Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Vienna conference: Philipp A. Maas on "Postures in the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra"

At last resuming the report on what retained our attention during the Vienna conference (September 2013) on the history of yoga, we summarize Philipp Maas's findings.

Already since his master’s thesis, Maas has been focusing on the Samādhi Pāda of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra. He reexamined the authorship question, confirming the impression of Johannes Bronkhorst (1985) that the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra, dated to the 4th century CE, is composed of two layers of text. The oldest is the Sūtra or aphorisms part, itself composed of older materials. The second is the Bhāṣya or commentary, by the same author.
The earliest religions, as Maas understands it, are two. The first is the Vedic religion, in which the world and the achievement of desires are manipulated by Brahmin priests. Within this tradition, new techniques were developed including asceticism and abstention. The second are the ascetic reform religions, centred on the notions of karma and rebirth. In successive births, fate is determined by past lives and possible to overcome. Suffering can be overcome. Against them, Brahmin dominance was restored because foreign kings allied themselves with Brahmins to gain legitimacy. Under the Gupta dynasty, a new synthesis was established, known as Hinduism, as a response to the reform religions. One approach is in the Yogaśāstra: adopt concepts from the reform religions. The world is made up of many puruśas and one prakṛti. Consciousness without objects is not normally possible; the trick called yoga is to achieve this: consciousness resting in itself. After liberation, there is isolation of the puruśa.

Verse 2:46-48 deals with Āsana, containing the famous saying: sthiraṁ-sukham-āsanam, “the posture is stable and pleasant”. Among the oldest references to posture is this text passage. After the āsanam definition, Patañjali adds one more sentence: “It arises by means of relaxation of effort or by meditating on infinity.”

This might be a compound adjective instead of a juxtaposition of equal adjectives (dvandva): sthiramsukham. Vācaspati Miśrā interprets it as “steadily comfortable”. This is more correct than modern commentators. Vijnānabhikṣu, on the other hand, renders: “steady and comfortable.” To sum up: sthira adverb and sukha adjective, or both as adjectives. To me this distinction sounds like much ado about nothing, since the effective meaning of the phrase is clear enough.
In manuscripts we find descriptions of the padmāsana, svastikāsana, daṇḍāsana, bhadrāsana, etc., as is comfortable, in constant serenity. As the Patañjali Yoga Sūtra Vivāraṇa says: “In a quiet place, facing east, offer worship and sit comfortably.” Sometimes lying down on a couch and remaining flat may be advised (śavāsana). At any rate, the more recent contortions and inverse positions are absent. The only aim of āsana is to create the best physical conditions for meditation.

1 comment:

nimitta said...

"After liberation, there is isolation of the puruśa."

This is a misunderstanding of kaivalya. Yoga does not achieve the 'apartness' of puruṣa - it reveals it in the moment of nirodha, where citta-vṛtti cease. Puruṣa is already free, but this fact cannot be known (avidya) within conventional patterns of consciousness, which 'attach' (saṃyoga) themselves to knowing via identification.

In other words, yogic liberation is a realization, not a jailbreak.