Friday, September 10, 2010

Latin Roots of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali--Chapter 1--Aphorism 15

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 Yoga Sutras, translated by Chip Hartranft (found in the fascinating and life-transforming book The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope), and also those translations of Swami Satchidananda, Edwin Bryant, and Christopher Chapple. I have found the aphoristic style of the these sutras (sutra means "aphorism") to be not only engaging, but also deeply profound; in them, Patanjali discusses the considerable spiritual, mental, and physical rewards that one can derive from the continuous 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 (vrittis) and mostly misperceives samsara, 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.  Life is, after all, what you think it is, and how you nonreact to it.
During the next three years, I will devote myself to writing about each of Patanjali's sutras, 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 (and also qigong) thus far. 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 14: This practice becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time.  This post I move on to: 

Yoga-Sutra, Chapter 1: Aphorism 15: As for nonreaction, one can recognize that it has been fully achieved when no attachment arises in regard to anything at all, whether perceived directly or learned.
Let's first take a look at a couple of the most important  Latin and Greek root words of this sutra:
non-re-act-ion: Via the Latin root words non: "not;" the prefix re-: "back, again;" act: from ago, agere, egi, actum: do, drive; and the suffix -ion "act, state, or result of doing something." So, etymologically, "nonreaction" is "the state of not doing (something) back" when something is done to you. Of these root words, hundreds of English words are derived from ago, agere, egi, actum; some SAT and GRE words include: exacting, ambiguous, prodigal, mitigate, exigent, and exiguous. Wanting more? Check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today. 

recognize: via cognosco, cognoscere, cognovi, cognitum: learn, know, get to know (conn, quaint).  Here is a short paragraph utilizing English vocabulary words derived from this prolific word root: 
When Billy recognized Morgan after not seeing her for many years, he ‘got to know’ her ‘again’. After this recognition had occurred, he really wanted to reacquaint himself with her bubbling effervescent personality (note the funny spelling change of this Latin root from "cognit" to "quaint:" Old French is the culprit; French has certainly added a great deal of color to our language, and is a major contributor to difficult Scripps National Spelling Bee words!), so he decided to invite her on a date to a quaint (the adjective "quaint" can mean ‘cunningly made’ by someone who has ‘learned’ a skill, but has also evolved into meaning ‘strange’ and ‘odd’ in an old-fashioned sort of way) French restaurant so as to make the soiree a highly memorable rendezvous.
Billy must have possessed some sort of oracular precognition, or foreknowledge, because Morgan had, over the years, become quite the cognoscente of French cuisine, "having learned" all the ins and outs of haute cuisine. Billy, certainly no connoisseur whatsoever of food, "knowing" little of its art, therefore decided to reconnoiter the restaurant to "learn" a little about it beforehand in order to impress his hoped-for new beloved, so he went, incognito (or name "unknown"), to the place itself, pretending to be one of those magazine food tasters that would later report on the sumptuousness, or lack thereof, of the offered bill of fare. Displaying a tad bit of cognitive dissonance in his new role, he ordered biftec, and pronounced it a veritable miracle (grass fed, hugged, kissed, and all). Raving about his successful reconnaissance mission in which he "learned" everything he needed to "know" so he could report "back" to others, he felt fully prepared for his restaurant revel, ready to drop linguistic tidbits upon the lift of the fork, until he discovered, later on the next evening, that Morgan had gone incognita as well and was going for none of his obsequious culinary cognition (and who herself was a vegetarian anyway).

perceivefrom 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, or to "perceive" is to "thoroughly capture" that which is around you (limited, of course, by the strictures of the human mind).  Capio, capere gives us many English SAT and GRE words, including but certainly not limited to: inception, encapsulate, incipient, susceptibility, captious, capacious, cater, conceit, and recuperate.  Want more?  Check out

Now, with these key words and roots in mind, let's take a look at aphorism 15: 
As for nonreaction, one can recognize that it has been fully achieved when no attachment arises in regard to anything at all, whether perceived directly or learned. 

Nonreaction, or dispassion for those objects of the world, or for those niggling, annoying, and troublesome events that happen to us all, is perhaps one of the toughest lessons that we all must learn; for all of us, it will take many lifetimes.  How many people that we all know try to convince us of their opinions?  How many try to win arguments to feed their own ego?  How many of us need the next thing, the next smart phone, the next flat screen TV, the next version of the iPod?  One of each item doesn't seem to be enough in this day and age, as companies continue to focus on growth.  Yoga teaches us the freeing discipline of aparigraha, or  non-possessiveness.  This leads towards freedom, and limits our involvement with prakrti, that unending matrix of phenomenology that is continuously being created anew, forever beguiling the vrittis, or fluctuations of the mind, into focusing upon it. Much like the Schopenhauerian Will.

People will always "get our goat."  I remember my father saying that there is always a rotten apple in the barrel, which I took to mean that there are always going to be some people who will annoy us, irritate us, downright make us furious.  Say, for instance, that a co-worker speaks to you sharply one day, over a seemingly trivial event.  Most people's minds will latch onto that, and the whole process of endless cycles of thought will begin:  Why did he do that?  Whom does he think he is anyway?  I'm going to tell him off!  Maybe there is something wrong with me!  I really need to call a meeting with just my boss and that jerk to get even.  You know how it goes; endless mental energy is spent, taking precious time; your days are filled with something that is, in reality, no more.  Yoga teaches us to live in the moment, and in the moment only.  Charlotte Joko Beck, in her wonderful book Living Everyday Zen, speaks a wonderful truth. She describes an argument that a wife has with a husband.  The wife stews about it for weeks on end, making it live and come alive into the present.  Beck asks her, "Where is that?  Show me the argument."  Of course, it is not there at all.  It's now nothing but a fluctuation of the mind.  She also states, that when thoughts arise, simply label them.  "Here's a thought about my ridiculous neighbor."  "Here's a thought about why I'm not quite getting it."  Reality is not the citta, the mind, with all its silliness.  Label, and the thought will eventually disappear.  Even if it takes 1000 labels.

Many of us crave simplicity.  Aparigraha is a wonderful concept of Yoga that simplifies our lives because it allows us to chip away at our reactivity, at our need to have more and more, and realize that what is important is not stuff, it's stilling the mind, which does lead to peace and happiness (really!).  One of my friends and I used to go to sports card shows in Chicago; we would go about the merchants and desire rookie cards, old cards, cards of superstars, mostly because we'd think that those cards would be worth double the money in future years, maybe even tomorrow!.  We wouldn't want to pass up the remarkable opportunities present, and in this haze of buying frenzy we'd load up, sure that we'd strike it rich.  On the way home we'd gloat and guzzle over our newfound treasures ... but in another year we'd have completely forgotten about those cards because now there were even more that we just had to have!  I soon realized that all of that was just a mirage ... it was just another version of the endless permutations of prakrti that luckily I soon became wise to.  Prakrti just got me in other ways after that.

One of the gifts of Yoga is a becoming nonreactive to both things and the things that people do in our lives.  We must remain in the present, and the present moment only.  Where is that new smart phone right now?  Where is that 50th pair of shoes right now?  What is wrong with right now giving this moment its due?  What is wrong with giving each and every moment its due?  We live our lives not so much day to day or year to year, but moment to moment.  Yoga, the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, the vrittis, is a deceptively simple task, but is vastly difficult; but over time it becomes easier.  We realize, as we appreciate each and every moment of nowness, that all snippets of time are worthy of being snooped out, of being attended to.  That our day should not be predicated upon wishing the day be past so that we can head to that sale to get more stuff.  Which will only make us crave more stuff.  Increasing the vrittis. Do you see the insidiousness?

There is nothing wrong with this moment.
There is nothing wrong with this moment.
There is nothing wrong with this moment.
Image this mantra in your life.
And imagine a life of nonreactivity.

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; colo, colere, and firmus? 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.

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