CREDIBILITY of YOGA

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Excerpts from Yoga and Freedom: by Ian Whicher

Yoga and Freedom: reconsideration of Patanjali's classical yoga. Ian Whicher, Deputy Director of the Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies at the University of Cambridge - InfoTrac search "interpretations yoga sutras" library access See also: Yoga and Freedom by Ian Whicher - full PDF article.

Abstract: Patanjali's Classical Yoga school of Hinduism should be viewed as a responsible engagement of spirit and matter rather than as excessively isolationist. The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali and the Yoga-Bhasya of Vjasa are authoritative sources of Classical Yoga revealing the union of spirit and matter's resulting state of liberated selfhood.

(mg commentary: An exceptionally lucid examination of what the author sees as ontological and epistemological misinterpretations, reductionist hermeneutics and misleading definitions of Sanskit yogic terms in many scholarly interpretations of Patangali's Yoga Sutras. The following are cut and pasted excerpts from this 272 page exposition that provide a detailed synopsis of what I judged to be areas of special interest and Sanskrit terms I need to return to, to clarify my appreciation of yoga anatomy.

Citation: Whicher, Ian. "Yoga and freedom: a reconsideration of Patanjali's classical yoga." Philosophy East and West 48.2 (1998): 272+. Academic OneFile. Web. 14 Jan. 2010.

See also The integrity of the yoga darsana: a reconsideration of classical yoga by Ian Whicher. (Google Book Preview) see page 28 Yoga and Samadhi: definition by the great yoga authority Vyasa (ca.fifth-sixth century CE) where, in his commentary of the Yoga-Sutra, the Yoga-Bhasya here states: "Yoga is samadhi" 122 The word samadhi 123 literally means "placing, putting together." What is "put together" or "unified" is the sense of self or subject along with the object of contemplation. Samadhi is both the practice or "technique" of the unification of consciousness and the resulting state of "union" with the perceived object. Mircea Eliade sugggested 124 that samadhi be appropriately rendered as "enstasy" rather than "ecstasy." Derived from Greek origin, the term "ecstasy" means to stand (stasis) outside (ex) the ordinary self or ego. whereas the term "enstasy" ultimately denotes one's standing in (en) the Self - the transcendent essence or source of contingent identity, that is, the ego personality. Both interpretations, however, are entirely valid according to the degree or depth of samadhi being experienced. As we will see later in this study (chapter 4-6), there are forms of samadhi in Yoga that resemble more ecstasy then enstasy.

I have attempted to reinterpret a central feature of the Yoga-Sutra, namely the objective of cittavrttinirodha or the cessation of the misidentification with the modifications of the mind... In Patanjali's central definition of Yoga, Yoga is defined as "the cessation of [the misidentification with] the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta)" (YS I.2). Nirodha (cessation) is one of the most difficult terms employed in the YS, and its meaning plays a crucial role in the proper comprehension of Patanjali's system of Yoga. The "attainment" of liberation is based on the progressive purification of mind (sattvasuddhi) and the increasing light of knowledge (jnana-dipti) that take place in the process of nirodha. Since, as I shall now argue, the misunderstanding of this process has been fundamental to the misapprehension of the meaning of Patanjali's Yoga, there is a need to clarify it.

The word nirodha is derived from ni (down, into) and rudh (to obstruct, arrest, stop, restrain, prevent). In some well-known translations of YS I.2, nirodha has been rendered as "suppression," "inhibition," "restriction," "cessation," "restraint," and "control." These meanings, I submit, are problematic, erroneous, or misleading if understood, as they are by many scholars, with a view that emphasizes nirodha as an ontological negation or dissolution of the mind and its functioning.

Nirodha, I am suggesting, refers to the cessation of the worldly, empirical effects of the vrttis on the yogin's consciousness, not the complete cessation of vrttis themselves. Nirodha means to cease the congenital, epistemological power of the vrttis over the yogin; that is, nirodha is the epistemological cessation of vrttis in the form of affliction (klesa), which at root is the congenital ignorance of our true spiritual identity and ultimate destiny.

One will naturally ask how practitioners who attempt to obey any teachings resulting in death to their minds would have the capacity to comprehend or carry out any further instructions. If all the great Yoga masters of the past had obliterated or so thoroughly suppressed their minds in order to become liberated, how did they speak, teach, reason, remember, empathize, or even use the word "I"?

Misidentification refers to the process whereby our self-identity conforms (sarupya) to the changing nature of vrtti. Avidya, the root affliction (klesa) in Yoga that gives rise to four other afflictions--I-am-ness/egoity (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and the desire for continuity or fear of death (abhinivesa)--is a positive misconstruction of reality that mistakes purusa for prakrtic existence. It is the condition of misidentification--the samsaric condition of self and world--and not the mind in total, that must be discarded in Yoga.

Patanjali describes prakrti, the "seeable" (including our personhood), in the context of the various afflictions (klesas) that give rise to an afflicted and mistaken identity of self. Afflicted identity is constructed out of and held captive by the root affliction of ignorance (avidya) and its various forms of karmic bondage.

Nirodha thus is not, as some have explained, an inward movement that annihilates or suppresses vrttis, thoughts, intentions, or ideas (pratyaya), nor is it the nonexistence or absence of vrtti; rather, nirodha involves a progressive expansion of perception (yogi-pratyaksa) that eventually reveals our true identity as purusa.

To repeat, the discerning yogin sees (YS II.15) that this gunic world or cycle/wheel of samsaric identity is itself dissatisfaction (duhkha).

Is our ontological status as a human being involved in day-to-day existence forever in doubt, in fact in need of being negated, dissolved, in order for authentic identity (purusa), an immortal consciousness, finally to dawn? Having overcome all ignorance (avidya), the "driver" of the wheel and cause of all afflicted identity is it possible for one to live in the world and no longer be in conflict with oneself and the world?

"Aloneness" (Kaivalya): Implications for an Embodied Freedom

The term kaivalya, meaning "aloneness," has elsewhere been translated as "absolute freedom," "total separation," "transcendental aloneness," "independence," "absolute isolation," and "isolation." In the classical traditions of Samkhya and Yoga, kaivalya is generally understood to be the state of the unconditional existence of purusa.

For the liberated yogin, the gunas cease to exist in the form of avidya, its samskaras, vrttis, and false or fixed ideas (pratyaya) of selfhood, which formerly veiled true identity.

The crucial (ontological) point to be made here is that in kaivalya prakrti ceases to perform an obstructing role. In effect, prakrti herself has become liberated from avidya's grip including the misconceptions, misappropriations, and misguided relations implicit within a world of afflicted selfhood.

Prior to liberation, self-identity is rooted in ignorance of authentic identity (purusa). In the liberated state of "aloneness" (kaivalya), pure consciousness and mind (i.e., reflected consciousness or "consciousness-of") can coexist and attain a balance or harmony together, the mind and body of the yogin continuing to function, but in a manner that no longer eclipses or veils authentic identity. This integration of sorts between purusa and the mind implies that afflicted or mistaken identity of self has ceased through the necessary process in Yoga of the purification and illumination of the mind. But this does not mean to say that purusa need then be classified as an intentional consciousness. Rather, the realization of purusa is the foundation for a non-enslavement to the intentions and volitions of empirical identity, which formerly defined and shaped one's identity or sense of self.

However, Patanjali observes that the "desire for continuity" (abhinivesa) in life arises even in the sage.

kaivalya requires the presence of both purusa and prakrti in the act of pure "seeing," purusa providing the consciousness of the seer who actually "sees" and prakrti supplying the arena of the seeable, the existence of the seen.

Yoga ultimately adds or includes the power of consciousness that is purusa but not to the exclusion of prakrti. Seen here, samyoga amounts to no more than a misperceived union resulting in a misalignment of purusa and prakrti. Yoga, understood as a disengagement from the world of samyoga (i.e., ignorance, misidentification, dissatisfaction, sorrow), corrects this misalignment, allowing for a proper alignment in consciousness between these two principles.

Yoga is the "skill in action" (cf. BG II.50) that enables the yogin to disengage or unfocus the attention from the distracted mind caught within the changing world of prakrtic identity dependent on the "consciousness-of-objects" (citta, vrtti). The yogin then develops the capacity for (re)focusing on and "retrieving" the unchanging pure consciousness (purusa).

I am suggesting that far from being incompatible principles, purusa and prakrti can engage or participate in harmony, having attained a balance or equilibrium together. The enstatic consciousness of purusa can coexist with the mind and indeed all of prakrti.

From the perspective of the discerning yogin (vivekin), human identity contained within the domain of the three gunas (prakrti) amounts to nothing more than sorrow and dissatisfaction (duhkha). The declared goal of Classical Yoga, as with Samkhya and Buddhism, is to overcome all suffering (duhkha) by bringing about an inverse movement or counterflow (pratiprasava,) understood as a "return to the origin" or "process-of-involution" of the gunas, a kind of reabsorption into the transcendent purity of being itself. What does this "process-of-involution"--variously referred to as "return to the origin," "dissolution into the source," or "withdrawal from manifestation"--actually mean? Is it a definitive ending to the perceived world of the yogin comprised of change and transformation, forms and phenomena? Ontologically conceived, prasava signifies the "flowing forth" of the primary constituents or qualities of prakrti into the multiple forms of the universe in all its dimensions, that is, all the processes of manifestation and actulization or "creation" (sarga, prasarga). Pratiprasava on the other hand denotes the process of "dissolution into the source" or "withdrawal from manifestation" of those forms relative to the personal, microcosmic level of the yogin who is about to attain freedom (apavarga).

Vyasa explicitly states that emancipation happens in the mind and does not literally apply to purusa, which is by definition already free and therefore has no intrinsic need to be released from the fetters of samsaric existence While this is true from the enlightened perspective, it would not be inappropriate to suggest that, figuratively speaking, in kaivalya, purusa and prakrti are simultaneously liberated in that--all ignorance having been removed--they are both "known," included, and therefore free to be what they are. There being no power of misidentification remaining in nirbija-samadhi, the mind ceases to operate within the context of the afflictions, karmic accumulations, and consequent cycles of samsara implying a mistaken identity of selfhood subject to birth and death. There is a rich affective, moral, and cognitive as well as spiritual potential inherent in the realization of purusa, the "aloneness" of the power of consciousness/seeing.

Purusa indeed has precedence over prakrti in Patanjali's system, for purusa is what is ordinarily "missing" in human life and is ultimately the state of consciousness one must awaken to in Yoga. According to this study, the liberated state of "aloneness" (kaivalya) need not denote either an ontological superiority of purusa or an exclusion of prakrti. Kaivalya can be positively construed as an integration of both principles--an integration that, I have argued, is what is most important for Yoga. The sheer questioning of why purusa--being by nature ever pure, wise, and free--would care or even bother to be involved or integrated with "insentient" prakrti is itself laced with a radical dualistic assumption about Yoga that is perhaps more indicative of a spiritually elitist understanding of Patanjali's thought: prakrti, conceived to be the "inferior," less worthy, and therefore undesirable reality of the two, is left behind for good in the enlightened state. Moreover, the calling into question of purusa's "involvement" in matter presupposes that the nature of purusa and prakrti's "togetherness" or "union" is intrinsically rooted in ignorance and can therefore only generate mistaken identity, suffering, frustration, and dissatisfaction (duhkha).

The process of "cessation" (nirodha) deepens from cognitive (samprajnata) samadhi into supracognitive (asamprajnata) samadhi, where it can be said that the seer abides in its own form/intrinsic identity (tada drastuh svarupe'vastanam).

According to Vyasa, the repeated practice of the "experiences" of enstasy gradually matures the yogin's consciousness into kaivalya, "aloneness" or permanent liberation. The steadfastness of the consciousness in kaivalya should not be misconstrued as either being or leading to sheer inactivity, pacifism, or lethargy; rather, stability in nirbija-samadhi allows for a harmony in activity in which the gunas, no longer struggling for predominance, do not conflict with each other and are attuned to purusa.

Dharmamegha-samadhi, so it appears, presupposes that the yogin has cultivated higher dispassion (para-vairagya)--the means to the enstatic consciousness realized in asamprajnata-samadhi. Thus, dharmamegha-samadhi is more or less a synonym of asamprajnata-samadhi and can even be understood as the consummate phase of the awakening disclosed in enstasy, the final step on the long and arduous yogic journey to authentic identity and "aloneness."

The culmination of the Yoga system is found when, following from dharmamegha-samadhi, the mind and actions are freed from misidentification and affliction and one is no longer deluded/confused with regard to one's true nature and identity (svarupa).

There is a complete exhaustion or "burning up" of karmic residue, that is, the afflictions (klesas) in the form of latent impressions (samskaras). According to both Vyasa and Vijnana Bhiksu, one to whom this high state of purification takes place is designated a jivanmukta: one who is liberated while still alive (i.e., embodied). The modern commentator H. Aranya also asserts that through freedom from affliction in the form of samskara, the yogin attains to the status of a jivanmukta.

The cultivation of nirodha uproots the compulsive tendency to reify the world and oneself (i.e., that pervading sense of separate ego irrevocably divided from the encompassing world) with an awareness that reveals the transcendent, yet immanent seer (purusa).

In enstasy (asamprajnata-samadhi), unlike cognitive (samprajnata-) samadhi, there is no objective prop bolstering a reflected self-identity; there is no separated object or subject but the purusa, nor is there any power of knowing except that of purusa. This is the basis of kaivalya, "aloneness," not because there is an opposition, separation, or conflicting modes of identity, but because there is no mistaking of prakrti for purusa (no misconception of purusa's identity).

In Yoga, the structures of the world (prakrti), experienced directly in samadhi, function heuristically as contemplative directives for the purpose of subtilizing and sattvifying the yogin's consciousness: prakrti is utilized for the liberating of identity from "within" the microcosmic, psychophysical organism.

When it is said that one has realized purusa through "cessation" (nirodha), it is meant that there is no further level to experience for one's liberation. Nirodha refers to the expansion of understanding necessary to perceive every dimension of reality from the perspective of pure, untainted consciousness.

Like the Buddha, Patanjali regards duhkha as the fundamental emotion or affect in response to the contingency of samsaric existence. Overcoming dissatisfaction (duhkha) yet-to-come (YS II.16) is one of the principal aims of Yoga, and for this to take place dispassion is essential.

Traditionally in Yoga it is often held that yogic technique ultimately succeeds only through the grace and compassion of the realized or fully awakened guru. That is to say, spiritual emancipation takes place only for one who receives proper guidance from a liberated being (jivanmukta) and takes the right initiative and approach to practice.

Ordinary human consciousness is of the nature of the "seeable" and, assuming itself to be the seer, misperceives the reality of purusa as well as prakrti.

Kaivalya can be said to represent the culminating fruit of the yogin's commitment to the realization of an underlying identity or reality that engages purusa and prakrti both, thereby transcending all conceptual understanding, including all dualistic or non-dualistic notions, regarding that identity or reality.

Yoga presupposes the integration of knowledge and activity; there can be no scission between theoria and praxis. The Yoga-Sutra is a philosophical text where praxis is deemed to be essential. Without actual practice the theory that informs Yoga would have no authentic meaning. Yet without examination and reflection there would be no meaningful striving for liberation, no "goal," as it were, to set one's sight on.

Having expounded a central, foundational definition of Yoga (YS I.2), Patanjali pragmatically lays out various means to liberation through which the pure power of "seeing"--the non-separation of knower, knowing, and known--is revealed. In what state, being, or consciousness may purusa be said to dwell in kaivalya? Perhaps kaivalya is a transition to a non-dualistic state: the unmodifiable, immutable brahman or one indivisible reality acknowledged in schools of Vedanta. The Yoga-Sutra, having done the work of providing practical guidance that leads to kaivalya, remains silent and lets the experience or realization itself answer. In enstasy (asamprajnata-samadhi), the yogin moves beyond the "seeable," beyond all prakrtic limitations of consciousness and identity and directly "experiences," or rather identifies, as purusa. Yoga brings about a trans-empirical or trans-worldly dimension that, being both world-transcending and world-transforming, does not negate self and world but properly bridges or aligns them. As purusa is self-luminous,(146) in kaivalya--the telos of all knowledge--"purusa stands alone in its true nature as pure light."

Purusa "knows" itself and the realm of the seeable by its own light of consciousness. Thus purusa is "known" only by purusa and not by the mind. In knowing itself purusa is free to be itself, to abide in its inviolable identity, nature, and glory. Through praxis a transformation of consciousness takes place involving a transformed perception of self-identity and the world. Even "knowing purusa" is a metaphor for an experience or state that is better described as a coming-to-dwell as the formless knower in pure knowingness/pure seeing. Self-identity no longer needs to know itself reflexively, but is peaceful and immutable because it needs or lacks nothing. In kaivalya the rupture from authentic identity is healed and a fullness of being emerges.

Jean Varenne (1976, p. 145) suggests that specialized texts within the tradition of Yoga such as the Bhagavadgita, Yoga-Sutra, and Yoga Upanisads should be viewed as complementary to one another in order to arrive at a synthetic understanding of Yoga within Hinduism.

I have attempted to reinterpret a central feature of the Yoga-Sutra, namely the objective of cittavrttinirodha or the cessation of the misidentification with the modifications of the mind, and provide a fresh vision of the spiritual potential present in this seminal text, thereby contributing to our understanding and reception of of Yoga thought and spirituality.


Footnotes:

(22) Prior to liberation, self-identity is rooted in ignorance of authentic identity (purusa). In the liberated state of "aloneness" (kaivalya), pure consciousness and mind (i.e., reflected consciousness or "consciousness-of") can coexist and attain a balance or harmony together, the mind and body of the yogin continuing to function, but in a manner that no longer eclipses or veils authentic identity. This integration of sorts between purusa and the mind implies that afflicted or mistaken identity of self has ceased through the necessary process in Yoga of the purification and illumination of the mind. But this does not mean to say that purusa need then be classified as an intentional consciousness. Rather, the realization of purusa is the foundation for a non-enslavement to the intentions and volitions of empirical identity, which formerly defined and shaped one's identity or sense of self.

(33) As outlined in YS II.18-19. Ian Whicher Deputy Director of the Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies at the University of Cambridge- The term kaivalya comes from kevala, meaning "alone." Feuerstein (1979a: 75) also translates kaivalya as "aloneness" but with a metaphysical or ontological emphasis that implies the absolute separation of purusa and prakrti.

(59) Vijnana Bhiksu insists (YV IV.34, p. 141) that kaivalya is a state of liberation for both purusa and prakrti, each reaching its respective natural or intrinsic state. He then, however, cites the Samkhya-Karika (62), where it is stated that no purusa is bound, liberated, or transmigrates. It is only prakrti abiding in her various forms that transmigrates, is bound, and becomes liberated.

(61) YS I.51 and III.8; the state of nirbija or "seedless" samadhi can be understood as the liberated state where no "seed" of ignorance remains, any further potential for affliction (i.e., as mental impressions or samskaras) having been purified from the mind.

(66) I am here echoing some of the points made by Chapple in Chapple 1983, pp. 103-119. See also Chapple and Viraj 1990, p. 5, where the authors state: "kaivalyam . . . is not a catatonic state nor does it require death." SK 67 acknowledges that even the "potter's wheel" continues to turn because of the force of past impressions (samskaras), but in Yoga, higher dispassion and asamprajnata--samadhi eventually exhaust all the impressions or karmic residue. Through a continued program of ongoing purification Yoga allows for the possibility of an embodied state of freedom utterly unburdened by the effects of past actions. As such, Yoga constitutes an advance over the fatalistic perspective in Samkhya, where the "wheel of samsara" continues (after the initial experience of liberating knowledge) until, in the event of separation from the body, prakrti ceases and unending "isolation" (kaivalya) is attained (SK 68). In any case, the yogic state of supra-cognitive samadhi goes beyond the liberating knowledge of viveka in the Samkhyan system in that the yogin must develop dispassion even toward discriminative discernment itself.

(82) Our position thus counters the often held notion that in kaivalya the yogin can no longer act and is in effect disembodied.

(90) YS IV.29, p. 202: ... Of course the fundamental "disease" that Yoga seeks to overcome is avidya and its manifestation as samyoga.

96) YS IV.30, p. 202: Thus, it may be said that to dwell without defilement in a "cloud of dharma" is the culminating description by Patanjali of what tradition later referred to as living liberation (jivanmukti) To be sure, there is a "brevity of description" in the YS regarding the state of liberation. Only sparingly, with reservation (and, one might add, caution) and mostly in metaphorical terms does Patanjali speak about the qualities exhibited by the liberated yogin. ... The Self (purusa) is of course not an object that can be seen by itself, thus laying emphasis, as Chapple points out, on the ineffable nature of the liberative state that transcends mind-content, all marks, and activity itself.

(102) YV IV.30, pp. 123-124. Elsewhere in his YSS, p. 17, Vijnana Bhiksu tells us that the yogin who is "established in the state of dharmamegha-samadhi is called a jivanmukta": dharmameghah samadhih ... asyamavasthayam jivanmukta ityucyate. Vijnana Bhiksu is critical of Vedantins (i.e., Sankara's Advaita Vedanta school), who, he says, associate the jivanmukta with ignorance (`avidya-klesa')--probably because of the liberated being's continued link with the body--despite Yoga's insistence on the complete overcoming of the afflictions.

(111) See YS II.5, where Patanjali indirectly describes purusa as being a joyful state, that is, a state of intrinsic happiness or satisfaction (sukha) that, like other inalienable aspects of purusa such as purity and permanency, is not to be confused with an emotional state. To be sure, kaivalya is not an emotional condition that, being of the nature of the mind, comes and goes, changes. It would be highly misleading to suggest that kaivalya implies either an alienation/isolation from the world or a state of loneliness, for these are states of mind and afflicted states at that. Such a misrepresentation of Yoga only buttresses the ill-founded notion that Yoga is an escape from the world.

(115) Thus the term "Yoga" (like the terms "nirodha" and "samadhi") is ambiguous in that it means both the process of purification and illumination and the final result of liberation or "aloneness." ...The search for enlightenment under the sway of this kind of instrumental rationality/reasoning (i.e., the attempt to "gain" something from one's practice, i.e., enlightenment) never really goes beyond the level of ego and its compulsive search for permanent security, which, of course, according to Yoga thought, is an inherently afflicted state of affairs. To be sure, the concern of Yoga is to (re)discover purusa, to be restored to true identity, thus overcoming dissatisfaction, fear, and misidentification by uprooting and eradicating the dis-ease of ignorance (avidya). Yet, as Halbfass puts it, true identity "cannot be really lost, forgotten or newly acquired" (Halbfass 1991, p. 252), for liberation "is not to be produced or accomplished in a literal sense, but only in a figurative sense" (ibid., p. 251). Sufficient means for the sattvification of the mind are, however, both desirable and necessary in order to prepare the yogin for the necessary identity shift from egoity to purusa. By acknowledging that "aloneness" cannot be an acquired state resulting from or caused by yogic methods and techniques, and that purusa cannot be known (YB III.35), acquired, or discarded/lost (YB II.15), Yoga in effect transcends its own result-orientation as well as the categories of means and ends altogether.

(118) Often yogic "science" is extended by the principles of analogy and isomorphism between the macrocosm (the universe at large) and the microcosm, which is the human organism. A striking example of this isomorphism is to be found in the Yoga-Darsana Upanisad (IV.48-53), where the eternal tirtha (sacred font, holy water, place of pilgrimage) is considered inferior to the tirtha in the body, and mountains and other places of spiritual significance (e.g., Varanasi) are identified with various parts of the human body.

(134) Although the historical identity of Patanjali the Yoga master is not known, we are assuming that Patanjali was, as the tradition would have it, an enlightened Yoga adept.

(145) This is appropriate in that, from prakrti's perspective, purusa is a mysterious, ineffable silence. It appears that isvara as symbolized by the prasava (the syllable om) (YS I.27) is the closest approximation to that silence.

(150) I have not discussed the meaning and role of isvara in Patanjali's thought as it is not central to the main argument of this essay.

CREDIBILITY of YOGA

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