Patanjali and His Disciples
Theosophical Quarterly, April, 1915
Dr. J. Haughton Woods prints, in the November number of the Journal of the American Oriental Society, a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as illustrated by the Commentary entitled The Jewel’s Lustre. And we have to thank Dr. Woods for giving us, in this translation, a singularly excellent piece of work. At first sight, one would say that there is nothing of himself in it, that he completely conceals himself behind his author; neither introduction nor comment nor personal view of any kind; so that we cannot say, from any express declaration of his, whether he holds the philosophy of Patanjali to be good, bad or indifferent, of little value or of high worth. Yet, when one goes into his work a little further, one finds at every point the signs of most careful judgment, of a weighing and considering of the weights and values of words; a long and faithful preparation, admirably thorough, admirably comprehensive; and a very high standard of excellence, consistently lived up to, from the first page to the last; so that, in this, which is, perhaps, the best of all ways, Dr. Woods allows us to learn very much of him, of the high cultivation of his gifts, of the keen and penetrating quality of his mind.
In parenthesis, let us say that, for a worker with such high standards, there must be something peculiarly painful, excruciating even, in the accidents which, through no fault of his, have befallen this fine piece of work; accidents which no one could have foreseen, and which no care could have guarded against. As we interpret the signs, the matter fell out thus: Since the American Oriental Society contains many scholars learned in remote and difficult tongues, the type-setting of which presents peculiar difficulties, its Journal is, by an arrangement of long standing, set up and printed in a country of Europe esteemed most erudite. That country happened, during the course of the period when this number of the Journal was being printed, to enter a state of war. As a result, many things, including the mails, were thrown into confusion, and many documents came under unusual and in some cases, hostile scrutiny. It would appear, from internal evidence, that the revised proofs of this translation came under this category; they were either held as conditional contraband, or they were seized by the agents of the General Staff, as documents in cypher or in code. This is our conjecture. At least, it is certain that they did not reach the printer in time to be embodied in the text as we have it before us. As a result, we have a large number of very disconcerting misprints. For example, the third sutra of the third book reads thus:
“Concentration is the same (concentration) appearing as the object only, and, as it were, emptied of itself.” This is puzzling; but a careful study of the Comment shows that the second “concentration” should be read “contemplation.” The meaning, therefore is, that “Concentration (samadhi) is contemplation (dhyana) appearing as the object only, and, as it were, emptied of itself.” Even then, we find the Comment describing how “concentration ‘trobs’ forth as the object and nothing more,” where the revised proof, confiscated by the General Staff, as we infer, undoubtedly read “throbs.”
Again, the eighteenth sutra of the first book is introduced by a sentence which, as printed, reads thus: (Patanjali) “now describes the (concentration) conscious (of an object) and the method (of attaining it).” But the translation of the sutra itself makes it clear that we are dealing, on the contrary, with “concentration unconscious of an object.” In the Comment on the fifteenth sutra of the first book, we have a similarly confusing omission, “There are four forms of consciousness,” when we ought to have “There are four forms of passionless consciousness,” a wholly different idea. But the most heart-breaking blunder of all, perhaps, is the translation of the twenty-seventh sutra of the third book, which is made to read as follows:
“(As a result of constraint) upon the moon there arises (intuitive) knowledge of the arrangement of the stores.” If one be sufficiently malicious, one may try to divine what meaning this would convey, let us say, to the hyper-ingenious mind of that member of the General Staff whom we suspect of holding up Dr. Woods’ revised proofs. A knowledge of the arrangement of the stores, to be arrived at—how? As a result of constraint upon the moon! Surely, a disquieting sentence, in itself enough, perhaps, to account for the detention of the whole document. The solution is, that “stores” is a misprint for “stars.” Patanjali has in mind the heavenly bodies, and not stores, whether military or departmental. Again, if one were malicious, one might suggest that a yoga practice, which gave one an intuitive knowledge of the arrangement of department stores might, indeed, be a valuable possession, in these hurried days of ours.
The truth is, these misprints are so exasperating, that one’s only hope is to take them good-humoredly. In many cases, too, they can be corrected in virtue of that peculiar habit of Indian Commentators, who almost invariably repeat word for word, in the Commentary, the sentence which they are about to elucidate. So that we have a double chance of escaping the printer’s machinations.
We spoke of these sutras as giving the impression of being, in cypher, or, in code. And, on reflection, it seems to us that there is a great deal of validity in the comparison. These sutras, like the even more famous Vedanta Sutras, were not meant to be generally intelligible. They are mnemonics, rather than literature. We must remember that, at the time when they were composed, as for very many centuries before and after, spiritual knowledge was not taught broadcast, was not democratized, as it is in our day. It is the great honour of the Buddha, that he tried to make his teaching accessible to all. But, for most of India, spiritual teaching was as much a matter of divine right, as royalty was, in France before the Revolution. One was born with, or without, the right to certain teaching. Even then, for those born to knowledge, there were rigid qualifications, as well of moral character as of mental force. Nor did the matter end there. By a rule, which was eminently wise, the student, the disciple, was compelled to make good each step, before the following step was revealed to him. He must learn to say A, before B was disclosed. The teaching was uncovered step by step, one step at a time. And it was given to him, not in a written treatise, though writing seems to have been well known at a very remote period in India, but orally, the Teacher explaining the thought, or revealing the moral idea, or directing the action, which the pupil must then master, and carry out. It was, in a way, more like our practical training in physics or chemistry, than like modern schooling in philosophy. Now, the sutras, in our comparison, like the formulæ of chemistry or physics, are very difficult to understand without the accompanying oral teaching; intentionally obscure; therefore to be compared not inaptly to a cypher or a code.
And, in a code, everything lies in the exact interpretation of the words. In considering this, a few general considerations may be held in mind: The first is, that, in different schools, the same Sanskrit word may come to have very different, even seemingly contrary, shades of meaning; take for instance the word buddhi. It may mean almost anything from an opinion to spiritual illumination. Yet we shall always find, if we search closely, that the fundamental, etymological meaning remains. In Sanskrit, more, perhaps, than in any other language, words go straight back to their elements. And this is the more true, the further back we go in the sacred literature of India. Words, as they drift down the ages, become narrower, more technical, more the catchwords of this or another school or sect. They become, as it were, dried up, flattened out, desiccated. And so with philosophical thought. It is full and deep and rich in the great Upanishads; somewhat less rich, yet luminous and of high value, in the Bhagavad Gita; drier, more technical, more a matter of ingenious mental analysis, when we come to the Vedanta sutras, as expounded in the long commentary attributed to Shankaracharya.
It always seems to me that the Yoga Sutras went through a somewhat similar flattening and desiccating process, as they came down the centuries; that what began as moral and spiritual, tended to end as mental and analytical. And, from the present Commentary, The Jewel’s Lustre, one gets, I think, the same impression; it has become so much a matter of mental analysis. One wonders whether the undoubtedly learned and really very able and lucid Commentator ever tried to put the system into practice; or, as has happened in other lands, was he satisfied with analyzing Grace and Works, without seeking grace to perform works. Patanjali composed the sutras, it would appear, about the time of the Buddha. It has even been said that much of Buddha’s thought implies, if not the Yoga Sutras, at any rate a system very similar to that expounded in the Sutras. And Patanjali did not create his system out of the blue, so to speak. It is not a new invention, but rather the development, the practical application to moral ends, of the so-called Sankhya, or Enumerative, System, which tradition attributes to the sage Kapila, who must have lived a good deal earlier than the Buddha, since the Buddha was born in Kapila’s City, which was already of old renown. Perhaps we may say, then, that Patanjali was a contemporary of Plato and Confucius. But the present Commentary, The Jewel’s Lustre, appears to date from the time of Shakespeare. And, in the ages between Plato and Shakespeare there is room for a great deal of that flattening and desiccating process which we have suggested; and, to speak frankly, we get the impression that the process has taken place. One feels the atmosphere to be mental rather than moral, analytical rather than spiritual; though, it is true, it is full of admirable lucidity,—a lucidity rather of the head than of the heart. And this analytical quality the translator has faithfully adhered to, and indeed he was bound to, by the canons he laid down for himself: a version of the Yoga Sutras, “as illustrated by the Comment entitled The Jewel’s Lustre.”
So that it seems to me that, in this admirably lucid and exact translation, something which was in the original teaching of Patanjali is missing; it has evaporated. Something of high value, very inspiring, speaking to the heart rather than the head; something able to move the will; something which, in translating and commenting on the Yoga Sutras, I have tried to preserve; reading the Sutras, not so much with the eyes of one or another Commentator, as in the light of the whole body of the spiritual thought of India, beginning with the Great Upanishads. For it seems to me that to this great body of spiritual thought Patanjali’s teaching undoubtedly belongs. But at the same time, while suggesting this difference of standpoint and method, I must not fail to express my feeling of indebtedness to Dr. Woods, for a closer understanding of a number of technical points, which I hope to take advantage of, in revising the version of the Sutras I have alluded to.
In interpreting a cypher or a code, as has been said, much, nay, almost everything, depends on the exact values of words. And each of the systems of spiritual thought in India has its special, characteristic words, a right comprehension and a sound translation of which, are of the utmost moment. Of Buddhism, for instance, the characteristic words are Karma and Nirvana; how to free oneself from Karma, thereby attaining Nirvana. And we know what difficulties beset the translation of Nirvana; so much so, that it is almost always left untranslated. Of the Vedanta, the characteristic word is Atma; the whole system is bent toward the discovery of Atma in oneself, and the final identification of that Atma with Brahma: the Self with the Eternal. Of the Sankhya and Yoga systems, the characteristic words are Purusha and Prakriti, which mean, in their simplest form, Man and Nature, as standing face to face with each other. But in a deeper sense Purusha means Spirit, or, perhaps the Heavenly Man, as in the great Vedic Hymn to Purusha: “The Heavenly Man has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet,” the Hymn which goes on to tell how the gods immolated the Heavenly Man, binding Him to a stake, and how, from that universal sacrifice, the worlds and the races of men came into being.
The word Purusha occurs again and again in the Great Upanishads, in meanings varying between man and the Heavenly Man, or Universal Spirit. For example, in a famous passage in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, King Janaka asks Yajnavalkya, “What is the light of the spirit of man?” The word here used is Purusha, and it is clear that, at first, it means little more than “man,” since it is a question of the man being guided by sound, when it is so dark that he cannot see his hand before his face. But there is one very celebrated passage in the Katha Upanishad, almost at the end, where the word Purusha has decidedly a cosmic, a macrocosmic, meaning. The passage is this:
“Higher than the powers (indriya) is manas; higher than manas is the most excellent sattva. The Atma which is great is higher than sattva; than the Great, the most excellent Unmanifest is higher. Higher than the Unmanifest is Purusha, far-reaching, formless; knowing Whom a being is set free and goes to immortality.”
Here is the kernel of the Sankhya and Yoga systems, which have as their aim just that liberation and immortality, to be gained by a knowledge of Purusha. The Sankhya system seeks to bring about a knowledge of Purusha through analysis; the Yoga system seeks the same end through practices. It is, if you wish, the conflict between Faith and Works.
Purusha, then, is the central word of the Sankhya and Yoga systems, just as Atma is the central word of the Vedanta system. And I must confess that I doubt the expediency of translating the Sankhya-Yoga word as though it were the Vedanta word; the expediency of translating Purusha by “Self,” as Dr. Woods does throughout this version. This is, perhaps, to lose a valuable distinction, a distinction of colour, if nothing else. And its use almost leads one into heresy; for example, in the twenty-fourth sutra of the first book, where it is said that “Ishvara (the Lord, or Master) is a special kind of Self,” this is undoubtedly unorthodox from a Vedantin standpoint, as there can be no such thing as “a special kind of Self,” seeing that the Self is universal. And one may go further, and question whether Purusha, in the Sankhya-Yoga system, covers the same ground as Atma does in the Vedanta system. Here is a fundamental difference: According to the thought of the Sankhyas, there are innumerable Purushas; as many men, so many Purushas; nor does there seem to be any necessary union or unity underlying this infinite diversity. But while, in the Vedanta, one may, perhaps, say that there are as many selves as there are men, yet the whole purpose of the Vedanta is, to show, and to bring to practical consciousness, that all these selves are but the one Self, just as the images in bubbles are reflections of the one Sun. So that it seems to me that it would be safer and clearer not to translate the great Sankhya-Yoga word as though it were the great Vedanta word, as Dr. Woods does, throughout this translation.
The little text we quoted from the Katha Upanishad shows the attainment of liberation through the knowledge of Purusha. The Sankhya system postulates a fall into bondage through an inverse process. Purusha, face to face with Prakriti, Man face to face with Nature, sees himself reflected in Nature, and takes the image for the original; by identifying himself with this image in the substance of Nature, he becomes subject to the mutations of nature, falls into bondage to mutability, to change and pain and death. It is the Sankhya version of the Fall of Man, and the Sankhya tells man how to work out his salvation, not so much with fear and trembling, as with detachment and wisdom, finally recognizing himself as that Purusha which is free and immortal.
But there is, perhaps, a further objection to translating Purusha by the word Self. It is this: There is good reason for believing that, throughout the Yoga Sutras, we are not considering the ultimate Self, the infinite, unconditioned One, but rather something much more individual and personal; something much lower and earlier, if one may use the expression; something, in fact, which is described by Paul, in his first letter to Corinth, as “the celestial body,” a term which did not, for Paul, mean the last and highest reality, the Logos, but a degree of spiritual life to be attained by men individually, by men remaining in a certain definite sense personal, though of a higher and purer personality than that which is experienced in ordinary worldly life.
So that, having in view this much more individual being, this personal, though celestial life, I have translated Purusha by the phrase “the spiritual man,” which is, indeed, rather Paul’s than mine, and which, I believe, rightly suggests a close analogy between the teaching of Paul and certain sides of the Indian teaching. For example, when Paul insists on salvation by Faith, that is, by a certain state of spiritual consciousness, he comes very close to the Indian schools which, opposing the Vedic way of Works, declare that salvation is to be attained through spiritual discernment, or illumination.
In the choice of another word, I think Dr. Woods might, perhaps, have fallen on a happier equivalent of the Sanskrit. It is the word which expresses the final goal, the liberation attained, when Purusha, self-recognized, stands forth free and perfect. The Sanskrit word is Kaivalya, a noun derived from the adjective kevala, the simplest meaning of which is “alone.” Dr. Woods has chosen the word Isolation, to represent the noun, and Isolation is, therefore, held up, as the supreme goal of spiritual effort. But I must confess that, as a goal of effort—effort to be carried on, perhaps, through many lives,—Isolation leaves me cold. After all, it means, does it not, being “left on an island,” which suggests rather loneliness than attainment. There is, in the word, no suggestion that, among the rewards of the supreme spiritual attainment, there may be communion with the Divine, communion with the souls of those we love. Yet both these ideas are undoubtedly in the mind of Patanjali. On the other hand, it is true that the word Isolation does echo what Emerson has so beautifully expressed:
“The soul gives itself, alone, original and pure, to the Lonely, Original and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads, and speaks through it.”
But for the most part Dr. Woods is as happy as he is thoughtful in his choice of words. Take, for example, the definition of Yoga, in the second sutra of the first book:
“Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff;” the word translated “mind-stuff” being chitta. In what is, I think, the earliest, or one of the earliest versions of Patanjali, this sutra was rendered thus: “Yoga is the suppression of the transformations of the thinking principle.” But, for English readers, the thinking principle is hardly distinguishable from pure consciousness; and to suppress its transformations looks very like deadness, sheer unconsciousness. But Patanjali has in view, not pure consciousness, but that part of Nature, as distinguished from Spirit, which, under the illumining and warming rays of Spirit, forms the personal man, the field of emotion, passion, analytical reasoning,—all that mental and emotional activity which makes up the personal life. This part or fragment of nature is the personal sattva, or being, a word probably taken from the text we quoted from the Katha Upanishad. The sattva is not spirit. It is rather thought of as material, though in a finer sense. It is inflamed by passion, or rendered inert by darkness; and these phases form the misery of ordinary life. But the darkness is to be driven away, the passion is to be stilled, and then the sattva will reflect the pure light of Spirit, and that alone. This is the first step towards recognition of oneself as pure Spirit, as Purusha, that recognition being final liberation,—what Dr. Woods translates Isolation. Therefore the choice of the phrase “mind-stuff” seems singularly happy; it is at once sufficiently material, to show that we are not dealing with Spirit; sufficiently immaterial, to show we are not dealing with sheer materialism.
The sattva is conceived of as filled with the impresses of past experiences, thoughts, emotions. The Sanskrit word used is Sanskara, the history of which is somewhat as follows: Literally, it means an adornment, an ornament, and especially the ornaments which the potters make on the wet clay of their water-jars, before they fire them. These are rough patterns, roughly cut or pressed in the clay, when it is still soft, so that “impress,” or “impression” comes very close to the original thought. The name Sanskrit, the “adorned” language, is another form of the same word. Sanskara, then, Dr. Woods courageously translates “subliminal-impression,” a rendering which, for the most part, seems admirable, though it may be questionable whether the sanskaras are always subliminal, always “below the threshold” of consciousness. In one case, however, that of the eighteenth sutra of the third book, the use of the phrase is nothing short of illuminating: “As the result of direct-experience of subliminal impressions there is the (intuitive) knowledge of previous births.” Here is a singularly suggestive bringing together of ancient and modern psychology.
The word tapas, which Dr. Woods translates “self-castigation,” I am not so sure of. Tapas does, it is true, mean penance, but that is not, I think, its original, its fundamental meaning. It comes from a root meaning “burn,” or “warm,” and is used, in the oldest Upanishads, to indicate the power of the Spirit which “dove-like, sat brooding o’er the vast abyss;” the power which, in so many symbolic cosmogonies, warms the world-egg into life. I have quoted Milton’s word, “brooding,” which he himself took from Genesis, because, like the Sanskrit word tapas, “brooding” means both physical heat and a mood of the mind, the purpose of which is, to hatch new ideas. And I believe that tapas, the warming and enkindling fire of the mind, very often means “aspiration,” or “fervour,”—the heat of the spirit, which brings forth new life.
But tapas has its penitential meaning too,—the burning and purifying power of self-sacrifice; typified, in India, by that very severe penance, still practised by ascetics, of standing in the midst of a group of four fires, with the tropical sun beating down on one’s head. But it seems to me that to translate tapas always by “self-castigation,” which suggests a bodily scourging in the most literal sense, is, perhaps, to limit its meaning too much. The idea is, without doubt, that of Paul, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection:” perhaps “mortification” would be a good rendering. Yet this penitential meaning is not the primary one; “fervour,” some word suggesting creative spiritual heat, seems to be the primary meaning.
One more verbal criticism. Dr. Woods translates the thirty-second sutra of the third book thus: “(As a result of constraint) upon the radiance in the head (there follows) the sight of the Siddhas;” and renders the Comment thus: “As a result of constraint upon that aperture which is in the skull, the so-called opening of Brahma, and which—after there is a conjunction (of this light) with the Sushumna and after there is a conjunction of the jewel’s lustre of the mind-stuff resident in the heart—becomes resplendent as the radiance in the head—(as a result of this) he beholds the Siddhas, although they are invisible.” Now that leaves one who is unacquainted with the Sanskrit term very much in the dark. Who or what are the Siddhas? They are the possessors of Siddhis, or magical powers; or, better still, they are those who have “attained,”—to use another of Paul’s phrases. They are those spirits of just men made perfect, who have been called Adepts or Masters. It is the vision of the Masters that at this stage rewards the disciple. It is, perhaps, too weighty a word to leave untranslated, as Dr. Woods leaves it; the more so, as the word “adept” is exactly parallel to it etymologically.
But these are verbal matters about which it is possible to hold very divergent views. One translation appeals to one student, another to another. And it is always quite manifest that Dr. Woods has chosen thoughtfully and carefully, seeing very clearly the difficulties which arise from the fact that none of our words fit exactly the words we are trying to translate. It is like fitting a pentagon over a square; we can get most of it covered, but the corners will never match.
But the value of Dr. Woods’ work lies in its faithfulness and its lucidity, and in the thorough-going way in which it has been done. Perhaps this sutra, with its commentary, will illustrate these qualities as well as any other:
“The yogin’s karma is neither-white-nor-black; (the karma) of others is of three kinds:”—“White karma is to be attained by voice and by central-organ and its sole result is pleasure; it is found among those who are disposed to study and self-castigation. Black karma has its sole result in pain; it is found among the base. White-and-black-(karma) has a mixed result in pleasure and in pain and it is to be affected by outer means; it is found among the devotees of the soma sacrifice. In these (three) cases, because it is connected with the crushing of ants and similar (creatures)—in so far as rice or other grains are destroyed—and with aid to others, such as the giving of fees, there is this karma of three kinds in the case of ‘others,’ (that is) those who are not yogins. But the karma of yogins (that is) of ascetics, because they have cast off the karma which is to be effected by outer means, is not white-or-black. Because the hindrances have dwindled it is not black; because the result of the right-living is committed to the Ishvara without desiring any result it is not white karma. Consequently by means of the discriminative discernment into the purity of the mind-stuff the karma which is neither-white-nor-black has as its sole result release.”
One more example of the excellent workmanship of Dr. Woods, and we have done. It is a part of the Comment on the fiftieth sutra of the third book, which Dr. Woods translates as follows:
“In case of solicitations from those in high places, these should arouse no attachment or pride, for undesirable consequences recur.”
The Commentator first asks to which class of yogins this danger, solicitation from those in high places, is likely to occur, and, after describing four classes of yogins, declares:
“So, by elimination, it is the second yogin, the Madhubhumika, who is solicited, (that is,) invited by ‘those in high places,’ (that is,) those who are masters of this or that high place, for instance, Mahendra. “Sir! will you sit here? Will you rest in this heavenly place? This maiden might prove attractive. This enjoyment is supernormal. This elixir wards off age and death. This chariot goes as you will.” When he is thus invited, an attachment, (that is,) a lust arises in him so that he feels with pride, ‘How great is the power of this yoga of mine!’ This should not be done. Rather let him reflect upon the defects in it thus, ‘Baked on the pitiless coals of the round-of-rebirths and mounted upon the wheel of successive births and deaths, I have hardly found the lamp of yoga which dispels the darkness of the hindrances. And of this (lamp) the lust-born gusts of sensual things are enemies. How could it be that I who have seen its light could be led astray by sensual things, a mere mirage, and throw myself as fuel into that same blaze of the round-of-rebirths as it flares up again? Fare ye well! Sensual things (deceitful) as dreams and to be craved by vile folk.’ His purpose thus determined let him cultivate concentration. If attached, he falls from his position. Thinking of himself in pride as having done all, he is not perfected in yoga. Accordingly because one whose yoga is broken is involved again in the round-of-rebirths, which is not desired, not being attached and not being proud are the means of throwing off the obstacles to Isolation.”