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Philosophical Foundation of Patanjali’s Yoga

by Dr. Haramohan Mishra
Tuesday 8th March 2011

The science of yoga is very ancient. However, the first systematic exposition of yoga was made by Patanjali in his famous Yogasutra. He expounds, in very clear and systematic manners, the techniques of yoga, which, for him, are primarily psychological though mixed with some physical practices like asana and pranayam in the beginning. In the primary sense, yoga means samadhi as it is signified by the definition yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah and so, the other practices are only the limbs of it. This state of yoga is not adventitious but natural to the mind sarva-bhaumas-cittasya dharmah since it is evolved from the sattva aspect as it is rightly pointed out by his commentator.1 The culmination of yoga is the state of asamprajnata or nirbija samadhi where the seer, drasta, remains in his own natural state of being or svarupa, whereas in other states, it gets identified with the modifications of the mind.2

Patanjali bases his yoga on the philosophical framework of Sankhya. Since his primary aim is to expound yoga he does not explain the philosophical concepts which are taken for granted as established facts. It is conspicuous that yoga is an ancient spiritual practice. Though it is mainly sadhana-intensive, it has a well defined conceptual basis without which it cannot happen. We find different types of yoga as hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, raja yoga etc, which are based on different concepts. The Advaita Vedanta School adopts yoga in its non-dualistic framework where it has a secondary place since the primary aim is to dispel ignorance which blurs the knowledge of the Self through vicara.3 The Agama schools have their own concepts of mantra, kundalini, six cakras like muladhara etc, with practices which are peculiar to their world view. The Hatha yoga School which adopts the same concepts as kundalini, sat cakra etc, is more prominent for its giving emphasis on the physical body where as its world view is akin to that of the Agamic schools. In Advaita Vedanta, the world is said to be a false appearance or vivarta and the Self is the same as Brahman, the Reality which is the substratum of the cosmic appearance. So there is neither attainment of a new state nor a negation of an old one. In the Agamic view, there is a real attainment, the merger of the individual with the Universal Self, God. Even though the main stream Agamic view is non-dualistic, the world is not taken as false, since, unlike Advaita Vedanta, the Agamic schools do not accept vivarta vada. For Patanjali, like Sankhya, yoga is the state of the Self where it remains completely isolated from Prakrti. It is described as the establishment of citsakti in its own svarupa.4

Different schools adopt yoga and mould it to their philosophic framework. Even though concepts and practices are different the underlying spirit and mechanism remain the same. The main standpoint is to discipline the body and the mind so that one can explore deeper levels of his own being which remain hidden in ordinary states of existence. It is the common experience that our knowledge extends over to the objects in the ordinary states inclusive of both valid and invalid knowledge. Otherwise, the mind lapses into sleep. These are the states which Patanjali classifies into five vrttis, valid knowledge, erroneous knowledge, sleep and the rest.5 Never, in the ordinary level, do we encounter any state of mind beyond these five vrttis. But the state beyond them is the starting point where yoga begins. The possibility of a state of consciousness beyond the five states of mind is plausible in view of the fact that the Self is accepted as different from mind by the Indian systems of philosophy. The Upanisads describe a fourth state of consciousness beyond waking, dream and deep sleep. The impurities which are accumulated around the mind and the senses can be got rid of only when one discovers him to be different from them. This conception of the Self which gives a sense of transcendence provides the metaphysical background of the science of yoga in whichever framework it might have developed. It is obvious that Sankhya-Yoga, Vedanta and the Agamic Schools which develop their philosophical ideas around such a conception provide the most favourable background for the most remarkable spiritual traditions in India.

The foundational ideas of Patanjali’s yoga can be summed up in a few lines. The seer, the subject is essentially pure consciousness who only sees through the modifications of the mind.6 Patanjali remains silent on the question whether this pure consciousness is also the same or a part of the universal consciousness if at all such a reality is accepted. Even though Isvara, God is accepted as omniscient, untouched by miseries, actions and their results etc, his causal relation with the individual is not explained. Patanjali accepts a sort of realism where the objective world, drsya is real.7 He upholds citta, mind-stuff as a separate principle which being tinged by both the object and the Self gives rise to empirical knowledge.8 The mind is coloured by innumerable impressions with which the purusa identifies him and is entangled in the enjoyments of the world. Through discrimination the purusa becomes free from such entanglements. Then the gunas being bereft any purpose for the purusa get dissolved inversely in their primordial cause which is known as kaivalya, the state of freedom of the purusa, where he gets established in his own svarupa.9 The mind which is the cause of the samsara is also the means of freedom when it is oriented towards the Self through discrimination. The process of the world is intended to facilitate the evolution of the purusa towards his self-attainment, which is isolation from prakrti otherwise known as kaivalya.

The theory of plurality of purusas is not compatible with the conception of purusa as nitya and bibhu. The state of kaivalya in the scheme of Sankhya cannot consistently explain many metaphysical questions. It cannot explain the state of the purusa with reference to the real space, time and the cosmos after the attainment of kaivalya. It is not worthwhile to yearn for kaivalya which is simply a state of inactivity as that of the pralayakala or the vijnanakala of the Agamas or that of the mukta of the Vaisesikas. Patanjali has adopted Sankhya as a philosophical model for his more practical science of yoga, but he has something more to say which becomes conspicuous from his description of the final samadhi as dharmamegha and his contention that knowledge, free from all concealment surpasses infinitely all knowable at the final stage of enlightenment. 10

The state of enlightenment or freedom as the consummation of the process of life is not easy to conceive. It is even more difficult to explain. Patanjali’s yoga leads the sadhaka along the path of enlightenment till its accomplishment. But as a final world view the non-dualistic standpoint of Vedanta is philosophically more satisfying. Patanjali’s yoga can very well be incorporated within the Vedantic philosophy of non-dualism. Indeed, Vidyaranya Swami, the illustrious writer of Pancadasi opines in this line – “From the worshippers of God in form of a small grass to the followers of Yoga, all have a wrong idea about Isvara. From the Lokayatas, the materialists to the followers of Sankhya, all have confusion regarding the jiva.”Then he adds –“If the conceptions of plurality of jivas, the reality of the world and the difference of God and jiva are given up, then there will be a grand synthesis of Sankhya, Yoga and Vedanta”11

Dr. Haramohan Mishra
Head, P.G.Dept. of Sanskrit
S.B.Women’s College, Cuttack, Odisha

1. Yogasutra, Vyasa bhasya, 1.1
2. Ys, 1.3-4
3. Pancadasi, 9.132
4. Ys, 4.33
5. Ys, 1.5-6
6. Ys, 2.20
7. Ys, 4.15
8. Ys, 4.22
9. Ys, 4.33
10. Ys, 4.28,30
11. Pancadasi,6.216,228

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