Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Latin Roots of the Yoga-Sutra--Chapter 1--Aphorism 13

Welcome back fans of Greek and Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words! Recently I have been focusing this SAT and GRE English vocabulary blog on analyzing the Greek and Latin root words of titles of great works of literature, and then discussing why those works are nonpareil. I am currently perusing 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 calming of the mind's thoughts causes suffering to cease, the ultimate goal of what yoga can do for us.

During the next three years, 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 post I focused on the Latin roots of the Yoga-Sutra: Chapter 1: Aphorism 12. This week I move on to:

Aphorism 13: Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness.

Let's first discuss the Greek and Latin roots of five words in aphorism 13:

Practice: via the Greek root prassein: to make, do, or achieve (morphemes from various principal parts of this verb include: pract and prax). Hence, practice is "doing," "making," or "achieving." Other SAT and GRE level vocabulary words include: pragmatic (via pragma: deed, act); malpractice; practitioner; praxis; and impractical.

Sustained: From the Latin root teneo, tenere, tenui, tentum: have, hold; "sustained" is the "holding under" of something in order to support it. 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.

Effort: The word "effort" derives from the Latin adjective fortis: "strong, vigorous, powerful." English gets its word "force" from this (ts often changed to cs when moving from Latin into English). Hence, "effort" is "thoroughly strong, vigorous, or powerful" action in order to bring something about. Other SAT-level derivatives that come from fortis include: forcible, fortitude, forced, fortifying, force majeure (just to throw in a legal term).

Stillness/rest: Christopher Lee Chapple (in Yoga and the Luminous, an incredible explication of Patanjali) offers the word "stability" as an alternate translation for "rest in stillness." The English word "stability" ultimately derives from the Latin sto, stare, steti, statum: "stand, stand still" a hugely prolific root word that has given rise to hundreds of English words, including the following SAT and GRE level vocabulary words: rest, stature, substantial, constitute, statuesque, oust, obstinate, restive, and staunch, to name a very few. Interested in more? Check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today at

Now, let's take a look at aphorism 13: Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness; or substitute "rest in that stillness" with "stability."

Patanjali offers many avenues of Yogic "practice" that can help one cease the fluctuations of the mind, or at least slow them down (mine are unfortunately still running at thousands/day, but at least not tens of thousands any more! Wouldn't that be cool to have a "thought counter"? What a helpful tool that would be!). Ani Tenzin Palmo, in her fine book Reflections on a Mountain Lake, makes a reference to the fact that allowing one's thoughts to run amok is akin to pure laziness on the practitioner's behalf. Ceasing the mind's sem requires "sustained effort," that is, not only "effort" when one is meditating, but also, and even more pointedly, during the heated combat of daily life when remaining "stable" by nonreaction is not only the most difficult, but also the most salutary in leading one out of the ceaselessness of fluctuation. The sem loves samsara! And remains most alive while within its grasp.
The wonderful idea behind Yoga is that we can practice at any time. It does not require us to go out and buy expensive equipment (in fact, one of the nicest notions in Yoga is that of aparigraha, or "nonpossessing"); it does not require a particular venue or commute; it does not even require us to leave where we are right now (for are we not always "where we are?" a point nicely made in Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn). It "only" requires us to have mental stamina to cease that seemingly ceaseless sem, to shut it down, simply by "being" instead of erringly "becoming."
Something happens? Observe, don't react.
Something happens? Observe, don't react. ad infinitum. This takes years, so take it easy on yourself. I'm entering only my third year of yogic practice. Slip, slip, slip, tread, slip, slip, slip, tread. You get the idea.

Hence, Yoga, stringently, demands constant practice (how slippery are the thoughts that can take us from elation to the doldrums seemingly at a whim--how illusory it all is!) in order to be "still." A concept similar to the stillness of the nirvanic lake. The stillness of the center of the hurricane, a fine metaphor: being:stillness:stability:truth vs. becoming:motion:samsara:illusoriness.
Yoga takes us there with many different kinds of practices. Patanjali does not hammer one particular system as dogmatic and infallible; rather, he offers the yogi many egalitarian ways from which to pick and choose. Whatever metaphor works for you. His system thereby has not become concretized, is not proselytizing at all, and has no hidden or ulterior agenda. Comforting I must say in an age of capitalism (which pervades all).
Stay tune for my next post which shall speak of Aphorism 14: This practice becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time. (my italics). Be not lazy!

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 teneo, tenere; sto, stare, and fortis? 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 beautiful ... it'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!