Patanjali and Advaita

Patanjali – The World is Real

There are different forms of samadhi. Patanjali lists nine and they are all based on the experienced fact of the reality of the world and its causes and effects. So, when the state of meditation, with its exaltation and freedom ends, the meditator comes back to a real world. In Patanjali’s system the objective is limited to escaping from suffering of being identified with a real body and mind in a real world. To that extent he is like a doctor whose purpose is to get the patient out of the suffering condition and back into society. The doctor does not inquire what the patient will do when the patient is healed.

In the Advaita system of Shankara, there is the same purpose of relieving the immediate suffering of those who are sure that the world is real, and to this extent the Yoga system of Patanjali is authoritative. But in the Advaita there is a further step, namely the penetration into the truth of the world, whether it is real or unreal, and whether the true Self is individual or Universal.

In Patanjali’s system, Prakriti, the world, is as real as the Self, and the aim of the yoga practice is to separate the two. The illusion which has to be dispelled is the idea and actual experience that the Self is entangled in it. Their ultimate samadhi-meditation is on Knowledge-of-the-difference (viveka-khyati). Finally that too is no longer needed, and the released Selves have no involvement with, or finally even awareness of, the world, though it continues to exist for those still caught up in it. But in Vedanta, there is a step beyond Knowledge-of-the-difference and this is the isolation of the Seer.

As Shankara says, when the yoga meditation has made the mind clear and focused, Knowledge arises from the Lord as grace from outside or as a stirring within. What is first known as a witness-self of things apart, finds its fulfilment in the truth of the holy texts as the Universal Self. The world itself is known as what is called “mithya”, of shadowy indeterminate character. It is not wholly real nor wholly unreal. What does this mean? A TV play is unreal, yet it affects us, and if its well done, it can affect us powerfully. So it cannot be completely unreal. The world is like that.

The resemblance between the teachings of Patanjali and Karma Yoga is, that the latter too is based, as Shankara says in his Gita XII.12 commentary, on the idea of a real world. That is the practical conviction. But when the Karma Yoga of Advaita is complete, this conviction of a real world thins out, and Knowledge arises. Then the meditations change into Knowledge meditations; they cannot be complete till the whole world-process is known to be no more than a rainbow or a mirage, or the illusions created by a magician. In the final liberation, as Shankara says, even these shadows melt away and Brahman stands clear in his own glory. In The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, it says, “Try to take your mind above the trio thinker, thought and thinking. To let yourself be in any of these categories is to slip into the realm of maya, the state of illusion and suffering. As long as you have consciousness of time and space, you will not be able to perceive the light of Atman, your Universal Self.

The feeling, I am not the body, is a prerequisite for yoga, and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of Samadhi.”

Advaita – The World as Unreal

Though there are some resemblances, when the yogi comes out of Patanjali meditation, the world is as real as it was before. After a successful Advaita Vedanta experience, however, described above, the world is no longer what it was. Knowledge has arisen and though there is a world, it is only an appearance projected onto the Universal Self.

In some cases the one who knows continues to take part in the world as a sort of sport, as we would take part in a game. The yogis give the example of chess, where distinct powers are projected onto pieces of wood. They are all known to be merely wood, but they are treated differently: with a bishop all that is expected and permitted of it is a diagonal move, with a rook, straight lines. We know to win is unreal and yet we try very hard and that is the interest of the game.

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