[Advaita-l] Yoga and Advaita Vedanta - 6

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sat Oct 21 18:14:00 CDT 2006

In the previous posts, we have examined BSBh 1.3.33, 2.1.3, 2.3.39 and 
3.2.24, to see how Sankara bhagavatpAda talks about yoga. In this post, I 
will discuss BSBh 2.4.12 and 4.1.7-11.

BS 2.4.12 says, pancavRttir manovad vyapadiSyate - It (prANa) is taught to 
be five-fold, like the mind.

This portion of the brahmasUtra is devoted to a discussion of the prANa, the 
vital breath. The five forms, namely prANa, apAna, vyAna, udAna and samAna, 
are mentioned numerous times in the upanishad texts, e.g. bRhadAraNyaka 
1.5.3, and are perhaps too well known to require much explanation. However, 
Sankara bhagavatpAda is a very meticulous commentator. After enumerating and 
briefly explaining the five forms of prANa, he makes it a point to examine 
the term "manovat" (like the mind) and to comment on why a comparison is 
drawn with the mind. What are the five forms (vRtti-s) of the mind that are 
cited here?

In bRhadAraNyaka upanishat 1.5.3, kAma (desire), saMkalpa (intention) etc 
are listed as being nothing other than the mind. The reference "manovat" 
(like the mind) in BS 2.4.12 cannot be to this passage, because the 
upanishat here lists more than five forms and functions of the mind. He then 
rejects an idea that relates the forms of the mind to the fact that the mind 
processes the objects known through the five senses. For the mind also 
processes objects pertaining to time, which is not known directly through 
sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch. Again, the number five is not met.

Therefore, Sankara bhagavatpAda settles on the five forms of the mind that 
are well known from yoga thought (yogaSAstra-prasiddhA), i.e. YS 1.6: 
"pramANa viparyaya vikalpa nidrA smRtayaH." These, then, are the five 
vRtti-s of the mind, to which are compared the five vRtti-s of the prANa. 
The logic behind this quotation is, "paramatam apratishiddham anumatam 
bhavati" - what is not to be refuted (apratishiddham) in another system of 
thought (paramatam) becomes acceptable (anumatam bhavati). Note that the 
bhAshyakAra is creating room for accepting some very key features of yoga 
thought. After all, YS 1.6 does not stand in isolation, for there is a very 
logical and orderly progression in the ten sUtras from YS 1.2 (yogaS citta 
vRtti nirodhaH) to YS 1.11 (nidrA). I will refer to what the bhAshyakAra 
says about citta vRtti nirodha again in a later post, when I take up 
bRhadAraNyaka bhAshya 1.4.7 for discussion.

To return to BSBh 2.4.12, this passage concludes that the prANa, like the 
mind, takes numerous forms and functions (bahuvRttitva). The number five is 
a reference to the forms of the prANa that enable life (jIvopakaraNa) in the 
body and these are compared to the five forms of the mind.

The final set of passages in BSBh that are relevant to this discussion are 
4.1.7-11. These sUtras say, AsInas sambhavAt (seated, because of the 
possibility), dhyAnAc ca (and from meditation), acalatvam Apekshya 
(expecting steadiness), smaranti ca (and so it is remembered) and 
yatraikAgratA tatrAviSeshAt (where there is one-pointed concentration, there 
are no restrictions).

These sUtra-s recommend that contemplation and meditation on brahman, which 
are part of the true vision (samyag darsana) of reality, should be done in a 
seated posture. The bhAshya explicates these sUtras succinctly. As far as 
Vedic ritual actions are concerned, there are restrictive injunctions 
(niyama vidhi-s) that specify whether an act should be done standing or 
sitting. It may be thought that as contemplation and meditation are mental 
activities, there needs to be no restriction on the bodily posture to be 
adopted. Here, the sUtrakAra recommends that meditation should be done in a 
properly seated posture. These are not injunctions, but recommendations. As 
the bhAshya explains, this is because the mind is highly likely to get 
involved in the physical activity of walking or running. Standing is likely 
to distract one's mind towards merely maintaining the standing posture, 
while lying down, one is likely to fall asleep. The contemplation that is 
called upAsana or dhyAna is meant to cause  a flow of identical thoughts 
(samAna-pratyaya-pravAha-karaNa) in the mind. The seated posture is most 
conducive (sambhava) for the mind to maintain this flow, without getting 
distracted. The goal is to attain steadiness (acalatva), as also taught in 
the gItA, i.e. smRti (smaranti). However, there are no restrictions 
(a-viSesha) as to whether one should sit facing a particular direction, or 
whether one should meditate only in specific spots etc. The goal being to 
attain one-pointed concentration (ekAgratA), the place and direction are up 
to one's choice, based on what is conducive to one's mind (mano'nukUla).

In this context, Sankara bhagavatpAda says that the yogaSAstra teaches 
padmakAsana and other postures in order to attain these goals of steadiness, 
one-pointedness and the continuous, uninterrupted flow of identical thought. 
Here then is another BSBh reference to yoga as an aid to the upAsana that is 
preparative to the true vision of the Self. Note that the exact textual 
reference is not mentioned, but it cannot be the yogasUtra itself, because 
YS does not describe any of the Asana-s in any detail.

In our times, there is often a tendency to ignore these discussions of 
upAsana, by saying that they are all within the realm of action and 
therefore not key to the philosophy of advaita. However, note that for the 
sUtrakAra and the bhAshyakAra themselves, these upAsana-s are quite 
important. Also important are issues of whether there are recommendations or 
injunctions on what the upAsana-s consist of, when and where they should be 
done, etc. If these were completely peripheral, they need not have discussed 
them in any detail at all. Indeed, at numerous places in BSBh, Sankara 
bhagavatpAda describes these  as necessary to realization 
(samyag-darSanArthAny upAsanAni).

In the next few posts. I will discuss what the bhAshyakAra has to say about 
other aspects of yoga and Self-knowledge in his other major commentaries. We 
have seen in our discussion of BSBh that key limbs of yoga practice - Asana, 
dhyAna and samAdhi - are not only well-known to Sankara bhagavatpAda, but 
also accepted as aids (upAya or pratipatti prayojana) to gaining the vision 
of the Self. Sankara bhagavatpAda is aware of and refers to texts on yoga 
that seem to have got lost over the centuries. We will see more such 
instances from the gItAbhAshya. The philosophy of yoga is cited wherever it 
agrees with vedAnta and key upanishat texts (kaTha, SvetASvatara) are 
acknowledged as teaching yoga in the context of Self-knowledge. Moreover, 
the process of SravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana taught in bRhadAraNyaka 
upanishat are described as yoga in one instance (BSBh 2.1.3) and as samAdhi 
in another (BSBh 2.3.39). Thus, when we talk of the Self knowledge taught in 
the vedAnta (aupanishadam AtmajnAnam), we necessarily also refer to the yoga 
practices that are part of vedAnta.

SrI gurubhyo namaH,

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