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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra – Notes – II

It is not easy to define yoga. Etymologically the word is derived from the root √yuj, “to link together,” “to bind closely,” “to harness,” “to bring under the yoke,” and this root also is the source of the Latin jüngere and jugum, the English yoke, etc. In general, the word yoga is used to distinguish every technique of asceticism and every method of meditation. Obviously these varieties of asceticism and meditation have been differently esteemed by the innumerable currents of thought and mystic movements in India. There is a “classical” yoga, expounded by Patanjali in his famous treatise, Yoga Sutras, and it is from this system that one must start in order to understand the position of yoga in the history of Indian thought. But, side by side with this “classical” yoga, there exist uncountable “popular” forms of yoga, which are not systematized, and there are also the non-Brahman yogas (those of the Buddhists and the Jains, for example). 

Basically it is this very word, yoga, that has made this great variety of connotations possible. Although in fact, etymologically, yuj means “to link,” it is nevertheless clear that the “bond” in which this action of linking should culminate presupposes as a condition precedent the severance of the bonds that join the spirit and the world. In other words, deliverance cannot take place unless one has first “detached oneself” from the world, unless one has begun by withdrawing from the cosmic circuit, for otherwise one would never succeed in finding oneself again or in mastering oneself. Even in its “mystic” connotation—that is, even in so far as it signifies union—yoga implies a prior detachment from the material, emancipation with respect to the world. The stress is placed on man’s effort (“to bring under the yoke”), on his self-discipline, thanks to which he can achieve concentration of mind, even before he has invoked—as in the mystic varieties of yoga—the aid of the divinity. “To link together,” “to bind tightly,” “to bring under the yoke”—the purpose of all these actions is to unify the spirit, to eliminate dispersion and the automatisms that are characteristic of the secular consciousness. To the “devotional” (mystic) schools of yoga, this “unification,” obviously, merely precedes true union, the union of the human soul with God. 

What is characteristic of yoga is not only its practical side but also its initiatory structure. One cannot learn -yoga alone; one requires the guidance of a guru (“teacher”). The yogi begins by renouncing the secular world (family and society) and, guided by his guru, he devotes himself to stepping successively beyond all the behavior and values peculiar to the human condition. He endeavors to “die to this life,” and it is here that one can best see the initiatory structure of yoga. We are present at a death followed by a rebirth into another way of being: the way that is represented by deliverance, by access to a way of being that is not profane and that is difficult to describe, which the Indian schools designate under such different names as moksha, nirvana, asamskrta, and others. 

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