The Sāmkhya Kārikā and the Roots of Yoga

Sāmkhya is one of the earliest among the six philosophical schools (darśana) of India, traditionally said to be established by Rishi Kapila whose original work Shastritantra is unfortunately lost today. The earliest sources we have today of this school is Sāmkhya Karika of Isvara Krishna. The other five philosophical schools are Yoga, Nyāyya, Vaisheshika, Mimāmsā and Vedanta. The exact date of the Sāmkhya Karika‘s composition is not known, but because owe are able to date earlier translations of the text the date is said to be before 350 CE. To fully understand the foundations of the symbolic and philosophical language used by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra we must have familiarity with the sāmkhya vision of life. Patanjali’s worldview, his view of the universe, so to speak, is organized and shaped by a vision of life, of its goals and values, its significance and possibilities, that is rooted in sāmkhya philosophy. He doesn’t state this to his audience in the Yoga Sutra, he didn’t have to, it was so much a part of their milieu, so embedded in the lives of his readers (or listeners) that it presumes a familiarity and understanding of sāmkhya in the way we may, for example, presume our personal right of freedom, the need for proteins in our diet, and the ‘fact’ that the earth orbits the sun. This course will introduce you to the philosophy of sāmkhya as presented in the Sāmkhya Karika and implied in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Both samkhya and yoga are presented as ways to address the fundamental, essential and universal crises of life: the presence of unnecessary sorrows, existential ignorance, misunderstandings and pain. Patanjali assumes his readers are familiar with this idea and doesn’t introduce the notion at the beginning of his text. But Ishvara Krishna begins his exposition of samkhya by stating it clearly:  “Because of the torment (abhighātāt) of the threefold suffering (duḥkha-trayā),” he states at the beginning of his text, “a desire arises (jijñāsā) within us to remove (abhighātaka) this suffering.” Stated explicitly or merely implied, the journey samkhya begins there, the journey of yoga begins there, and so too does our journey to understand ourselves more fully and with greater insight and compassion begins there as well. The Samkhya Karika goes on to explain the nature of this threefold suffering, and so begins its construction of an elegant and deeply relevant symbolic language to describe the plight and possibilities of human existence. It will go on to present many rich and evocative terms that present a profound vision and understanding of life, such as purushaprakritimanasbuddhiahamkaraguna, buddhi-indraya, karman-indriya, and others. These are not mere technical terms, or categories for scholars to debate. but living symbols that align with aspects of our ordinary, everyday experience. To work out a basic understanding of these and other unique perspectives of samkhya is begin to …

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Course Content

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Course Includes

  • 6 Lessons

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives