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The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali

A Commentary on William
Judge’s Version of the Yoga Sutras
 
 
Katherine Hillard
 
 
 
 
 
An Editorial Note:
 
The little book “The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali - an interpretation”, by William Q. Judge, was first published in New York in the first part of 1889. [1]  In its May 1889 edition, the “Lucifer” [2] magazine, which was then edited by H.P. Blavatsky herself,  announced its publication with a note in the section “Reviews”, which said (p. 262):
 
“Every theosophist should have this book. It is rendered into plain English according to the thought of Patanjali, and has none of the obscurities or brackets which appeared in the Bombay edition of 1885. There are explanatory notes. An appendix is added containing the text of the Bombay edition, for comparison.” [3]
 
Then on its July 1889 edition, pp. 387-393, “Lucifer” published the following commentary by Katherine Hillard on Mr. Judge’s volume.
 
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
 
000 
 
The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali
 
 
Katherine Hillard
 
 
The Word Yoga means union, or that merging of mind and soul in the Divine element within us which is otherwise called concentration. Yoga (or concentration) is therefore that realisation of our oneness with the Supreme that has been the aim of mystics of all ages and all creeds. To reach this highest point of spiritual development, it is obvious that the whole of the threefold nature of man must be developed upon its various lines; that is, the physical, the mental, and the spiritual elements must receive an appropriate and simultaneous training, or we have a want of that harmony which is a necessary concomitant of perfection. A chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, and if any link in the triple chain of our being be imperfect, the whole must suffer the consequences.
 
Concentration is used in two senses, as Yoga, or union with the Divine and as the employment of the means to that union. The one is the result, the other is the method leading towards that result. I say “towards that result” advisedly, the goal being so far beyond any present hope of attainment.
 
There are two systems of Yoga, the Hatha (or Physical) and the Raja (or mental Yoga). The first is said to be derived from Ha the sun, and Tha the moon, used as symbols for the regulated breathing supposed to produce the desired condition. “In the Hatha Yoga practice”, says Mr. Judge, in his very interesting Introduction to the Aphorisms of Patanjali, “the result is psychic development, at the delay or expense of the spiritual nature.” Raja-Yoga is said to be derived from the root raj to shine, in allusion to the luminosity of the soul or Atman, and therefore means union with the Supreme Soul. “The initiatory training of a true Vedantin Raj Yogi, must be the nourishing of a sleepless and ardent desire of doing all in his power for the good of mankind on the ordinary physical plane, his activity being transferred, however, to the higher astral and spiritual planes as his development proceeds.” [4]
 
Mr. Judge also tells us in his Introduction that there were two Patanjalis, the one known as a commentator upon the grammarian Panini, who wrote, according to the authority of Prof. Goldstücker and others, about the year 140 B.C.; the author of the Aphorisms being an older and altogether legendary character, of whom nothing remains but this book. But in a long and exhaustive article on the date of  Sri Shankaracharya (“Five Years of Theosophy”, p. 278), Patanjali is mentioned as the Guru or spiritual teacher of Shankara, under the name of Govinda Yogi, it being the custom of Initiates to assume a new name. This Patanjali is declared to be the great author of the Mahabashya, the Yoga Sutras and a book on medicine and anatomy, and the Sutra period probably ended about 500 B.C., “though it is uncertain how far it extended into the depths of Indian antiquity. Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, and this fact has not been doubted by any Hindu writer up to this time. Mr. Weber thinks, however, that the author of the Yoga Sutras might be a different man from the author of the Mahabashya, though he does not venture to assign any reason for his supposition.”
 
The Yoga Aphorisms are divided into four books. Book First explains what practical concentration is, the obstacles to its acquirement and the way to overcome them.
 
Book Second treats of the means of acquiring concentration through the purification of the body and the mind, and its results.
 
Book Third analyses concentration in its higher metaphysical form, as the synthesis of attention, contemplation, and meditation, and shows how this leads to direct cognition, and absolute independence of the influence of the body, and its obscurations of the intellect. The tools of the spirit having been made perfect, the mind becomes one with the soul, and isolation, emancipation, or perfect concentration follows.
 
The essential nature of Isolation forms the subject of the Fourth (and last) Book.
 
The soul is defined (in Aphorism 20, Book Second) as the Perceiver, and seems to be identified by Patanjali with the conscious Ego. We are to conceive of it as the holder or possessor of the mind, which may be compared to a mirror wherein all truth may be reflected, provided the conditions are suitable. If the body be impure or imperfect, the mirror of the mind is like a glass where the quicksilver is partly worn away, and the reflecting surface is impaired, or like one whose surface is dull and tarnished, or covered with dust. If the mind be not under control, the mirror is shaken by the winds or passion or impulse, or idle fancies, and the shadows of external things flit confusedly across its swaying surface, and we see nothing.
 
The first thing to be done, then, that we may secure the perfect reflection of the Higher Self, is to eliminate all these adverse conditions, and this is the object of the Yoga Aphorisms. “Concentration”, says Patanjali, “is the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle” (or mind). In the fine lecture by W. K. Clifford on “Some of the Conditions of Mental Development”,  (1868) he shows how constant such modifications are. “If you will carefully consider what you have done most often during the day”, says that distinguished philosopher, “you will find that you have really done nothing else from morning to night but change your mind.… Did you perform any deliberate action? There was the change of mind from indecision to decision, from desire to volition, from volition to act.… In a word, whatever you have done, or felt, or thought, you will find upon reflection that you could not possibly be conscious of anything else than a change of mind.”
 
These changes may be either sudden or gradual. In the latter case they are more properly called “modifications”, perhaps, and Patanjali tells us that they are of five kinds, and are painful or not painful. They are Correct Cognition, Misconception, Fancy, Sleep, and Memory; that is, the mind may be led away from its subject of thought by (1) ideas that are true in themselves, or (2) false in themselves, by (3) idle notions suggested by some verbal association, by (4) sleep, or by (5) recollections. These modifications of the thinking principle, or as we more often say, this wandering of the mind, may be hindered in two ways, which are called Exercise and Dispassion. The former, the first step towards the far-off goal, is that mechanical fastening of the mind upon one point for a given length of time without intermission, which is called Attention, and is intended to strengthen the controlling power of the thinking principle. This is the preliminary sharpening of the tools or, to keep to the original metaphor, practice in the effort to hold the mirror perfectly still. The second step, Dispassion, is the attainment of freedom from all passions, desires, and ambitions, which cloud and obscure the mirror. Carried to the utmost, it is indifference to all else than soul. This purification of the mind is to be accomplished through the practice of Benevolence, Tenderness, Complacency (which means, I suppose, cheerfulness), and a disregard of the virtue or vice, the happiness or pain, of our fellow men. This does not mean that we are to be indifferent to the circumstances of others, but simply that we are not to allow our sympathies to upset our mental and moral equilibrium, and it is an exact corollary to the first maxim of the “Light on the Path”: “Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears.”
 
The obstacles to the attainment of this serene and imperturbed condition are enumerated as Sickness, Languor, Doubt, Carelessness, Laziness, Addiction to objects of sense, Erroneous perception, Failure to attain any stage (of abstraction), and Instability (to remain therein if attained).
 
These obstacles are to be overcome, and the virtues before-named to be practiced, and then follows a description of various physical and mental aids that will help the student in his difficult task, such as certain exercises in breathing, or the banishment of an evil thought by dwelling upon its opposite, or by pondering upon anything that one approves.
 
In conclusion, we have a description of the highest form of purely intellectual concentration, culminating in what is called “Meditation without a seed”, where there is no longer any distinct mental recognition of the object, but vision has taken its place. This seems to be akin to the Gnosis of the Neo-Platonists.
 
Book Second deals more particularly with the physical and moral aids to concentration, being directed to the establishment of meditation and the elimination of “afflictions.” These, as may be judged by the name, are of a more passive and involuntary character than the “obstacles” mentioned in Book First, and are Ignorance, Egoism, Desire, Aversion, and Tenacity of Life, or what Schopenhauer calls “the will to live”. These “afflictions” are inherent parts of our nature, whereas the “obstacles” are faults that lie more upon the surface, and can be more readily shaken off. They concern our mental attitude, the others lie at the very foundation of our being. Of these afflictions Ignorance is the origin and synthesis, being equivalent to Tamas (or Darkness) one of the three qualities that comprehend all things. It is mental or moral blindness, or the confounding of good and evil, eternal and transitory, pure and impure.
 
Egoism consists in identifying the ego, or soul, the power that sees, with the power of seeing; that is, in confounding the soul with the mind that is its tool, as ignorant persons confound the mind with the organs of sense, and imagine it is the eye that sees. For as the mind uses the eye, so the soul uses the mind. We realize this when we say, “My mind is confused, I (that is, the soul or ego) cannot see the idea.”
 
Desire and Aversion mean, respectively, such dwelling upon pleasure or pain as perturbs the mind, and renders it incapable of the serene peace (described in the First Book) which is essential to perfect concentration. Desire and Aversion necessarily include all inordinate affections, and all forms of cowardice, whether moral or physical, the latter coming under the head of aversion to pain.
 
The tenacious desire for earthly existence, or “the will to live”, is the natural tendency of humanity, without which existence under ordinary conditions would be impossible. It is this tendency that produces reincarnation, and that must be conquered ultimately or the cycle of re-births would never cease.
 
It is from these five elements that spring the roots of our merits and demerits, or, in other words, that Karma, whose fructification in each succeeding life on earth is either pleasure or pain. But to the man of perfect spiritual cultivation, all earthly things are grievous (since all the natural qualities are hindrances to the attainment of perfect concentration, or union with the Divine), and therefore in such a one, the desire for earthly life must gradually be lost.
 
From the fact that in our present form of life the soul is so closely wedded to the mind, and the mind to the body, her vision is impeded, and she is constantly misled. The past cannot be changed, the present cannot be shunned, but for the future we can prepare, by avoiding all acts likely to cause pain to ourselves or others, at the same time that we refrain from any fear or dread of what the morrow may bring forth.
 
For the Universe exists for the sake of the soul’s experience and emancipation - why then should we be troubled? The means of quitting the state of bondage to matter (which is caused by ignorance of the true nature of the soul and its relations), is perfect discriminative knowledge. This is of seven kinds (not named by Patanjali), and until it is attained in perfection, a partial illumination only will be the result of the practices conducive to concentration. These are eight in number, and comprise, like those mentioned in the First Book, physical, mental, and moral development, one of them alone, Forbearance, covering abstention from all the sins mentioned in the Decalogue.
 
From this simultaneous development of man’s threefold nature, there necessarily results both purity and strength, culminating in that perfection of power which produces superlative felicity. The Second Book concludes with a description of these eight practices, and their results.
 
The Third Book begins with an analysis of concentration in its higher intellectual form, as composed of Attention, Contemplation, and Meditation.
 
Attention is fixing the mind upon a place, object or subject.
 
Contemplation is the continuance of this attention.
 
Meditation is contemplation directed to a material substance or object of sense.
 
The concentration resulting from the union of all these is called Sanyama, and is to be used in overcoming those more subtle modifications of the mind suffered by the advanced students, who has overcome those described in the preceding books, and we are told that this more purely intellectual form of concentration is especially efficacious for the attainment of “distinct cognition”. Although not immediately productive of it, it precedes that kind of meditation in which distinct cognition of the object is lost, called “meditation without a seed”, and described at the end of the First Book. The Victorine Mystics of the 12th century divided Contemplation into six stages, two belonging to Imagination, whose objects are Sensibilia, or sensible things; two belonging to Reason, Intelligibilia or truths concerning what is invisible, but accessible to reason, and two to Intuition, Intellectibilia, or unseen truth above reason. In fact, the resemblances are very numerous between the teachings of Richard of St. Victor and those of Patanjali.
 
But this is not the place to dwell upon this comparison, nor does it seem worthwhile here to enlarge upon the subtle definition of the properties of objects that follow the analysis of Concentration. The larger portion of the Third Book is taken up by a description of the wonderful powers, both physical and mental, resulting from perfect control of the mind, and of all its hitherto undeveloped, and to most of us, unsuspected faculties. The 50th maxim says: “In the ascetic who has acquired the accurate discriminative knowledge of the truth, and of the nature of the soul, there arises a knowledge of all existences in their essential natures, and a mastery over them.”
 
In this Book we see traced out the steps to the acquirement of perfect control of the physical through the mental, and the exemplification of the manner in which all knowledge may be reflected in the mirror of the mind, when made perfectly pure and held in perfect control. This is the highest stage of purely intellectual development, the ultimate point to which the mind of man can attain, but there is a further step, for in the last maxim of the Third Book we are told: “When the mind no longer conceives itself to be the knower or experiencer, and has become one with the soul, the real knower and experiencer, Isolation takes place, and the soul is emancipated.”
 
The Fourth Book proceeds to treat of this Isolation and its essential nature. It begins by defining the reasons for the variety of characters inherent in mankind, showing how each character is modified by the results of former lives, and how these characters may be still further modified by the proper use of the proper means. This modifying process is called “the removal of mental deposits”, or in other words, of the accumulated experiences through which the entity has passed, which have left their traces upon it, as the different geological periods have left their record in the various strata of the earth.
 
Maxim 23 tells us, that the mind, though assuming various forms by reason of these innumerable mental deposits, exists for the purpose of the soul’s emancipation, and co-operates thereto. The mind, being the instrument of the soul, exists for the soul’s sake; the soul cannot be said to exist for the sake of its instrument, any more than the sense of sight exists for the sake of the eye. Having arrived at this perfection of Knowledge, if the ascetic strenuously banishes all other thoughts, and is free from desire to exercise the powers that lie within his reach (“is not desirous of the fruits”, says Patanjali), and yet is not inactive, he arrives at the state called Dharma-Megha “the cloud of virtue”, so called because it brings that spiritual rain that causes the soul to blossom into emancipation. Then from the infinite heaven of absolute knowledge, the knowable seems a little thing and easy to grasp, then the modifications of the qualities cease to be, having accomplished their purpose, and time likewise is no more, for to emancipated soul there is nothing left but eternity, wherein past, present, and future are but one. Such a soul, having ceased to mistake the qualities of objects for realities, “abides in its own nature”, and is upon the threshold of absolute union with the Divine.
 
For the greater part of mankind the First Book alone contains more than can be mastered in an ordinary lifetime, and therefore I have only sketched, in the briefest and most superficial manner, the general subjects of the last three Books. Theosophists owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Judge, for having put within the reach of all, a work of such far-reaching import, such subtle analysis, and such tremendous grasp, as the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali.
 
It is not a book to be hastily read, but to be pondered and inwardly digested, to be comprehended by the intellect, and apprehended by the soul, and then wrought into the tissue of our life!
 
Katherine Hillard, F.T.S.
 
NOTES:
 
[1] The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali - an interpretation”, by W. Q. Judge, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, USA (also Theosophy Co., Mumbai, India), 74 pp., 2008. The book is published in PDF in our websites. (CCA)
 
[2] In ancient times, the term “Lucifer” designated Venus, the star of the morning, the “bringer of the light” or “light-bearer”. During the Middle Ages, the term was distorted by unscrupulous theologians in order to justify their politics of persecution against free-thinkers. H.P. Blavatsky chose “Lucifer” as the name of her London magazine, in order to make the point clear. (CCA)
 
[3] No such appendix is available in later editions of “The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali - an interpretation”, published by Theosophy Company, Los Angeles. As to the 1885 Bombay edition of the Sutras, it is entitled “The Yoga Philosophy”, with translation into English by Dr. Ballantyne and Mr. Govind Shastri Deva, and revised and edited by Mr. Tookaram Tatya. (CCA)
 
[4] Mohini Chatterjee in his article on “Morality and Pantheism”. (Note by Katherine Hillard)

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On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  
 
 
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.
 
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The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali




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