Oct 21, 2016

Sutra 1.37. Emotions and Wholeness

In the recent articles of the blog I have wandered a little off the point of Yoga Sutras’ text sequential analysis in favor of sharing interesting reports made at Krakow conference. Now I’m coming back on the track of the main issue.

Let me remind the reader that starting from sutra 1.33. Patanjali draws a successive specification of the mind integrity (chitta-prasadanam) attainment methods - the methods that outline the principles of numerous yoga schools, techniques and traditions. The line 1.37 deals with the same very issue and gives another group of methods. But the conciseness of the sutra makes its interpretation rather ambiguous. 

वीतरागविषयं वा चित्तम् ॥ ३७॥
1.37 vīta-rāga-viṣayaṃ vā cittam

vīta (m.) – “free”, literary – “gone”, “taken away”; the word is made up of the prefix vi (de-, dis-) + ita – derived from the root i (to go/walk) passive past participle.
rāga (m.) – the word that we have already discussed. It stems from the root rañj – “to be colored”, and most often is translated as “emotions” and “passions” implying something that “colors” our perception. For instance when in the sulks we might take a person or his actions for unpleasant, though in other circumstances our perception would differ. You may refer to the article for a more detailed analysis of this word.
viṣayaṃ (n. nom. sg.) – another word we know that in most cases is translated as “object” or “subject matter”. The word derives from the root si – “to tie”. And it is this word that comes as the very challenge of the line.
vā (ind.) – “or”.
cittam (n. nom. sg.) – “chitta”

The first composite word stands as an adjective to the second one (chitta) and they agree in gender and in case. The verbatim translation of the line shall give us the following:

1.37 or free-from-coloring-objectal chitta.

How can one make it more readable in terms of our usual language? To start with, let us recall the context of the previous lines. They deal with prerequisites to the stability and steadiness of manas that is attained when chitta resides in some state described by the composite word above.

Now, as I've mentioned earlier, the word viṣayaṃ confuses the case a bit: it is not clear what the ‘objectal chitta’ actually means. There are several variants of this line interpretation, and it probably perplexed the minds of the very first YS commentators making different authors give a variety of interpretations. Vyasa preserved the translation of the word viṣayaṃ as “object” meaning an object that the mind is focused on. Globally speaking, the object of meditation. But how can this object be “free from coloring”? Maybe it is the mind of another, a better evolved person that, as he thought, the text implied? Then the line would read as follows:

1.37. Or contemplation having for its object [those who are] free from their desires.

In his comment to this line the author of Yoga Bhashya writes the following:

Or a yogi mind attains the state of steadiness when it is “colored by perception” [of individuals] free from desires, [the perception] that comes as the object [of concentration]. 

[translated after Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and Yoga Bhashya’ translation into Russian done by E. Ostrovskaya and V. Rudoi – transl.note] 

A very sound and even obvious idea. Anyone can recall a context when anxiety over a situation subsided while our talking to or simply being next to a person who keeps calm. Yet they were not ordinary passionaless people that Vyasa probably meant but ancient rishis. This is what his commentator Vācaspati Mišra writes about:

According to his Tattva Vaishadari, “Krishna Dvaipayana and other ancient rishis whose mind, being an object of concentration for a yogi, as if colors in its turn the mind of the latter.
(E. Ostrovskaya, V. Rudoi).

However there is another tradition of commenting upon this sutra that goes back to Yoga Sutra Bhasya Vivarana authored by Sankara. A particularly interesting commentator, he is considered to have been not only a pandit (scholar) but a practicing yogi as well, and some of his ideas differ from those of other commentators. In dealing with the sutra under consideration, for instance, Sankara gives another interpretation of the word viṣayaṃ. He considers it not the object of meditation but simply any external object “just like women and other objects”. In such a case the line would read in the following way:

Or [stability of chitta] is attained when chitta is free from coloring by [external] object.

This idea is extremely valuable from both practical and theoretical points of view. It anticipates the views of numerous doctrines in modern psychology like, for instance, Uznadze’s Theory of attitude and set, psychodynamic therapy and so on. In fact, it bridges individual’s emotional sphere and the wholeness of his energy: in terms of perceiving any item as a colored one (i.e. having a preset in respect of it) our chitta loses its wholeness because it becomes ‘attached’ to it.

Here one can recall a well-known parable about two monks who met a woman by a riverside. The woman was not able to get across the river independently and one monk in disregard of statute carried her over to the other bank. In a little while another monk reproached him indignantly: “How dared you touching a woman when you are a monk!” “I have left her on that riverbank while you are still carrying her with you” – the first one tranquilly replied.

Such interpretation of the sutra is definitively interesting; it is essential from the point of practice and seems to be more natural than that of Vyasa. Moreover, it is what the commentators of our days actually use (probably being unaware of the primary sources). But there is a small grammatical remark about it. The thing is that if it were ‘coloring by objects’ the word ‘object’, just like in our language, would have been used in the instrumental case. Yet it stands in the nominative case and agrees with chitta. Maybe one can turn a blind eye to it – but we’d better bear it in mind. Without denying the value of the two afore-given interpretations I will try to give my own different explanation. The line undoubtedly deals with prerequisites to manas stability. But what is essential for the mind to remain stable? There is a good deal of different techniques but they all come down to one thing: one should want to make it stable. Just like with giving up smoking: first you must have a genuine desire to do it. But this is not simple. Because when you’re overwhelmed with emotions (colorings) everything around seems to be “so bitter-sweet”.

And in order to start getting out of these attitudes into integral “non-colored” state one should have in one’s mind a kind of a lighthouse, mindful comprehension of possibility and, what is more important, appropriateness of this whole and integral state. In order to start the debugging process it is essential that one admits having bugs. And I believe that in his writing about ‘free-from-coloring-objectal” chitta it was this very remembering that Patanjali meant.

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