PATANJALA YOGA, FROM RELATED EGO TO ABSOLUTE SELF2 min read

PATANJALA YOGA, FROM RELATED EGO TO ABSOLUTE SELF by Gaspar Koelman S.J., Poona, 1970

THE Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are cryptic and, unfortunately, the scholarly translation of the standard commentaries by Vyasa and Vachaspati, made in 1927 by Professor Woods of Harvard, is almost incomprehensible to the general reader. One needs the background which the commentaries take for granted. This book is an exposition of the background and the two commentaries; it adds one more to the impressive list of studies of Oriental philosophy by Jesuit scholars. There are some comments from the Western point of view, but Father Koelman keeps them rigidly apart from his exposition, which is sympathetic, faithful to the spirit as to the letter. He does however point out some interesting parallels-for instance the “jewel” simile for the spiritual heart in Yoga, with the “sapphire-heart” of Eastern Christian mysticism; or again the “prayer of Jesus” and repetition of Om.

In the Gita control of the mind is mentioned constantly, and the means given are practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya), the two key words in Patanjali. The great Vedantin Madhusudana Sarasvati, in his long commentary on Ch. VI of the Gita, explains the verses in terms of the Yoga Sutras. Dr. Shastri himself lectured frequently on Patanjali, and if a recently discovered commentary on the Yoga Sutras by Shankara proves genuine, it will be clearer why he often explains Gita words like “yukta” in terms of Samadhi, the peak of Yoga meditation.

The strict system of Patanjali is however dualistic, aiming at isolating an immutable, pure inmost self, which is still always individual. Shankara’s view in the Gita commentary is that meditation must not stop at duality, but press further to discover non-duality behind apparent duality; by meditation on Upanishadic texts like “I am Brahman”, the pure Self must be realized as identical with the universal Self, God or Brahman.

This new book is for serious students, prepared to make an effort to grasp the structure of the concepts involved. References are given to one of the commentaries for nearly every major statement made; they are in translation and also in Romanized Sanskrit-a help for those with only a smattering of the language. A detailed index makes particular points at once accessible in their various contexts.

His long residence in India enables the author to make interesting personal comments-he remarks that the “devout” Yoga of the Gita stands over against the Yoga of Vedanta “somewhat in the way that, in a Christian atmosphere, the mysticism of St. Bernard is sharply in contrast with that of. . . Dionysius or Blessed Ruysbroeck. The opposition is not total, but the dominant religious tonality differs.”