Yoga Sutra 1.27 pranava

Sūtra I.27

Of him, the expression is praṇava (OM)

What is expressed by praṇava is the Lord.

It has been said Or from devotion to the Lord (sūtra I.23). How should one perform devotion to him, and what is the means of that devotion? To explain the form in which the devotee contemplates on him, the sūtra says Of him, the expression is praṇava (OM). Of the Lord who has been described, the expression the expressing word, is praṇava. In the same way the word cow expresses something which has a dewlap and horns and so on. Now the word praṇava is variously explained etymologically:

pra stands for prakarśena, perfectly;

nu (= nava) stands for yate, he is praised;

praṇava the word OM, praises (praṇauti) the Lord;

the Lord is devoutly worshipped (praṇidhīyate) through it by his devotees; they bow down (praṇam) to him through it;

through it they worship (praṇidhā) the Lord mentally; here the extra -dhā stands for the final -va (of praṇava).

Mental devotion for things known only indirectly is through a word, as with the worship of the sacred mountain Meru or the god Indra. It is the Lord who is expressed by the word OM; the sound of the word accords with its meaning.

From the termination -ava is understood avati, he favours. The meanings like ‘protection’ are excluded from this word here. He brings out his devotees from saṃsāra, he leads those in saṃsāra to nirvāṇa, he brings to a devotee unsurpassed joy, he grants him samādhi to lead him to the highest truth. But all these meanings are associated with the most intense love of the Lord.

Does the power of expression of this syllable OM arise from conventional usage, or is it something fixed, like the relation between a lamp and its light?

The relation of what is to be expressed here, and its expressive word, is fixed. But conventional usage directs attention to what has been established by the Lord. Thus the relation of father and son is a fixed one, but it is made clear by conventional usage in the form ‘He is that man’s father; that man is his son’.

When the Lord is continuously worshipped in the mind by means of this syllable OM, he gives his grace. There are many sacred texts such as ‘Om kham brahman’ (Bṛhad. Up. 5.1.1) ‘Brahman called Om’ (Taitt. Up. 1.8.1) and the traditions ‘Om tat sat’ (Gītā 17.23) ‘Om Viṣṇu is all’ (first name of the Thousand Names of Viṣṇu). The grammarians declare that OM, ending as it does in ‘m’, is an indeclinable which does not take inflections.

(Opponent) Granted that the Lord, or someone, set up at some time this convention for common usage, in the form ‘let this (OM) be the name of that (Lord)’. But before the convention was set up, thus giving devotees an option whether to worship by OM as the name of the Lord or by some other name, they would have used one of the other names. So let it be now; why should OM be singled out (as his expressive word)?

(Answer) The relation is fixed like that between a lamp and its light. So even at a first hearing, the Lord is understood, like the sun by its light.

(Opponent) If there is already a fixed relation, it is pointless to have a convention about it too. Unless the convention is established from the first, it is only a useless reiteration.

(Answer) The relation of what is to be expressed here and its expressive word is fixed. Whether the word be taken as permanent or transient, the conventional usage makes luminously clear that very fixed relation.

(Opponent) If the relation is fixed, people ought to understand it the first time they hear it.

(Answer) The relation of word and meaning is a relation of idea and what causes the idea, and though it is fixed, it is not perceptible to the senses, any more than the relation between a sense and its object. The capacity to express, and the capacity to be expressed, are not directly perceptible things.

(Opponent) Well, the meaning can be inferred from the word by which it is spoken.

(Answer) That is not so, because the relation is not perceptible. It depends on the usage of others, and an inference does not depend on the usage of others (so this cannot be an inference).

The convention is established exactly in accordance with the relation of the capacity of expression and the capacity for being expressed at the beginning of creations. The scriptural sages affirm that the relation of word and meaning is permanent, inasmuch as it is permanently accepted.

(Opponent) An object can be inferred from a relation which is itself inferred.

(Answer) You will have to explain how a relation of word and meaning can be inferred.

(Opponent) Having ascertained the meaning from seeing the effect of the word (on its hearers), he understands the relation between them, just as when one knows a form through the eye, that is the visual relation.

(Answer) There is this refutation: definite knowledge comes from the word alone, without any inference. And when one has achieved his object by cooking food in one way, what would he gain by cooking it in another way?

(Opponent) A relation is perceived from seeing the conjunction of the two things several times, as with the relation between fire and smoke.

(Answer) We do not agree, for even in a hundred conjunctions, the relation of word and meaning is never directly perceived, as is perceived the relation between fire and smoke even at the beginning. And it is the same thing with a sentence and its meaning.

Therefore the conventional usage makes clear the relation between the Lord who is expressed and praṇava (OM) which expresses him, which is a fixed relation like the fixed relation of father and son. Since there is a convention as the means, the meaning is not recognized at the first hearing, any more than an object in darkness is recognized by the eye.

(Opponent) A word is something passing, and how can there be a permanent relation when one of the things related is passing? There is no permanent relation between a rope and a pot, which are passing things.

(Answer) In the cases of proof and proven, sense-organ and its object, action and its agencies, there is a fixed relation although the things related are passing. So too here the relation is ever-fixed, because it never varies; the convention is in accordance with the relation of the capacities of expression and being expressed at the beginning of creations.

Just as there is creation of form and eye, in accordance with the capacity of being perceived and of perceiving in the previous creation, so in this case conventional usage is established in accordance with the capacity of being expressed and of expressing.

Since it is invariably accepted, and there is the growing chain of traditional use of one thing to make another understood, the consensus is permanent and not otherwise; so the scriptural sages (āgamin) expounders of the Veda (veda-vādin) affirm. And the relation of word and meaning is based on that consensus, so they tell us.

Therefore it comes to this: whether from the standpoint of the traditionalists or from the other standpoint, in any case the relation is fixed, like that of father and son, and it is made manifest by the conventional usage.

If there were not the fixed relation between this expressive word and what it expresses, it would not be true that through the form of praṇava, OM, the Lord is met face to face. In the same way it would not be proper to take a fire as the means of cooking unless there were a fixed relation between the raw food and what cooks it. But since there is the fixed relation between this expression and what it expresses, it is proper to employ OM as a means for practising worship of God, and this is the purport of the whole commentary.

When the yogin has recognized the power of OM to express its meaning (the Lord), he should undertake –


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