Dec 19, 2012

Sutra 1.2. Definitions of Yoga

Frankly speaking, when I was starting this blog I did not want to deal here with analysis and comparison of existing translation variants, let alone their criticism, leaving the criticism to those who enjoys doing it J. What I intended to do was to accompany the reader on the way of understanding Patanjali, so to say, “from the roots”, trying to comprehend the knowledge rendered by him in the most literal way, without adding anything extra. In my opinion, those who wish to practice in comparative studies could find all 20 Russian translation (this is what I know, maybe there are more) and do it themselves. However, in view of some doubts I had, I have decided to revise the approach (hopefully, just once J) and still to discuss the available variants in scope of the fundamental issue that affects the rest of the work - in terms of Yoga definitions. The second line of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is known to give a vivid and concise definition:

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोध: ॥२॥
1.2. yogaścitta vṛtti nirodha:

At so it seems like, since the definition has been given, all you have to do is go on using it, but it is right here where the problem lies. The ambiguity in understanding of the three fundamental terms, namely chitta, vritti and nirodhah has resulted in a large number of translations (followed by interpretations) of this line. Here are some of the most well-known:
Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrttis). (Vivekananda)
Yoga is suppression of Vritti (the states, modifications) within Chitta (the consciousness). (Rigin)
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. (Krishnamacharya and Desikachar)
Yoga is cessation of the functions of chitta. (Zagumennov)
The essence of Yoga lies in restraining the mind-stuff from taking various modifications. (Fal’kov)
Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel 'Who am I? (Mishra)
Yoga is cessation of the mind’s modifications. (Danchenko)
This Union (or Yoga) is achieved through the subjugation of the psychic nature, and the restraint of the chitta (or mind). (A. Bailey)

And, probably, the most “brilliant” translation:
Yoga is cessation of the mind’s activity. (Ostrovskaya, Rudoi)

One may easily see that these translations of one simple line are absolutely different. But this is only half the trouble. The trouble itself is that the particular practice that is based upon each of these translations shall be totally and fundamentally different. Unlike for philosopher or theoretical commentator, for a man of practice the improper understanding of the essence of the things he does can occur not as just an amusing incident, but as lost years of life and even damaged mental health. So I shall once again emphasize that one should not rely upon arbitrary translations just because they are academic or have been commented by classics (ancient or modern). One has to dig to the roots oneself.

We can see that the above-drawn translations (as well as the rest of them) can be divided into three groups.

1. The "discreet” ones, such as, for instance, the translation of Vivekananda who refused from the idea of translating the terms by those English ones that are similar in meaning and has rather explained them basing upon his mystical experience (this I shall explain in my next article). In terms of this he has still preserved the original terms in brackets being aware that for majority of people his explanations will not be quite clear. I personally believe this to be the best variant. In my translation and commentary I will try to translate as little words as possible, trying to explain the original terms and not to re-name them, for it would inevitably change their meaning [1]. It is interesting here that from discreet translations one can hardly draw any recommendations concerning some specific practice. Although the emotional coloring of the practice still does occur. Compare the difference between the feeling arising from Vivekananda’s “restraining” and Rigin’s “suppression”. And the “cessation” of Zagumennov that connotes to Buddhism. They raise different feelings and result in different practices... 

2. "The doctrinal" ones that are actually not the translations yet the ideas of their authors (truly respected by me) regarding the given issue. This is where I refer those of Mishra, Krishnamacharya and Alice Bailey. Who have actually given their own definitions of yoga that are linked to the practice they used. This practice may be good, like the one of Bailey, and even a brilliant one, like that of Krishnamacharya’s, but if truth be told ("Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend"), we must bear in mind that this may not be the very practice that was offered by Patanjali. For the translation is arbitrary enough.

3. "Philosophical" ones in the vein of Ostrovskaya and Rudoi [2]. Such translations may be interesting in scope of scientific contemplations about the nature of consciousness and those general ones, but from the point of practicing person they lead to paradoxical conclusions. For instance, the idea of yoga as cessation of mind (in case of literal reading – but how else may one read the text in one’s own language? "hermeneutically" or what?) is contrary to common sense. The person lying in coma cannot come as the perfect image of yoga. The five billion years of evolution that have provided man with his main tool and attribute – the mind – cannot happen to have been to no avail. Evolution does not create functions that one has to get rid of. Yet within the territory of CIS there are schools that understand yoga in this very meaning being based upon this translation. And they try to “cease their mind”, “reach the state of no thoughts” etc., getting over the absurdity of situation by means of "complex" philosophical explanations. But for this case see the Section on the traps of philosophical speculation [3]. 

Based upon the afore-set I will once again specify the methodology of my analysis of YS. To try to preserve maximum number of terms untranslated but clarified. Moreover, this task is facilitated by the very structure of the text. Patanjali defines almost all terms he uses within the sutra itself. Unfortunately, but for the one of "chitta"...

[1] To be fair, with all due respect to Vivekananda I would still note that there are some terms that he did “translate” poorly, having thus significantly complicated the understanding of YS at the time. For instance, he translated “gunas” as "qualities" and "samadhi" as "concentration."

[2] I treat these authors with great respect as well, but I think that their task was to show that an adequate translation of the mystical text basing only upon scientific methods and without providing any support by one’s own mystical experience is impossible.

[3] Here I shall draw the statement of one well-known Cabbalist of the past "philosophers finish where mystics only begin”.

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