Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.5
अनित्याशुचिदुःखानात्मसु नित्यशुचिसुखात्मख्यातिरविद्या ॥५॥
anitya-aśuci-duḥkha-anātmasu nitya-śuci-sukha-ātma-khyātiḥ avidyā ||5||
Ignorance is seeing the noneternal as eternal, the impure as pure, dissatisfaction as pleasure, and nonself as self.
Ignorance is the notion that takes the self, which is joyful, pure, and eternal, to be the nonself, which is painful, unclean, and temporary.
Patañjali here gives a very important definition of ignorance, the primary cause of all bondage: Avidyā, ignorance, entails confounding the nature of the soul with that of the body. The body is here described as painful, duḥkha; unclean, aśuci; and temporary, anitya, unlike the puruṣa who is joyful, sukha; pure, śuci; and eternal, nitya. We notice from the prefixes to these two sets of phrases that these two entities are exact opposites.8 Thus, by adding the negating prefix a– or duḥ– to the adjectives in the first part of this sūtra to the same adjectives in the second part, Patañjali is efficiently underscoring the fact that conventional awareness is the exact opposite of true knowledge. To confuse the two, or misidentify the latter with the former, is avidyā.
While anyone can understand that the body is temporary, what does Patañjali intend by saying it is “unclean”? Vyāsa quotes a verse: “The learned consider this body to be unclean, on account of its location, origin, sustenance, excretions, death, and the continual need to keep it clean.” As always, the commentators elaborate on why the body might be considered unclean due to these things. The location of the body can be seen as unclean because in its embryonic form it is situated near the mother’s excrement and urine; its origin is sperm and blood; its sustenance is fluids produced from food and drink; and its excretions are the discharges from the various outlets of the body—urine, feces, sweat, and mucus.
There are various views of the body in Hindu knowledge systems. Āyurveda depicts the body as a complex combination of substances, dhātus, that need to be kept in appropriate balance; the kāma–śāstras, desire texts, see the body as a means through which one can experience intense sensual enjoyment in skillfully manipulated circumstances; tantra considers the body to be a manifestation of citi–śakti, divine energy; bhakti construes the body as a temple that can be used in the service of God. These views are not mutually exclusive, but the ascetic tradition tends to view the body as a rather unpleasant bag of obnoxious substances.
In reality, as the cliché goes, beauty is skin deep, and a beautiful body is just a bag of bodily fluids and organs, which can be unpleasant and repulsive when taken out of their natural biological context. Thus, part of Patañjali’s definition of ignorance in this sūtra is that in the unclean or impure there is an illusion of purity or beauty, which, as Vyāsa puts it, means considering this “very distasteful” body to be pure, like the man enamored of a “woman, beautiful like the rising new moon, with limbs made of honey and nectar and eyes as large as the blue lotus, who enthuses the world of men with flirtatious glances.”10 But despite such surface-level attractions, all in all, any body is in reality a sack of potentially rather embarrassing substances. Its real nature is evidenced by the need to constantly clean it (and Patañjali will later refer to the practice of cleanliness, essentially an act of removing the discharges and excretions of the body, as a catalyst that, if performed with the goals of yoga in mind, can lead to dispelling any erotic fantasies about the reality of the body). Realization of the nature of the body becomes most vivid during old age and at death: Nobody wants to linger around a decomposing body.
In this same vein, the Buddha advised his followers to actually contemplate the reality of the impurities of the body, that is, the bodily substances which, taken out of context, would be considered obnoxious, specifically that the body is simply a collection of “hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, stomach, bowels, intestines, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, serum, saliva, mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”11 Indeed, he actually prescribes a series of visual meditations on these realities:
And moreover bhikkus [monks], a brother, just as if he had seen a body abandoned in the charnel field, dead for one, two, or three days, swollen, turning black and blue, and decomposed, applies that perception to this very body (of his own), reflecting: “this body, too, is even so constituted, is of even such a nature, has not gone beyond that (fate).” … And moreover bhikkus [monks], a brother, just as if he had seen a body abandoned in the charnel field [reduced to] a chain of bones hanging together by tendons, with flesh and blood yet about it, or stripped of flesh but yet spotted with blood; or cleaned of both flesh and blood; or reduced to bare bones, loosed from tendons, scattered here and there, so that the bones of a hand lie in one direction, in another the bones of a foot, in another, those of a leg, in another a thigh bone, in another the pelvis, in another the pineal vertebrae, in another the skull, applies that perception to this very body (of his own) thinking: “this body, too, is even so constituted, is of such a nature, has not gone beyond that (fate).”
In short, the Yoga tradition does not consider the body a suitable place to seek happiness for those interested in enlightenment. Patañjali will make the same point in II.15 by pointing to the notion of finding pleasure in what is really pain, says Vyāsa. Patañjali and the commentators have a good deal more to say about the nature of the body below.
The nonself, an-ātman, referred to by Patañjali here, says Vyāsa, actually consists not only of the body, which is the locus for enjoyment, and the mind, which is an instrument through which the awareness of puruṣa can contact the world, but also the accessories or paraphernalia of the body, whether animate (such as spouse, animals, and offspring) or inanimate (such as furniture or food). Although one may think that one’s body, one’s mind, and even one’s possessions are one’s real self, they are not, and to confound them as such is ignorance. Vyāsa quotes a verse that the commentators ascribe to Pañcaśikha, an ancient authority in the Sāṅkhya tradition: “One who regards objects, whether animate or inanimate, as part of one’s self, rejoicing when these things prosper, and lamenting upon their demise, is deluded.”13 As the Gītā puts it: “The wise (paṇḍitāḥ) lament neither for the living nor the dead” (II.11).
I must acknowledge a Vedāntic slant in my translation of this sūtra, where joy, purity, and eternality are imputed to the soul. Most translators, traditional and modern, translate the sūtra perfectly appropriately along the following lines: Ignorance is the apprehension of the joyful, the pure, the eternal, and the self in that which is painful, unclean, temporary, and the nonself. Unlike the Vedānta tradition, the Sāṅkhya Yoga tradition (along with the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika traditions), at least in their classical expressions, generally do not speak of the experience of the liberated puruṣa as blissful but rather as an absence of suffering. Even Vijñānabhikṣu, who otherwise does not hesitate to blend Vedāntic notions into his commentary, states in his Yoga-sāra-saṅgraha that “we do not subscribe to the Neo-Vedāntics who imagine that ultimate liberation consists of the attainment of supreme bliss.” However, an argument can be made that, in contrast to the qualities of the nonself, Patañjali is alluding to the Upaniṣadic view that the real self—and he uses the Upaniṣadic term ātman for the soul here—is sukha, blissful. Both scholars and some traditional commentators have disregarded the possibility that Patañjali might be explicitly introducing an Upaniṣadic concept, the blissfulness of the self, underscored by his specific usage of the Upaniṣadic term ātman. In Vedānta, the highest self consists of bliss, ānandamayo ‘bhyāsāt (Vedānta Sūtras I.1.13), but there is an assumption in some expressions of the Yoga tradition that the nature of the self is pure consciousness without any content whatsoever, including bliss. Vyāsa himself speaks of the bliss of liberation, compared to which even the highest bliss of worldly pleasure including the states of sattva are considered suffering. (Vyāsa in general is quite comfortable correlating puruṣa with the Brahman of the Upaniṣads [for example, III.34], as has always been standard for any orthodox Hindu thinker.) Whatever direction the later tradition took in this matter, this sūtra can be read as indicating that Patañjali, too, subscribed to this view.
Overall, Patañjali has very little to say about the nature of the actual experience of puruṣa attained in nirbīja– or asamprajñāta–samādhi, since, naturally, this state is beyond words and conceptualization, and thus beyond description. But this sūtra can be read as suggesting that it is a state of sukha, happiness, compared to all experiences other than that of the self, which are ultimately various shades of duḥkha, suffering, frustration. (Clearly, the prospect of a positive experience of ultimate bliss in the liberated state is far more enticing for one considering the arduous path of yoga than merely the prospect of the cessation of pain!)
The term sukha or ānanda is used in the Vedānta tradition as an inherent characteristic of the ultimate self—the Gītā uses the term a number of times to describe the experience
“of the self (V.21; VI.21, 27–28; XIV.27), making it clear, however, that this type of sukha, unlike the ephemeral and fleeting sukha of sensual indulgence, is akṣayam, imperishable (V.21); ātyantikam, infinite (VI.21, 28); uttamam, the highest (VI.27); and ekāntika, absolute (XIV.27). The Taittirīya Upaniṣad goes a step further and, in a rhetorical or figurative mode, attempts to quantify the unquantifiable experience of bliss inherent in the self according to the Upaniṣadic tradition:
Let us take a young man—a first class young man who is the most learned, cultured and strong person. And let us suppose that he owns this whole world with all its resources. This situation would constitute one measure of human bliss. A single measure of the bliss of earthly gandharva celestials … equals one hundred measures of human bliss; a single measure of the bliss of celestial gandharvas … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of earthly gandharvas; a single measure of bliss of the forefathers, who live long in their realm … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of celestial gandharvas; a single measure of the bliss enjoyed by the gods who attained their status by birth … equals one hundred measures of bliss of the forefathers; a single measure of bliss of the gods who attained their status by good deeds … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of those gods who attained their status by birth; a single measure of the bliss of Indra, king of the gods … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of the [other] gods; a single measure of the bliss of the sage of the gods, Bṛhaspati, … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of Indra; a single measure of the bliss of Prajāpati, the progenitor of species, … equals one hundred measures of the bliss of Bṛhaspati; a single measure of the bliss of Brahman equals one hundred measures of the bliss of Prajāpati. (II.8).
anitya (m.) non eternal. temporal, fleeting, transient; a (not) + nitya (eternal) from √ni (lend)
aśuci (m.) a (not) +
anātmasu (m. loc. pl.)
khyātiḥ (f. nom. sg.)
avidyā (f. nom. sg.) a (not) + vidyā, wisdom, knowledge, from √vid (know)