Monday, February 1, 2010

Latin Roots of the Yoga-Sutra--Chapter 1--Aphorism 7

Welcome back fans of Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words! Recently I have been focusing this SAT English vocabulary blog on analyzing the Latin root words of titles of great English and world literature, and then discussing why those great works are nonpareil. I have recently perused Patanjali's great work concerning yoga, the Yoga-Sutra, translated by Chip Hartranft. I have found the aphoristic style of the Yoga-Sutra to be not only engaging, but also deeply profound; in it, Patanjali discusses the considerable spiritual, mental, and physical rewards that one can derive from the practice of yoga, which is much, much more than the usually held western conception of yoga as just the asanas, or physical postures/poses. During the next two years or so, I will devote myself to writing about each of Patanjali's aphorisms, sequentially, contained in his remarkable 2nd-century BCE text, with a focus on analyzing the text in terms of its classical Greek and Latin roots of the fine English translation, and then providing an individual's exegesis of the text itself, based upon my own wonderful experience with yoga beyond the asanas. It has been said that memorizing the Sanskrit text of the Yoga-Sutra in and of itself can re-pattern the mind; I am most curious to see if this phenomenon is also metalinguistic, that is, can English and its root words effect the same transformation? Last week I focused on the Latin roots of the Yoga-Sutra: Chapter 1: Aphorism 6. This week I move on to:

Aphorism 7: Right perception arises from direct observation, inference, or the words of others.

You will recall that aphorism 7 is a direct answer of aphorism 5: There are five types of patterns, including both hurtful and benign and aphorism 6: They are right perception, misperception, conceptualization, deep sleep, and remembering.

Let's first discuss the Greek and Latin roots of four of the following words in aphorism 7:

Perception: from the Latin verb capio, capere, cepi, captum: "take, capture, seize" "Perception," etymologically, is the "thorough seizing or capturing" by the mind of experience, or of the world that the mind "perceives." Note that the prefix "per" in this case acts as an intensive prefix, adding emphasis to the main stem "cept." ("pre" in the word "prefix," on the other hand, means "before, in front of," as "prefixes" are those words that are "fastened in front of a word"). The suffix "-ion" means "act, state, or result of doing something." Hence, etymologically, "perception" is the "act of thoroughly capturing or seizing" the world around one, through the mind.

Direct: Via the latin root word:
Dirigo, dirigere, direxi, directum—to make straight, arrange, guide, direct {dress, droit}
which in and of itself derives from the Latin verb rego, regere, rexi, rectum: rule, guide, direct, keep straight. Hence, when one "directs" one's observation, one "rules" or "guides" it in a way that makes one's observation "straight," that is, truthful (in the sense of Platonic Idealism). The verb rego, regere, rexi, rectum has a legion of SAT and GRE derivatives to its credit, including: regimented, adroit, regime, regimen, maladroit, unruly, and incorrigible. These are but a very few of the English vocabulary words that come from this root word.
Observation: Runs through the primary stem:

Servo, servare, servavi, servatum—to guard, keep, save, protect, watch

and also contains the prefix -ob, where here means "over," or can be construed as an intensive, hence "thoroughly." One's "observation," therefore, is the way that one's mind (limited again by experiential patterning) "watches over" or "thoroughly watches" experience. Note that the core idea is one of survival, that is, a "keeping" or "protecting" of the individual as she "guards" her person. In a yogic sense, this "directing" of "observation" must be done in the "right" or "ruled" way. Various other SAT and GRE English vocabulary words run through servo, servare, including but not limited to: conservatory, conservation, preservation, reservoir, reservation, and reserved.

Inference: via the Latin verb fero, ferre, tuli, latum, a truly prolific root that has given English hundreds of vocabulary words, including: indifferent, referendum, collate, circumference, vociferous, defer, superlative, proliferate, insufferable, proffer, oblation, and referent. Like a complete word list? Check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available.
"Inference," etymologically, is a "bearing or carrying in," (note the present active participial suffix -ence which accounts for the English -ing) that is, reasoning from empirical knowledge gathered from one's "observation" of the "real" world (that of the ding an sich) gathered via one's clarified senses, or the deriving of logical conclusions therefrom.

Now, let's take a look at Aphorism 7: Right perception arises from direct observation, inference, or the words of others, which is the first of the five patterns mentioned in aphorism 5:
There are five types of patterns, including both hurtful and benign

As we learned in my post concerning aphorism 4 of Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra, patterns of thought that are formed at birth and early on in life limit one's view of reality, coloring one's awareness of what the world truly is and restricting it to the view of the pattern, which is not necessarily where reality lies, but only the reality of the pattern itself, which is not actual truth or clear perception. Hence, to understand how to supersede such patterning, one must learn the "types" or forms of these patterns; all of them, according to Patanjali, are not necessarily hurtful, although some are. Being able to harness those that are benign to further the process towards enlightenment and obviating those that are hurtful will take us a long way towards fulfilling our goal, that is, to allow one's awareness of true reality to be unhindered and unfettered by those patterns. In aphorism 6, we are given the names of these patterns, the first of which is delineated in our current aphorism:

Right perception is the mind's ability to "thoroughly capture" experience and the world as it actually is in order to see clearly through to unadulterated or unsullied reality (less clouded patterning). How to? Direct observation, not just observation. Empiricism. Aphorism 7 discusses yogic epistemology, or how do we know what we know what we know. As we have learned from our etymological musings above, direct observation must occur when there is an uninterrupted link between the world as it is and out perception of it. Patterning cannot get in the way, or it leads to misperception. Thus, observation without limiting thought is direct, or ruled, by that which is called the Witness (much more later about what that is). Seeing things through our own senses must be our path to right cognition or right perception; for instance, yoga requires our own direct experience of something to be our guiding post to things real--when we touched fire as an infant, we found our through our own direct knowledge (epistemological autodidacticism) that fire is hot. This kind of perception is the purest form of perception according to Yoga--the other two are more indirect experiences.

Inference is perception of reality in an indirect fashion. For instance, we know that where there is smoke there must be fire. We don't have to see that fire, but we indubitably know that, if there is smoke off in the distance, that a fire is generating it. This, of course, is weaker than perception, and can lead to misperception--the "smoke" that we see, for instance, could be a cloud of dust that we mistake for smoke.

Right perception derived from the words of others can only be a reference perhaps to the words of Patanjali himself, shorn of affectation (hence aphoristic); beware, however, that words are mere metaphors or simple referents to that which they semantically signify (cf. Nietzsche and his dislike of librettos in the opera--music is one step from the noumenal, whereas words are two steps away, hence vastly inferior as a tool to attain the transcendent). Words of others can also refer to others' experiences of things that they describe to us (very limited--our own empiricism is highly superior), or holy words from sacred scripts, taken to be universal truths, that is, if there is a common archetype amongst many different inflections of many different religions, then it is a pretty good bet that it is a universal truth and can be trusted.

Hence, "right perception" would be a benign pattern (or function) of the a priori mind , before it becomes clouded by the more pejorative patterns of experience in this world, and a forgetting of those Wordsworthian "trailing clouds of glory." "Right perception" by the a posteriori mind is a little more suspect, although Yoga says that it must be trusted, at least in terms of one's own empirical observation; that of inference and words of others must be subordinate to one's own senses in apprehending the manifestations of phenomology.

My next post will focus on aphorism 8: Misperception is false knowledge, not based on what actually is.

Fascinated with English vocabulary words? Want to pick them apart into their constituent Greek and Latin roots? Want to know even more SAT and GRE words that come from the Latin root words rego, regere; fero, ferre; and capio, capere? Studying hard for the SAT or GRE verbal section, and just can't get a handle on all of those vocabulary words, which are truly legion? Check out the Greek and Latin roots site called Word Empire, where you will find the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today, and also the most's in full color, and artistically designed. There's even a Greek and Latin roots poster available, which nicely illustrates the full power of what Greek and Latin root words can do for you.

Interested in Greek and Roman mythology? Check out my Greek and Roman Mythology blog!