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Yoga and Vedanta
Mary: Dear James, in Berkeley we started to discuss whether or not there are many clear descriptions about the nature of the self in the Yoga Sutras.
Below are some verses in which the self is referred to. (It doesn’t really make sense to remove verses from the whole context, but these are the sutras I found with direct references to the self.)
The following verses are from the Mukunda Stiles translation, which I like.
My comments are below, and the quotes indented.
1.2: Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.
Mary: Here the word “yoga” is used synonymously with moksa.
James: This is partially true. If yoga means moksa, then it should read “Yoga happens when the ignorance about one’s true nature is removed.” The problem with the wording of this statement is that it seems like yoga creates the experience of freedom. Moksa is not an event. It is the nature of the self.
1.3: When this happens then the seer is revealed, resting in its own essential nature, and one realizes the True Self.
Mary: This seems in alignment with Vedanta, no? Except perhaps the word “realizes”?
James: Well, “realizes” needs a definition, but it could mean knowledge, although it is generally associated with experience, not that self-knowledge doesn’t reveal the fact that you have been experiencing the ever-free self forever. The problem word is “when.” It implies that moksa is an event. If you say, “When knowledge takes place, then…,” it is acceptable because the removal of ignorance is an event.
1.13: Of these two, practice is the continuous struggle to become firmly established in the stable state of the True Self.
Mary: I can see why this statement this doesn’t hold up in Vedanta, as the self is not a state and we cannot be anything other than the self, so we don’t need to become firmly established in it. It seems what we need is to become firmly established in the knowledge that we are that.
James: Yes, the self is not a state. It is “the fourth,” meaning something other than the three states. I will have a book out on Gaudapada’s commentaries on the Mandukya soon.
1.16: The ultimate state of non-attachment arises from self-realization in which there is indifference to the primordial forces of desire, as everything and everyone is experienced as one’s own True Self.
Mary: This seems in alignment with Vedanta?
James: Yes. The effect of moksa is indifference to one’s desires.
1.24: The Lord is a distinct self, untouched by any form of affliction, by karma and its effects or by the latent impressions of past actions.
Mary: I’m not sure what is meant by a “distinct” self here. It seems to be a translation of: ashayaih = without companion.
The “Lord” is a translation of Isvara.
James: Bad word. It means “the only self.” Disctinct implies duality. It is necessary at the beginning levels to separate it from the “not-self” but it needs to be negated later.
1.25: In that self is the unsurpassed source of omniscience.
James: There are two kinds of omniscience: Isvara’s and a jnani’s. Isvara’s omniscience is knowledge of everything, and a jnani’s is knowledge of the essence of everything.
1.26: That self is also unlimited by time, and it is the guru of the most ancient spiritual teachers.
Mary: Maybe a bit odd he didn’t say ”unlimited by anything” rather than just time.
James: Time implies everything because all objects are subject to it, that is, they change. It is better to say “eternal.”
1.27: The sound denoting that self is the eternal vibration Aum, which manifests the grace of the divine presence.
James: This is true, but not true. Wait until my Mandukya and Karika comes out.
2.20: The seer is pure consciousness only. Even though it appears to see by directing thoughts and concepts, it remains unchanged by the mind’s operations.
Mary: I found another translation that seems a bit clearer in meaning: “The seer is pure consciousness, appearing to change form, yet never changes (only reflects).”
That’s a bit confusing though isn’t it? I think the seer here is Isvara/Maya. Would it be correct to say that Isvara/Maya reflects???
James: This is pretty good. Yes, Isvara/Maya is gross and subtle matter, the reflecting medium.
2.22: Those who know the True Self have fulfilled life’s purpose. For them, the seen world ceases to exist, although to others who share the common mind, it does exist.
James: Not correct. It continues to exist but it is known to be mithya, which is “as good as non-existent.” If it didn’t exist, the jiva would no longer exist. Everything stays exactly the same as before. Only the status of the world changes. It is no longer regarded as satya but is known to be mithya.
2.28: By sustained practice of all of the components of yoga, the impurities dwindle away and wisdom’s radiant light shines forth with discriminative knowledge.
James: This is pretty good but requires an explanation. Again, dualistic language. It implies that the self shines after self-knowledge. It shines before, during and after. If it means that the mind reflects awareness more brightly when the mind becomes sattvic owing to discrimination, then it’s okay.
2.52: As a result of this pranayama, the veil obscuring the radiant supreme light of the Inner Self dissolves.
Mary: I wish it was this easy.
James: The idea is totally dualistic. It implies that the self and the mind are in the same order of reality so that the presence of one equals the absence of the other, which is not true. The self shines irrespective of any action. It is only matter of recognition.
2.53: And as a result the mind attains fitness for the process of contemplation of the True Self.
Mary: He seems to be saying here that through the practice of karma yoga one can be ready for jnana yoga.
3.14: Our nature has a common source – the substratum out of which all latent, manifest and unmanifested properties of consciousness arise.
Mary: Okay, this sutra seems to imply non-dualism, no?
James: Yes. Plus, the knowledge is wrong. Consciousness has no properties. The properties belong to Maya, the reflecting medium.
3.56: Therefore, when the purified mind becomes equal in purity with the transcendental self, then absolute freedom arises.
Mary: Not sure about this…
James: That’s very good because it is simply not true. To say that the mind equals the self is pure duality. And freedom doesn’t arise. It is the nature of the self and it has no states. All these statements are almost true but they are all misleading.
4.22: An evolved consciousness experiences one’s own self by the reflection of the changeless self, arising as the field of consciousness. In that form, the self is known.
Mary: This seems in alignment with Vedanta too…
James: It’s close, but it should read, “When the mind is sattvic, the reflection of the self shines in all its purity.” The second sentence is incorrect. The self cannot be known as an object. The reflection is an object and can be known. The self is the knower of the reflection. This may trouble you, but Pantanjali seems to be confusing pure sattva with sat, consciousness. The basic logic is that if you do yoga you will experience the self. The idea that there is only the self and that it cannot be objectified into an experience is not present in yoga. Yoga is essential for purification and at best a “leading error” in the sense that yogis who are seeking the self are in the ballpark and if they persist they may be lead to inquiry and realize the self.
4.29: One who is free of self-interest, even from the attainment of the highest realizations, and who possesses constant discrimination is showered with virtues from being absorbed in Spirit.
James: Yes. Yoga is a great “rain cloud of dharma.”
4.34: Absolute freedom results when the primal natural forces, having no purpose to serve, become reabsorbed in the source of all or when the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its own essential nature.
James: The “primal forces” only become reabsorbed at pralaya. It implies that moksa requires the dissolution of Maya/matter. If that is true, then the jivas are dissolved too, so there is no moksa for them. They have to come back during the next Creation and work out their karmas. In fact moksa is only for jivas who are experiencing samsara brought about by Maya. See the dualistic language – “reabsorbed,” “become established,” etc. The self, pure consciousness, is already established in its nature. There is no other option, because there is only consciousness. Maya is not the problem. A Mary is the problem – a Mary is a jiva’s ignorance of its true nature. When it is removed, Maya is unaffected. It continues to project the world.
Mary: Reading the Sutras with more understanding of Vedanta reveals that there are many commonalities. What does seem to be missing is a very clear description that describes Isvara combining with Maya arising out of awareness. And of course the fact that this text is dualistic in nature.
James: Yes. You can’t compare Vedanta and Yoga. They have different orientations. Vedanta has no quarrel with Yoga. It works in the mithya dimension and it is essential for moksa because without it the mind will not mature to the point where it is capable of understanding non-duality.
Mary: Pre-classical Yoga is based on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, and is therefore non-dual. Classical Yoga – the Yoga of Patanjali’s Sutras – is based on Samkya. This period of Yogic thought was only prevalent for around 300 to 400 years. Post-classical Yoga is also non-dual in nature, and includes tantra yoga and hatha yoga. Because the main body of texts which are considered Yogic texts (except for the Sutras) are non-dual, I have always taught Yoga philosophy as non-dual, and because that is what resonates with my own revelations.
Anyway, I am not trying to make it all fit together. I’m on the Vedanta bus all the way now…
~ Much love to you and Sundari