Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On Pathanjali and Yoga

Some believe that the ancient Indians knew very little about human mind. A careful study of the Mandukya Upanishad might lay such notions to rest. The analysis it provides on the inner workings of the mind is not easily understood without detailed commentaries. The Upanishad itself is difficult; Gudapada’s carika on it is almost insurmountable. So we may leave them to the very tough minded.

But there is another text which is definitely accessible and comparatively easier to understand-The Yoga Sutras of Pathanjali. Of course it has not delved deep into the mysteries of the sub conscious and the unconscious which are in hot favor everywhere after Freud. But we normally deal with the conscious and resort to it to solve the riddles we face in life. No one apart from Jung has taken the stand that the solution to all our problems lays in the submerged segment of the mind, whatever its size compared to the conscious portion. All our attempts to understand the world is centered on its conscious portion, and that is all that is needed.

Its here Pathanjali and his Sutras stand apart. The Yoga Sutras provide us with an exhaustive analysis of our working mind; I might go as far to say that no work on the globe has done it in a similar manner. Perhaps it is the single most talked about treatise in the world now. The problem in understanding it lies with its structure. It is constructed in the proven Indian method of Aphorisms-Somewhat similar in intend to the method used by Spinoza in his Ethics. The similarity only goes as far as the intent. Spinoza’s geometrical style otherwise has no resemblance to the aphorisms.

Aphorisms was a technique employed to preserve the original texts on a subject in the most precise and condensed form so that they could be transmitted verbally without damaging the original content. This practice had to be adopted since writing materials were limited in the distant past. Aphorisms are just threads of thought or mere outlines of thought which are easier to memorize and reproduce later when required.

The system was practical; it preserved the texts intact and also let the commentators integrate their practical knowledge of the subject while it was taught. It has its pitfalls, for different Adhikari’s (that is authorities- Adhikari is not exactly authority in the western sense. The term is used to denote the level of awareness and the intellectual slant of the persons concerned. We may take this up later) interpreted it in the light of their knowledge and the advice they received from their teachers.
The interpreters had different orientations. Some followed the tradition of Vedanta, and have tried to present the Sutra’s in a fashion suitable to further their teachings. I must say this has done more damage to the teachings of Pathanjali than anything else. The Yoga sutra’s follow the philosophy of the Samkhya’s. It is quite useless to bring Vedanta and its conception of single reality into it, whatever the reasons are. The Samkhya’s were dualists. Their conception of the genesis is completely different from that of the Vedantin’s.

To them, the world is caused by the interaction of two primary forces, the Purusha and Prakriti. We may translate these as the Consciousness and Matter of today-Purusha being consciousness and Prakriti being matter. This analogy may not be exact but it simplifies matters to a great extant for us. But the problems for us do not end there. To the Samkyan’s the Purusha or the Consciousness is not single but innumerable. They were shrewd to realize that every conscious being has its own particular states of experiences which have nothing to do with others at the moment of their occurrence.

For example Mr. X may be in a state of joy at present but his friend Mr. Y might be feeling grieved for the same reason. Mr. Z on the other hand might be planning to murder both X and Y at the same time. As you can see every conscious being is undergoing different emotional, intellectual, psychical and bodily states which are often quite opposite or at variance with that of others at the time. We can’t possibly argue that it was Othello himself who put Iago (naturally himself according to the non dual theory) to cause Desdemona (again himself) to be murdered.
Hence the Samkya’s assumed that there are as many consciousnesses (Purusha’s) as there are conscious entities. This is logically unshakable and the Non Dual camp had to take recourse to the theory of MAYA to solve this hitch in their system. Undoubtedly the theory of MAYA of Sankaracharya is the shrewdest piece of argument that was ever proposed in the philosophical thought. If the world is a delusion and is the play of one being then Othello, Desdemona and Iago is the same being taking on different roles and playing with itself.

Mighty exposition, though none of the texts of the principal Upanishads on which Sankara based his arguments contained a germ of evidence for MAYA. The only Upanishad which spoke of it was the Swetashwatara and it does not have the same eminence as that of the other ten. Anyway, philosophy had reached its zenith with Sankara and it can only go down from there. The west has not fully realized what Sankara had done to philosophy. You might hide behind categories like Materialism (Vulgar, subjective or objective) or behind idealism of different hues. You may even take protection behind philosophic dualism. But as the matter stands, after Sankara there is no place to go. He had found and exposed every single system of philosophy and laid them to rest for all time to come.

But our concern here is not with Sankara but with Kapila and his system. The Yoga Sutra’s can be called the practical aspect of Samkhya philosophy; it only differs in minor respects. The most important of them being its stance in relation to god. The Yogi’s recognize a being with enough powers to be called so for a Kalpa. This is not the god of devotees. He is just a helpful being with powers to guide you.

(To be continued)

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