Jul 20, 2018

On Yoga Sutras’ Five Translations

A long time ago when I was just starting my study of yoga – guess it was 1986 or 1987 – one of my groupmates came with a clandestine reprint of a brochure made with the help of factory printing office. Though, it was not even a brochure: just several unbound sheets bearing the title Patanjali’s Aphorisms. And it is this text – that I later learned to be the reprint of Yoga Sutras English version in the translation of Vivekananda as rendered [into Russian – trans. note] by Popov in 1906 – that my journey into the insights of this great text started with. 

In a few years (these were probably early 90ies) I suggested that my friends who had organized a kind of esoteric publishing house bring together all YS translations available at that time and arrange them sutra by sutra to help one’s working with this text. Studying Sanskrit was just a plan for the future and I thought that understanding the true contents of the text would be possible on the basis of the translations comparative analysis. The translations that were vastly different even on the surface. This is how the brochure Yoga Sutras: Four Variants of Translation appeared. Soon it was complemented by the fifth one, while the brochure formed the basis of the file Yoga Sutras: Five Variants of Translation that’s been actively circulating throughout the web [the Russian-speaking segment – transl. note]. Though, maybe I was not the only one whom this idea actually occurred… 
Anyhow, I believe this file has helped may searchers and practitioners, but I think it’s time every translation version is given a detailed and competent estimation.

May 11, 2018

Hatha Yoga and Patanjali

This unscheduled article has been induced by my short post on Facebook. A couple of days ago my sight was caught by an ad of “Hatha Yoga after Patanjali” event in Kharkov, and I could not but turn the yoga community attention to incorrectness of this word combination. They started speaking about Hatha-yoga in the period of the Naths, that is, 600 to 800 years after Yoga Sutras had been written. As to Sutras proper, they don’t give any specific descriptions of asanas or pranayamas. In a short discussion commenting the post Boris Zagumennov, a man I hold in high regard and one of Sutras first interpreter from Sanskrit into Russian, advanced an idea that though Patanjali does not of course use the term “hatha-yoga” he however speaks about “stages that refer to body”. This is a very popular point of view; moreover, I also personally stick to the idea that proper body work is essential prior to taking to yoga’ more complex and sophisticated practices. But! My personal (or, say, the popular and traditional) opinion is one thing, while the opinion of Patanjali and commentators is a totally different issue. Indeed, Patanjali did mention asana and pranayama as constituents of yoga, but were these terms of his identical to their present-day meaning? 

Feb 27, 2018

Yoga and Magic. The Most Ancient Reference to Yoga in Atharvaveda

They traditionally believe that the word “yoga” was not used in Vedas, at least in the context of designating a system of esoteric psycho-practices as we know it today. However, this is not quite the case. 

Vedas indeed do not contain the word “yoga” as an absolute equivalent of the meaning we assign to it now, notwithstanding the presence of numerous derivatives of the root-word “yuj”. Some scholars explain this by suggesting that yoga was first practiced by the Dravidian people from where it was borrowed by the Vedic Tradition. I believe this to be a simplifying assumption. Each culture has its own system of esoteric psycho-practices. Moreover, methods and concepts of these systems that seem to be totally different at first glance are in any case adjacent in virtue of their having a single object – the human mind. Fusion of cultures is naturally followed by fusion of systems bringing a result that may be very quaint in form. Thus it whould be quite correct to speak about the “proto-yoga” of Vedas. You may find more details in my public lecture

Jan 31, 2018

The Legend of Lost Sutra

In the course of gearing up for my big lecture on Yoga Sutra I had come across a dramatic story that even Wikipedia mentions in its entry. I’ve called it “The Legend of Lost Sutra”. If briefly, the legend tells that Yoga Sutra, a sacred text known in India from ancient times, practically sank into oblivion in the 12th century and was recovered only in the 19th, owing to Vivekananda and the Theosophical Society.
The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century. 

However, this is not how the real story goes.

Jun 9, 2017

Yoga and Gnosis

The succeeding lines of Yoga Sutras (namely, all remaining lines of the section) are dedicated to cognition. So I shall lay down a few considerations to make the reader mentally prepared.
Most of Western people erroneously take yoga as a system of physical exercises. A kind of gymnastics. However, hatha-yoga is just a small element of this multifacetous tradition. Physical practices definitely played an important – yet auxiliary - role. They trained the body to keep it healthy and live long; the body that was used as a key to one’s inner world. But authentic yoga practice implies inner transformation that was based on merger with one’s genuine, innermost essence – svarupa – by means of taking under control factors that were separating one from it. This basic nature of yoga is emphasized in the etymology of the word yuj that denotes both “joining together” (samadhi) and “taking control of” (samyama) – see here for details. 
The concept that a man is actually estranged from oneself may at first sight appear to be spacy, yet when learning more about modern neurophysiology findings we shall see this to be a healthy judgement. For instance, they have proved that human brain takes decision several minutes before one has consciously made it. And this refers to some simple issues … We spend years in the agony of “choosing”, but deep inside the decision has been made long time ago…

Apr 14, 2017

Difference Between Ancient And Modern Commentaries

Thorough analysis of primary sources assumes concurrent study of authentic commentarial works. Thus in the process of writing my commentary to every new sutra I usually thumb through primary classical commentaries that I here enlist. Some of them have turned into “favorites”, that is, must-reads: Vyasa, Mishra, Sankara, Bhoja, Sadashivendra. Aged 1000 years and even older, these texts (but for the last mentioned) are truly authentic, i.e. introduced in the framework of intact Indian culture so far not deformed by conquerors. I also had a pleasure of reading commentaries on classical texts of other darshanas (in addition to yoga). 

However, in the process of reading these commentaries I’ve noticed myself to have a kind of dissatisfaction which essential nature has become clear to me only recently. The matter is that notwithstanding the fact these texts are all commentaries, there is a drastic difference between the core point of commenting processes in classical India and in modern science.

Apr 3, 2017

Why Read Ancient Texts?

They have once again asked me: why in general read ancient texts, the more so commentaries on them? Why a person like me, a modern yogi who is rather future-focused than past-minded, the one who objects to traditionalism in all its manifestations and gives skeptical smile to talks on “paramparas” and consecrations, decided to spend heaps of time studying Sanskrit and leafing through ten- or fifteen-hundred-year-old commentaries? Is there anything in them that one cannot evidentiate by experiments based on modern scientific concepts?

Yes, there is.
A seeker of our days, when driven by scientific attitude and intellectual approach, can find many interesting things there.

First. Descriptions of genuine mystical experience that is both functional and based on psychological techniques are rather rare. What I mean here is real experience that differs from all possible forms of visionariness, philosophical waxing and contacts-setting.