February 23 Discussion Sūtra 1.11, 1.12
Notes by Michelle, edited by Ram
Siṁhāvalokanam (revisiting last discussion) Sūtra 1.10 sleep, the fourth of the five-fold cittavṛtti-s (Sūtra 1.6) was defined as a mental mode based on absence of any cognition. The word nidrā used here refers to deep sleep or dreamless sleep. The two sleep states of dream and deep sleep have equivalent Samskṛta terms : svapna and suṣupti respectively. Here nidrā means suṣupti, not svapna. This is because of the expression ‘supported by absence of any cognition’ in the sūtra. This includes the cognition as well. That is, there is no cognizer, cognized, and the process of cognition are all zeroed out, resolved into One.
The question then is ‘How does one know there is a vṛtti in deep sleep?’ Because when one wakes up, one realizes “sukamahamasvāpsam, na kiñcidavediṣam – I slept very well, I did not know anything.” How does one realize that nothing was known? There is no way to explain since ‘memory’ as defined in the aphorism does not include this. A different word pratyabhijñā is used in Samskṛta for this ability of one to make such a statement, though there is no simple English equivalent.
अनुभूतविषयासंप्रमोषः स्मृतिः। (1.11)
anubhūtaviṣayāsaṁpramoṣaḥ smṛtiḥ. (1.11)
Memory is not losing an object experienced.
anubhūta-viṣaya-asaṁpramoṣaḥ: This long word is one compound with three components – anubhūta, viṣayā and saṁpramoṣa. Explanation of each of these terms follows
anubhūta, experienced: is the past participle of the verb bhū with the prefix anu with the past participial suffix ta. The verb anubhū means to experience
viṣaya, Sense Object
asaṁpramoṣa, not losing: This is formed by the addition of three prefixes a, sam, and pra to the verb muṣ and the suffix a is added to form the noun. The verb muṣ has several meanings – steal, carry off, remove, cover, conceal. The prefix sam intensifies the verb meaning, thus the prefix in context has the sense total concealment, total loss. And the addition of the prefix a gives the exactly opposite meaning. The suffix a changes the meaning to ‘total lack of concealing’. One can put it positively as ‘total recall’.
The word anubhūta-viṣaya-asaṁpramoṣaḥ, in singular, first case thus means total recall of objects experienced, and this defines ‘memory’ according to Patañjali.
If we consider the question as to what is remembered, is it cognition of the object, or the experienced object only? According to the commentator, memory consists of both the cognition of the object as well the object experienced. For example, if one thinks of a pumpkin, what comes from memory is not just the object pumpkin but the cognition of the pumpkin as well since both together created the mental impression called saṁskāra.
Discussion: What about dreams then, are they memories in the strict sense of the term? Say you dream of a Halloween pumpkin: it has legs, and tries to grab your neck, you scream and wake up. Is that a memory or not?
The vividly recollected dream is due to memory of the sensory objects experienced in a dream. The components of the memory associated with, rather, jumbled in the dream are discrete sensory objects, falling under the category of memory – memory of pumpkin, memory of hands, legs, etc. One can conclude that memory true to the object (waking state) and memory true solely within the mind (dream) are both called ‘memory’ (and they both connect consciousness to a sense of reality).
Memory can be of many types, can be image / visual versus non-image based. Image-mode of memory not necessarily image-based in the sense of being an imagination of a particular pumpkin one has experienced, It can be more general than that.
Memory also need not be of only a sensory object, it can be conceptual and factual – gravitational field, mass energy equivalence. One can say that all the other four types of vṛttis can become smṛti, memory
Is it possible to have total recall of an experience, object or concept?Yes, but memory deterioration can take place with time, due to biologic and pyscohological factors. Some people have the picture perfect memory for life, but not everyone!
In the sūtras, when there are lists, the order of the list is important. Here we have a list of vṛttis – pramāṇa, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidrā and smṛti – cognition, error, concepts, sleep and memory. Some commentators have said that smṛti is the foundation for all the other vṛttis, or something to that effect. So, why is smṛti last, seems it sound be first in order.
Good question. Let us take a look at the sūtra that lists the eight limbs of yoga – yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇayāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi – the last, and culmination of the rest of the efforts is samādhi. In this instance, smṛti is last because it references all the other vrittis: if the other mental modes were not operational, then memory would be non-existent!
Why is nidrā treated as a vṛtti at all? It doesn’t really seem relevant. Research shows that even in deep sleep, something is happening in the mind, one has to call it a vṛtti, mind fluctuation. In the tradition, back in those days, it was believed that nidrā means nothing, that is, sleep is a mental mode where there is no cognition.
Still, why should Patañjali include nidrā?
Because of the definition of yoga as cittavṛttinirodhaḥ (1.2), restraint (mastery) of mental modes. Nirodha, though translated as restraint, it is more than that: it is not like restraining a barking dog. The word needs more analysis: what is meant by restraint of cittavṛtti? What are the cittavṛttis? Does it mean: do not sleep at all? No. As we saw last time, Gita talks about a yogi. A yogi is not someone who eats all the time or starves himself, or sleeps all the time, or doesn’t sleep at all.
Having stated and defined all cittavṛttis, the goal being mastery of them, the next sūtra talks about the way of cittavṛttinirodha, the goal of this text on yoga.
अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः। (1.12)
Abhyāsavairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ. (1.12)
Restraint of them is by practice and dispassion.
Abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyāṁ: This word is a compound, called dvandva-samāsa, and it has two component terms – abhyāsa and vairāgya.
abhyāsa: This is derived from the verb as with the prefix abhi meaning ‘to practice’, and the addition of suffix a makes it a noun, practice.
vairāgya: Is derived from the verb rasj, to color, to like, to be passionte and the prefix vi. This prefix, like most prefixes has several meanings. In context it means devoid of, free from. To this verb first a suffix a is added to form the noun virāga, free from passionate or clinging attachment. By adding another suffix ya to this noun yields vairāgya, freedom from clinging / passionate attachment. This word is also translated as detachment.
The Compound is placed in the third case dual by adding the declensional suffix bhyām. Third case in Sanskrit is used in the sense of ‘by, because of, due to’.
tannirodhaḥ (tat-nirodhaḥ): This word also is a compound, called ṣaṣṭhī-tatpuruṣa, formed by the two component terms tat and nirodha. When these two come together a junction rule applies, changing the final t tannirodha tat to n, thus the compound is tannirodha.This compound, when resolved means ‘restraint of those’, the pronoun standing for mental modes. Nirodha is formed from the verb rudh (to restrain) with prefix ni (with certainty) and a suffix a making it a noun, generally translated as restraint. The compound is in the first case singular word tannirodhaḥ.
In the Bhavadgītā, the work of Vyāsa uses this sūtra in a way – Kṛṣṇa, in response to Arjuna’s question about how difficult it is to restrain the mind (ref. Feb. discussion) was “by abhyāsa and vairāgya” (6. 35).
Note on Patañjali‘s general methodology
Patañjali first introduces a sūtra containing key terms he uses in his book. Then proceeds to define or explain the meaning of that sūtra‘s key terms in subsequent ones.
Both abhyāsa and vairāgya are equally important to accomplish the goal of cittavṛttinirodha. This is clear by the choice of the specific compound used to form the word Abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyām. This compound is used to imply that all its component terms have equal importance.
If one asks ‘why does the word practice comes first in the aphorism?’ the response is simple. Only when one starts abhyāsa, practice, one can understand the need for vairāgya, dispassion towards things and beings we cling to, since this clinging creates mental agitations that are well neigh impossible to handle.
So, instead of thinking these two as a ‘Catch 22’ situation, one has to see these as synergistic. First start with abhyāsa, practice. Think of your own experience of progression of yoga practice. You didn’t know what who Patañjali was, much less what relevance his Sūtras have to my āsana practice. But through years of abhyāsa – physical practice – you were led to some kind of refinement of the mind, and the mind thinking “Hey, there is something more there than what meets the eye – or meets the body – besides the aches the pains! Without my really seeking anything beyond a fit body, I find that my mind is calmer, more at peace. But I am also drawn to some thing deeper, more spiritual. I like to know more, study more, understand better about my mind.” That sort of progression is made possible by abhyāsa, and that’s why, one can speculate that Patañjali starts with abhyāsa as the first member of the compound followed by vairāgya.
Abhyāsa is something one does, but does one do vairāgya?
Patañjali explains this further in the second chapter of his book. This chapter is aptly called sādhanapāda, section on how to accomplish nirodha.
There are other answers to the questions than vairāgya and abhyāsa. For example, What about mindfulness and persistence? There seems to be other pairs of words than the ones Patañjali chose that also do the job? He says we can do nirodaha with the aṣṭāṅgayoga, yoga with eight limbs ? Do these other systems connect up with aṣṭāṅga?
This is a valid question, rather a doubt by any one who has looked into or practice other spiritual practices. It is clear for us all that Patañjali has a much broader perspective. He makes it clear at many places in his work. For example in (4.1) he mentions a number of ways of gaining samādhi.
Other way is one of surrender in practice thereby achieving a state of being at peace. Is this achieving nirodaha?
Yes, surrendering oneself during āsana-practice, in stead of expecting perfect pose all the time is the real practice that results in nirodha. But to develop this attitude during practice itself takes years since the expectation-elation-frustration cycle of the mind is slowly mastered by what developing dispassion.
Stilling the mind (finding a place, like a yogic tornado cellar – within which the activity of the mind doesn’t trap a person) or one of letting it do what it’s going to do. Is it one, or the other, or a little of both?
‘The yogic tornado cellar where one stills the mind’ sounds exactly like what houses In India have – in almost every house there is a small corner, if not a separate room, considered to be the sacred corner/room. You do not enter there unless you have showered and changed your clothes. There is an altar with an an icon or a picture with a lit lamp there. If a person is agitated, one can say “go to the pūja room, sit there for a while.” And once you go there, the space has a way of calming you down.
Here, you steel yourself, override your mood or lethargy, go to YIY and you do your yoga. Sure the body and mind may not cooperate, but you do what you can. Slowly your mind becomes calm and you ‘surrender yourself’ to doing yogāsanas.
This ‘tordano cellar’ can be a Zen meditation center, a temple, a church, a park or an any activity like a long hike, jog or passive listening to calming music. These are but tools to get a handle on the mind, a step towards nirodha.
Now, back to the point about “mindfulness” – vipassana, mindfulness practice, is abyāsa. One must see abyāsa as a superset within which a subset can be sūtra chanting, it can be saying a few Hail Marys, or the Islamic chant of God is Great, or it can be whatever else.
A few years ago I went to Notredame Cathedral, and was moved by the sight of hundreds of devout Catholics going there to light candles. That also is abyāsa.
Any abyāsa done for a long time will bring about steadiness. One might say, ‘I don’t really do yoga practice since I hurt my back or knee or whatever’. One can still call oneself a yogin, by doing abyāsa in another way. The thrust of this sūtra is not to get stuck in any particular paradigm to the exclusion of others.This is the kind of global vision Patañjali has. Whatever practice one does, may he / she also do so dilgently as a sūtra is going to mention later.
There is a story told in India about a farmer. During a severe drought the farmer decided to dig a well in his field. He dug at one place, found no water. Dug at another place, but no water. He dug quite a few dry holes, found no water. One day a wise man wandering around saw the farmer, digging his fifth well. “What are you doing?” “I’m digging a well.” “Why?” “Respected Sir, as you see, there’s no rain for a long time and the fields are parched. So I had to try something to get water.” “What are all these mounds of dirt for?” “Because I’ve dug all these different wells – there’s the first one, there’s the second one, and so on.” “Why are you digging a fifth well?” “Because there’s no water in the other four.” “Well, how far are you digging?” “I dug 20 feet here, 20 feet there, and so on”. “But if only you had dug 100 feet in one place, you would have found water!” saying this the wise man went on his way.
Abyāsa should not be spasmodic; you try to do it every day. At least 10 minutes, say at least 3 Sun salutations. We all have our usual human frailties: Patañjali has great compassion, he knows how the mind can play tricks on a person and how one can deal with it. This is why he says ‘nirodha by abyāsa and vairāgya.’ Without dispassion you can have practice, but without steady practice you cannot gain dispassion. And, without developing dispassion, mere practice does not help one to deal with the mind and its ravings. Thus, one can keep on practicing yoga to perfection with out any improvement of the mind, and get too set and rigid in thinking. And then will say to someone else “why are you doing this pose like this? It has to be done like that” — but the poor fellow has a bad back or a bad hip, which this yoga teacher may be unaware of. That is practice without compassion, and compassion cannot develop without dispassion.
To highlight this, there is a story about prayer and devotion to God. The demon king Rāvaṅa, was a great devotee of Lord Śiva spending hours in prayer daily. But he still remained a demon, driven by his passion and impulses. His great devotion to God per se did not elevate him to a higher state of being. There are so many people in India spending hours doing pūja, worship, but the whole family trembles when that demon comes out of the pūja room! Then what’s the point of being such a great devotee when it doesn’t make a transformation in you? If your yoga practice doesn’t make you a better human being, what’s the use, except to be a yoga gymnast? We have to keep that in mind. How do we become more sensitive, more kind, more forgiving, more compassionate? By becoming more aware of our cittavṛittis and gaining a handle on them by developing dispassion we become more sensitive to others suffering.
Vairāgya is sometimes translated as renunciation. But renunciation is the correct translation of another word sannyāsa, not of Vairāgya. The difference between the two connected words is that renunciation of cause and effect: Vairāgya brings about renunciation. Also, renunciation is usually relates to the order of a monk. But there is a lot more to this simple word than donning an ochre robe and becoming a monk. In the broadest sense, renunciation can be understood as renouncing the ignorance-centered notion that I am this body/mind, the prakṛti. Simply giving up material possessions and holding on to ‘I-me-myself’ is not renunciation.
This is highlighted by a story in Yogavāśiṣṭha (Vasistha’s Yoga, translated by Swami Venkatesananda, State University of New York Press, 2010, 767p.). Vaśiṣṭha teaches his student Rāma the Truth of one’s being, also called freedom or liberation. This book is full of stories, and one of them touches this renunciation as the means of gaining liberation: A king wanted to be liberated – he wanted to renounce his kingdom and go to a forest to meditate and realize. His wife, a wise person tries to dissuade him pointing out the internal change is what matters and not physical removal. He didn’t listen, so she said something like “You go and do what you want to do”. He continued to rule the kingdom while he went to the forest to meditate.
After several years she came disguised as a sage, and asked him “what are you doing?” and the king replied “I want to get liberated” and she said “Renounce, renounce, renounce” and walked away. And, the king thought “I renounced my kingdom. I have this little hut in the forest. I’ll renounce that also.” So he renounced his hut and sat under a tree and meditated. A couple of years passed. His wife came back. “How are you doing?” He said, “I renounced my kingdom. I’ve renounced my simple hut. Now I’m just sitting here under this tree but I’m still not liberated.” And she said “Renounce, renounce, renounce,” and went away.
Several more years passed, and she came by again. The king now is completely emaciated, awful looking and exhausted. She asked, “What happened?” The king replied, “I’m still not liberated. You told me ‘renounce, renounce, renounce.’ I have absolutely nothing left but this body. What else is there for me to renounce?
The queen replied “Give up good and bad actions, give up truth and falsehood, and give up by means of which you give up these”. What she means by this oft quoted Sanskrit verse is that the term “give up / renounce” means is to give up this sense of “I” – that’s what the true meaning of renunciation is all about. This is the true culmination of abyāsa and vairāgya. That is the ultimate of yoga, of nirvāṇa, satori, mokṣa, or any other name one uses to indicate this state of Being.