Oct 30, 2016

Yoga and Interpretation of Dreams

In his developing the subject of chitta stabilization techniques Patanjali offers another group of methods, namely – the mechanisms of dreams interpretation. The corresponding sutra is very short and almost completely ignored by modern commentators, whereas classical scholiasts did not pay much attention to it as well. However puzzling it out is possible. 
Now, the sutra 1.38 reads as follows:
1.38       svapna-nidrā-jñāna-ālambanaṃ vā
  • svapna (m.) – dream; from the root svap (to sleep); 
  • nidrā (f.) – dream; ni (in(to), down) + the root dra (to sleep);
  • jñāna (n.) – knowledge;
  • ālambanaṃ (n. nom. sg.) – support, reliance. The word is made up of the prefix  ā + root lamb (to hang);
  • vā (ind.) – or.
Thus the line shall have the following meaning:
1.38. Or [stability of manas is attained] by reliance upon knowledge [obtained] in sleep.   

Let us try to understand what the author of Yoga Sutras speaks about. For this purpose let us first consult classical commentaries. Unfortunately Vyasa confines himself to pure grammatical analysis of the line and reminds the same to deal with the problem of chitta calming by means of yoga. The Sankara I so much like launches into philosophizing about the nature of dream yet also leaves the concept of “reliance  upon knowledge gained in sleep” without explanations. However there is another, a less well-known commentary (though a very good one) – the Yoga Sudhakara – whose author, Sadasivendra Saraswati, gives the prompt so looked after. He writes the peace of chitta, moreover, its ultimate ‘one-pointedness” (ekagrata) to result from dhyana, i.e. correct deliberation or meditation on the knowledge that has come in one’s dream. The knowledge received while sleep is the contest of a dream that, as we know from psychoanalysis, is a symbolic expression of emotional problems (samskaras in terms of classical language, or the ones we refer to as energetic ties) a person suppresses. Consequently, by deciphering these symbols one can understand the core point of the problem, and thus solve the problem proper. This is why Patanjali mentions “reliance on knowledge”. Even the most clever interpretation of a dream is not yet a way out and it alone does not make one’s mind tranquil. The knowledge gained needs to be applied by using other types of psycho-techniques. Patanjali here is very accurate in using the terms.
  Amazing as it may seem, yet this sutra represents the ultimate essence of psychoanalysis. But how could it be possible? Could Hindu sages have been so much ahead of the European science discoveries? In terms of theory – why not. The findings of Jung and Freud required no sophisticated equipment or scientific background. The essential components needed were just keen observation and delicate reflection the Hindu practitioners had more than enough. In fact, the one and only hindrance to psychoanalysis ideas evolvement was their dealing with post-Christian paradigm that was still flying through European minds of that time. 
But let us proceed to scrutinize the subject of dreams interpretation in Ancient India.
Going back even further we might see that Hindu culture has always been paying utmost attention to dreaming. If we take Rigveda only, we might find that the word svapna there occurs at least 40 times in nominative singular and just as much in other cases. Almost every school of thought had its own concept of dreams and their origin. But notwithstanding minor differences in details all of the said theories were resting upon Vedic culture that due to its reflective nature had noted the nature of dreams basic features. To be substantive I shall quote here some excerpts from a stunningly insightive hymn of Atharva Veda that in a very delicate way singles out the key elements of the origin of dream. The hymn is dedicated to Sleep and addresses the same.


Thou art come hither from the world of Yama: 
thou, resolute, affectest men with rapture.
At first the all-containing, depth beheld thee

Thence hast thou come, thence, Sleep, hast thou come hither,
concealing, deep within, all form and figure
Thou whose severity hath reached ill-doers, 
and whose reward  the good have gained in slumber,
Delightest heaven with thy most lofty kinship, born from his
spirit who was stung with remorse[1]

[English version is quoted after The Hymns of the Atharvaveda transl. by Ralf T. H. Griffith – transl.note] 

    This hymn obviously displays archaic yet thoroughly reflexive attitude to sleep. The Vedic rishis noticed what we would refer to as its association with unconsciousness (coming from the depth, formlessness), the relation between the dream and a person’s deeds and states. Unafraid of criticism, I would even suggest their feeling of the unconsciousness’ collective nature (in the sense implied by Jung) in the line “thou, resolute, affectest men”.
    It was already in ancient Upanishads – the Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Maitri, Prashna etc. – that they were developing the ideas about the nature of dreams. Moreover, they were the Upanishads that advanced the theory of sleep phases (or depth degrees) – svapna, nidra, susupti. Apparently Patanjali’s introduction of two terms in the line under consideration was done on the basis of the said concept. The text of Aitraeya Aranyaka mentions inauspicious dreams and the means of preventing adverse events they predict. A number of dreams interpretations can be found in Ayurvedic Sushruta Samhita. A little bit later designated dream-dictionaries appeared. One can find references to Acharamayukha’s Svapna Adhyaya and so on. The best known extant dream-book, the Svapnacintamani of Jagaddeva dates back to the 12-13 cent. The text, particularly, states the following:

1.4. There are nine sources of dreams: something heard, something experienced, the seen, something that corresponds to its own nature, anxiety, violation of natural course, gods, merits, sins.

In all fairness it has to be added that the author’s proposed interpretations are a far cry from the level of Jungian therapy. But I believe dreams-dictionaries – both of now and then – to be a kind of literature meant rather for the “general public”. The genuine analysis of a dream in nothing but individual, or even more: is done on one’s own by applying the method of dhyana and basing on personal experience and specific features of individual symbolism.
     In finishing the article – both for the purpose of reader’s entertainment as well as illustrating the symbolism of dreams – I shall draw an excerpt from Eugene Onegin, namely, the description of Tatyana’s dream that most of us have probably failed to study at school. But we’d better had! Taking into account the fact of Pushkin’s writing it 100 years prior to Freud, the profoundness of the poet’s feeling the dreams symbolism is really striking. And it is another confirmation of Pushkin to have been a true expert in the field of woman’s souls and bodies))).
    A reader of today – and the more so a well-prepared one – shall easily see the way sub-consciousness of the dreamer represents the basic sexual desires suppressed by the leading female character, and even her sexual scenarios that are though far from implementation yet already crystallized... For the rest of the readers whose background in the field of psychology has been not that professional I shall highlight in italics the most significant symbols, while scenarios hints shall be underlined.  

But wonders come to her in dreams:
She wanders through a snowy vale
Wrapped in mist and gloom, it seems
Hidden from the world: while pale,
Among the snowdrifts, roars
A seething torrent, foaming, pours
Into the shadows, still the same,
A thing the winter cannot tame;
Two slender boughs glued by ice,
Stretched across to form a bridge,
A delicate and trembling ridge,
To make a passer-by think twice:
And in deep perplexity,
There she stands, helplessly.


As if before some mournful parting,
She sorrows at the dark divide;
No one is there, beyond its seething,
To lead her to the other side;
A snowdrift shifts, a shaggy bear,
Rises from his hidden lair,
Tatyana screams! ...She hears a roar,
He offers her a long curved claw,
To help her cross, she gathers strength
And putting out a trembling hand
Lets him draw her to dry land,
Along the fragile bridge’s length.
She stumbles on – and yet, beware,
She’s followed closely by the bear!


She dare not stop, or look behind,
She quickens her despairing pace,
There’s no escape, in her sad mind,
From that dark forbidding face;
She plunges on, he grunts and follows,
Far into the silent hollows;
Here’s a wood: in beauty, pines
Meet the sky in sombre lines,
Their branches, as she stumbles on,
Heaped with snow; glittering there
Birch, and lime, and aspen bare,
With starlit crowns; the track is gone;
All the world seems lost in sleep,
Drowned in snow, and buried deep.

Through the wood she flees the bear;
The soft snow reaches to her knee;
A branch leans down to snag her hair,
And scratch her neck, and stubbornly
Pluck the gold earrings from her ears;
And then one wet shoe disappears
Covered by the powdery snow;
Her handkerchief is next to go;
No time to retrieve it, in her fright,
The creature once again is near;
She dare not, in her shame and fear,
Lift her trailing hem, in flight;
She runs, he follows, on and on,
Until her strength is all but gone.

She falls to the snow, the bear alert
Rushes to lift her, swiftly sheathing
His sharp claws, she lies inert,
In his grasp, and barely breathing;
Now along the track he crashes,
Here’s a hut, to which he dashes,
Trees crowd round; it’s drowned in snow,
One window yields a rosy glow,
From inside there’s noise and clatter;
The bear speaks: ‘Friends live here,
Come in, warm yourself, my dear,
Ignore the tumult and the chatter’;
He pushes through the open door,
And sets her down upon the floor.

She recovers, gazes round,
The bear has gone; she’s in a hall;
Behind a door cheers resound,
Cries, the clash of glasses, all
The clamour of a wake; unsure,
She finds a spy-hole in the door,
And, there? .....Around a table sit
A monstrous crew, imagine it!
One has a horned and doglike face;
One a cockerel’s head; and see
A frightful witch with a goatee;
A skeleton haughtily in place;
A dwarf who sports a tail; and that,
Seems half a heron, half a cat!

And stranger still, behold a spider
Sits a crayfish; wonderful,
In red night-cap, a second rider
Mounts a goose’s neck, a skull!
A windmill dances a wild jig,
Its sails a creaking whirligig;
Bark, laugh, whistle, sing and screech,
Horses’ hooves and human speech!
Then in the crowd inside that hovel,
Our poor Tatyana recognises,
The one she fears and idolises
Who but the hero of our novel?
Onegin drinks amidst the roar,
Glancing stealthily at the door.

He nods – and there’s a mighty shout;
He drinks – the creatures howl and swill,
He laughs – and they all fall about,
He frowns – and everyone is still;
It’s plain that he’s the master here,
Tanya recovers from her fear,
And curious as young girls are,
Pushes the door till it’s ajar…
But suddenly a draught of air
Agitates the candle-flames;
Among them all, confusion reigns,
With glittering eyes Onegin there
Clatters his chair against the floor;
All rise; he rushes to the door.

Filled with terror, see her try
To flee the place; She cannot move,
The greater her attempts to fly,
The less of use her efforts prove.
Eugene flings wide the door, reveals
Her to that hellish crew – and peals
Of raucous laughter swell; all eyes,
Turn to her; and every guise,
Of horn and hoof and crooked snout,
Fang and tusk and blood-stained jaw,
Beard, tufted tail, sharp gleaming claw,
And bony finger, point her out;
And all their voices now combine
To cry aloud: ‘She’s mine, she’s mine!’

‘Mine’, Yevgeny’s voice rings out,
The wild host vanishes from sight,
And leaves them in the gloomy light
Alone together, at his shout.
Onegin quietly carries her
To a frail bed in a corner, there,
On her shoulder leans his head;
When suddenly they’re visited,
By Olga and her lover Lensky.
Light flashes; Eugene lifts his arm,
As if to raise a magic charm
Against intruders; furiously,
Contests their entry in a breath;
Tanya lies there, cold as death.
[transl.into English  by A. S. Kline - transl.note]

[1] The translation of the last line is my own version and it slightly differs from the traditional “born from his spirit who was worn and weary”. The thing is that the root ‘tap’ it contains means not only ‘tapas’ as a spiritual practice but also person’s inner torments that we refer to as “pangs of remorse”. It is in the said context that this root was used, for instance, in the first lines of Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This translation variant is more in line with the general meaning of the verse.

Oct 21, 2016

Emotions and Wholeness

In the recent articles of the blog I have wandered a little off the point of Yoga Sutras’ text sequential analysis in favor of sharing interesting reports made at Krakow conference. Now I’m coming back on the track of the main issue.
Let me remind the reader that starting from sutra 1.33. Patanjali draws a successive specification of the mind integrity (chitta-prasadanam) attainment methods - the methods that outline the principles of numerous yoga schools, techniques and traditions. The line 1.37 deals with the same very issue and gives another group of methods. But the conciseness of the sutra makes its interpretation rather ambiguous. 
  1.37      vīta-rāga-viṣayaṃ vā cittam

vīta (m.) – “free”, literary – “gone”, “taken away”; the word is made up of the prefix vi 
(de-, dis-) + ita – derived from the root i (to go/walk) passive past participle.
 rāga (m.) – the word that we have already discussed. It stems from the root rañj – “to be colored”, and most often is translated as “emotions” and “passions” implying something that “colors” our perception. For instance when in the sulks we might take a person or his actions for unpleasant, though in other circumstances our perception would differ. You may refer to the article for a more detailed analysis of this word.
 viṣayaṃ (n. nom. sg.) – another word we know that in most cases is translated as “object” or “subject matter”. The word derives from the root si  – “to tie”. And it is this word that comes as the very challenge of the line.
 vā (ind.) – “or”.
 cittam (n. nom. sg.) – “chitta”
The first composite word stands as an adjective to the second one (chitta) and they agree in gender and in case. The verbatim translation of the line shall give us the following:
    1.37 or free-from-coloring-objectal chitta.
How can one make it more readable in terms of our usual language? To start with, let us recall the context of the previous lines. They deal with prerequisites to the stability and steadiness of manas that is attained when chitta resides in some state described by the composite word above.
Now, as I've mentioned earlier, the word viṣayaṃ confuses the case a bit: it is not clear what the ‘objectal chitta’ actually means. There are several variants of this line interpretation, and it probably perplexed the minds of the very first YS commentators making different authors give a variety of interpretations. Vyasa preserved the translation of the word viṣayaṃ as “object” meaning an object that the mind is focused on. Globally speaking, the object of meditation. But how can this object be “free from coloring”? Maybe it is the mind of another, a better evolved person that, as he thought, the text implied? Then the line would read as follows:
1.37. Or contemplation having for its object [those who are] free from their desires.
In his comment to this line the author of Yoga Bhashya writes the following:
Or a yogi mind attains the state of steadiness when it is “colored by perception” [of individuals] free from desires, [the perception] that comes as the object [of concentration] [translated after Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and Yoga Bhashya’ translation into Russian done by E. Ostrovskaya and V. Rudoi – transl.note]  
A very sound and even obvious idea. Anyone can recall a context when anxiety over a situation subsided while our talking to or simply being next to a person who keeps calm. Yet they were not ordinary passionaless people that Vyasa probably meant but ancient rishis. This is what his commentator Vācaspati Mišra writes about:
According to his Tattva Vaishadari, “Krishna Dvaipayana and other ancient rishis whose mind, being an object of concentration for a yogi, as if colors in its turn the mind of the latter (E. Ostrovskaya, V. Rudoi).
However there is another tradition of commenting upon this sutra that goes back to Yoga Sutra Bhasya Vivarana authored by Sankara. A particularly interesting commentator, he is considered to have been not only a pandit (scholar) but a practicing yogi as well, and some of his ideas differ from those of other commentators. In dealing with the sutra under consideration, for instance, Sankara gives another interpretation of the word viṣayaṃ. He considers it not the object of meditation but simply any external object “just like women and other objects”. In such a case the line would read in the following way:
Or [stability of chitta] is attained when chitta is free from coloring by [external] object.
This idea is extremely valuable from both practical and theoretical points of view. It anticipates the views of numerous doctrines in modern psychology like, for instance, Uznadze’s Theory of attitude and set, psychodynamic therapy and so on. In fact, it bridges individual’s emotional sphere and the wholeness of his energy: in terms of perceiving any item as a colored one (i.e. having a preset in respect of it) our chitta loses its wholeness because it becomes ‘attached’ to it.
Here one can recall a well-known parable about two monks who met a woman by a riverside. The woman was not able to get across the river independently and one monk in disregard of statute carried her over to the other bank. In a little while another monk reproached him indignantly: “How dared you touching a woman when you are a monk!” “I have left her on that riverbank while you are still carrying her with you” – the first one tranquilly replied.
Such interpretation of the sutra is definitively interesting; it is essential from the point of practice and seems to be more natural than that of Vyasa. Moreover, it is what the commentators of our days actually use (probably being unaware of the primary sources). But there is a small grammatical remark about it. The thing is that if it were ‘coloring by objects’ the word ‘object’, just like in our language, would have been used in the instrumental case. Yet it stands in the nominative case and agrees with chitta. Maybe one can turn a blind eye to it – but we’d better bear it in mind. Without denying the value of the two afore-given interpretations I will try to give my own different explanation. The line undoubtedly deals with prerequisites to manas stability. But what is essential for the mind to remain stable? There is a good deal of different techniques but they all come down to one thing: one should want to make it stable. Just like with giving up smoking: first you must have a genuine desire to do it. But this is not simple. Because when you’re overwhelmed with emotions (colorings) everything around seems to be “so bitter-sweet”.
And in order to start getting out of these attitudes into integral “non-colored” state one should have in one’s mind a kind of a lighthouse, mindful comprehension of possibility and, what is more important, appropriateness of this whole and integral state. In order to start the debugging process it is essential that one admits having bugs. And I believe that in his writing about ‘free-from-coloring-objectal” chitta it was this very remembering that Patanjali meant.

Oct 20, 2016

Nirvana in the Context of Yoga

The word “nirvana” must be familiar to every more or less educated person living. It has been assimilated by every language – this is what also happened to the word “guru” (for we have all heard about IT-gurus and marketing-gurus…) - and has just the same way changed its meaning more than once. 

Most probably – in the vein of the afore given ad – a philistine considers nirvana to be a kind of very pleasant state that occurs during one’s doing nothing on a divan-bed, and connotes it to the word keif (by the way another interesting word of Turkish origin worthy of a separate article). Maybe some of the lay audience even have certain associations between the word nirvana and something oriental, for instance yogis that ‘get high’ in lotus pose… Maybe on nails…

A more educated person having a general idea of Buddhism obviously knows much more. Maybe the fact that nirvana is the state of breaking the births and deaths repeating cycle (samsara) attained after arhat who has reached the state of enlightenment leaves the body - Buddha himself, for instance, attained Mahanirvana. And that the core essence of nirvana is rather difficult for explanation since even Buddha, similar to Nicholas of Cusa, defined it using negation: Nirvana is neither life nor death, neither this nor that…
A person well versed in Buddhism shall of course be right to notice that the essence of nirvana can be considered only within the context of respective Traditions since their views on the said issue used to differ and change substantially. The said person might also recall that they were not only Buddhists but representatives of other philosophic systems (for instance the ajivikas) who were using this term. And right he shall be.
Another interesting question is whether nirvana is related to yoga or whether it is a purely Buddhist idea. And in case it is – what is the position it holds.
Oddly enough, but the answer to this question can be found in Bhagavad Gita. By virtue of some acting religious organizations and because of improper translations Bhagavad Gita in this part of the world has been recently treated as a religious text so that the interest in it on the part of yogis has dropped. But this is not how things actually are - Bhagavad Gita (especially its initial chapters) is a most valuable source of information on early yoga, probably even that of pre-Patanjali or pre-Buddhist period. Many ideas of Bhagavad Gita come in line with those from the Upanishads (up to direct citation), while many of them were the sources from which the concepts of Yoga Sutras developed.
In Bhagavad Gita the word “nirvana” is used in chapter 6. The chapter proper (or better say the preceding lines) deals with describing the practice of pranayamas and is followed by the line 6-15 which translation goes as follows:
Thus [by means of pranayamas], constantly keeping the mind absorbed in me, the yogi of disciplined mind attains and abides in me in śhanti nirvāa-paramāṁ 
I have left the last two words without translation since one can easily understand them.
Thus on the one hand the text treats nirvana as an objective of yoga while of the other hand it stands closely related to one’s ability of self-control and control of one’s manas that once again comes as a goal of yoga known to us. Therefore one may assume the state of nirvana implied in Bhagavad Gita to be the one that Patanjali refers to as chitta-vritti-nirodha.
At this point the reader may ask: “but what about total vanishing from the phenomenal World, the fading away and the rest of soteriological issues? It does not match…” Yes it doesn’t, and therefore I shall dare advancing my own hypothesis.
Let us go back to the original meaning of the word ‘nirvana’. It derives from the root ‘vaa’ – to blow (preserved, for instance, in the Russian ‘veyat’ – ‘to blow’, as well as the German ‘wehen’ – to blow, and English ‘wind’ proper) - that we recognize in Sanskrit words Vayu – the wind - and Vata – meaning the same. Yes, that's where the Ayurvedic vata-dosha comes from.
The neuter suffix –ana here is equivalent to the English –ing. Thus ‘vaanam’ means ‘blowing’, whine ‘nirvana’ respectively comes as the absence of blowing, of the wind. In Sanskrit literature the term “nirvana” is used to describe cessation of the candle flickering because of the wind. However the candle does not die away! It just proceeds to burns steadily! Probably this etymology-based meaning was a primary one that was later subject to changes assuming new meaning and shades, particularly the one associated with afterlife. I believe this process to be related to religious component of Buddhism. Still, from time to time in terms of Buddhism – probably under the influence of practitioners and their personal experience – the definition of nirvana was returning or coming close to the original one. For instance Budhaghosha – one of the major classifiers of theravada, the author of Visuddhimagga (ca. V AD) drew a direct correlation between nirvana and nirodha (though nirodha in terms of Buddhist tradition is known to have some other specifics). Another well-known text – Lankavatra sutra – goes as follows:
At that time Mahamati the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva again said this to the Blessed One: Thou speakest of Nirvana, Blessed One. What is meant by this term Nirvana?
Replied the Blessed One: When the self-nature and the habit-energy of all the Vijnanas, including the Alaya, Manas, and Manovijnana, from which issues the habit-energy of wrong speculations—when all these go through a revulsion, I and all the Buddhas declare that there is Nirvana [quoted after http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm - transl.note].

There is a perfect symbolic embodiment of correlation between nirvana and control of chitta that one can find in the sculptures of the largest Buddhist temple complex Borabudur in Java. By the way it was here that they found the Dharma Patanjala text that I’ve mentioned earlier. The temple is done in form of a mountain or a three-dimensional mandala that a pilgrim was supposed to climb. This ascent symbolized the stages of person’s growth.

In the process of spiral ascending one saw numerous frescoes describing stories from Buddhist texts. Somewhat higher on the platform there are a lot of buddhas sitting in semi-transparent “netty” stupas that I’ve seen in no other place.

And finally the structure is crowned by a standard solid stupa. 

There is a traditional understanding of stupa symbolism in the framework of Buddhist tradition that one can find even in the Internet but the ‘netty’ stupas with buddhas (or bodhisattvas) in them are still a question. My interpretation of these symbols resulted from a meditation goes as follows. A stupa symbolized nirvana in the sense of chitta stability – or immovability of the candle light. While a netty stupa stands for a partial, incomplete detachment of the intermediary stage, a mostly – but not absolutely – pacified mind through that the inner ahamkara looks. It resembles a yogi’s control of vritti that is a feature not absolute yet relative. Being immune to some types of vritti the practitioner may become “breached” by others – more intense or less cognized.

Jul 23, 2016

Krakow Lectures. Yoga and Siddhis. Dominik Wujastyk

    I've made up my mind to write a number of articles dedicated to lectures given at Yoga Darsana, Yoga Sadhana conference in Krakow. I believe this to be quite acceptable in the context of this blog because at least one third of the papers presented were dedicated to Yoga Sutras. Besides, in consideration of the huge gap between academic community dealing with yoga issues and yoga practitioners, as well as the gap between European and post-Soviet science I believe this to be so far the best way of introducing to our yoga community a number of important ideas advanced at the said conference. With early summer being one of the busiest periods of my year, I shall make this in the form of short messages’ series, although I don’t promise them to come very soon and on a regular basis. The lectures shall be dealt with in the order of their objective significance, that is, according to the principle “the first to have impressed me most” that in no way involves any attempt to downplay objective scientific value of particular presentations.
    But before moving on to the report that for me was one of the most interesting let me first share some general impressions. The first thing I was much delighted with was understanding of my personal research studies in yoga to be much “on trend”. The conference Session 1 opened with presentation of Naomi Worth, a young researcher from the University of Virginia concerned about analysis of Yoga Sutras lines 1.34-1.39, that is, the same very sutras that have so far been the last analyzed in my blog. Moreover, the author’s key massage suggested that these shlokas specify the variants of yoga practice that all Schools, traditions and techniques of today have emerged from. 
   Another report presented on day one has complemented my lecture on the history of yoga. I remember that speaking about yoga dissemination from India to Southeast Asia I said I knew neither the name of Indonesian yoga nor its texts though I was sure they had existed. Now, Andrea Acri from International [Nalanda-Sriwijaya] Research Center has delivered report dedicated to Indonesian text of Dharma Pātañjala that has been recently found in the vicinity of Borobudur and comes as exposition of Yoga Sutras (with some differences). So, the yoga in Indonesia did exist indeed!
     And I’ve been totally fascinated by two reports on cognitive aspects of yoga and samadhi that I have continuously been dealing with here. A separate article on this issue is coming.
    But I shall no longer keep the reader in suspense and proceed to focusing on the most valuable report for me presented by Dominik Wujastyk, a renowned Orietalist scholar who currently works at the University of Alberta.
    His study was dedicated to yoga attitude to siddhis (vibhuti). Some readers may know that many contemporary authorities on yoga express their negative stance on siddhis as something negative, something that impedes spiritual growth. This perspective has been widely disseminated throughout the would-be yogic community and has been even included into Radhakrishnan’s classical textbook  Indian Philosophy, the books of G. Feuerstein and so on as an indisputable issue. However many students of our School may be unaware of this idea because I have never been supporting this position and have ignored it attributing the said opinion to regrettable tendencies of some Schools’ religiozation. Yet where has this ridiculous idea actually stemmed from? This was the question that Dominik Wujastyk clarified in his report.
   First of all he paid attention to an obvious fact. Most sutras of the YS third section deal with siddhis. Thus it would be quite illogic to believe that Patanjali was taking them for something negative or accessary. Neither one finds something negative in respect of siddhis in the commentary of Vyasa. 
By comparing yoga texts of that period with Buddhist manuals containing information about psychological practices (for instance, Abhidharmakosha) the speaker has pointed out that it was not something bad that Buddhists were takingsiddhis for, but they rather viewed them as certain markers of person’s spiritual progress. The first negative stance on siddhis appeared in the second most significant commentary on Yoga Sutras that was written ca. 1000 years after the text itself – the Vacaspati Misra’s Tattvavaisaradi (the text that I have more than once mentioned here).

But where has the conception of siddhis as something negative actually come from? The one and only reasoning of it has turned out to originate from incorrect understanding of just one line of Yoga Sutras 
37.  te samādhāv upasargā vyutthāne siddhayaḥ
Which first three words are translated as

They are hindrances to samadhi...

And since this shloka appears in the midst of the section dedicated to Siddhisthey claimed the latter to be misfortunes.
Yet the reporter has shown (and I gave myself the trouble to check this upon coming back home) that the pronoun te (they) is attributed not to the section at a whole (the more so the fact that the line is put the middle of the section, not in fine) but only to the effects specified in the preceding shloka 3.36. And this is what Vyasa expressly writes about.
36. tataḥ prātibha śrāvaṇa vedanā ādarśā āsvāda vārtā jāyante

Vyasa determines prātibha, śrāvaṇa, vedanā, ādarśā and āsvāda (the emphasis is mine) to be ‘divyas’, that is, miraculous or supernatural visibility, audibility, knowledge and so on. It means that it has nothing to do with siddhis! And in this way Dominik Wujastyk has in his report debunked this stereotyped myth.
Attention! The following concept is mine, not Dominik Wujastyk’s…
       However the question of how the siddhis from shloka 3.36 have appeared to impede samadhi still remains open. Dominik has suggested the problem to reside in the word upsarga that has numerous meanings with 'impediment' being just one of them. I have a different - and a more radical - opinion. They traditionally assume the enlisted pratibha, shravana, vedana, adarsha and ashvada to be siddhis though neither Vyasa nor other commentaries imply the same. It is only the notion of pratibha that Vyasa expands in details and associated to a kind of omniscience. As for the rest of the listed, he just states them to be 'miraculous' or 'subtle' hearing, olfaction and so on. And to impede samadhi. But what makes us think these positive states to be siddhis?  Maybe it is not siddhis but visual and other types of hallucinations meant? Or, if to speak more accurately, the 'eidetic' vision, olfaction and tactile sense? That is, seeing things, the ‘glitches’ that may occur in the process of practice. It is the same very trap that various 'channellers', spiritists, ‘self-styled’ paranormalists use to fall into. People who 'obtain information' in the said manner miss the principle issue. Genuine spiritual growth is not a mere augmentation of information content in one's head. The growth implies qualitative expansion of the discourse, of the description language that happens either in case of proper learning from more educated people or in the course of creative process that culminates in samadhi. This trap has been well known among representatives of otherTraditions. The Hesihasts used to call this “spiritual delusions” after the word ‘delude’ that is, to distract. Indeed, a person falling into hysterization of these effects that can be easily explained from the perspective of physiology and neurology distracts himseld from the primary tasks of profound self-awareness and transformation. The 'vision' of this type is not the true vision [also referred to as ‘intuition’ – transl.note] that is called this way in metaphoric sense only. Gregory Palamas, a Hesychast, once said something of the following (I can’t be bothered to look for quotation reference now): the spiritual vision is totally different from the ordinary one. Anyone unable to figure out whether it was ‘mortal’ or spiritual vision that he has seen something with must have been “seeing things”, and it has nothing to do with real intuition. B the way, in Sanskrit it is not the pratibhin that one would expect to be used to refer to a truely 'seeing' person, but tattvavid, i.e. the one who sees the core, the true nature (tattva).
   So far I cannot give a more solid proof of my suggested thesis of the shloka 3.36 to describe pathogenic states. The word pratibha in Yoga Sutras is used one more time in sutra 3.33, but the latter is too short to confirm either of the opinions.

Jun 21, 2016

History of Yoga

As you remember, this year's March was my public lecture on the history of yoga. And it was announced that there will be an English translation of this lecture and presentation. So today, on the Day of Yoga I am glad to share the first series of videos in English, thanks to Ivan Ulitko. Presentations are available on my youtube channel:


Apr 28, 2016

Methods of Chitta Stabilization. Part 5. Grand Thoughts and Reflections on Abstract Notions as a Part of Yoga

The next sutra can be well understood in the context of the previous ones, and it complements the earlier sutra 1.35 in terms of logic. Let me remind that the latter stated that the activity filled with an object, a target, facilitates retaining of personal wholeness. Or, to be more specific, it prevents chitta from scattering (chitta-vikshepa). The sutra 1.36 suggests another elegant method of chitta control. As always, we shall start with translation, the more so in this case it is not at all difficult.

1.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī
viśokā (f. nom. sg.) – “free from anxiety (suffering)”; the word is formed with help of the prefix vi (dis-, out-) and the noun śoka (“suffering”) deriving from the root śuc (“to suffer, to worry”);
vā (ind.) – “or”;
jyotiṣmatī (f. nom. sg.) – “shining”; jyotis, from the root jyut (“to shine/illuminate”) and the suffix matī - a feminine suffix that forms a possessive adjective.

 Both words are given in feminine form being adjectives that refer to the word pravṛttir – the “activity” (of manas) from the previous sutra.

 Thus the present sutra shall go as follows:

1.36 Or the shining, free from anxiety (activity of manas).

 In such a way, Patanjali singles out two opportunities for useful activity of the mind – one that is focused on objects, and another one that is “free from anxiety or sufferings”, “shining”. It is not hard to understand this distinction. There are two types of issues that any person can reflect upon: the real-life problems related to one’s social or other object activity, and the issues of abstract character that are interesting in and of themselves and that are not essential for everyday activity. The second type of thinking gives rise to science, philosophy, esthetic activity. Of course when I say “reflect” I mean genuine reflection that is based on logic and methodology and that is fruitful – rather than mere emotional “replaying” of the problem in one’s head. The latter case is nothing but a vritti.

 I believe that in this case the author of Yoga Sutra outlines the difference between Karma-yoga and Jnana-yoga that had been mentioned yet in Bhagavad Gita. Karma-yoga is associated with focusing on one’s real-life activity, while Jnana-yoga deals with cognitive activity.

Methods of Chitta Stabilization. Part 4. Thoughtless Brains Beget Evil Ideas

In the next lines Patanjali proceeds with methods of chitta stabilization and bringing together that, as you might remember, have been already said to include the development of Anahata experience and control of breath. The line 1.35 offers one method more, yet its interpretation requires that we overcome a few challenges.
The first challenge is the fact that there are two variants of this line reading:

А 1.35  viṣaya-vatī vā pravṛttir utpannā manasaḥ sthiti-nibandhan
B 1.35  viṣaya-vatī vā pravṛttir utpannā manasaḥ sthiti-nibandhin

We see the difference to be just in one letter of the last word, and this could even be accepted in view of the fact that the two variants of this word are very close in their meaning. Nevertheless I have found it essential that this confusion is noted on so that, first, the future researchers are put out of needless misery, and second, the reader understands that even most classical texts are to be treated critically and carefully. No one is immune to mistakes, especially if the text itself is more than two thousand years old.
Another challenge in analyzing this line is associated with an already established convention of its interpretation that I personally consider to be misguided. But let us not jump the gun.

viṣayavatī (f. non. sg.) = viṣaya vatī, suffix -vat (in this case  -vatī because of the noun being feminine) – forms an adjective with a meaning “filled with something”, “related to something”, viṣaya  – the word that we already know and that in the framework of YS is used in the meaning of “an object”. Thus a cumulative meaning can be suggested as “of object kind” or “filled objectively”.
vā (ind.) – or.
pravṛttir (f. nom. sg.) – the dictionary meaning of this word is “activity”: the prefix pra (pre-, ante-) + vṛtti (activity), a polysemantic word we already know that has derived from the root vṛtYet it is this very word that a stumbling block has occurred in.
utpannā (f. non. sg.) – created, born; ut (upwards-) + pannā - passive past participle of the root pad (to fall).
manasaḥ (n. gen. sg.) – ‘manas’ is always ‘manas’. 
sthiti (f.) – stable, steady; from the root sthā (to stand, to be situated).
nibandhinī (m. nom. sg.) – bound, tied; ni (down) + bandha, from bandh (to bind, to fasten) + in (or an).
In general, it makes no problem to bring this together and get the following translation:

1.35 Or [is] created object-filled steadily controlled activity of manas (mind). In the context of the previous lines it – the said activity – brings about stabilization of the mind. 
The idea is, in fact, totally clear. Scattered mind, the citta vikshepa that the last lines refer to, is caused by insufficient activity of the mind, lack of its proper “arrangement”. Globally speaking, most of psychological problems result from the fact that a person has nothing real to do, is poorly loaded or sets himself very simple tasks. Many readers might know well the effect of a disease that commences simultaneously to vacations or at relaxation after completion of a difficult task. The mechanism of these two phenomena is one and the same. As a Chinese proverb runs: “an empty house always ends with evil spirits, and thoughtless brains – with evil thoughts”.
In a situation when a person uses the whole of his potential, when he is totally focused on one thing he simply has no energy for, as we call it, “going after the tails and trails” [i.e., ‘unfinished’ situations where a piece of chakra energy has ‘stuck’ – transl.note]. And vice versa. Unused energy, just like any other resource, becomes destructive for a person. One must live totally and “the whole nine yards” in respect of all chakras. This is how I interpret this line.
Yet one can easily find this interpretation to fail drastically in fitting the mold - the prevailing mythologeme of Yoga as cessation of activity. And even to contradict it. Maybe it is the reason of why the first of the known YS commentators, Vyasa, who has actually originated the vein related to “fading of activity”, gave a different interpretation of this line trying to neutralize the mentioned problem caused by the word “pravritti”. And indeed, if we consider Yoga to be an escape from activity of the mind, how can we call for it. Moreover, in relation to objects… To this end Vyasa has given a somewhat mystical commentary of the word “pravritti” having shifted its meaning from the activity in general to some “subtle” perception and “subtle” activity. Lofty and unusual. And it was this type of activity that he has referred “subtle” sense organs to. For instance, the eidetic “smell” that occurs in yogi after long-term concentration on the tip of his nose, or the “taste” at the tip of his tongue… (by the way, it has been verified to occur indeed).
There is some logic in it: the prefix pra- has already been mentioned to mean pre-/ ante-, so that we can in line with this dream up some “subtle” smell that emerges before the real one. But only at the level of philosophic speculation. Because even with such an experience of ours we cannot tell whether the eidetic smell really “precedes” the actual one, or - as they think from the perspective of modern science - comes as reminiscence or reconstruction. Also, even if Patanjali implied some specific “subtle” meaning of the word “pravritti”, there is no evidence that it was with a view to some subtle perception. In consideration of Vyasa’s views the translation of this line reads as follows:

1.35 Or the [pretersensual] activity in relation to objects upon its occurrence [also] brings about mental stability.  
(E.P. Ostrovskaya, B.I. Rudoi)

In general the interpretation given by Vyasa dismantles, though partially, the contradiction with his own interpretation, but in addition to making the translation mystic and unverifiable it also puts it obviously out of tune with the rest of the context: everything associated to siddhas was referred by Patanjali to the third chapter of the text. In my early articles I have already expressed my disagreement with interpretation of Vyasa and pointed out his being subjected to Buddhist influence, so I take the liberty of doing it once again.