourses. Being the 'magnum opus' of a well-established group-identity, the Yoga-Sûtra initiated an era of yoga in which the variety & the wealth of the past are assimilated using ideas unlike Sâmkhya. Because of the activity of Patañjali and his school, yoga is a 'classical' perspective on a reality which radically differs from all realms of nature.
(§ 3) My study of the Yoga-Sûtra dates back over 15 years. My first translation of this treatise into Dutch was finished in 1985. The critical work of Feuerstein was most helpful to understand the Sanskrit involved. In 1987 I prepared an English translation which was gradually superseded by many more translations as my practice & study of classical yoga made progress. In 1995 a French translation was completed. This helped me considerably to finalize the English translations of Patañjali's text. This final English translation focuses on the technical, scientific & methodological rendering of the text, whereas in the French I allow a more liberal definition of some Sanskrit-expressions to surface, suggesting broader, more poetical perspectives.
(§ 4) Most technical Sanskrit-terms can not be translated using our everyday vocabulary. A commentary will be necessary to elucidate the more recondite, abstruse sûtra's. The rubrics were invented by the translator.

Important Terms

Philosophy :

Some terms are left in the original :

(§ 1) "yoga" : root "yuj", to bind together, yoke, union ;

(1.1.) Yoga is an action, not a philosophy, system or theory. Orthodoxy is absent. Only orthopraxis prevails. In the 'darsana' called 'yoga' different actions leading to the same goal (union or 'samâdhi') are studied & practiced. Major angles of approach can be classified as actional (karma), affectional (bhakti) or cognitive (jñâna), but other classifications exist. Râja yoga succeeded to unfold the underlying mechanisms of consciousness blocking the restriction of its fluctuations, causing suffering & absence of union. It offers the panoramic view on the discipline.
(1.2.) Yoga is the binding together of man with the ultimate potential as a result of a particular practice coupled with a 'smart volition' enabling one to be part of the world without having thirst for its activities. This union happens as an empirical datum, as witnessed by the perennial yogic tradition. Yoga is not interested in the nature or the metaphysics of union. Its aim is to find a technique allowing consciousness to clearly & permanently distinguish between nature & purusa. Once this absolute dyad is present in consciousness, union occurs.

(§ 2) "sûtra" : root "sîv", tread, cord, rule, aphorism, girdle of upper casts, plan ;

Man tries to educate the next generation. At some point a lofty oral tradition vanishes or is textualized. A tread is created, a rule or standard for future research & education.

(§ 3) "Îsvara" : root "îs", to own, be master of + "vara", choices ;

(3.1.) In post-vedic brahmanism, Îsvara, Îsa or Îsana is the personal form of "Brahman", bi-polar : unpersonal primal cause of existence (nirguna) and personal creator of all of existence (saguna). Patañjali understands this personal form as the archetypal yogin, a special purusa. He does not express himself mythologically but is apparently unable not to witness the influence of this special purusa during meditation.
(3.2.) The yogin is not asked to become one with Îsvara. Quite on the contrary. The thought of becoming has to be discarted. The divine mechanism of being is not purusa. So it is only suggested that the "cloud of dharma" implies "nirguna Brahman" : unpersonal, ultimate, pure potential, unmanifested, unfounded foundation of being & not-being.

(§ 4) "purusa" : unknown, possible related to a compound meaning 'man' ;

(4.1.) In Brihadâranyaka-Upanisad purusa is approached as 'he who lies in the citadel of the unmanifest world-ground'. As in many popular folk philosophies purusa is pictured in Chândogya-Upanisad as a sort of 'indwelling ghost' able to leave the body of a sleeping person. In later epic texts, purusa is identified with âtman.
(4.2.) Purusa is what is left when the universe (all natural & psychological process) is negated. Yoga (as in Sâmkhya) classifies both physical & mental states as part of the energetical realm of the world ("guna" & "prakriti"). No mental state is beyond the world. So purusa does not think, feel or act. (4.3.) Purusa describes the existence of the numinous as it occurs in seedless union. The first time a yogin merges without seed is also the last time s/he is not but a sheer witness of life. In the 4 unions with seed (cognitive, a-cognitive, subtle, ultra-subtle) it is possible to experience purusa as the infusion of the unmanifested (the absolute) in the manifested (the relative). In that consciousness the existence of superior beings & the special purusa or Îsvara is direct. The yogin who accepts Îsvara as his (her) mentor will receive intuitive insights allowing consciousness to move beyond union with seed.
(4.4.) Patañjali's synonyms : (sheer) seer, grasper, owner, superior, awareness, other.

(§ 5) "prajñâ" : "pra" + root "jñâ", to know or intuitive insight ;

Intuition is a truth-bearing direct experience of reality-as-such. As a particular angle on absolute reality it can never fail 'sui generis'. It operates at the edge between union-with-seed & union-without-seed (i.e. in ultra-subtle union).

(§ 6) "âtman" : uncertain, possibly related to "tman", vital breath ;

Equated with purusa in a more recent period.

(§ 7) "karman" : root "kri", to do, action ;

The universe (physical + mental) is a multi-layered living organism. All parts are interlocked and different strata interpenetrate each other. The universe (prakrt) is organised. The law of cause & effect is operative throughout. Nothing is lost and no error is left uncompensated. The reactors make up the active deposit, or residuum of experience of the individual. They power the mechanism of consciousness and are organised in configurations, traces, traits. World-experience does not originate the reactor grids but reinforces them.

(§ 8) "guna" : lit."strand".

The forces operative in the universe are classified. The three gunas are the primary constituents of the world-ground or Nature. They are used in cosmology & psychology. Material phenomena & psychomental events (body, emotions & mind) are clearly distinguished but part of the same category. The Indian schemata anticipate the absolute distinction between the universe & the 'other'. According to Feuerstein the three gunas represent existence, discontinuity & continuity (sattva, rajas, tamas).

(§ 9) "samâdhi" : from "sam" + "â" + root "dhâ", to put ; lit. 'putting together' ;
related to "sampatti" : from "sam" + "â" + root "pat", to fall ; to fall together, coincide

(9.1.) As soon as the distinction between subject & object of experience is eliminated, which happens when 'ad perpetuam' seen (Nature) & seer (Self) are distinguished (so that no erroneous 'superimpositions' occur - cfr. Sankara's interpretation), destroying the false 'âtman'. This is linked with the 'superior' mode of detachment, eliminating all thirst for Nature.
(9.2.) The experience of union is structured. Its architecture being defined by the nature of the seed contemplated ('dhyâna'). If this is 'coarse' (i.e. stemming from the physical, particularized realm), union is restricted to the first degree of 'union-with-seed' and its negation. If 'subtle' (unparticularized, differentiate or undifferentiate), the complete flower of union-with-seed may be savoured & beyond.
(9.3.) Firstly, union-with-seed is cognitive, causing contemplative aggregates of meta-thought (the finer fluctuations of consciousness). Although these 'samadhic thoughts' are cogitative, joyous & I-centered, they should be negated (i.e. become 'a-cognitive') for the sake of one's spiritual evolution. If no subtle seeds are available, no further progress can be made. Secondly, union-with-seed is reflective. The contemplation of subtle seeds leads beyond cognitive & a-cognitive union to subtle & ultra-subtle union, the second degree of 'union-with-seed'.
(9.4.) Union-without-seed is the result of the practice of the thought of cessation during union-with-seed. When subtle seeds are contemplated, ultra-subtle union (the negation of subtle union) may be attained. The ultimate border of this state (at the edge of union-without-seed) is very special. This lucid state called 'prajñâ' is truth-bearing (direct experience of absolute reality), of the nature of a pure flash of insight and of enormous karmic importance. For if this state is attained, all other reactors are bound, leading -as soon as this binding of all possible deep-reactions is finished- to union-without-seed. At this point all suffering has ceased & the yogin needs but to take one step further to merge with the unmanifested ground of existence. Simultaneous with this final merging is the dissolution of the body of the yogin.

Short Bibliography :

Abhedananda : The Yoga Psychology, Ramakrishna - Calcutta, 1973.
Âranya : Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali, Calcutta University Press - Calcutta, 1981.
Avalon : The Serpent Power , Dover - New York, 1974.
Ballantyne & Shastri : Yoga-sûtra of Patañjali, Parimal - Nagar, 1983.
Cozort, D. : Highest Yoga Tantra , Lion - New York, 1986.
Dasgupta, S. : A History of Indian Philosophy , Cambridge University Press - Cambridge, 1922.
Eliade, M. : Yoga : immortality and freedom , Bollingen - Princeton, 1954.
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. : Tibetan Yoga , Oxford University Press - Oxford, 1958.
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. : The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford University Press - Oxford, 1968.
Feuerstein, G. : The Yoga-sûtra of Patañjali , Dawson - Kent, 1979.
Feuerstein, G. : The Yoga-sûtra of Patañjali : an Exercise in the Methodology of Textual Analysis , Motilal - Dehli, 1979.
Feuerstein, G. : The Philosophy of Classical Yoga , Manchester University Press - Manchester, 1980.
Feuerstein, G. & Miller, J. : A Reappraisal of Yoga , Rider & Company - London, 1971.
Gambhîrânanda : Eight Upanisads, Swapna - Calcutta, 1991.
Gambhîrânanda : Chândogya-Upanisad, Nabajiban - Calcutta, 1992.
Leggett, T. : Sankara on the Yoga-sûtra , Routledge & Kegan - London, 1981 & Motilal - Dehli, 1992.
Mishran S.R. : Fundamentals of Yoga, Lyrebird Press - London, 1972.
Rivière-Marquès, J. : Le Yoga Tantrique - hindou et thibétain , Véga - Paris, 1938.
Sadânanda Sarasvati : Les Yogasûtras de Patañjali, Le Courrier du Livre - Paris, 1976.
Srivastava, L.K.L. : Advaitc Concept of Jîvanmukti, Bharatiya - Dehli, 1990.
Stcherbatsky, Th. : Buddhist Logic , Dover - New York, 1962.
Svâtmârâma : Hathayogapradîpikâ, Adyar - Madras, 1972.
Taimni, I.K. : The Science of Yoga , Theosophical Publishing House - London, 1961.
Tart, Ch.T. : Altered States of Consciousness , Doubleday - New York, 1969.
Werner, K. : Yoga and Indian Philosophy , Motilal - Dehli, 1977.
Woods, J.H. : The Yoga-system of Patañjali ,
or the Ancient Hindu Doctrine of Concentration of Mind, embracing :
- the mnemonic rules, called Yoga-Sûtra , of Patañjali (A.D.300 and 500) ;
- the comment, called Yoga-Bhasya , attributed to Veda-Vyâsa (between A.D. 650 - 850) ;
- the explanation, called Tattva-Vaisaradi , of Vachaspati-Misra (A.D. 800 - 850), Harvard Oriental Series, vol 17, 1914.
Woods, R. : Understanding Mysticism , Image - New York, 1980.


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initiated : 1997 - last update : 05 II 2016 - version n°3 - final version