Jun 28, 2013

Sutras 1.17 - 1.18. Samprajna. The Legend of Asamprajna Samadhi

Let us come back to the text of Yoga Sutras. The sloka 1.17 introduces the category of Samprajna(ta).

वितर्कविचारानन्दास्मितारूपानुगमात् सम्प्रज्ञातः ॥ १७॥
1.17 vitarka-vicāra-ananda-asmita-rūpa-anugamāt samprajñātaḥ  

The exact understanding of this line on the basis of translation taken “from the dictionary” shall be difficult since in fact the whole line is drawn of psycho-technical terms (but for the word anugamat meaning “to follow”) which translation, as we remember, can hardly be grounded on the dictionary only. Probably it is due to this that translation variants of this line, commentaries upon it and their consequences are very ambiguous. And it will be these ambiguities and consequences that we shall first of all deal with.

​In the first place, let us pay attention to the fact that this line does not contain the word Samadhi! The next “nearest” Samadhi comes only in line 1.20 of the text. However, the majority of the well-known interpretation variants do introduce this word!!! At the end of the line, after the word samprajna. Sometimes it is done in a bashful “bracketed” manner, sometimes – without brackets. The situation is similar in both Russian and English translation variants. The translations and commentaries of Mishra and Swami Satyananda, as well as that of Vivekananda, persistently “encourage” us to find that Samadhi-word within the text. And they do the job well, so that even Mircea Eliade, an outstanding researcher, spends several paragraphs reflecting upon the state of samprajna-samadhi. We don’t even mention some “minor” analysts: you may type the word “samprajna” in Google search bar and you will immediately get the ‘tip’ – the samprajna(ta)-samadhi.

​The most curious thing here is that in fact, though being excessive, the word Samadhi gets on rather well with the general context of the said line. The word sam-prajna can be translated in the following manner. Sam is the prefix that means “co-“, “jointly”, while prajna is “knowledge” or, more pathetic, “wisdom”, though I believe “knowledge” to be more appropriate. Here the prefix pra- (that interpreters rely upon to distinguish between “wisdom” and “general knowledge – jnana) implies some breadth. So to my mind the most appropriate (almost perfect) term to be used for translating the word samprajna shall be the “comprehension” (that also contains two prefixes – “com” and “pre”). Unfortunately, this term has become much commonplace and is often used out of picture. For instance: “There shall be a listening comprehension test”, or “There are comprehension questions at the end of each block”. Such usage is the confusion of terms. In the given samples the terms “perception” and “understanding” would be more appropriate [the examples given in the original text deal with relevant cases that refer to Russian equivalent of the word “comprehension” – translator’s note]. In very deed comprehension is the process related to expansion of one’s consciousness, identifying the things and phenomena that one never used to pay attention to, “attaching” the name to things that were previously transcendental in that very sense that Freud meant when speaking out his immortal “Where Id is, there should Ego be”. In this sense the true comprehension is a complicated cognitive act that is identical to Samadhi in the meaning that we attach to this word … In this way the word Samadhi, if contained in line 1.17, would not be inconsistent with it, though being “much of muchness”. BUT! There is no such word in this line! At least in those Yoga Sutra variants that I know. That is why the term samprajna-samadhi introduced with reference to Patanjali is improper. 

This term was most probably integrated by Vijnanabhikshu, an ascetic philosopher of the 16th century who tried to synthesize Yoga, non-Advaita Vedanta and Samkhya and wrote the Yogavarttika (Explanation of Yoga) – the detailed commentary on the Vyasa’s Yoga-Sutras-Bhashya. However, with all due respect to the medieval authority, I consider him to have brought his understanding of YS and commentaries on it to a dead-end. As it was said by one of Russian mystics: “all is not gold that glitters, all is not truth that is Sanskrit”.
But what is that problem of samprajna-samadhi term? The problem lies in the following sloka:

विरामप्रत्ययाभ्यासपूर्वः संस्कारशेषोऽन्यः ॥ १८॥
1.18 virāma-pratyayābhyāsa-pūrvaḥ saṃskāra-śeṣo'nyaḥ

that describes some certain state (which exactly – we’ll discuss later) and ends up with the word anya – another, different from. And here the garbling with the word Samadhi has taken an unexpected turn: when there is samprajna-samadhi, there is “another” – asamprajna-samadhi (I shall remind that the prefix a- stands for “non-“ negation). And thus we as if happen to have 2 variants of Samadhi – the “superior” and the “inferior” ones. Wait a minute, but Patanjali’s text does not contain the term “asamprajna” at all! If this is a “superior” one, then why did the classic omit it when giving his classification of Samadhi… And how came that an innocent word “other” has turned into “superior”? Patanjali did not introduce any hierarchy of this kind. However the idea has come to stay. Search Google for asamprajna-samadhi and you will find a peck of nonsenses developing the theme. Why? I shall dare to put forward an assumption that issue is about the initial words of the line 1.18:

translated in the following way:
virāma - cessation;
pratyaya is translated by many terms that convey various products of one’s mental activity, the most accurate of translation variants been: understanding, view, belief;
abhyāsa the term that we already know, denoting self-control;
pūrvaḥ - preceding.

In this way (though by some stretch of imagination) we can translate the phrase as “an exercise on bringing thoughts to a stop”, on in some similar manner. That cannot but please those people who narrow yoga to the practice of pointless sitting the state of idiotic rapture. However the “Samadhi” of the line 1.17 happened to be out of luck. The line also mentions vitarka and vichara that mean (so far, approximately) reasoning and logical analysis, that is why samprajna-samadhi was nominated as “inferior” and “underdone” – for here one still has to think… Probably, it is this introduction of two samadhis into the system that entailed the emergence of understanding the target of yoga as some ecstatic lack of sense similar to religious trance, and not the culture of sound, cognoscitive and advancing spirit. And because of its simplicity and attraction the idea has come to stay. Such degradation also happened in other esoteric systems, for instance, some Sufi orders correlated the state of “spiritual intoxication”, sukr, with banal getting high under the influence of hashish, while some of degenerated Tao schools started to stimulate Jing by means of masturbation. As for medieval India, its air was saturated with the idea of ecstasy. But we’ll leave the ecstasies until later.

​So far let us still try to single out the core point of these two slokas (1.17 and 1.18).

1.17 vitarka-vicāra-ananda-asmita-rūpa-anugamāt samprajñātaḥ

vi-tarka in this and the following words the prefix vi- means “distinguish”, “differentiate between” and in some way it corresponds to the English prefix “di(de)”; tarka, like many other abstract terms, has a number of translation variants with very broad meaning: “thought”, “opinion”, “point of view”, and another dozen of words. The Monier Williams dictionary also offers a number of translation variants for the term vitarka as a single word: “argument”, “point of view”, “proposition”, “opinion”, even “imagination” and “fantasy”, so that it seems that the prefix in fact does not change much the meaning of the word. Still, let us draw an analogy with the words vijnana and viveka. The prefix there does emphasize their differentiating function, distinguishing between such aspects of knowledge as possession of some information (jnana) and active de-tection of some aspect with its help [1]. Similar to this the term vitarka can be understood as a set, distinguished and defined point of view, the judgement, the proposition in the sense implied by Western logic. This semantic field shall be our basis. 

vi-cāra In this word the root c(h)ara means walking, and in scope of philosophic context it reminds us of the Greek Perpatetic school [2]. Indeed, the dictionaries offer to translate the term as “consideration”, “logical analysis” and so on. And we will fix on this as well.

ananda – this word has also suffered bad fate. In and of itself it denotes a group of states, from “pleasure” to “rapture”, “ecstasy” and “bliss”. In connection with this I recall one episode that happened recently. During my last visit to India one month ago I was walking along a narrow street of Kedarnath (that’s been now almost destroyed by a landslide) and met the eyes of a local “holyman” – a sadhu who was smoking a huge chillum that was holding at least a handful of cannabis. Having noticed my looking at him, the sadhu, surrounded by plumes of smoke, rose the chillum and explained with a thoughtful air: “ananda”. However, within the process of religization of Yoga that is inevitably associated with moralizing, recanting pleasures and delights, such meaning became no longer satisfactory. That is why the direct meaning of the word was skillfully substituted by “divine ecstasy”, “ultramundane rapture” and other pathetic nonsense. For there is no delight in the world that one should be released from :) [3]. So we venture to suppose that Patanjali used this word in its initial meaning: “pleasure”, “happiness”, “rapture”.

asmita – this term is already known to us by the article about kleshas. However, here the traditional commentators find themselves in confusing situation. Asmita is a type of klesha – and suddenly it appears among the signs of “Samadhi”. It is somehow queer and does not match with basic concepts. The issue has appeared to be such a trouble that some interpreters have simply used different translation variants in different lines. For instance, Govindan has translated asmita of the line 1.17 as “Self-awareness” (with capital letter J), while the same word in lines 2.3 and 2.6 (the lines about kleshas) comes as “egoism”. It seems to be strange and looks like one’s attempt of pulling the reader’s legs. So let us so far leave asmita translated as “I-ness”.

anugamāt – “accompanied by”, “following”.

samprajñātaḥ is “comprehension” in compliance with afore-written.

The therefore drawn translation contains a rather sound and non-mystic idea.

1.17 The comprehension is accompanied by emergence of opinion, analysis, delight and experience of one’s I-ness.

I believe that everyone who has at least once experienced comprehension as the form of embracing by one’s consciousness something that was previously incomprehensible will agree with these words of Patanjali.

As far as non-mystic is concerned… Well, it depends. For B. Russell says that the well-known scientific word “theory” (that comes as a result of com-pre-hensing some part of the Universe) derives from the Greek theo-ria – looking at god…

(to be continued)

[1] In some way it resembles the concept of image/pattern identification in computer sciences.

[2] I shall remind that the name of the school emerged due to Aristotle’s habit of taking walks with his students while delivering them lectures. 

[3] As the reader has already understood, my idea of the “deliverance” concept, moksha and kaivalya, differs much from the widespread and popular one. But I will tell this in details when I come to the corresponding lines.

No comments:

Post a Comment