Thorough analysis of primary sources assumes concurrent study of authentic commentarial works. Thus in the process of writing my commentary to every new sutra I usually thumb through primary classical commentaries that I here enlist. Some of them have turned into “favorites”, that is, must-reads: Vyasa, Mishra, Sankara, Bhoja, Sadashivendra. Aged 1000 years and even older, these texts (but for the last mentioned) are truly authentic, i.e. introduced in the framework of intact Indian culture so far not deformed by conquerors. I also had a pleasure of reading commentaries on classical texts of other darshanas (in addition to yoga).
However, in the process of reading these commentaries I’ve noticed myself to have a kind of dissatisfaction which essential nature has become clear to me only recently. The matter is that notwithstanding the fact these texts are all commentaries, there is a drastic difference between the core point of commenting processes in classical India and in modern science.
Indeed, as people “spoilt” by hermeneutics, deconstructionism, books by M. Faucault and so on, we want to see:
1. Descriptions of historical and spiritual (for esoteric texts) context of the work origination.
2. Explanations that elucidate not only what the author wrote but also why he opted to write it in exactly this way. For instance, why out of many words defining mind aspects (chetas, chetana, chetanaa, chitta) it was chitta that Patanjali chose to use.
3. Foregrounding of implied discussions and polemics.
4. References to failed notions and techniques.
5. Clarification of the described mystical or psycho-technical experience’ essential point, criteria of one’s own experience correctness.
6. Instances that illustrate sophisticated discourses
7. Content- and practical recommendations on how one can use the material read.
Still, nothing of that listed is available there. All of the given above are requirements that result from one’s habit of texts scientific analysis. As well as from western people’ sane pragmatism. While in Classical India commenting first of all deals with giving comments on the text proper, not its content. Sometimes commentaries were particularizing and spoon-feeding the text main idea just like school teachers slowly repeat the material to their inattentive students. By the way, a number of modern commentaries written by Indian pandits who take example by ancient commenting tradition also give no answers to the above-set questions.
Yet what type of information can we draw from such commentaries?
1. Specification of polysemantic words meaning.
2. Correct decomposition of compound words (samasavigarha) that in view of their constituent words’ fused cases can totally change the word meaning.
3. The ideas that were advanced by commentators and came as a product of their time. For instance, the concept of stages on the way to attaining nirodha that was described by Vyasa (ksipta, viksipta, mudha, ekagrata) and was absent in the work of Patanjali, is very interesting and useful. It gives us the understanding of yoga (or any other system under consideration) retrospective development. After all, sometimes the distance between the primary text and its commentaries makes hundreds or thousands years. Probably this point is the most interesting one.
4. Diffusion of senses that occurs in the course of time – like it happened to brahmacharya.
5. Examples that are sometimes given in the commentaries. But there is a small nuance here. Indian authors never bothered themselves with coining new examples. One may come across one and the same showcase in the text dated back to axial age and the one of the XX century. Probably this is related to scholasticization of thinking process.
So to speak honestly, I would say it is important one reads classical commentaries, but they are not the right source to totally rely on for the purpose of text truly deep understanding.
So what shall one do?
1. Compare [them] with personal and other available experience, including description of esoteric practices in other cultures.
2. Use the experience and best practices of these texts’ scientific study.
3. Check out things in practice.
4. Think, and think, and think.
And I shall resume the above with an idea that many may not like:
A truly mystical text tries to break beyond the limits of philosophic and religious restrictions inherent in its time. While commentaries, on the contrary, try to fit it into these frameworks.