Book 1, Sutra 20: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“THIS STATE OF STILLNESS IS DIFFERENT FROM ONE THAT IS GROUNDED IN THE TRUTH AND THAT IS ACHIEVED BY A YOGI WHO HAS FAITH, VIGOR AND THE ABILITY TO RETAIN THAT TRUTH IN MEMORY.”
Even without knowledge of the Sanskrt language, just from witnessing the struggles to translate and interpret this sutra that occur in the 27 different translations that I am reviewing to create this series of posts, I can say that this sutra is frustratingly terse and seems to be almost carelessly worded. The reason I say that is, for one, Patanjali is using the word “smrti” here to indicate one of the qualities necessary to achieve a stilling of the mind and he earlier listed “smrti” as a type of thought pattern that must be stilled in yoga. Secondly, Patanjali uses the word “Samadhi” in this sutra in an off-hand, even careless way. Later on Patanjali will talk extensively about what the word, “Samadhi,” means to him but in this sutra it is included in a list of qualities necessary to pursue stillness of the mind. Even if samadhi is such a necessary quality, his readers cannot know at this point what exactly he is referring to. And he doesn’t define it immediately in the next sutra either (he waits until sutra 41 to give more information on what “Samadhi” is).
In other ways, this sutra is frustrating because it seems like it could be a very important one for aspiring yogis (if the wording was not so vague) and the reason for that is his use of the word, “shraddha.” “Shraddha” means faith and it does not occur very often in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It does get used extensively by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita so it is considered important within the larger yoga tradition. Many translators go out on a limb, interpreting what type of faith Patanjali refers to in this sutra. Those translators and commentators say that the “faith” of this sutra is the raja yogi’s faith, as opposed to the bhakti yogi’s faith, and this makes sense to me. The raja yogi’s faith is the conviction that the yogic instructions on how to still the mind and realize the Truth WILL WORK as they promise to, if one dedicates oneself to them with enough intensity and accuracy. This is different from a bhakti yogi’s faith in the Supreme Being and His/Her ability to save or rescue him or her from his or her own ignorance.
Many translators have concluded that Patanjali is listing qualities that develop into each other, successively, to reach the ultimate stilling of the mind. If this is so, then faith (shraddha) leads to mounting energy (virya) applied to sadhana, which leads to the ability to keep the yogic instructions in mind (smrti), which leads to concentration in meditation (Samadhi), which leads to the eruption of wisdom (prajna). This makes sense but one is still left wishing Patanjali could have been a little more direct and precise with his use of words here.
[There is an argument that I have read (and believe has validity) that Patanjali wrote his Sutra in a way that was purposefully vague and cryptic (in places) so that a student would require the guidance of a competent master to follow them. This would prevent or discourage ill-prepared or ill-suited students from launching into yoga on their own. They would be stopped by the vagueness of at least some of the sutras. It is the nature of my ego, however, to want scientific precision in everything, including the most important spiritual treatises!]