Sunday, April 25, 2010

Latin Roots of the Yoga-Sutra--Chapter 1--Aphorism 11

Welcome back fans of Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words! Recently I have been focusing this SAT and GRE 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.

The purpose behind yoga, according to Patanjali, is seeing things as they really are, not as our minds construct them to be; to do this, the ultimate goal or teleology of yogic practice is to cease the fluctuations of the mind, to calm the sem, that part of our minds that generates an annoying 60,000 random thoughts per day, and can lead us down paths of irreality. This causes suffering to cease, the ultimate goal of what yoga can do for us.

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 via Greek and Latin effect the same transformation? Last week I focused on the Latin roots of the Yoga-Sutra: Chapter 1: Aphorism 10. This week I move on to:

Aphorism 11: Memory holds mental images of things perceived, without modifying them (courtesy Stephen Nachmanovitch: + ). Memory is the not letting go of an object that one has been aware of. (courtesy William Q. Judge) Remembering is the retention of experiences. (Hartranft)

You will recall that aphorism 11 is a direct answer of the last 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 three of the following words in aphorism 11:

Memory: via the Latin root word memoro, memorare: to recall to mind; to remind. Memory is the ability to recall something to mind, which intimates that all impressions are there in the mind of past experiences or objects perceived, but it's the power of the memory that enables one to retrieve those perceptions. Other SAT and GRE level vocabulary from this includes: memorial, commemorate, memoir, memorandum, immemorial, and memorabilia.

Mental: via the Latin root mens, mentis: mind. The adjective "mental" means "of or pertaining to the mind." Many SAT-level vocabulary words derive from this Latin root, including but not limited to: mentor, commentary, dementia, mentality, reminisce (via reminisci--to call to mind), commentator, and memento.

Images: via the Latin root word imago, imaginis: image, likeness, idea. A mental "image" is a likeness or idea that the mind creates from experiential perception of the world "without," that is, supposedly independent of the mind. Consider the ff. SAT and GRE vocabulary words that derive from Latin root: image, imagery, inimitable (via imitor--copy, resemble), emulate (via aemulus--comparable with), unimaginative, and imitative.

Modifying: via the Latin root word modus: measure, manner, method, way, rhythm, moderation. To "modify" something is to "make the measure or manner or way" of it different in some way, but not to change it wholesale. Multiplicitous English SAT words come from this root, including: outmoded, mode, modality, immoderate, moderate, accommodate, unaccommodating, modulate, modernization, modem, and Quasimodo (Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, was "part-way" human, kyphotic and reclusive as he was; the Latin word quasi means "as it were, nearly, almost").

Object: via the Latin verb iacio, iacere, ieci, iactus: to throw and the prefix (preposition in the Latin language) ob: in the way, against (formally obicio, obicere, obiece, obiectus; an "i" often turned to "j" when coming over into English, so the "obiectus" turned into "object."). An "object" is therefore something that is "thrown in the way" of your mind, which you then perceive as clouded by that mind. A huge number of SAT and GRE derivatives arise from iacio, including but not limited to: projectile, projection, adjacent, subjectivity, interject, trajectory, dejected, objectionable, gist, conjecture, jettison, jetsam, circumjacent, and malaise. Interested in even more SAT and GRE words that come from this root (there are many, many more)? Check out, the most complete classical etymology source available.

Retention: From the Latin root teneo, tenere, tenui, tentum: have, hold; "retention" is the "holding back" or "thoroughly holding" of that which the mind has received. Teneo, tenere is another one of those huge roots that have given rise to a multiplicity of English derivatives, such as: abstain, abstinence, tenacious, pertinacious, tenet, pertinent, detain, appurtenance, malcontent, etc. etc.

Experience: From the Latin root word experior, experiri, expertus sum: to try, test, attempt. Experience, therefore, is the "testing" of the world by the mind to figure out what it's all about. Other derivatives that come via this word or are related to this word include: empirical, experiential, perilous, piracy, malapert, experiment, and expertise. Interested in the connections of these words? Check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today.

Now, let's take a look at Aphorism 11: a. Memory holds mental images of things perceived, without modifying them. or: b. Memory is the not letting go of an object that one has been aware of. or c. Remembering is the retention of experiences. Remember that this is the fifth response to aphorism 5: There are five types of patterns, including both hurtful and benign.

A note on translation: it's fascinating to see how the same Sanskrit can give such varied English translations, although, at core, these are pretty much the same.

Memory holds impressions of the world as the mind/ego perceives it. The ego believes itself to be the ultimate experiencer or arbiter of the world as it is, which, according to Yoga and Patanjali, is misguided. Ego, or the perceiving mind, is but another manifestation of prakrti, the phenomenological world that is eternally being created for the seer, or the Witness (purusa) to perceive. In yogic belief, the Witness, or that eternal part of each of us that purely witnesses or sees the empirical world about us, is a pure mirror perceiving (in a thoughtless, noninterpretive state or completely pure apprehension or perfect reflective transference) the endless fluctuations or inflections of prakrti. Ironically, one of those manifestations of prakrti is the ego, the mind, our own individual perceiving apparatus itself, that thinks it perceives reality, but is really nothing but another form of prakrti (although it doesn't know that). This perceiving ego, since it belongs to the world of praktri, is impermanent, possessing no stasis or eternal qualities.

When one realizes this, that the ego in and of itself is deluded, one can then witness that ego in its delusions, and be liberated. The purpose of Yoga is to move us towards the realization that the ego, the perceiving entity in each of us, is illusory and flawed, and leads us all down the path of suffering; once one realizes that prakrti (the beautiful and eternal feminine matrix) exists only for the transcendent purusa or Witness, to perceive (in complete clarity with no attachments of any thought whatsoever), one loses all yearning, all kleshas (forms of suffering), and one becomes liberated from both fear and desire (deep mythological roots abound here -- the suffering and joys of this world are all in terms of polar opposites). When one transcends the opposites of prakrti, one becomes enlightened.

This is difficult to do, but is the way that yoga offers us.

Hence, memory of empirical observations, clouded by the ego which believes itself to be the arbiter of ultimate truth, cannot lead she who seeks liberation towards the path of revealed luminosity; rather, memories, in and of themselves, can be Witnessed, but cannot be taken as Real, but simply as an even more clouded form of phenomenological irreality. Memory is clouded from Reality, from Truth, and, in truth, is nothing but an illusory manifestation of the ego that perceived it, and leads the sufferer down the path of suffering. Hence, tainted, opaque, and turbid memory can only be hurtful towards he or she who seeks shelter from suffering.

Consider all the memories that we daily go through; how much suffering does that cause us? How much worrying do we do (which is all, after all, based upon nothing but mental impressions, which, in turn, is clouded by memorial time) that is needless? We worry based upon memory, which is suspect; but when memory is based, itself, upon a suspect observer, who claims hegemony over truth but is nothing but another part of that which is observes (as the brain cannot objectively perceive itself, so too the ego, cannot objectively observe that which it, itself, is a part of), we can be thankful that the Witness dwells, unruffled and rife with equanimity, continuing to observes impassively, impartially, luminously, and Truthfully.

What a gift that is. We all have it. We all are equal. But it is our task to get there. To see the world, as William Blake said, "unclouded from the senses five," in its true "infinite" state. Dharma megha samadhi.

Consider the shelter of this concept: since the Witness is eternal, and our single experiencing mind is duly flawed, cannot we take comfort in the fact that this Witness, that we all possess, but which has been clouded by our ego, is there for us? Let us learn to dispassionately still our minds in order to awaken purusa, the Witness, and be set free.

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 mens, mentis; teneo, tenere; and iacio, iacere? 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 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 Mr. Brunner's Greek mythology!