Book 1, Sutra 23: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“DEVOTION TO GOD IS ALSO EFFECTIVE IN ACHIEVING A STILLNESS OF MIND, TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE DEGREE OF INTENSITY WITH WHICH IT IS PURSUED.”
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is not commonly known as a religious text. This is because mention of “Iswara,” God, is rather limited to the next 4 sutras. Many translators have taken that as a sign that these religious instructions are more like a side option for the yogi rather than part of the core practice. For them the religious sentiment is an effective option but not absolutely necessary. Tola and Dragonetti particularly deny that Patanjali’s yogic goal is really about a relationship or union with God (this would make it different than the much more openly religious Bhagavad Gita). Iyengar admits that Patanjali is making religious devotion an option but doesn’t go so far as to say that the overarching goal of Patanjali’s yoga is non-religious.
Other translators, like Nambiar, feel that Patanjali is outlining two separate sets of instructions (religious and non-religious) that should be integrated together by the yogi. Some translators, like KN Saraswathy, feel that this religious part of Patanjali’s instructions is the most important part. Like her, VishnuDevananda says that Iswara is “the One God, who is so omnipotent that he is able to manifest in as many forms as are needed by individuals of different temperament to focus on the Supreme.” Mukunda Stiles takes this religious sentiment even further by translating this sutra as “The end of spiritual practice is only attained by placing oneself in the Lord.” Although in later sutras he backs down a bit from this type of religious sentiment.
Some translators, like Hartranft, feel that Patanjali is not actually being religious, even in these 4 sutras. According to him, “neither yoga nor samkhya [philosophy] is theistic, per se. . . . Iswara is neither god, nor purusa, in the usual sense but rather a divine mirror towards which people throughout the ages may turn to catch a glimpse of their own true nature.” In places, Brahmanada Saraswati and Hartranft seem to deny a traditional religious element in Patanjali by turning “Iswara” into the more abstract “I AM” pure consciousness and recommending devotion to that.
Iyengar, who expresses some religious fervor here, gives us a great definition of Patanjali’s word for devotion. He says that “pranidhana is surrender of everything: one’s ego, all good and virtuous actions, pains and pleasures, joys and sorrows, elations and miseries to the Universal Soul. Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced and the grace of the Lord pours down upon him like a torrential rain.” Clearly though, not all translators would agree with Iyengar here.
If we divide the translators into two camps, one that respects religious sentiment and one that doesn’t, we could put Iyengar into the first just from this heart-felt description of “pranidhana.” I would put Tola and Dragonetti into the opposite camp principally for their refutation of Vyasa’s commentary on “this receiving of the Lord’s grace.” Vyasa wrote that when the yogin surrenders himself to the Lord, the latter inclines to him and favors him. Tola and Dragonetti wrote in response, “Iswara is on this account essentially an entity isolated in itself, indifferent, changeless, without thought, without emotions, without activity—an entity to which it is impossible to ascribe an attitude of grace towards the person who surrenders himself to it.”
Tola and Dragonetti are not, however, alone in the non-religious camp. Many of the translations feel that for Patanjali, religious sentiment is merely a yogic tool to attain a non-religious goal. In other words, surrender to God is just a very effective way to develop renunciation which Patanjali has already stated is vitally important to the yogi.
Patanjali has already, and will again, refer to the realization (or maybe more accurately, “the actualization”) of one’s True Self, or one’s true form, as the goal that results from stilling the mind. Does that goal have anything to do with “God?” Those in the religious camp might say that such a True Self is none other than God or “Iswara” and that anything other than Iswara is illusion or ego. Those in the opposite camp might say that Iswara is a trick to get us to stop thinking about the mundane details of life long enough for our own true Eternal Nature to become obvious. Some may argue that these two camps are really saying the same thing but I feel that there is a difference here. If you are in the religious yoga camp then a certain type of emotion, a certain type of passion, is justified by the realization of the Truth. If you are in the non-religious yoga camp then no emotion will remain upon liberation, only serene and stable contented detachment will be there.
The question remains concerning which camp Patanjali belonged to. The answer certainly varies amongst the translations that I have consulted. Maybe Patanjali purposely wrote in a way that straddled both sides of this fence in order to foster debate and also to force us to come to our own conclusions.
Posted on January 7, 2016, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and tagged bhagavad gita, devotion, God, Iswara, passion, pranidhana, realization, religion, True Self, yoga. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.