Foreword to Shankara on the Yoga Sutras

Foreword by Dr Kengo Harimoto

When Trevor Leggett published The Complete Commentary by Śaṅkara on the Yoga sūtra-s in 1990, it was the first full translation of the sub-commentary on the Yogasūtras, variously called the Yogasūtrabhāṣyavivaraṇa or the Pātañjalayogaśāstravivaraṇa, etc., into a modern language. The Sanskrit text (henceforth the Vivaraṇa) had attracted some attention from Western scholars from the time it was published in Madras in 1952 as part of the Madras Government Oriental Series, especially because the editors of the edition ascribed it to one of the most famous of Indian philosophers, Śaṅkara.

Hajime Nakamura, by translating whose work from Japanese into English Leggett had become known among Indologists, was one of those who were interested in the Vivaraṇa. Nakamura wrote a few articles on the Vivaraṇa in the late 1970s, mainly concerned with its authorship. He also published a Japanese translation of its first chapter from 1979 to 1983. I imagine that Leggett’s interest in the Vivaraṇa was inspired by Nakamura.

Despite Leggett’s long-term relationship with him, I do not see any evidence of the direct indebtedness of his English translation to Nakamura’s Japanese translation. For example, in the Vivaraṇa towards the beginning of the commentary on Yogabhāṣya 1.6, there is a question from an opponent: atha svaviṣayasāmanyaviśeṣāvabhāsanasāmarthye śrotrādīnāṃ cittasya ca kimkṛtam viśeṣāvadhāraṇaprādhānyam iti. Leggett translates this as “A sense like hearing, and the mind, can reflect both the universality (i.e. class) and the particularity of an object; why is this supposed to be concerned mainly with determining a particular?” Nakamura in Japanese translates in effect “Senses, such as hearing, etc., can…; why is the mind…?” The difference lies in how these two translators understood the function of the particle ca (and). This particle has various functions in Sanskrit. One is to combine two or more items (typically words) by being placed after the last word of the sequence. So, A, B, C ca means “A, B, and C”. It can also serve to connect sentences by being placed after the first word or syntagma of the following sentence. Leggett read the particle ca in the sentence as a word connector, combining śrotrādīnām and cittasya, whereas Nakamura read it as a sentence connector. I think that Leggett’s understanding of the particle’s function here is preferable. Since such instances are frequent, I conclude that Leggett’s translation was his own original work.

The whole translation is remarkable in that it was prepared by someone primarily known for his works related to Japan. I am amazed that Leggett learned Sanskrit on his own. He had apparently read quite a few other works in the original Sanskrit. This is evident from the references to Sanskrit works in the introduction.

After its publication two reviews appeared in academic journals. One was a review article entitled “Notes on an English Translation of the Yogasūtrabhāṣyavivaraṇa” by Tuvia Gelblum in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 55 (1992) and the other, which was by J. W. de Jong, came out in the Indo-Iranian Journal 37 (1994).

Since I find the “Notes” by Gelblum to be unjustifiably critical of Leggett’s book, I would like to point out some of the problems in them in this Foreword.1

Gelblum appears to have misunderstood Leggett’s position with regard to the authorship problem of the Vivaraṇa. He treats it as if Leggett was convinced of the identity of Śaṅkara with the author of the Vivaraṇa, and he is critical of this view. In particular, he seems convinced that Leggett follows Hacker’s “conversion theory” (namely that Śaṅkara was a follower of the yoga tradition—whatever that means—but subsequently became a Vedāntin).2 He even includes a digression mentioning a post-Biblical legend concerning Jethro’s conversion. What I read in Leggett’s text, however, is that, although he was very much inclined to accept that Śaṅkara and the author of the Vivaraṇa were one and the same, he still remained cautious about this. Leggett points out a swing towards Vedānta in the Vivaraṇa; if he had been thinking only of a single author’s evolution from being a scholar of Yoga to becoming a scholar of Vedānta, he would have been concerned only with the Yoga elements in Śaṅkara’s Vedānta works. That was what Hacker did. The fact that Leggett did not do this indicates that, while not committing himself to Śaṅkara’s authorship of the Vivaraṇa, he did not preclude the possibility that Śaṅkara, a Vedānta scholar, wrote the Yoga commentary.

Gelblum’s “Notes” include what he regarded as an example of a portion of the text of the Vivaraṇa where it could inform us of the existence of a superior original reading of the Yogabhāṣya (3.14). However, the place which he chose was not a good example. As Gelblum himself appears to be aware, the author of the Vivaraṇa was most likely proposing an emendation to the text, because he first refers to a reading close to, but not the same as, what is found in published editions of the Yogabhāṣya. The author shows a preference for another reading and explains why he prefers it. It seems to me as if the first reading was all he knew and he did not like it. If in fact he had had two readings before him, then he would have interpreted the preferred reading first and mentioned the alternative reading second. At least, when an author does this, we are less likely to doubt that he saw the alternative reading. The proposal by the author of the Vivaraṇa may or may not reflect the transmission history of the Yogabhāṣya (namely that its reading had changed), but there is no guarantee that the author of the Vivaraṇa saw the alternative preferred reading in a manuscript.

Furthermore, Gelblum seems to have overlooked the more complicated and nuanced nature of the textual problem he was discussing. When he introduces the portion of the text in question, he casually emends the text of the Vivaraṇa from samanantarībhavati to samanantaro bhavati. The original reading was not a simple typographical error made in the edition (in hand-written Devanagari, the diacritics for ‘ī’ and ‘o’ could look similar), as Gelblum appears to have assumed. The reading samanantarībhavati is indeed found in two old Malayalam manuscripts that were mutually independent witnesses to the common source of all the known manuscripts of the Vivaraṇa. There the diacritics for ī and o are very distinct in the Malayalam script. Gelblum adjusted the reading of the Yogabhāṣya preserved in the Vivaraṇa to what he believed it should be! That the reading samantarībhavati was in the Vivaraṇa is supported by two more sentences in the same section, if we read further in the text according to manuscripts. The first of these two sentences is found in the alternative text which the author of the Vivaraṇa prefers. Unfortunately, this reading was silently changed in the 1952 edition to samanantaro bhavati. Having no access to the manuscripts, Gelblum of course was not aware of this reading. Finally, although the two expressions might not seem to make much difference in meaning, a sentence in the Vivaraṇa (“although [atīta] has no samanantara, it is said that only anāgata will become samanantara of atīta’)3clearly differentiates them. And some semantic difference is expected, so that the text of the Yogabhāṣya does not contradict what was said earlier: “Therefore it (atīta) has no samanantara (tasmān na tasyāsti samanantaraḥ).”4 So, the difference with which the author of the Vivaraṇa was concerned was not between tad anāgata eva samanantaro bhavati vartamānasya and tad anāgata eva samanantaro bhavati atītasya as Gelblum has it but between tad anāgata eva samanantarībhavati vartamānasya and tad anāgata eva samanantarībhavati atītasya. The author of the Vivaraṇa did not know the reading which is printed in the editions of the Yogabhāṣya (samanantaro … vartamānasya) at all. So, Gelblum’s discussion misses the point. The discussion in the Vivaraṇa presupposes the reading samanantarībhavati and the perceived semantic difference between samanantaro bhavati and samanantarībhavati. Despite Gelblum’s unequivocal support for the reading, tad anāgata eva samanantaro bhavati atītasya, he was in fact arguing in favour of a reading which never existed.

Gelblum goes on to express his regret that Leggett produced his translation without having consulted manuscripts of the text. This is ironic, considering the fact that Gelblum himself entered into a philological discussion without studying the manuscripts, as explained in the previous paragraph.

The “Notes” contain further criticisms of Leggett’s translation. Some of the points which he raises are valid but there are other points of dubious relevance. Gelblum devotes much space to the word dāruyantra which is found in dictionaries. Leggett’s translation of the compound containing this word is certainly incorrect, but the long discussion in which Gelblum admits his own ignorance of the word was gratuitous. The word means a wooden puppet, a marionette. Dāruyantra is often encountered as an example of an insentient object acting like a sentient object, being controlled by a sentient being. Śaṅkara’s Brahmasūtrabhāṣya and the so-called bhāṣya on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad ascribed to him are two examples where dāruyantra appears in such a context.

A more significant instance of an unfair criticism of Leggett’s translation relates to his translation of the term kaivalya. Gelblum comments:

On the other hand, e.g., in rendering kaivalya (lit. ‘wholeness’, the state in which the self is rendered whole, integrated, authentic—i.e. liberation) Leggett adopts the erroneous ‘Aloneness’ and ‘transcendental Aloneness’ (pp. 2, 37, 191, 212, 353 and passim).

This statement is accompanied by a footnote referring to Gelblum’s earlier publications. Perhaps it was erroneous from Gelblum’s standpoint, but the truth is that he is the only person who insists on this interpretation. I have not seen anyone else adopting his understanding of the term kaivalya. Obviously, like many other terms, it has not had only one meaning throughout its history. Labelling someone else’s translation erroneous because it does not agree with one’s own ideas is not really fair.

Gelblum takes issue with Leggett’s views on the readings of the Yogabhāṣya on sūtra 3.36. Here, my assessment is that Yogasūtra 3.36, the Yogabhāṣya that accompanies it, and the Vivaraṇa on both the sūtra and the Yogabhāṣya, must be studied very carefully before any conclusions are drawn. I think that both sides have failed to understand the underlying philological problems properly. Their primary error was that both trusted the text of the 1952 edition of the Vivaraṇa. The text in question is printed as vṛttau bhavaṃ vārtam in the edition. Gelblum’s interpretation/translation of this part:

(The word) vārtam (“consisting of everyday activities or occurrences”), being an adjective derived from (the word) vṛtti (“occurrence”)

is probably closer to what the author of the Vivaraṇa intended. However, I suspect there was some corruption since vārtta as an adjective does not have the meaning of “news,” and it cannot be paraphrased with lokasaṃvyavahārajñānam (knowledge of world affairs) as the author of the Vivaraṇa has paraphrased it. He was thinking of the feminine word vār(t)tā.

The problem comes down to what the sūtra means and how the bhāṣya explains it. The core of the problem is the long compound in the sūtra: prātibhaśrāvaṇavedanādarśāsvādavārtāḥ. To avoid tedious technical discussions, there is the possibility that the author of the Vivaraṇa understood the whole compound to mean “mental, auditory, tactile, visual, and gustatory forms of knowledge.”5 This understanding of the word in fact makes the sūtra intelligible. Leggett and Gelblum disagree on which reading of the Yogabhāṣya is more original and which represents a later deliberate change. The reality is that, as far as concerns this text, we can only say that the author of the Vivaraṇa had quite a different understanding of the sūtra from that gained from other commentaries, and this probably had something to do with the text of the Bhāṣya which he knew but which we do not. Whether the reading was older or younger is another question. The problem with Gelblum’s “Notes” is that on the basis of erroneous observations and implausible speculations about how different readings (assumed to be erroneous) arose, he reached the conclusion that the Vivaraṇa was later than Vācaspati. Gelblum also thought that the Vivaraṇa’s suggestion of an alternative reading for Yogabhāṣya 3.14 (discussed above) was an indication of the Vivaraṇa’s posteriority to Vācaspati because the rejected reading was the one known to Vācaspati (but as discussed above, the reading rejected in the Vivaraṇa was not even the one known to Vācaspati). This conclusion, I think, has contributed to the fact that Vivaraṇa studies have taken a wrong direction.

I have touched upon Gelblum’s arbitrariness elsewhere6 but it might be worth repeating. This arbitrariness is found in the observation regarding the readings citiśaktiḥ or citiśakteḥ in Yogasūtra 4.34. Somehow Gelblum believes that the Vivaraṇa may be later than Bhoja because the Vivaraṇa does not adopt the same readings as Bhoja but accepts another reading in fact the same reading which everyone else, including Vācaspati, accepts. Essentially it is being argued that Vivaraṇa is later than Vācaspati because it does not know the reading adopted by Vācaspati in one place, and that it is later than Vācaspati and Bhoja because it adopts the reading known to Vācaspati in another. This is not convincing. (The idea that Bhoja presupposed the reading citiśakteḥ in sūtra 4.34 rather than citiśaktiḥ—the reading presupposed by Vācaspati and by the author of the Vivaraṇa—at least needs to be investigated by going back to the manuscripts of Bhoja’s commentary. The matter is not as clear as Gelblum represents it. One cannot conclude that the Yogabhāṣya, too, presupposed the reading citiśakteḥ, as Gelblum asserts, from the text of the Yogabhāṣya.)

It was unfortunate that the publication of the “Notes” in a prestigious academic journal set the tone for the perception of Leggett’s translation in the following years. This review article, in fact, contains misunderstandings; there are also some questionable views and unfair criticisms.

De Jong’s review published in 1994 expresses a regret that Leggett’s translation was made before a critical edition was available and before even there was any sign of such an edition appearing soon. Much of the rest of his review is devoted to pointing out the translation’s shortcomings. De Jong mentions “contradictions between the Sūtras and the Bhāṣya.” In fact in his introduction Leggett noted places where the Vivaraṇa contradicts either the sūtra or the bhasya.

In 2001 T. S. Rukmani published another English translation of the whole of the Vivaraṇa in two volumes.7 In her introduction (pp. ix–xi), Rukmani acknowledges the pre-existence of Leggett’s translation and discusses the differences between his and her translations. Apart from criticisms of the interpretation of some passages, the merits which she claims for her translation come down to the presence of the Sanskrit text in the body of her work and the index at the end of the two volumes.

I have written a review of Rukmani’s translation and pointed out problems in her treatment of the authorship problem elsewhere.8 Her assessment of the date of the Vivaraṇa and the identity of its author has been taken from her earlier publications, which are included as appendices in the second volume of the translation.9 My own opinion is that her position that the author of the Vivaraṇa was acquainted with Vācaspati’s commentary on the Yogabhāṣya cannot be sustained.

In terms of its quality as a translation Rukmani’s translation is not necessarily superior to Leggett’s. One reason is that it is still based on the old edition. It had been some time since the call for a new edition had been made by Wezler. However, Rukmani was either unaware of it or ignored it despite the fact that other publications which she cites refer to it frequently. The translation of the opening stanzas of the Vivaraṇa, at the very beginning of the text, can serve as a touchstone of the differences between the two translations. The Sanskrit text reads:

yasmin na staḥ karmavipākau yata āstāṃ kleśā yasmai nālam alaṅghyā nikhilānām|
nāvacchinnaḥ kāladṛśā yaḥ kalayantyā lokeśas taṃ kaiṭabhaśatruṃ pranamāmi||1||10

yaḥ sarvavit sarvavibhūtiśaktiḥ vihīnadoṣopahitakriyāphalaḥ|
viśvodbhavāntasthitihetur īśo namo ’stu tasmai grave guror api||2||

Leggett translates these lines as:

In whom are neither karma nor its fruition but from whom they come about,
Whom the taints of humanity can never withstand nor touch,
Whom the eye of Time that reckons all cannot encompass,
That Lord of the world, slayer of the demon Kaiṭabha—to him I bow.

Who is omniscient, all-glorious and all powerful,
Who is without taint, and who requires actions with their fruits,
The Lord who is the cause of the rise, end, and maintenance of everything,
To him, that teacher even of teachers, be this bow.

And here is Rukmani’s translation:

I bow down to that lord of the world, the enemy of Kaiṭabha, in whom there is neither action nor the fruit of action though both emerge from Him. This is because the afflictions which are difficult to overcome for all people are incapable to overcome him and cease to exist (for him): (and) he is one who when thought about in terms of time is not delimited by it.

I bow down to him who is the guru (preceptor) even of the gurus. He who is omniscient, who is all-powerful (who has all the siddhis), who is free from the fruit of action which is full of defects, (and) who is the Lord who is the cause of the rise, sustenance and destruction of the universe.

Both translate āstām as if it is in the present tense. In fact it is in the imperfect, and the tense is significant. The author is stating that either the so-called law of karman—what action bears what fruit—or the book that lays down the rules, i.e. the Vedas, originated from Īśvara (God, here Viṣṇu). My impression is that he meant both: namely that Īśvara established the rules because he was the author of the Vedas.

Leggett and Rukmani translate the next hemistich (kleśā yasmai nālam alaṅghyā nikhilānām) slightly differently. There does not seem to be anything fundamentally incorrect about their renderings. However, Rukmani has this mysterious “because” and “cease to exist (for him).” These words are not in the Sanskrit text, nor are they even implied, and the resulting translation is unintelligible to those who are unfamiliar with the Yogasūtra and the Yogabhāṣya. What she had in mind was the series kleśa-karma-vipāka … (affliction, action, fruit, etc.) which appears in the Yogasūtra and the Yogabhāṣya. It describes the mechanism by which afflictions produce actions and actions produce fruits. Unless this is explained, the conjunction “because” which connects the two clauses does not make sense.

Rukmani translates kāladṛśā as “when thought about in terms of time.” This ignores the personification of time as the deity, Kāla.

It was unfortunate that the two translators relied on the 1952 edition of the Vivaraṇa and that the reading lokeśam in the accusative case was not known. The 1952 edition prints the word in the nominative, and this is clearly reflected in Rukmani’s translation.

Neither translator understood yaḥ sarvavit sarvavibhūtiśaktiḥ properly. This is a metrically inspired expression of yaḥ sarvajñaḥ sarveśvaraḥ sarvaśaktiḥ (the one who is omniscient, the lord of all, and omnipotent). The author of the Vivaraṇa refers to Īśvara as having these three aspects throughout the text. At least Leggett understood that this expression refers to three aspects of Īśvara. Rukmani’s understanding of the words is incorrect on several levels. She thought that the vibhūti in sarvavibhūtiśaktiḥ referred to supernatural powers which a yogin acquires as a result of practising yoga, but the siddhis to which she refers in parentheses, are more specific: there are eight of them in the Yogasūtra/Yogabhāṣya, and they are not all the supernatural powers that a yogin acquires. Also, if we were to understand the sarvavibhūti part of the compound to mean “all the vibhūtis,’’ the only way to understand the whole compound would be to translate: “the one whose capabilities are all the vibhūtis’’ and this makes little sense. Can he not do anything else? One cannot extract the meaning “all-powerful” from this compound. Rukmani might have understood the compound to mean “the one who has all the vibhūtis and śaktis’’, but the phrase in parentheses “who has all the siddhis’’ contradicts this. The word vibhūti here means the ruling power, sovereignty, such as a king might have. Arbitrary interpretations of Sanskrit compounds are prevalent in this translation.

Although I have my own interpretation of the next hemistich, I acknowledge that it allows of various interpretations. However, again, Rukmani’s interpretation does not make good sense. The word doṣa in the compound is used as a synonym of kleśa that is found in the expression kleśakarmavipākāśayair aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣa īśvaraḥ of Yogasūtra 1.24, which is alluded to in this portion of the opening stanza. Leggett was aware of this, since he uses the same word “taint”, which he had used in translating kleśa, to translate the word doṣa here.

I have some issues with Rukmani over the translation of the word viśva (all) as ‘the universe.’ The term “all” might be tantamount to the universe, but extending the meaning of viśva so far does not seem to be justified. Seeing that translation, readers may expect that some other Sanskrit word than viśva lay behind it.

Thus, even if we look only at the translations of the opening stanzas, Rukmani’s translation does not seem to be superior to Leggett’s. One might even consider it to be inferior on the ground that in places it appears to contravene Sanskrit grammar and syntax.

After the publication of Rukmani’s translation, academic interest in the Vivaraṇa appeared to have waned. As a result, Gelblum and Rukmani’s position that the Vivaraṇa is a late work has become widely cited, even though their reasoning in favour of this view can be criticised.

Owing to a series of unfavourable publications by Sanskrit specialists, some of which were of questionable substance, Leggett’s translation of the Vivaraṇa did not receive the attention it deserved when it first came out. Some of the points that he raised are well worth consideration in the context of the authorship problem, and his contribution to the debate should be recognized. Further, his book was the first full translation of the text. Admittedly it is not flawless but it is the work of someone who was not a full-time Sanskritist. Reissuing this book in an electronic format will serve to round out his life’s work and at the same time to testify to his wide interests and to his intellect, determination and perseverance.

1I have discussed the “Notes” by Gelblum in relation to the authorship problem of the Vivaraṇa to some degree in: Kengo Harimoto, God, Reason, and Yoga, published by the Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, University of Hamburg, printed and distributed by Aditya Prakashan, Delhi, 2014, pp. 229-230.

2Paul Hacker, “Śaṅkara der Yogin und Śaṅkara der Advaitin, Einige Beobachtungen,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens, 12-13 (Festschrift E. Frauwallner), pp. 119-148.

3asamanantaro ’py anāgata eva samanantarībhavaty atītasyety ucyate

4Gelblum obviously did not realize that saying “anāgata is samanantara of atīta” contradicted atīta having no samanantara. He understood the sentence tasmān na tasyāsti samanantaraḥ of the Yogabhāṣya to mean “Therefore, [vartamāna] is not samanantara of atīta.” This understanding comes from another oversight of the reading of the Yogabhāṣya known by the author of the Vivaraṇa. In the Yogabhāṣya the sentence tasmān na tasyāsti samanantaraḥ is the conclusion to the question raised earlier, which according to the Vivaraṇa reads: kimartham atītasyānantarā na bhavanti (What is the point of saying that there are no (sam)anantaras of atīta?). However, the widely available version of the Yogabhāṣya adds vartamānāḥ at the end of the question (hence kimartham atītasyānantarā na bhavanti vartamānāḥ), making it to mean: “What is the point of saying that vartamānas are not (sam)anantaras of atīta?”. And Gelblum apparently understood the question according to this reading, and his understanding of the conclusion of the answer was also based on this understanding of the question. This difference in the text of the Yogabhāṣya, whether the initial question is accompanied by the word vartamānāḥ or not, makes a significant difference in the nature of the following discussion of the Yogabhāṣya. Since the text of the Yogabhāṣya known to the author of the Vivaraṇa expressed the view that atīta has no samanantara, saying anything is samanantara of atīta would be a contradiction.

5Technically, this type of compound is called a tatpurusa compound.

6Harimoto, 2014, pp. 229-30.

7T. S. Rukmani, YogasutrabhasyaVivaraṇa of Śaṅkara, Vivaraṇa Text with English Translation and Critical Notes along with Text and English Translation of Patanjali’s Yogasūtras and Vyāsabhāṣya, Volume 1, Samādhipāda and Sādhanapāda, Volume 2, Vibhūtipāda and Kaivalyapāda, published by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 2001.

8Journal of the American Oriental Society, 126.1, pp. 176-180.

9I have discussed those in Harimoto, 2014, pp. 230-241.

10In my critical edition I have lokeśam instead of lokeśas.


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