Yoga Sutra 2.31 the Great Vow

Sūtra II.31

When practised universally without qualification of birth, place, time, or obligation, they are called the Great Vow

For instance, harmlessness qualified by birth would be that of a fisherman, where he does injury to fish alone but to nothing else. It may be qualified by place, ‘I will not kill anything at a place of pilgrimage’, or by time, ‘I will not kill on the fourteenth day,’ ‘I will not kill on an auspicious day’. Even where not limited in these three ways, it may be qualified by obligation. Harmlessness and the others are to be maintained all the time and in all circumstances and in regard to all objects without any conscious lapse. Restraints so practised are said to be universal, and are termed the Great Vow.

But these: this is to rule out the idea that qualifications like birth, place, and time, which distinguish other dharma-s, must apply to these also. Harmlessness and the other restraints, as they are undertaken by renunciates, are called the Great Vow. That is to say, they are called the Great Vow when practised regardless of birth and place and time, and universally. The Great Vow is one that is great, whose greatness lies in its universality.

To explain this universality he instances the particular case of harmlessness (a-hiṃsā) as universal. It might for instance discriminate between species, as a fisherman who does injury to fishes alone and not to others. This is doing injury to the fish species, and as his harmlessness is qualified in respect of fishes and not applied to the fish class, it is not universal.

It may be qualified by place. How? ‘I will not kill anything at a place of pilgrimage’, such as Prayāg. Harmlessness at holy places, but not extending to places other than those, is not universal.

It may be qualified by time, ‘I will not kill on the fourteenth day’ and ‘I will not kill on an auspicious day’. As not extending to times other than the fourteenth day or auspicious days, this too is not universal.

Even where not limited in these three ways, it may be qualified by obligation, obligation being some rule of duty, as that one might catch fish only for offering to gods or Brahmins, and not otherwise; and as this makes the exception of the circumstances of the obligation laid down by his faith and so on, it is not universal. Again there are examples of warriors who resolve, ‘I shall kill in battle only, and not off the battlefield’, and this limits his harmlessness by obligation.

These restraints harmlessness and the others are to be maintained without any restriction as to species, such as the species already mentioned, or place or time or obligations, all the time and in all circumstances and in regard to all objects all living beings without any conscious lapse, unwaveringly; these are then universal, and are termed the Great Vow.

 

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