Jan 15, 2013

Sutra 1.2. Nirodha. The Problem of the Practice Boundedness

So the word nirodha that at first glance seemed to be so easy to understand has turned out to come with many surprises. Let us consider another one that despite its apparent irrelevance once cost the great Buddhist teaching its split followed by numerous inter-school debates. In terms of its application to Yoga Sutra this issue can be formulated as follows: 

If Yoga is liberation (in this case any other translation of the word nirodha will suit) of chitta from vritti, does the state reached in scope of it come as a stable and permanent that the subject will continuously remain in, or is it only a glimpse, an instant and transient breakthrough when "the drashtar rests in his own svaroope (his genuine nature)" (line 3), and then the vrittis will once again obfuscate the chitta?

Of course in terms of conservative amateurish approach to yoga everything seems clear: the state of chitta-vritti-nirodha is the ultimate goal and having reached it the Yogi attains "liberation" and probably even the “enlightenment”J. However if we subject this position to thorough analysis it will occur as a self-contradictory one. Indeed, what happens further with the person that has reached this state? If he never comes out of this condition then we should accept the early Buddhist model that says that having attained the state of an Arhat the practicing person has nothing but only wait for death in order to go to nirvana thus ceasing the circle of rebirth. However there are problems here as well. First, the yoga of Patanjali does not involve the concept of nirvana, and second, it is not quite clear what determines the specific moment of one’s death in absentia of karma. And what is it exactly (and even more important – what for) that the Arhat is busy with spending his time until nirvana.

Nevertheless, the opposite concept that speaks in favour of possible obfuscation is incongruent as well. For if vritti can come back, what are the factors stipulating this recidivation? In this state the inner factors – such as vritti - are no longer there by definition, while the external factors – like karma – according to Patanjali are absent.

Of course there is the way out of this difficulty, based upon intellectual cowardice and frequently used by modern practicing people: "this is a complicated issue and we are so far from this state, so let us meanwhile do what we can on our level". Yet to my mind such approach that is associated with one’s lacking the picture of one’s development perspective, as well as one’s own mystic experience, can only bring to a conceptual dead end and cause the practice based upon such opinion lapse to the level of fitness. Therefore, we shall not be using this method.

It was not for accident that I have mentioned the Buddhist concept of Arhats since it was around this concept that the dispute that correlates with our problem arose. It was already within the first century of Buddhism that this issue became one of the key points in split between the followers of Sthaviravada and Mahasamghika (that later transformed into the Theravada and Mahayana that we know). The question was set in the following way: it is possible for the Arhat to degrade, i.e. to lose the state that he has reached prior to his leaving to nirvana (that was supposed to happen after the death). The answers given by the named branches were opposite to one another. The followers of Sthaviravada considered the state of the Arhat to be the ultimate while those of Mahasamghika, on the contrary, admitted the possibility of such degradation. One can learn details of complex debates relating to this subject from the book of Shokhin "Indian Philosophy Schools", but even the fact that these two opposing doctrines still exist shows that the final and convictive answer has not been given. And subject to philosophical strength of the Buddhist community this means that the question itself is not as simple as it might seem.

Later on another group of practicing persons – the followers of Zen – came up to the question that was actually similar in its core point. Lifting the above-mentioned contradiction that comes out of the concept of this state permanence they postulated the instantaneity of the satori state experience [1]. In scope of commenting the basic line of Yoga Sutras this psychologism as opposed to the naive religious ontologism (that was, by the way, borrowed from the simpliest interpretations of Buddhism done by the westerners) is close to me as well.

[1] See D.T. Suzuki. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. 

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