|The Banyan Tree A Monk And Patanjali - My choice of picture. grimmly|
Another ten days more to complete the 200 hour Teacher Training Program at LMU, LA. Happy to work with a very nice interactive group. In September scheduled to teach at Suddha Weixler's Chicago Yoga center for a week. Here is the link
Patañjali was a ṛṣi, a word that means “One who sticks (speaks) to Truth. The Amarakośa a thesauruses of Sanskrit terms, says that ṛṣis and truth-speakers are synonyms. (ṛṣayah satyavacasah) . A civilization is at its best when the people enjoy good, express themselves well and have clarity of thought. Bhartṛhari, a sanskrit grammarian and philosopher, emphasizes the need for everyone to have purity of the three main human activities (karanas) –mind speech and body (mano,vāk, kāya).
Maharṣi Patañjali is believed to have written treatises on these three subjects and the evidence for this can be found in eulogies about him in ancient Sanskrit literature. Legend has it that once people suffering from corruption in the above mentioned trikaranas prayed to Iśwara (the lord) for guidance. In response to their prayers, Iśwara sent ādiśeṣa the divine serpent king to incarnate as Patañjali who then wrote three important texts-- on medicine or cikitsa, on sanskrit grammar (pada) and on mental health (Yoga)
Patañjali's yoga treatise is written in cryptic statements and contains four chapters (pada). Being written by a grammarian, the sutra (aphorisms) language of Patañjali is of a very high order and his choice of words and terms immaculate. Patañjali's yoga system, complete unto itself, shows the place and practice of many other systems as jnāna (wisdom) bhakti (devotion), karma (action) . Kriyā (purification) hatha and mantra yogas. An authentic commentary on the sutras was written by the sage Vyāsa, believed to be the author of the Brahma sutras and also the compiler of the Vedas. Further elucidations have been written by such well known commentators like śankarācārya, Vācaspati Misra, Rājabhoja, Sadāśiva Brahmendra and others. Swami Vivekānanda also has written a detailed commentary on the sutras.
There are several references about Patanjali, an outstanding devotee of of Lord Siva and an incarnation of ādiśeṣa, Lord Viṣnu 's couch. Only a few, however give his life history and of these only Rāmabhadra Dikshitar's Patañjali Caritra is written with Patañjali as the main character (nāyaka) . Comparable to the style of writing of the great poet Kālidasa, this Sanskrit work meets the requirements of a Mahākāvya (a great work of literature), Written with great poetic beauty and artistry, the work tells the life story of Patañjali. Let us see the drama unfold.
Lord Viṣnu with his bewitching smile is resting on ādiśeṣa, floating on the milky ocean. Lord Viṣnu 's incarnation as Matsya (fish) and Kurma (turtle), have been completed. The milky ocean has been churned and the unique priceless objects like Airāvata (the white elephant that went to Indra), have come out of the ocean, and the Mount Mandara which was used to churn the milky ocean by the devas and asuras using the python Vāsuki as the rope have been put back into the original places. The various creatures in the mountain-- such as the serpents, the garlands of lord śiva drink the milk remaining in the crevices and caves of the mountain Mandara and are ecstatic.
All of sudden, Lord Viṣnu's weight increases rapidly. ādiśeṣa acting as the Lord's couch, struggles to maintain his balance due to the phenomenal increase in the Lord's weight. He breathes heavily through his 1000 hoods. Sanatkumāra, the nityasuri (who permanently directs the gaze towards the Lord), himself is disturbed and withdraws a little from his usual fixed position. Garuda, the divine aerial vehicle of the Lord, moves towards ādiśeṣa to help him out, and offers a word f encouragement to him. ādiśeṣa wonders if the Lord might be testing him for possible lapse on his part. Goddess Lakshmi is also concerned. Just then the Lord opens his eyes with tears in his eyes. His weight is back to normal and adiseṣa is able to bear the weight of the Lord as before. ādiśeṣa asks “ My Lord, why this unbearable heaviness?”
With his charming smile back on his face, the Lord begins to explain the wonderful spectacle he saw when he was in yoganidra. He describes the the ecstatic divine dance (tāndava) of Lord siva in the ponnambalam (the golden chamber) to the accompaniment of various musical instruments played rhythmically by several devas (celestial beings). It was on account of the weight of this infinite bliss (ānanda ghana) that He experienced he felt heavy. Hearing this, ādiśeṣa, himself a loyal servant of Lord Viṣnu , and also a great devotee of Siva expresses spontaneously his desire to witness the divine dance of lord śiva. He requests Lord Viṣnu to grant him his wish.
Viṣnu says that this was exactly what Siva had ordained ādiśeṣa to do. This is by way of background. The grandson of Pani, known as Pānini, performed severe penance and had surrendered to Lord śiva. śiva with great compassion towards Pānini, played his small drum (damaru) and the sounds created from the drum, was born the Maheśvara Sutra, the basis of Sanskrit grammar. Based on these Maheśvara Sutras, Pānini wrote a sutra work that became the basic text for Sanskrit grammar. Further Kātyāyana, again with the grace of Lord Siva wrote a detailed commentary on Pānini's aphorisms. Then Pānini's student, Vyāgrabhuta and Kātyayana's pupil Svabhuti taught the Vārtika (elucidation) to several others. Lord Parameśwara, however, was satisfied neither with the quality of these works, nor the propagation of Sanskrit grammar. This had led to a very unsatisfactory communication among people at that time and a poor understanding of the original śaśtras (scriptures). Hence Lord śiva desired that ādiśeṣa should take birth as a human being, witness the dance of Siva, and then write a detailed and authentic commentary on Sanskrit grammar. “Thus Lord śiva had ordained” says Viṣnu to the eager ādiśeṣa. He was overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of witnessing the celestial dance of Natarāja (the Lord of dance, śiva) and of writing an authentic commentary, the Mahābhāshya.
In due course, ādiśeṣa desiring to incarnate as a human being moves around the sky looking for a suitable family to be born into and reaches a tapovana (serene forest). There, as he would describe ahimsa later in his yogasutra, was in full flow. Natural malifics are found to live in harmony. In that forest, Gonikā, the daughter of a sage was doing penance (tapas), desiring a satputra (worthy son). ādiśeṣa decides to bless her by being born to her as a child. As she offers oblation to to surya (sun), the pratyakṣa devatā (god), with her hands held in añjali mudra (folded hands), ādiśeṣa enters into the water of oblation and falls into her hands and then to the earth as a child along with the waters of oblation. Gonikā pleased with the 'birth' of the divine child, showers her love on the divine child and names him 'Patañjali' or 'one who falls(pat) of folded hands (añjali). It would also mean one who falls to prayer. As years go by, Patañjali with his preponderance of satva guna, develops a deep desire to do tapas on śiva. Promising his mother that he would be at her side any time she needed him, he moves towards the southern seashore to commence his intense meditation on Lord śiva.
Lord Maheśwara (śiva), pleased immensely with the unwavering Samādhi and the intense tapasya of Patañjali presents himself seated in his vehicle, Nandi the Bull along with his consort Uma. In a divine vision to Patañjali. He is ready to grant him the boon of witnessing the celestial dance which is the very purpose of Patañjali's avatara as a human being.
The cosmic vision of the moon crested Parameśwara brings out the poet in Patañjali. Prostrating before the Lord, Patañjali eloquently describes the immaculate form of the Lord from foot to head (pādādi kesānta). Then reminding Patañjali of his mission who because of nascience (avidyā) on taking a human birth has forgotten his true nature (ādiśeṣa), and also his mission to the world, the Lord orders him to come to Cidaambaram and witness the dance of bliss (ānanda tāndava) in order that he may have first hand knowledge of the original Maheśwara sutras and write the Mahābhāshya the great commentary to the grammar aphorisms. It will also help to reconcile the differences and also iron out the confusion that had arisen in the world due to subsequent authors and teachers. So saying the Lord disappears.
Journeying along the landscape and forests full of natural beauty and peace, Patañjali reaches the holy place of Cidambaram in South India. There the Bhutaganas and other Siva devotees are waiting.. with great expectations to witness the dance of śiva. Patañjali along with another devotee, Vyāgrapāda (tiger-footed) and other sages reaches the golden theater (ponnambalam) to witness the dance. Several celestial gods, among them Agni, Yama, Nirruta, Varuna, Marut, Kubera and of course Indra, are already present. Patañjali is overwhelmed by the grand assembly of such renowned figures, ordinary mortals and others expressing their joy by blowing conches and beating drums.
Taking the aerial route, Lord Candraśekhara ( moon. crested śiva) in all his divine splendor and accompanied by goddess Uma, arrives at the theater riding the great nandikeśwara ( the Bull vehicle of of śiva). The celestial dance is about to start. To maintain decorum, and to conduct the dance, Nandikeswara takes the baton. Viṣnu becomes the percussionist., Brahma plays the chime, Indra the flute and Sarswati the vina. The Lord's consort Parvati/ Uma oversees the arrangements with a pleasant smile. Then specifically asking that Patañjali and Vyagrapada to carefully and intently watch the dance for all the details, the Lord also gives the necessary divyadriṣti ( Divine vision) to them. The great tāndava starts with a slow pace and rhythm and in time reaches a crescendo. Engrossed completely in the divine dance, the great sages lose their separate identity and merge in the great oneness (paravasa) created by the Tāndava. Then they realize that this was precisely the experience of Advaita (oneness with the only essential principle Consciousness). It is said that one gets the advaita experience due the grace of Lord śiva. Asking Patañjali once again to write the commentary on Sanskrit grammar, and then return to his divine abode. śiva then disappears from mortal vision. Both Vyāgrapāda and Patañjali desiring that other devotees not as fortunate as themselves also may have the bliss of a glimpse of the Tāndava engrave in stone the Tāndava of śiva in Cidambaram. Patañjali, concentrating fully on the divine vision, he had of the celestial dance of śiva, writes a detailed commentary called Mahābhāṣya. Several students hearing about about the greatness of the masterly work, flock to Patañjali from all
directions. Patañjali knowing the writing a book is only a small part, decides to teach them all simultaneously, but individually. He withdraws behind a curtain and orders the students not to open the screen; he takes his original form as the thousand hooded Adiśeṣa and starts teaching them all. As is the custom, the students chant the customary invocatory and ending prayers dutifully and study in an orderly fashion. This goes on smoothly up to the point of their studying the sutra known as Vasu Sutra.
Several of his students, unable to control their curiosity as to how a single person can teach so many of them simultaneously on a one-to-one basis withdraw the curtain. They are stunned to find Adiśeṣa instructing them individually with his myriad heads. But the students had committed an offense and broken the law. It suddenly dawns on one of the students, Gaudapāda, that what has happened is a sacrilege, and everyone will have to pay for this unpardonable indiscretion.
Desiring to save his mates, he ventures to suggest to the furious Patañjali that this unfortunate incident happened because he ( Gaudapāda) had left when the discourse was only half way through, Gaudapāda being the one ordained by Patañjali to guard the curtain from being tampered with by the students. Patañjali, angry that a student left the class without chanting the uttara (ending) sānti pata (peace invocation) curses him to become a Rākshasa or demon. A rakshasa is one who accumulates wealth but gives away little. Gaudapāda was condemned to become a brahma rakshasa or one who accumulates knowledge but keeps it to oneself. In the olden days, scholars always looked for students to impart their knowledge, lest they become Brahmarakshasas. Gaudapāda like the lightning rod, takes the wrath of the teacher and becomes a brahmarākshasa. Regaining his composure quickly, Patañjali, taking the form of an old man, suggests an antidote to his own curse to his student. The curse will be removed, he says “if and when you are able to find one who could tell him (Gaudapāda) the nista (past participle) of the Sanskrit root 'pac'., a grammatical peculiarity.
After giving Gaudapāda full instructions in Mahaābhāshya, Patañjali sets out to work on Yoga and writes the famous Yoga sutras and then another famous work, a commentary on science of medicine. He then meets his mother and after obtaining her blessings and being satisfied that he has accomplished his mission retakes his original form of the countless-hooded Adisesha
The Brahma Rākshasa sitting on top of a banyan tree, asks all and sundry who passes by the question posed by Patañjali. Everyone , instead of saying that the 'nista' conjugation of 'pac' is pakva, gives pacita as the answer thinking it like any other root. Promptly they are all destroyed by the ghost, brahma rākshasa.
With Gaudapāda remaining a Brahma rākshasa for a long time, without the curse being removed, and thus unable to teach or propagate the Mahabhāshya, the sanskrit language once again started to suffer corruption. After a considerably long time, finding that his work had not spread far and wide as expected , takes another human birth. He straight away goes to the Brahma Rākshasa and answers the vexing grammatical question himself. The rākshasa, getting down from the tree and having had his curse removed, offers to teach the Mahābhaāshya to the traveling Adisesha himself.
The traveler says that he is from Ujjain and that his name was Candra. He also says that he came to him only to learn the Mahābhāshya. Even though Candra Sarmā was an avatara of Adisesha, as is the tradition, he had to learn the subject from a Guru to remove his ajnana (covering veil) to bring out the hidden knowledge in him. Without food or sleep, the traveler Candra learns the text of the Mahābhāshya in just two months. He writes down the complete notes on dry banyan leaves , using his own finger nails as a pen. Having disburdened himself of the knowledge, the rākshasa assumes his divine form, bids Candra to propagate the text faithfully and then disappears. Adiśesha, now Candra collects the leaves and starts walking through the forest virtually starting all over again.
Upon reaching a beautiful spot in the forest and having quenched his thirst with the flowing river water, Candra sits down under a tree to spend the night. As he falls asleep, a goat pulls at the bundle of dry leaves containing his notes. Waking up immediately, he collects all the leaves, but finds that in certain places, where the teeth of the goat had made an imprint, there are marks, making the letters in certain places unclear. Because the words were not clear in these places, there could be some ambiguity about the exact letters used.
Without food or water Candra travels hither and tither, and falls down unconsciously. Then a girl sees his plight and gives him some butter to eat. She informs him that she had dutifully served several sages and they had indicated to her that Patañjali, in the garb of a Brahmin scholar -after studying the Mahābhāshya with a Brahmarākshasa- would be spotted by her and would marry him. Then Candra śarma after getting the approval of his mother, marries her and takes her to Ujjain. Candra then marries women belonging to other sects as well. He then fathers four sons, Vararuci, Kātyāyana, Vikrmārka and Bhartrhari. All of them study the Mahābhāshya with Candra Sarma. After marrying off all his children, Candra takes to Sannyasa, the fourth order of a renunciate, thanks to the grace of his Guru Gaudapāda, and stays in Varanāsi, the renowned abode of learning. A true advaitin, he then reaches Badrikāśrama in the Himalayas, established a math (hermitage) and remains in the experience of advaita (oneness with the absolute). He becomes known as Govindaswāmi.
Vararuci, the first son of Candrawāmi was well versed in all the sāstras (scriptures)and became proficient in mathematics and astronomy. Vikramārka, later known as Vikramāditya, becomes pioneer in law and justice. It is believed that Indra finding the legal acumen and sense of justice of Vikramadiya exceptional, gave him a simhāsana (throne) made of high quality gems. He also gets the boon from Indra to rule the country for a millennium. The other brother, Bhatti (Kātyāyana) becomes his minister. Bhartrhari, taking his father's profession as a Sanskrit scholar and grammarian, writes a grammatical masterpiece called the Rāvanavadha. He also writes three well known works called śatakas
(100 verses) on love (śringāra), justice (niti) and then dispassion (vairāgya). Then after going through his father's work, he prepares a commentary of 125,000 verses. It is said, however, that he became very conceited over time and according to legend, his work became obsolete without followers.
Enter śankara the great Advaita exponent. śankara after escaping from the jaws of an alligator, takes sanyas at a very young age and proceeds to Badrikāśrama in the Himalayas to get an audience with Govindswāmi. One night at Varanasi, śankara offers prayers to śiva in the form of linga, and Lord
Siva gives him boon to write a detailed commentary on Brahma Sutra ( aphorisms on Vedanta philosophy). Eating only fruits and drinking plain water śankara reaches Badrikaśram after traveling through many forests. At Badri, he gets the darśana of Govindaswāmi who was in samādhi in the caves of th asram. Here after praising him as the avatāra of Adiśesha, śankara asks that he be taken as his student. Govinda asks śankara who he is and śankara with great alacrity answers that he is 'just śankara' (kevalah Sankarah aham). Realizing that Sankara is the Avatara of Lord śiva himself, Govindaswāmi as the tradition demands, assumes the role of a formal Guru to teach sankara the sciences of the eternal (Brahma Vidyā) and how to attain moksha or liberation. śankara who writes a commentary (bhāshya) on the Brahma Sutras in the tradition of Advaita, becomes known all over the
This narration is based on the story of Patañjali written by Ramabhadra Dikshitar over 300 years ago. For a community of people to prosper, richness of language, pure hearts and minds, and good health are all necessary, says Bhartrhari. For attaining these disciplines of grammar, yoga and life sciences (ayurveda) developed. Patañjali wrote three authentic texts on these subjects and that is the most significant part of Patañjali's life. Lord Siva is also known as Yogesvara (lord of yoga), Bhaishjnya (great haler). Siva also gave the original sutras, the Maheśvara Sutras which form the basis of Sanskrit language, perhaps the oldest language. Thus Patañjali wrote texts on all the three subjects by the grace of Lord Parameśvara. The Kaivalya Upanishad says that the experience of the oneness with the supreme , the advaita experience is possible with the grace of Siva, as the sages who saw the śiva's celestial dance realized. Then the Lord himself took the avatara of Sankara and as per tradition took initiation from Govindaswāmi (Govinda Bagavatpāda) an avatara of Adisesha. Thereafter śankara taught the great Advaita philosophy through his numerous works and we know this from studying the story of Patañjali as propounded by Rāmabhadra Dikṣita.
The above is reproduced from my book “Yoga for he Three Stages of life” The book also contains nice illustrations of some of the episodes. Some of the other chapters are “What is Yoga”, Advanced Yoga, Yoga for Women, Mantra Yoga, Yoga Breathing Exercises and their Health Benefits, some main asana sequences, Antaranga Sadhana (meditation),
Here is the Amazon link