Saturday, December 4, 2010

Latin and Greek Roots of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali--Aphorism 18, Chapter 1

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.  To help in this considerable and profound endeavor, I am mining the wisdom of both Swami Satchidananda (I live near Yogaville, of which he is the founder) and Edwin G. Bryant's rabbinical and I dare say canonical exegesis of these profound sutras (the commentary on each and every one of the sutras is both classically diachronic and most enlightening).   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 (the manifestations of prakrti, or worldly phenomenology), 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 all its myriad evolutes (which are all so very interesting!).
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 (hence, a tri-lingual, diachronic linguistic heritage) the same transformation?
Last post I focused on the Latin roots of the Yoga-Sutra: Chapter 1: Aphorism 17:  At first the stilling process is accompanied by four kinds of cognition: analytical thinking, insight, bliss, and feeling like a self.  This post I move on to: Aphorism 18: Later, after one practices steadily to bring all thought to a standstill, these four kinds of cognition fall away, leaving only a store of latent impressions in the depth memory.

Let's first take a look at a couple of the most important  Latin and Greek root words of this sutra:

Practices: From the Greek root word praktikos: active, fit for action, business-like,which is related to pragma, pragmatos: deed, act.  Practice is nothing more than doing; praxis is a fancier word for the same idea.  Numerous SAT and GRE derivatives come via this word, such as impracticality, pragmatic, pragmatism, malpractice, and practiced (adj.). 

Cognition: From the Latin root word cognosco, cognoscere, cognovi, cognitum: to learn, know.  Cognition is the act of learning or knowing (in an extremely broad sense).  Other fine SAT and GRE derivatives that come from this root include cognitive, incognito, quaint, reconnaissance, reconnoiter, cognoscenti, and prognosis.

Latent:  From the Latin root word lateo, latere: to lie hidden, lurk.  A "latent" impression "lies hidden" until being spurred to reappear, in this case in a later life.  Note that the "-ent" suffix is nothing more than a present active participle ending, hence "latent" is "lying hidden."  Latency is another key derivative, simply the substantive form of "latent."

Impressions:  From the Latin root word premo, premere, pressi, pressum: press, crush, overpower, exert force upon.  An "impression" is simply that which is "exerted upon" something else, in this case, the experiences of one's life being "pressed upon" one's memory.  This Latin root word is prolific, to wit: compression, suppress, oppressive, impressionable, repressive, irrepressible, etc.  A complete list of over 100 derivatives can be found via Word Empire III: Clarity, the most comprehensive Greek and Roots etymology dictionary available today.

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.

Now let's move on to Aphorism 18: Later, after one practices steadily to bring all thought to a standstill, these four kinds of cognition fall away, leaving only a store of latent impressions in the depth memory.

The idea behind Yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind, clearing it in order to be able to attain samadhi, or enlightenment, which brings true joy and a vision of things as they really are.  When one is no longer plagued by the four forms of cognition, or analytical thinking, insight, bliss, and feeling like a self, they do not disappear, but remain lying dormant, as it were, ready at any moment to pop back up again, either during this lifetime or future reincarnations.  That is why it is of paramount importance to practice Yoga each and every day, for cognition is very strong, and the cause truly of all worldly woes.  It has always been curious to me that the mind, which can bring us so much, can also take away so much; that is, there are as many different worlds of the mind as there are people on this one planet, and clearly they cannot all be "right," but merely see one version of a mind-clouded truth.  Yoga stipulates that each and every one of us has divinity immanent in ourselves; that is, we each have a purusa, a transcendent power that is capable, according to Yoga, of omnipotence and omniscience, equal almost in grandeur to Isvara (taking the various forms of Vishnu or Shiva), the One Purusa, the only difference being that Isvara can create worlds, whereas a particulated, unique purusa cannot.  So we are all divine, as it were, capable of immense greatness, but this mind that impedes our progress must be dealt with first, and recognized for what it is. 

But why?  Why the game?  Prakrti, the matrix of all evolutes, that which creates all phenomenology, that which forms constantly changing states of matter all about us, is there for purusa, for its entertainment, as it were.  The problem is is that our minds take those prakrtic manifestations as reality with a capital "R," which fools the purusa into thinking that it, too, is a part of prakrti, when it, in fact, is not.  The mind or citta dupes it, as it were, causing purusa to think that the mind and all its craziness and the world of manifestation is ultimate Reality.  Once purusa becomes tired of the never-ending dance of forms (which may takes thousands of lifetimes), it will eventually realize its true self, and all forms of cognition will be seen as what they are, simply yet another form of prakrti.  The discipline (and a hard discipline it is) of Yoga speeds along that process, allowing purusa to shine forth more quickly, to gain samadhi more rapidly, to burn the samskaras more quickly, so that purusa may ultimately be liberated, no longer bound by the chains of cognition, no longer chained by duhkha, suffering.  Freed to claim its own birthright: omnipotence and omniscience, and ultimately kaivalya, ultimate enlightenment (comparable to the nirvana of Buddhism).  The mystic powers of the yogi are hard to conceive of, which Patanjali fully addresses in Book III.  Things like teleportation, polymorphing, invisibility, levitation, elephantine strength, moving at the speed of thought, omniscience, and omnipotence.  Wow.  Unlimited human potential through the taming, and ironically then the harnessing, of the mind.  But only through recognition of prakrti for what it is, a long and difficult process.  Nihil sine magno labore.  Nothing without great effort.  Ad astra per aspera.  To the stars through hard work.  Wouldn't Nietzsche be enthralled vis-a-vis his concept of the Ubermensch, or Overman, concocted in his most well-known brilliant work, Thus Spake Zarathustra?


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 cedo, cedere, and gnosco, gnoscere? 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--lexicoaesthetic!  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.