Srivatsa Ramaswami April 2012 Newsletter
Here's Ramaswami's full article on the first four sutras of Patanajali's Yoga Sutras from which the above quote derives. This was part of Ramaswami's April 2012 newsletter which can be found on my blog in full HERE and on Ramaswami's Newsletter page on his website Vinyasa Krama.com
YOGA SUTRA QUARTET
There are three important texts for Vedanta philosophy, the BhagavatGita, the Upanishads and the very special text, Brahma Sutra. The first four sutras of Brahma Sutra, called catussutri, are consideredvery important. In fact Vachaspati Misra, a disciple of Sankaracharya,wrote an exhaustive full length work called Brahmasutra catussutri or Bhamati just for the four sutras, four out of the five hundred odd Brahma sutras. It is held in high regard by followers of AdvaitaVedanta and is considered only next in importance to Sankara's Brahmasutra commentary. English translations of both the books are available.
The first four sutras of Patanjali's work likewise are considered important and contain the quintessence of Raja Yoga. The first sutra can be considered to be the title of the book, ”Atha yogaanusasanam”. Atha means now, or what is in the text . Then there isthe phrase yogaanusaasanam. There are two words in it, Yoga and then Sasana with prefix 'anu' This is a samasa or a compound phrase. The Sutras for the sake of brevity are bereft of verbs. The word sasana indicates something that is authentic, authoritative, the final word.In fact sasana is used to indicate something 'written in stone'. In the olden days Kings when they denoted landed property or secede territory to someone would have the gift deed or agreement written in stone and it was called sasana. In India the Constitution is called Sasana, a document that cannot be changed (amended easily that is).The preposition anu indicates ‘that which is consistent with’. Anusasana therefore means something which scrupulously follows the authoritative text, the scriptures or vedas here. So athayoganusasanam means “Yoga as per scriptures”. This is the title of the book and we may make it “Authentic Yoga” or “Orthodox Yoga” or one may say “Yoga written in Stone” and perhaps that is why the text is still very fresh--(a)live and kicking. My Guru used to say that YogaSutra is the most authentic yoga text and if one wants to follow traditional yoga one should observe Patanjali's system wholly and should eschew any yoga practice that is inconsistent with the tenets of Patanjali's Yoga.
The second sutra defines Yoga. Yoga according to Patanjali is cittavrittinirodha. This phrase is perhaps the best known inYoga sutras. It consists of three words, citta, vritti and nirodha. Citta is the mind, the mindstuff -- find the most appropriate word or term to explain it. The word itself is defined as the one that masquerades as consciousness (“cit iva bhavayiti it cittam”) even though it is just matter. The next word is vritti which is variously translated as movement, fluctuation, etc. This word is a very common one and in olden days was used to indicate one's avocation or main activity, like it is said “vritti jivane” meaning vritti has the meaning as in the word jivana. Jivana means one's occupation or the means by which one makes a living. Moreover vritti here refers to a group of mental activities and these are listed by Patanjali in the sixth sutra. So vritti may be considered as the totality of mental activity at any given moment. Now let us take the whole bunch of vrittis and relate them to the next word which means stoppage. Nirodhais rodha with a prefix ni. Ni (nitaram) indicates permanence. Rodha is to prevent. Nirodha would be to always prevent the chitta from getting into the vrittis. In a state of nirodha the mind will not be engagedin any conscious activity (chitta vritti) be it knowing something correctly (pramana) or wrongly (viparyaya), dreaming (day or night), deep sleep(nidra) or mulling over or remembering the past(smriti) . Is there a state of mind which will not fall into any of the above categories? None. That is why it is difficult to imagine the state of nirodha samadhi of the Yogis. But by knowing what that state is not, one will be able to have an indirect understanding of it. Many times vritti nirodha is explained as stopping the fluctuations of the mind. When the fluctuations of the mind are prevented the mind, we could infer, will be in a state of one pointedness or focused which of course is included in Yoga but it is not Nirodha the ultimate goal. Norodha transcends all vrittis including ekeagrata or one pointedness; a state of ekagrata is without any fluctuations in the mind. By remaining in a state of nirodha for longer and longer periods of time the chitta undergoes a complete transformation known as nirodhaparinama. What about the physiological functions like breathing, etc.? Here Patanjali refers to the five chitta vrittis referred to earlier. He does not refer to the life maintaining activity of the brain orchitta. They are called samanya or samanya karana vritti by Sankhyas .Thus the Yogi in a state of Chitta vritti nirodha becomes completely oblivious to outside objects and also herself/himself, but the life functions like breathing continue, until death takes place in natural course. It can be seen that Patanjali's definition of Yoga does not suggest the usual connotation of Yoga as union. Yoga meaning union requires at least two separate principles to come together and ultimately unite, like prana and apana in Hatayoga, but in this sutra only cittavritti is dealt with and no union with another principle is suggested. Vyasa in his commentary says Yoga is samadhi, or a state of mind and not union. Sankara in his exposition of Yogasutras refers to yoga as samadhana or unalloyed peace. He says that Patanjali has used the word not in the meaning of yoga as union (yukti) but as samadhana or peace of mind. The word Yoga can be derived from two differentroots yujir meaning yoga as in union and yuja as in samadhi meaningabsolute peace of mind and the sutras use Yoga in the (second) sense,that of absolute peace.
The third sutra talks about the benefit of cittavrittinirodha. It is said that not even a dimwit would undertake a project without considering the benefit of such an endeavor. It is especially true ofthe Yogi who is highly evolved. “tada drashtuh svrupe avastanam” is the sutra. Tada means then or consequently. It means the result of the cittvrittinirodha. What happens then? The next word is drastuh. It is possessive case, singular of the word drashtr, the seer (drashta issingular nominative case). So drashtuh will mean 'of the seer'. What is of it? The next word we have to contend with is svarupa, this wordis rupa meaning form/nature with the prefix sva, meaning own or one's own. One's own what? One’s own form or nature. Svarupe means 'one's own innate nature or form'. The next word is avasthanam, again this word is sthanam with the prefix ava. Sthana could mean position or stand. Ava would mean 'in it', and hence avasthana would mean 'in oneself' or 'in one's own innate nature'. Now here again there is no verb, so we have to find the most appropriate verb to complete the sentence. The meaning of the sutra so far would be “Then the seer in its own nature...”To say that the seer gets established in its own form may be ok, but it gives the impression that it had moved out or somehow altered and is now back in its own nature. But the Purusha according to yoga and samkhya is immutable, it has got only one nature or svarupa and it is pure, immutable (aparinamitva) consciousness. This is emphasised by commentators like Vyasa, Sankara, and several others. So we have to interpret the sutra slightly differently, say, “In the stage of Yoga or chittavrittinirodha, the Purusha's own form becomes known to the peaceful chitta”—the mind understands the real nature of purusha and thereafter having been satisfied about the real nature of oneself, the purusha/drashtr remains in the state of nirodha samadhi. Hence the sutra would indicate that only in the state of Yoga is the real nature of oneself, the purusha known to every being.
The next sutra, the fourth of the quartet reemphasizes this conclusion by pointing out what happens to the understanding of Purusha in the non yogic state of mind, 'vritti saarupyam itaratra”. Vritti we all know is chittavritti, a particular vritti in this context. Saarupya. is derived from the sarupa (rhymes with svarupa?). Sarupa is rupawith a prefix sa. Rupa we have come across in the previous sutra as form or nature. The prefix sa is samana or ‘something similar to’. Sarupa means another which has the similar form as the other, just a copy, but not the original. 'Saarupya' is something which is having the nature of a copy and tends to pose as the original. The mainpurpose of this word 'sarupa' here is not to find out the similarity between what is presumed to be the self and the real self but to point out that the sarupa idea of the self is not the nature of the real self. Now let us bring in the other word itaratra which means ‘atother (non yogic) times’. At other times saarupya vritti or themind's imperfect copy of the Purusha exists. Let us now supply a verb and make it “At other times (itaratra) a copy of the purusha (sarupya) is projected (vritti) by chitta”. When the chitta does not know the true nature of the Self or Purusha it creates a poor model knownvariously as asmita etc. Many times sarupya is translated as an image or a replica, but if that be the case Patanjali would have used the term 'taadrupya” instead of “sarupya” to mean an exact replica like the mirror image. How can the chitta produce an exact copy without ever knowing the purusha? The lazy mind creates such a copy almostevery night during dream. Even the dream self is a sarupa of the waking stage 'self' which it knows. So the mind is capable of creating wrong impressions (viparyaya) and here it creates a wrong impression about oneself. The lazy mind misleads not only about ordinary things in day to day life but makes a fundamental mistake about the nature of oneself and only the Yogi in that state of Yoga realizes the true nature of herself/himself. This tendency of the mind to create wrong impressions about anything is known as viparyaya vritti or avidya.Patanjali takes pains to explain viparyaya further in the 8th sutraby saying “mithyajnana (an understanding which is a myth).' atadrupaprathishta (not established in the exact form)'. Avidya, mythyajnana,adadrupapratishtha, viparyaya are all words/ terms which are synonyms.In this non yogic state the chitta not only is ignorant of the truenature of the Self but posits a wrong image of it and attempts to satisfy the insatiable imposter endlessly, day after day, life after life.
So these four sutras are important and contain the quintessence of Yoga. Some say a thorough understanding of the first four sutras is necessary and sufficient to understand Patanjali's entire Raja Yoga.Briefly the sutra quartet can be summarized as follows
1. Here is Authentic Yoga
2. Yoga is the complete cessation of all projections of the mind
3. Then the mind realizes the true nature of the Self
4. Else the mind creates a pseudo self (and works for it slavishly)
I have experienced innumerable ups and downs, many an agony and ecstasy, hope and despair, pleasure and pain, bliss and depression, courage and fear, praise and ridicule, acceptance and rejection, success and failure, warmth and cold, clarity and confusion and many more pairs of opposites (dvanda). I have incessantly been trying to get the favorable one (anukula) of the pairs and get rid of the other unfavorable (pratikula) all my life and perhaps the lives before and am really tired. As I pull myself through my present journey, Oh Lord Iswara, give me the uninterrupted and unalloyed peace (prasantavahita) as promised in Yoga. With focused mind, whole heart and full, open throat, I chant Your name 'AUM'!!