February 9 Discussion Sūtra 1.8
Notes by Erez, edited by Ram
Simhāvalokanam (revisiting last discussion)
Pramāṇa, in Sūtra (1.7), an instrument of knowledge, is defined: anadhigatam abādhitam pramā karaṇam pramāṇam. “An instrument / means of knowledge is that which gives one knowledge of what is not known and which cannot be negated.” This definition precludes memory as an instrument of knowledge, but not the three mentioned in Sūtra (1.7).
This raises the question of direct perception (pratyakṣa) as a valid means of knowledge. The perceptual knowledge of Sun rise and the inferential knowledge of the Sun not rising, seem in conflict. The truth of Sun rise is contradicted by a different means of knowledge, inference. Perception is valid as far as perception goes but it is not the truth.
The next natural question is what about scriptures as a valid means of knowledge? We all know the example of Galileo’s inferential knowledge contradicting a belief of geo-centricity! In Indian tradition, despite a great reverence for the Vedas, an eighth century commentator states ‘if one hundred scriptures were to say that fire is cold, it is contradicted by my experience and inference, one cannot accept such śruti declaration as the truth’.
Next sūtra (1.8) defines viparyaya, misapprehension.
विपर्ययो मिथ्याज्ञानमतद्रूपप्रतिष्ठम् ।(1.8)
(विपर्ययः मिथ्याज्ञानम् अतद्रूप-प्रतिष्ठम्।
Viparyayaḥ mithyā-jñanam atadrūpa-pratiṣṭham.)
Error is false knowledge, based on what
is not (an object’s) real form.
Viparyaya is made of two prefixes vi (opposite of) and pari (total), the verb i (to go, to know) and the suffix a. The word Viparyayaḥ is the masculine gender singular form, meaning error, misapprehension.
Mithyā-jñanam: This word is a compound (neuter gender singular form) made of two nouns, mithyā (false) and jñanam (knowledge) = false knowledge.
Atadrūpa-pratiṣṭham: This word also is a compound (neuter gender singular form) made of two nouns Atadrūpa (not the same form as that, the pronoun that stands for the object) and pratiṣṭham (based on).
The classic example often cited is the erroneous perception / misapprehension of a length of a rope on the road as a snake. This ‘snake knowledge’ is not true to the object, a rope.
Question by a participant: There is an āsana name starts with the same prefix as vi and pari.
Comment by another discussant: Yes, the one you refer to is viparīta-karaṇī, not the parivrtta-trikoṇāsana.
Ram: This discussion pulls us deeper into construction of words in Sanskrit, my favorite field! The name viparīta-karaṇī is derived from the same prefixes, verb but has an added component karaṇī. In this compound word, the verb i has the common meaning of to go and the term karaṇī is from the verb kṛ (to, do, to make) meaning maker – literally ‘maker of going opposite to the normal way’. This term is used for postures where the legs go up. On the other hand, parivṛtta has only one prefix pari meaning ‘turned around’, and the verb is vrt ‘to be, to become’ becoming vṛtta meaning mode: thus it is translated as revolved /rotated as you know from parivrtta–trikoṇāsana, revolved triangle pose.
Question: Can viparyaya be erroneous perception or inference (etc…)?
Ram: Yes, it can be an erroneous perception, inference or words (all three instruments of knowledge cited in the prior aphorism).
There is a famous story from the Upanisads that highlights this erroneous inference! It is about two sons who came to their father, a spiritual teacher to learn what is their true nature. The teacher sent both of them to look in a well saying “you will know who you are when you look in”. They both saw their own reflections in the water. While one went away ‘knowing’ that he is but his body, the other one, though seeing a mere reflection of himself, inferred that what he saw may not be the truth, understood that his body is not himself and went back to his father for further instruction.
Question: Is knowledge of puruṣa considered pramaṇa?
Ram: This question brings us to the core of yoga philosophy. Puruṣa, the sentience, that is the core of my Being is un-associated with prakṛti, realizing this through yoga is what yoga-sūtras discuss.
If we analyze this work and compare it with other philosophical systems we discover that the word yoga (derived from the verb yuj meaning to yoke or join together) in reality it means to disconnect puruṣa from prakṛti. Puruṣa resides in prakṛti, that is, we take this body-mind complex as me, the puruṣa. The practices are the means of seeing this reality that my true nature is puruṣa, not this body-mind complex which is nothing but modifications of prakṛti. Sūtra (1.3) states that when all cittavṛttis are resolved puruṣa abides in its true nature. Being in the body that is but prakṛti and understanding true nature of puruṣa is called nirbīja-samādhi.
This really is the basis of your question. “Given puruṣa and prakṛti are un-associated / disconnected, how can we understand puruṣa if we are in the body which is prakṛti? But, if I no longer have this body, who is going to understand this? This looks like a paradox! And so, who gets the knowledge and where does it reside? The answer is rather simple. Any knowledge takes place only in the mind, which is a modification of the prakrti, but enlivened by the puruṣa. The knowledge of my nature gained in my mind makes me see that I am the puruṣa, not my mind. The yoga practices of gaining a mastery of mental modes allows you to ‘see’, or ‘experience’ this truth.
This is illustrated in the Vedanta tradition by the analogy of a dream, and how a dream event makes you get out of sleep and wake up. Vedanta says that āgama, that is śabda, spoken words of the teacher and the student are both in the world that is unreal, but this unreal teaching is able to give you knowledge that is in your mind that is also unreal. But this knowledge can push you out of this unreality to the Truth of you Being like the dream of a tiger chasing you makes you wake up.
Question: The path of yoga can be looked at as trying to answer the question: what is yoga? The answer evolves as we go along. If we think of the answer to the question what is yoga as correct knowledge, do we ever fully understand what is yoga? Do we ever get to correct knowledge?
On the same note, it could be that while reading the yoga-sūtras we don’t fully understand it, is it correct knowledge (pramaṇa) or misapprehension (viparyaya)?
Ram: These are good questions. We can categorize them, and re-categorize them. In the process we get more wound up in another series of cittavṛttis. Instead, we need to keep in focus the main thrust of Patañjali’s teaching. These initial definitions and categorizations are there just to keep the mind a bit at ease so further exploration is possible. But his main goal is that one should not get stuck with any vṛtti, even correct knowledge is still a vṛtti. Yoga-sūtras’ vision is to let you transcend all five-fold vṛttis (sūtra 1.6), knowledge (true or false, or evolving) is among the five listed here.
My understanding of Yoga-sūtras is that it is more a practice manual than one definitions and categorizations. It is about understanding how to get to cittavṛtti-nirodha. The first step is learning about the vṛttis. You start with the external limbs (bahiraṅga: yama, niyama, asana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra) and progress to the internal limbs (antaraṇga: dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi). The goal is to see the fact that I am not this body-mind complex but the puruṣa.
This practice, unlike āsana practice is one that takes place all throughout my waking hours. From my perspective a yogi’s life is one of introspective living, seeing how the cittavṛttis take one for a ride, thereby gaining a handle over them rather than getting stuck in one kind of vṛtti or another or even getting stuck in perfecting each of the aṅgas! Eventually one hopes to be what the author states about the mastery of the vṛttis (nirodha) – tadā draṣṭusvarūpe’vasthānam (1.3), then the Seer abides in its true nature.