Sunday, 16 October 2016

Patanjali’s Epistemology and Metaphysics

Patanjali was a theist, but his Yoga system is founded on the Sankhya system, which is overwhelmingly atheistic. He is credited with two important works—the Yoga-Sutras and the Mahabhashya. Some accounts suggest that Patanjali may have lived in the 4th century BCE, but there are other accounts that place him between the 4th and 6th century BCE.

The Philosophy of the Yoga-Sutras

Patanjali developed the Yoga system of divine order of the universe, by incorporating mysticism into the Sankhya system. In his Yoga-Sutras he proposes that the universe consists of two entities: Prakriti (nature), and Purusa (spirit). He believed in body-soul dichotomy, and preached that the soul is not be identified with the body, the senses, the mind, the ego or the intelligence principle. In order to gain an insight into the soul, man must peer through the veil of materiality.

The objective of the yoga system is to enable people to free the spirit or the Purusa, from the bondage of the matter or Prakriti by following the progressive system of self-realization based on the knowledge of Yoga. The bondage that binds spirit with matter does not lie outside the individual; it lies inside us. Patanjali preaches that the seekers of salvation must cultivate a spirit of detachment; as long as they remain affectionate towards the seen or revealed objects, they will remain distracted and their quest for freedom will remain unfulfilled.

The Yoga-Sutras is Raja Yoga system of attaining perfection. As “Raja” means royal, it is generally believed that Patanjali’s aim was to develop a system fit for the kings. But the term “Raja” can also be a metaphor for anyone, even a commoner, who desires to gain a deeper understanding of the world he lives in, and is courageous and adventurous. Therefore Raja Yoga can also symbolise  a royal road to salvation which is available to all.

Patanjali preaches that bliss can be attained by following the method of Ashtanga or eight steps. The eight steps are:


1. Yama or restraint
2. Niyama or asceticism
3. Asana or posture
4. Pranayama or breath control
5. Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana or concentration
7. Dhyana or meditation
8. Samadhi or the act of achieving oneness with the divine

The Yoga Sutras recognize the existence of extra-sensory perception and super-conscious experiences. Various methods that can be employed for developing extraordinary and extra-sensory powers are described in the text.

The Philosophy of Mahabhashya

Patanjali’s Mahabhashya is an important work of Sanskrit grammar. Its focus is on the philosophy of language—it seeks to unravel the mysticism that undermines the phenomena of conversation. The text gives a rather spiritualistic look to the way the language is written and spoken.

Patanjali believed that there is mysticism in the phenomenon of speech. He believed that the utterance of a sound is a vivid materialization of consciousness, and that the study of grammar is of direct consequence to a man who seeks spiritual inspiration.

The Mahabhasya portends the birth of a kind of sadhana or worship, in which union with Brahman or salvation can be obtained through knowledge of the sabda, or words. Patanjali takes note of two kinds of words – nitya or eternal, and karya or created. By nitya, he refers to things that are associated with the supreme Brahman or the Absolute. He has endeavoured to draw our attention to the eternal character of the sabda or words.

Patanjali believed that the sabda or the words are not a lifeless mechanism invented by man—their meaning goes much deeper. He viewed words as the manifestation of divinity which makes its presence felt through the act of utterance. Like divinity, the sabda are eternal; they transcend all limitations of time and space.

One who earns the capacity of using words properly is allowed to enjoy divine bliss in the next life. Therefore a comprehensive knowledge of grammar is the key to the attainment of salvation. The divine light signs upon the man who understands the secret relationship between the denoted object and the denoting word.

Patanjali exhorts his followers to discard the delusion that words are mere sounds. He asserts that words are imbued with subtle and intellectual form. The internal source from which words evolve is always calm, serene, eternal, and imperishable. Great deal of sadhana or mental exertion is required have a glimpse of speech in its purest form. Patanjali believed that it is dharma (religious duty) to apply words in accordance to the rules of grammar.

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