Jul 23, 2016

Krakow Lectures. Yoga and Siddhis. Dominik Wujastyk

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.

Jan 27, 2016

Breath Control as a Method of Gathering Chitta Up

    The next line of Yoga Sutras does not involve any difficulty for translation, as well as for commentary and understanding. 
1.34       pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyām vā prāṇasya
pracchardana (n.) a well-known word that in terms of literature on yoga denotes “exhalation”. It consists of the prefix pra + cchardana  - a  noun produced from the root chṛd  “to eject”, “to outthrow”.
vidhāraṇābhyāṃ (m. instr. du.) “holding”, “retention”, “control”; the prefix vi (‘out of, from’) + dhāraṇā “holding”, from the root dhṛ “to hold/retain”, that we already know. 
vā (ind.) “or”.
prāṇasya (m. gen. sg.) “prana” or “air”.
        Thus in consideration of the context the sutra shall go as follows: 
1.34 Or [for withstanding scattering of mind (chitta vikshepa)] inhalation and control (holding) of air (prana). 
It is quite obvious that Patanjali refers to pranayama as a means of assembling-stabilizing one’s mind. This idea shall be further on developed in the second section of the work. Being short, the sutra makes it impossible for us to understand what was that specific technique meant by the author – whether it is an inspiratory hold, or a slow exhalation with air control, or something else, especially that there is a variety of similar pranayamas described in later texts on yoga. Yet the main point here is that Patanjali has clearly determined the essence and the objective of pranayamas that are often omitted in terms of modern fitness-“yoga”. Pranayamas are intended for working with one’s mind and do not come as another form of physical exertion. The expansion in their number occurred in medieval texts may be preconditioned by increase of psychological states they wanted to induce. After all, every system tends to complication and progress of sophistication. 
On the other hand, none of yoga treatise that I know describes precise principles of linking the types of breathing and the states thus formed. These are the discoveries of modern body-oriented psychotherapy that may serve as methodology for revealing these principles. Curiously enough, but notwithstanding the fact that western body-oriented therapists have empirically rediscovered the rule that “the more shallow the breath, the more problems the person has”, the first attempt to put this together, to examine pranayama from this very perspective belongs (I can’t but praise myself for it) to the author of these lines. And it was for the first time described in the book “Chakra Psycho-Diagnostics”, and later on – in “Yoga: Physiology, Psychosomatic, Bioenergetics”
Later on the concept based upon empiric observations was from different perspectives verified by the founder of national [Ukrainian – translator’s note] Yoga-therapy – Elena Akhramieieva. The result of spirometer tests showed, in particular (within the context of this article), that there is a link between the place of failure in smooth full yogic breath and the type of problematic reminiscences. In other (slang) words: one’s breathing is poor at the level of the chakra that has a “tail” in it. 
Counter meterage – gauging of state of consciousness under the influence of pranayamas – would be impossible in the scope of scientific method since state of consciousness is not subject to objectification; thus here we, just like the yogi of ancient times, shall remain empiricists and rely upon our experience that in complete alignment with Patanjali tells: when breathing becomes even, consciousness shall become more aggregated.
Those who want to read the articles on the topic can do it hereIn particular I would like to single out the article Pranayama as Meditation.

Meditation for Overcoming Hostility

 As it has been said earlier, maitri - “amicability” - comes as one of the yogi’s basic features. Yet most people, especially those brought up in the post-USSR environment, have difficulties in experiencing this feeling. For several generations they were being habituated to take counter-revolutionists, Germans, Americans, capitalists and others of the kind for foes.  The habit of hostility (that is a direct opposition to amicability) and aggressive attitude to the Universe has become a deep-seated feature which extirpation requires some dedicated practices.

 As a matter of fact, the most effective way of reducing one’s aggressiveness is the development of Anahata that enables to take every person first of all for a man rather than for social roles attributed to him, and also facilitates the experiencing of unity with people and the Universe. Empathy, the principle feature of Anahata, alone makes a person less aggressive. Yet this is a global perspective. That is why I shall draw a couple of more simple techniques that are feasible for most practitioners. And the first thing I would like to point out is that the source of hostility often lies in… merely the habit of being hostile. So that in order to get rid of it one just needs to realize this feeling to be a fully contrived and relative one.

 For this purpose the following practice can be performed: take a particular person whom you are hostile to and ask yourself a question: “Under which circumstances shall I be ready to cooperate with this person in earnest, notwithstanding my attitude to him?” For instance, in order to save someone’s life… Or, maybe, just for your personal interest or benefit… The task it to find a real answer. Having performed this technique in respect of many people you shall find out there are many things that you are willing to sacrifice your far-fetched principles for. And soon the attitude to your own hostility shall cease to be that serious.

 This technique can be applied not only to people, but also to different egregors, states and so on. 

 A more sophisticated technique is based upon searching for current, actual common interests with a person you feel hostile to. The more strategic our vision is, the more obvious becomes the fact of having common interest even with people whom we believed to have a local conflict of interests with.