Thursday, March 17, 2011

Latin and Greek Roots of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali--Aphorism 19, Chapter 1

Welcome back fans of Greek and Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words!  I apologize for my rather lengthy absence ... I've been very hard at work on an online vocabulary teaching system where you can learn SAT and GRE vocabulary words--and NOT FORGET THEM.   Recently I have been focusing this SAT and GRE English vocabulary blog on analyzing the Greek and Latin root words of the aphorisms that comprise 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 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, that is, to calm the sem, that part of our minds that generates on average an annoying and astounding 60,000 random thoughts per day (vrittis), and while doing so mostly misperceiving samsara (the manifestations of prakrti, or worldly phenomenology), thereby leading us down paths of irreality, making the self we create seem more real than our eternal Self, (purusa or atman). 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 (some of which can be so very enticing!).

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, which was highly influenced by Yoga) 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 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.  This post I move on to: Aphorism 19: These latent impressions incline one to be reborn after one leaves the body at death and is dissolved in nature.

Before I begin commentary on Aphorism 19, let's check out the Latin root words of some of the English vocabulary present in the aphorism:

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."

impression:  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 from this root word can be found via Word Empire III: Clarity, the most comprehensive Greek and Roots etymology dictionary available today.

incline:  This word is derived from the Greek root word klinein: to lean.  If one is "inclined" to do something, one "leans on" that choice, or "leans towards" it.  Of course, one "leans" on a bed in a "clinic," where a "clinician" might take a look at you before a doctor arrives, who may either "decline" or "lean away from" treating you because you're really not sick, or put you into a "recliner" so that you can "lean back" for a more thorough look into your malady.  This Greek root has given us a number of SAT and GRE words: inclination, anticlimax (via the Greek root word klimax: ladder, which "leans" against a building), declination, climax, and disinclination.  

dissolve:  From the Latin verb solvo, solvere, solvi, solutus: untie, loosen, destroy.  When a problem is "solved," it is untied.  When a substance is "dissolved" into water, its atoms are "thoroughly loosened" or broken down so as to disappear, appearing to have been "destroyed."  A "solution" to a problem is its "untying," or the "loosening" of the knot of the problem.  Some nice SAT derivatives that come from this Latin root word are: solvent, irresolute, absolve, resolution, dissolute, and resolve. 

nature:  From the Latin root word nascor, nasci, natus sum: to be born.  "Nature" is that power which causes life to "be born" into the world.  Many, many SAT and GRE vocabulary words come from this root word, including but not limited to: nascent, innate, naive, renaissance, naive, cognate, supernatural, and preternatural. Note that the Latin word "natura" means "power which gives birth to the world." 

Now, on to Aphorism 19:  These latent impressions incline one to be reborn after one leaves the body at death and is dissolved in nature.

     The latent impressions that Patanjali is referring to include all the past experiences that we've had that are lying hidden within the mind that must be dealt with in either this or a later lifetime.  One can only deal with so much during one phase of life ... how hard it is to work through just one flaw, much less all of one's personality issues!  Imagine dealing with not only all of one's errors one has made in this lifetime, but also in past lifetimes as well!  These latent impressions, or samskaras, however, must be dealt with, for they form our karmic deposits that arise at different times during each of our different lives, and must be burned away before we can be released to go beyond the samsaric circle (cycle of life and death) with which we all must deal.  Our task is to burn away these samskaras by creating what are known as restraining samskaras, that is, a bulwark or bastion that not only helps to keep at bay the creation of more samskaras (remember that impressions are created anew by the manas, or mind, each and every day) but also helps to settle and burn away the seeds of latent samskaras that form the architecture that comes with us from one life to another.  If you've made great errors in previous lives, they have to be dealt with (yes, no one ever really gets away with anything from a karmic standpoint) in future incarnations where you get a new body, but have the same purusa which carries along one's challenges from lifetime to lifetime.
     So, what is the best way to deal with these latent impressions?  There are eight steps in the highly pragmatic and utilitarian system called Yoga.  Most of the people in the West tend to think of Yoga as only the third limb, or Yogasana, that is, the physical positions.  However, Yoga is much more than that, rather comprising a system of 8 steps, or 8 limbs (much more on this as we continue to study the sutras):

1.  yamas: ethical practices (including ahimsa, non-violence; aparigraha, non-possessiveness; asteya: non-theft; bramacharya--sexual self-restraint; and asteya--truthfulness)
2.  niyamas: internal tasks (including cleanliness; restraint; devotion to Isvara, or Lord; contentment; and study of religious texts) 
3.  asana (the typical western notion of yoga, or the postures.  The postures create a hardened yet supple body that can endure the rigors of the later stages of the 8-limbed path, especially sitting for long periods of time in dhyana, or meditation)
4.  Pranayama: regulated inflow and outflow of the breath
5.  Pratyahara: non-focus on the senses but rather beginning to travel inwards
6.  Dharana: concentration within
7.  Dhyana: meditation (the next step up from dharana)
8.  Samadhi (enlightenment, or the vision of the Purusa, or unchanging Self: the soul, atman)

     Yogic metaphysics is predicated upon Sankhyan metaphysics, which stated, in a nutshell, the following:
1.  Each and every person is divine, and possesses an individual Purusa, that is, an atman, soul, or unchanging Witness who is the true Self.
2.  Each and every person, instead of identifying with the Purusa, instead identifies with the self, yet another manifestation of prakrti, that matrix that creates, perpetually, all that is around us, including our minds.  The self is what we all pay attention to, but is not Reality; rather, the purusa, or Self, is.  The purusa, unfortunately, has become so colored by the prakrtic self that it, too, does not fathom its divinity, immutability, and eternal immanence, and so we believe ourselves to be the collection of thoughts, beliefs, attributes that make our prakrtic selves, but have nothing to do with who We really are.

How do we realize the Self?  That is where Yoga comes in.  Yoga is a system whereby one is led, through a series of steps, ever increasing in difficulty, to the ultimate stage of samadhi, where we apprehend the purusa, the true Self, untainted by the prakrtic self.  But it's tough.  In order to stop creating more and more latent impressions, however,  and deal with the existing ones, and to stop being reborn over and over again (via the samsaric process of reincarnation or metempsychosis), one can follow the very practical system of Yoga.  As Patanjali states, this may take many lifetimes, but restraining samskaras transfer from life to life.

What I do:  I have been practicing yogasana now for four years.  I have become a vegetarian, hence fulfilling ahimsa (at least in part).  Every day, or as much as I can, I practice 40 minutes of dhyana, during which time I focus upon an alambana, a bronze sculpture of Visnu, and repeat the Universal sound, AUM (which helps to quiet the mind, leading myself to mySelf--Patanjali assures us that this is the "quickest" way to access samadhi).  As I focus upon Isvara Vishnu (Vishnu and Shiva are both manifestations of Isvara, the ultimate Purusa; Krishna is, in turn, a manifestation or inflection of Vishnu), I also focus upon my third eye (between the eyes and a little up towards the crown) and my heart center.  I refocus, again and again and again, as thoughts continue to be generated; I simultaneously practice pranayama, the gentle but controlled and even luxurious inbreath to outbreath, retain, inbreath to outbreath, retain, all the way from the belly to the top of the rib cage, focusing not only on length, but also breadth. 
     I also practice qigong, an ancient Chinese art of healing that was highly influenced by Yoga, facing the north in a copse of pine trees.  More on that later.
      Stay tuned for my next post, which will focus on Aphorism 20, Chapter 1.

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 such Latin root words as premo, premere and solvo, solvere? 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.
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