Would it occur to anyone to invite tenders for the most ambiguously understood and intricate sloka of the Yoga Sutras, the line 1.19 would be the safe winner. Sorting out this case is not an easy thing to do, so that I beforehand beg the reader’s pardon for this article to be this complicated. Now, here is the sloka:
भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानाम् ॥१९॥
1.19. bhava-pratyayo videha-prakṛtilayānām
Seems like – well, only 5 words, each of them has a translation from the dictionary. However, let us take the best know translation variants of this sloka:
(1) (The Samadhi, not followed by extreme non-attachment) becomes the cause of the re-manifestation of the gods and of those that become merged in nature (Vivekananda).
(2) The resolution of one’s self in reality (Prakritilaya) is the Bhava-pratyaya (the Samadhi of comprehending the objective reality, the 1st type of Asamprajna Samadhi; the 2nd type is Upayapratyaya Samadhi – the cognition of the self as the one who sees) (Rigin).
(3) One of the ways it occurs in the real world is through those who have mastered the limitless consciousness or have merged with nature (Falkov).
(4) Having filled the consciousness with the world of becoming, they deliver themselves from bodies and merge with Prakriti.
(5) [Concentration not conscious of objects] caused by worldly [means] is the one to which discarnate attain and to which those [whose bodies] are resolved into primary-matter attain (J.H. Woods).
(6) For those beings who are formless and for those beings who are merged in unitive consciousness, the world is the cause (Radheshyam Mishra).
(7) The world-caused belongs to the Disembodied and to the Resolved-into-Nature (Ganganatha Jha).
(8) To become ultramundane [in relation to] the material, having believed into existence, is to resolve in nature (Nikolaeva).
(9) Some who have attained higher levels (videhas) or know unmanifest nature (prakritilayas), are drawn into birth in this world by their remaining latent impressions of ignorance, and more naturally come to these states of samadhi. (SwamiJ)
(10) Subjective consciousness arising from a natural cause is possessed by those who have laid aside their bodies and been absorbed into subjective nature (Charles Johnston)
(11) [The ecstasy of those who have] merged with Nature (prakriti-laya) and [of those who are] bodiless (videha) [arises from the persistence of] the idea of becoming. (Feuerstein)
(12)Yoga is a state, and one can be born in that state and does not need to practice (Desikachar.)
(13) Disembodied yogins and those merged with nature attain Samadhi through being intent on birth (i.e., just by being born) (Stephen Phillips)
I think the reader will agree that only subject to having a very keen insight one can guess that it all refers to one and the same verse, for the sense conveyed by translation variants is strikingly different. Almost all translations contain added words “on the side” (sometimes the number of these added words is larger than that of original words in the line), and this somehow puts us on our guard. Such global divergence of meanings can be found both in Russian and English translation variants, though many interpreters cannot be caught speaking no Sanskrit. Moreover, some of them are recognized authorities, while others, like Vivekananda or Krishnamacharya, came as its native, authentic speakers. So we should admit that it is not the linguistic problem that we have come across here, yet the problem of understanding grounded upon Patanjali’s usage of the terms that have ambiguous understanding in the time of ours.
Having considered the translations available we can see that they can be divided into 2 basic groups of similar meanings.
The first group deals with some supernatural beings (“gods”, “disembodied”, “formless”, “merged with nature” etc.). The second one tells about yogis (though there isn’t a trace of the word “yogi” in the original text) that achieve some states or have them initially (by birth). Such variety of interpretations is caused by understanding of the words videha and prakritilayanam, though both the first and the second case provide for a vast space for mystifications.
Let us address the dictionary.
According to Monier-Williams, videha is interpreted as bodiless, incorporeal, deceased and even ghost. Indeed, the word consists of the prefix vi- that, as far as we remember, resembles the meaning of de- or dis- in the sense of detaching, singling out of smth from smth, and the root deha meaning ‘body’. That is, the cumulative meaning is “singled out from body”, and it makes the authors of the dictionary – and the interpreters that use it – thus draw the afore-mentioned meanings, followed by commentators’ suppositions about videha to stand for a class of “supernatural” beings, like spirits of European traditions. However there are some concepts that make us doubt about the correctness of such interpretation.
1. The Indian mythology is rich in various creatures. There are Apsaras, Vidyadharas, Gandharvas, Siddhas, Daityas, Danavas, Marutas, Rudras, Rakshasas, Dakini, Yakshas, Vetalas, Pretas, Pishachas and another few dozens of names. Finally, there are gods (Suras) and Asuras. They can be found in thousands of myths, fairy-tales, Indian prose and lyrics. But “videhas” are found nowhere but for Yoga Sutras and commentaries on it. They are neither listed in any dictionary. This is not the way that mythological consciousness works. If there is a class of beings, they should be mentioned in some mythological pieces.
2. It is not traditional of Indian mythology to treat “supernatural” beings as the “incorporeal” spirits without bodies. It’s rather that the bodies of all the above-mentioned creatures are very specific, but they are material in their own way. Maybe the Vetals can be set as an exception, for these creatures take possession of corpses, thus “reviving” them, yet Vetals do have their own bodies as well. It is rather the European spiritualistic doctrine formed in post-Christian culture under the influence of Swedenborg and co. that represents mystical creatures as spirits. I believe it is this pre-set that has made it possible to translate the word videha as a bodiless spirit.
3. In no other line of Patanjali’s one can find contemplations about supernatural beings (he mentions Siddhas once (meaning the creatures, not the skills and abilities), but my interpretation of this line is not traditional as well). In this sense Patanjali is similar to Confucius who used to speak more about a man than about gods and spirits. It’s hard to believe that the classic launched the topic and then gave it up.
So far leaving the word videha without proposition on its meaning, let us consider the last word of the sentence and the second “personage” – the prakṛtilayānām. In this case the translation is even more obvious – and more obscure. Literally prakṛtilayānām means “resolved in prakriti”, and the fact that Prakriti is a complex philosophic category of Samkhya does not make it more clear. Here, again, there exists a popular hypothesis that says that prakṛtilayānām is another class of beings (in fact, you will find this opinion when searching through pseudo-yogic internet sites, with reference to Yoga Sutra), however the ideas set forth earlier make us once again doubt about it. I don’t know any Indian work that would mention the class of beings called prakṛtilayānām. And if one looks more closely, the term “resolved in prakṛti” might also seem a somehow queer name for beings.
Unfortunately, we cannot rely upon the text of Yoga Sutra the way we often used to do it in relation to other unclear categories, since this is the first and only case that videha and prakritilayanam are mentioned. We may try to analyze the whole line and understand something from the context, however this will bring us to another problem. It is about the second world of the line, the pratyaya (प्रत्यय).
According to the dictionary pratyaya means: belief, firm conviction, faith, trust, proof, ascertainment, conception, assumption, notion, consciousness, understanding, intelligence, intellect, analysis, solution, explanation. Generally speaking, almost all psychical functions availableL. And by the way, in some translation variants they interpret pratyaya as “the practice of the mind”. Yet we cannot rest satisfied with such explanations. Maybe, the linguist can treat the listed words as the things very close to each other, yet the psychologist will find it difficult even to bring these totally different products of mind activity into one line. And as far as the practicing person is concerned, he will merely state his complete misunderstanding.
However, in case of pratyaya we still have some help. It is that in scope of Yoga Sutra this term can be found ten times, so that we can juxtapose the contexts in order to understand which psychical function is actually implied. It would be reasonable to suppose that Patanjali uses this word in one and the same meaning, however this meaning is not obvious, and this is confirmed by the fact that many authors translate this word in different ways for different lines. Even Swami Satyananda, a recognized Yoga authority, in those 10 times has given 8 different variants, obviously adjusting the translation to the required context.
1. (1.10) abhāva-pratyayālambanā vṛttirnidrā (10)
2. (1.18) virāma-pratyayābhyāsa-pūrvaḥ saṃskāra-śeṣo'nyaḥ (18)
3. (1.19) bhava-pratyayo videha-prakṛtilayānām (19)
4. (2.20) draṣṭā dṛśimātraḥ śuddho'pi pratyayānupaśyaḥ (71)
5. (3.2) tatra pratyayaikatānatā dhyānam (108)
6. (3.12) tataḥ punaḥ śāntoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasyaikāgratā-pariṇāmaḥ (118)
7. (3.17) śabdārtha-pratyayānām-itaretarādhyāsāt saṅkaras-tat-pravibhāga-saṃyamāt-sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam (123)
8. (3.19) pratyayasya para-citta-jñānam (125)
9. (3.35) sattva-puruṣayor-atyantāsaṃkīrṇayoḥ pratyayāviśeṣo bhogaḥ parārthatvātsvārtha-saṃyamāt-puruṣa-jñānam (142)
10. (4.27) tacchidreṣu pratyayāntarāṇi saṃskārebhyaḥ (189)
We have already discussed the first three lines, as well as the fifth one. I don’t want to tire the reader by giving a detailed translation and analysis of the rest 6 verses, especially that we will do this in due course. That’s why I will only give my resume. Pratyaya corresponds to the process of thinking, consideration in the sense of cognitive activity. This last remark of mine is caused by that confusion occurring in everyday language when they don’t tell the process of thinking focused on solution of a problem and generation of new knowledge from the internal dialogue and other forms of vritti: memories, dreams, recollections and so on. One may say “I was thinking about these or these events”. But will become concerned with the question: “and what was the understanding that resulted from your considerations?” So this is not the type of activity that I take for thinking.
In connection to this I cannot keep from quoting Bernard Shaw whose reply to the question “how did you manage to become so well-known” was: “Few people think more than two or three times a year; I’ve made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week”.
But let us now come back to analysis of the line 1.19. Being unable to base ourselves upon accurate understanding of the words meaning let us be guided by the context formed by the adjacent lines.
वितर्कविचारानन्दास्मितारूपानुगमात् सम्प्रज्ञातः ॥ १७॥
1.17. vitarkavicārānandāsmitārūpānugamāt samprajñātaḥ
विरामप्रत्ययाभ्यासपूर्वः संस्कारशेषोऽन्यः ॥ १८॥
1.18. virāma-pratyayābhyāsapūrvaḥ saṃskāraśeṣo'nyaḥ
भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानाम् ॥ १९॥
1.19. bhavapratyayo videhaprakṛtilayānām
श्रद्धावीर्यस्मृतिसमाधिप्रज्ञापूर्वक इतरेषाम् ॥ २०॥
1.20. śraddhāvīryasmṛtisamādhiprajñāpūrvaka itareṣām
I’ve used underlining and coloured highlighting to mark obvious contextual links between the lines.
1. the opposition virāma-pratyayā ---- bhava-pratyayo that approximately stands for “cessation of thinking” – “existence of thinking”.
2. Unclear nouns videha-prakṛtilayānām ------ the pronoun itareṣām that means of the others (that is, not of videha-prakṛtilayānām).
3. The word prajñā – the knowledge in the lines 1.17 and 1.20
To provide for good understanding, I shall draw the translation of the words from the line 1.20.
śraddha - faith;
vīrya – energy, vigor, heroism;
smṛti - memory;
samādhi - samadhi;
prajñā - knowledge;
pūrvaka - precede;
bhava (from 1.19) – existence, being.
Thus let us set up the general meaning of the four lines:
1.17 The comprehension is accompanied by emergence of opinion, analysis, delight and experience of one’s I-ness.
1.18 In the other state (of unawareness) samskaras remain after reiterated cessations of mental activity.
1.19 Considerations are always present (never stop) in those [who are] videha-prakritilayanam.
1.20 The others reach for the knowledge through faith, vigor, memory and samadhi.
Now we can see the general sense outlined.
I would point out here that samadhi in 1.20 “precedes” the knowledge (prajñā), and this totally repudiates the opinion that samadhi is the goal (drawn in translations of Vivekananda and Ostrovskaya-Rudoi) and, on the contrary, it supports my idea of Samadhi to be the instrument of cognition.
Now let us come back to videha-prakṛtilayānām. I shall express an opinion that I cannot completely confirm in scope of the given text, yet that makes the whole context of the few mentioned lines totally linked and filled with sense. So, let us note that videha – those detached from their bodies – may come not only as supernatural beings, but also as people who identify themselves not so much with corporeal needs as with intellectual or spiritual activity. Even in modern Russian language psychologists use the term “a non-bodily person”. If we try to find analogues, we shall immediately recall Gumilev’s theory of passionarias - the people whole desires go beyond the framework of the standard Maslow’s pyramid that is typical of ordinary people, for in broad sense it is still in this or that way related to satisfaction of corporeal (or personal) needs in a loose sense. According to Gumilev, passionarias, unlike ordinary people – apassionarias, are characterized by strange and global desires that “normal” people neither need nor understand, but these desires are so strong that they form an independent motive that usually contradicts the motives of the body, up to that of survival. In terms of transpersonal psychology such desires and motives can be referred to as transpersonal ones.
Now as for prakritilayanam. The term prakriti means initial substance that is correlated with matter and female aspect. But prakriti and shakti also mean energy that “enlivens” the world when been structured by the original male element (that, according to tantra, is ordering, regulating one, yet passive (see the fig.). Let us bring another associative analogy: in Greek mythology Muses, the deities inspiring on creative activity, were of female gender. In Indian tradition there were Dakini (yogini) that were also females and that carried (or, to be more precise, personified) this or that lineage. In Tibet they were referred to as Prajnyas! What is it about prakriti here? It is that I believe that prakritilayanam – those resolved in prakriti – are the people who are constantly abiding within the flow of creative activity, those never abandoned by inspiration, the geniuses obsessed by creativity in their field – from art and science to social formation. They don’t need long concentration, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. It’s rather that they continuously remain within the state of creative activity, and thus their samadhi (though, in this case this might be not the proper term since Samadhi stands for a one-time insight) never stops. We refer to such state as the state of [Spiritual] Flow.
I shall draw a couple of examples:
In his reminiscences about Landau one of his students wrote: “I had a feeling that physics or nature were some kind of garden behind a high magic fence, and we are all trying to jump high and to see what it is there, in that garden. Someone manages to jump that high, someone fails. But we all see just the parts of the garden available during those seconds that the jump lasts. While Dau had his own wicket to this garden. He used to go in, walk there for a while, gather some apples – and then came back to watch us jumping”. This is a bright description of a man of the flow…
Another example from the life of Landau is drawn, as far as I remember, by Ginsburg. People from some research institute were solving a task, and within the process they came across a difficult sub-task, so that having spent ca. 2 months on trying to solve it they came to Landau who said: “Yes, I remember such task. I was once sitting in the dentist’s office, my tooth was aching, and in order to distract myself I thought up and solved this task. It’s just that I don’t remember how”. The institute people got inspired by the idea that it can be solved and finally, in four months, did manage to find the answer…
Another brilliant example of the man with the flow in scope of his field is shown in the movie “Amadeus”.
Is one's non-bodily videha related to resolution within the Flow of creative activity (I will take the liberty of reformulating it this way) - the prakritilayanam? It obviously is. The creative work of a genius is always bigger than his personality. In fact, just like the passionarity, it is also transpersonal.