Yoga Sutra 2.05 Ignorance is the conviction of permanence
Ignorance is the conviction of permanence, purity, happiness and self in what are really impermanent, impure, painful and not self
(Opponent) But why does the nature of Ignorance have to be described?
(Answer) The commentator himself is going to discuss it in the passage beginning ‘Ignorance is the root of the train of taints’, and that is why its nature has to be taught here; unless the root of the train of taints is known, it cannot be uprooted.
Ignorance is the conviction of permanence in effects which are impermanent, as for instance the idea ‘Eternal is the earth, eternal the heaven with its moon and stars, immortal are the shining ones.’
Then in the body of very repulsive impurity:
From its abode, from its origin, from its support, from its secretions, and from its end,
And because it has to be purified, the wise know the body as impure.
Thus (for the ignorant) there is conviction of purity in what is impure.
Ignorance is the conviction of permanence, purity, happiness and self in what are really impermanent, impure, painful and not self. In what way is this? The conviction of permanence, the deluded idea that there is permanence, in effects which are impermanent, as for instance the idea ‘Eternal is the earth, eternal the heaven with its moon and stars, immortal are the shining ones.’
(Opponent) But we know from this very verse of the scriptures that these things like earth are permanent; how can it be said that they are mere effects (and therefore transient)?
(Answer) There is no mistake, because it is a question of relative permanence. In comparison with beings such as men, the earth and so on are indeed permanent, but the fact that they are effects and are not permanent is recognized by all proofs, and established in the holy texts by declarations like ‘Heaven was not nor earth nor intermediate space’.
Then in the body of very repulsive impurity, the body in its impurity being a repellent seat of extreme afflictions, as it were a prison for the self. Its repulsive character is further described: impure from its abode from the fact of its time in the womb; from its origin, for the germ of the body is the white seed and the red; from its support, it is supported by wind, bile and phlegm, whose impurity is very well known; from its secretions, continual excretion of sweat, urine, and faeces; and from its end which is death, associated with the traditional impurity connected with a corpse.
(Opponent) Well, if the body is naturally impure, our attempts to keep clean are meaningless.
(Answer) He replies: and because it has to be purified. Inasmuch as methods of purification are prescribed by scripture purity is not natural to the body.
Or again, senses – the mind-sattva and others – are pure by their nature as sattva, and when they are contained in the body, it too becomes pure because of their purity. For we see that when it is not endowed with mind-sattva, etc., it is extremely impure.
So the wise know it as impure. This knowledge of the wise is mentioned to show that the idea of the body as pure is of a deluded intellect. Thus there is the conviction of pure in what is impure, held by a deluded mind.
The poet says, ‘This girl, beautiful as the crescent moon, her limbs as if formed out of honey and nectar, her eyes like the petals of a blue lotus, sent forth from the moon as it were to refresh the world with her inviting glances’ – how is there any real connection between these things? Thus in the impure there is an illusion of purity, and similarly conviction of good in what is not good, and profit in what is pointless.
The conviction of happiness in what is painful will be described later, in the sūtra: ‘Because of the sufferings caused by changes and anxieties and the saṃskāra-s of them, and from the clash of the guṇa-s, to the clear-sighted, everything is pain’ (II.15). This conviction of happiness (where it does not exist) is Ignorance.
Then the conviction of self in what is not self – either external accessories animate or inanimate, or in the body as the seat of extraverted experience, or in the mind which is an accessory to Puruṣa – such is the conviction of self in not self.
The poet says, ‘This girl, beautiful as the crescent moon, her limbs formed out of honey and nectar, her eyes like the petals of a blue lotus, sent forth from the moon as it were to refresh the world with her inviting glances’ – how is there any real connection between these things? How should the body be really like these things? Thus in the impure there is an illusion of purity, and similarly conviction of good in what is not good, as in the case of ritual murderers (saṃsāra-mocaka), and profit in what is profitless as in the case of thieves.
The conviction of happiness in what is painful will be described later, in the sūtra (II.15): Because of the sufferings caused by changes and anxieties and the saṃskāra-s of them, and from the clash of the guṇa-s, to the clear-sighted, everything is pain. Ignorance is this conviction of happiness in saṃsāra, which is wholly pain.
Then the conviction of self in what is not self- either external accessories animate or inanimate like cows or jars, or in the body as the seat of extraverted experience, or in the mind which is an accessory to Puruṣa – such is the conviction of self in not self.
(Opponent) But who is supposed to have this conviction of self in a mind which is not self? The conviction itself is in the mind.
(Answer) There is no anomaly, inasmuch as it has been said that Ignorance is a mental process of illusion. The mind it is, which supported by an acquired consciousness, arrogates to itself the conscious self, and by that confusion thinks, ‘I am the seer, the hearer am I, this is mine’.
And on this it has been said: ‘He who having accepted any thing manifest or unmanifest as his self, rejoices in its success and grieves at its reverses – he who thinks thus is a totally deluded mind.’
Ignorance has these four divisions. It is the root of the train of taints and of the karma-stock with its fruition.
And on this in this sense it has been said: ‘He who having accepted having acknowledged any thing manifest or unmanifest anything from pradhāna through body and senses and so on down to the objects, either manifest, directly experienced, or unmanifest, something known from inference or authority, as his self, rejoices in its success, experiences something which is manifest or unmanifest by nature, as himself, so that he rejoices, he is thrilled, in its success, in its prosperity or glory, thinking of it as his own success, thinking ‘in its success, I succeed; mine is this success’, and grieves at its reverses, feeling ‘This reverse is mine; it is I who have failed’, he who thinks thus is a totally deluded mind, is Ignorant.
Ignorance has these four divisions.
(Opponent) But with the conviction of good in evil, and evil in good, there will be six divisions.
(Answer) No; those cases can fit into the four divisions.
(Ignorance) is the root the germ of growth of the train of taints of the continuous action of the taints ending with instinctive self-preservation and of the karma-stock with its fruition three-fold, as birth, death and experience. The sense is that Ignorance is the root of the entire saṃsāra.
(Grammatical Excursus on the Saṃskṛt compound avidyā)
And it (avidyā) should be known as a positive existent, as in the case of ‘no-friend’ (= positive enemy) and ‘no hoof-mark’ (= place impenetrable to cows).
And that avidyā (Ignorance) should be understood as a positive entity (vastu) that is different (antara) (from both knowledge and absence of knowledge), on the analogy of such phrases as ‘no friend’ (= enemy) and ‘no hoof-mark’ ( = place impenetrable to cows).
(Opponent) But why does he say this, when he has already once said that avidyā is illusory knowledge, and thus a positive entity (and different from both knowledge and absence of knowledge)?
(Answer) The idea is this. The term avidyā (one might initially suppose) comprises a negative compound of the ‘his man’ (tatpuruṣa) type (in which one or more words qualify another word without themselves being inflected, and in which the referent, the person or thing ultimately denoted by the compound, lies within the meanings of the component words, and not outside them as in the case of a bahuvrīhi compound). Such a compound may have its last member as the principal one (i.e. as that which is the ultimate referent of the compound and of which the other member or members are only a qualification).
An example of such would be rājapuruṣa, ‘the king’s man’ (where puruṣa = man is the last member of the compound and the referent). Or a compound of this class may have its first member as the principal. An example of this would be ardhapippalī, ‘the half of a pepper’ (Pāṇini II.ii.2) (where ardha = ardham = the half, taken as a noun, is the first member of the compound, and the qualified element, and the principal, and the referent, because we can speak of ‘the half of a pepper’ (cf. ‘the man of the king’) but not of ‘a pepper of the half’).
Here (in the compound a-vidyā, consisting of a- ‘not’ and vidyā ‘knowledge’) the first member (a- = ‘not’) may be taken as the principal one. But then all criteria (pramāna) for the meaning of vidyā (knowledge) are removed. And just where one would have expected (prasaṅga) the idea ‘knowledge’, there would arise – since there must be a meaning of some kind – notions of some other meaning (knowledge being negated). So there will be a meaning (namely ‘not’) of which the particular nature remains undetermined. As for avidyā having been said previously to be (something specific, namely) ‘illusory knowledge’, that should be regarded as a special technical term of the school.
Suppose it was a special technical term. What would be the harm? Well, on hearing the word avidyā there would be a doubt as to the meaning. The doubt would be of the form: ‘Is the technical meaning (in the Yoga Sāstra) the same as the ordinary meaning in common speech, in accordance with the maxim, “It is to be understood that wherever possible words in the sūtras have the ordinary meanings that they have in the world”? Or should we understand something that is not the ordinary meaning of the word (aśabdārtha), as (in the case of a śāstrika phrase containing purely technical terms of grammar like) “guṇa and vṛddhi apply to ik (the short vowels) only”? So, as the meaning of the word avidyā would not be clear, it could not be put to practical use.’
(Since the assumption that the first element in the tatpuruṣa compound avidyā is the principal leads us nowhere) let us assume that the second element (vidyā) is the principal. They would be standing in apposition like ‘blue’ and ‘lotus’ in ‘blue-lotus’. But here also there is a difficulty. For in the case of ‘blue-lotus’ a relation of qualifier and qualified between the two elements is intelligible (cp. Pāṇini II. 1.57), since the meanings of the words do not contradict one another. Here (however, this absence of contradiction is not the case, for) negation is expressed by the privative a- (‘not’) while vidyā expresses ‘knowledge’. In such a case, if ‘not’ were the subordinate (and therefore the qualifier) in relation to the meaning of the second element in the compound (‘knowledge’), the latter being the principal (and therefore the qualified and the referent), then the ‘not’ would abolish the meaning of that principal element (which was also the referent). And then its own existence as a subordinate element would be annulled, and the other element could not be the principal either.
For whatever has the function of negating (reading ni- for nir- throughout the passage) something, negates that object alone; it cannot negate its own relation as subordinate to that object. And if it did, the object of the negation would no longer be the principal (and the referent), for the same reason. Therefore, (in a negative tatpuruṣa compound) the subordinate element must be taken as subservient (vaśavartin) to the principal (and as unable to negate it). Hence (the meaning of the compound avidyā can be) only ‘the absence (abhāva) of anything else in knowledge’. What is understood is ‘mere knowledge’, as the bare word ‘not’ always presupposes a positive (on which to operate, whether by way of negation or qualification).
Now, taking the earlier train of reasoning as the starting-point, the (conclusive) reply is given. ‘And it (avidyā) must be understood as a positive entity like ‘no friend’ (= enemy) and ‘no hoof-mark’ (= thick forest impenetrable to cows)’.
As the term amitra (‘no friend’) is not ‘absence of friend’, nor ‘mere friend’, but the contrary of friend – an enemy; or again, the term agoṣpada (no hoof-mark) does not mean either ‘absence of hoof-mark’ or ‘mere hoof-mark’, but a place different from both of them; in the same way, avidyā is not ‘right knowledge’ or ‘absence of right knowledge’, but a cognition of a different kind, contrary to both of them.
He (Vyāsa) says now: Just as no-friend (= enemy) is not an ‘absence of friend’, implying thereby the idea ‘as it would have been if it had been taken (as a negative compound) with the first member as principal, like ‘the half of a pepper’.
Then he says, nor (does no-friend mean) ‘mere friend’. As has already been explained, if the last element in a compound is the principal, the subordinate element must be subservient to it and cannot annul it. And so it has been said in the Nañ Vārtika (Mahābhāṣya II.ii.6 ad init.), ‘(If the last member of a negative compound were the principal, then) when one heard the words “Fetch a non-Brahmin” one would have the (absurd) idea of fetching a Brahmin.’ In fact, if the last member of the compound is taken as the principal, the negative must always imply a positive. Such, therefore, is the case with ‘no friend’ (i.e. it is not a tatpuruṣa compound with either the first or the last member as principal, so it does not mean either ‘absence of friend’ or ‘mere friend’). And such is the case with avidyā and certain other negative compounds also (such as a-nīti – immorality, and others).
And again (he says, proceeding to illustrate the matter from the example of a bahuvrīhi compound) the term agoṣpada does not mean ‘absence of hoof-mark’ or ‘a mere hoof-mark’ but rather some positive entity (a place) that is different both from ‘absence of hoof-mark’ and from ‘mere hoof-mark’.
You will ask how that can be, when (in the compound agoṣpadam) all we hear is ‘a mere hoof-mark’ and ‘its non-existence’. We reply: If we go by normal usage, we shall get the meaning ‘no hoof-mark at all’ (already implicitly rejected in considering amitra above). How so? Well, the meaning of ‘not’ is ‘the contrary of existence’ (= non-existence) and it asserts the non-existence of that to which it is applied.
So when we meet with the term agoṣpada (seen from our earlier arguments to mean something positive) three meanings are possible, namely: (1) something that might be, but is not, associated with a hoof-mark, (2) a mere hoof-mark, and (3) something positive, contrary to a hoof-mark.
Here, if the meaning had been ‘a mere hoof-mark’ there would have been no need to use the word ‘not’. Even if you claimed that the word ‘not’ in such a case confirmed some other negation that had already been made about ‘hoof mark’, it would still be superfluous.
Then let us suppose that the word agoṣpada is used to mean something that might be, but is not, connected with a hoof-mark. But in this case the word ‘not’ could not be being used in its primary sense, as it would not be being used to say that a place was never at all visited by cows. For even if the place were visited by cows in the future, the term agoṣpada (understood in the loose sense now under consideration) would hold good throughout the three periods of time. Therefore, according to the principle, ‘wherever it is possible for the word ‘not’ to mean ‘not’ (in the full sense), that is what it does mean’, the two meanings – ‘might be visited by cows but has not yet been’ and ‘merely visited by cows’ – are rejected.
So (as the only remaining possibility) the term agoṣpada must mean a place contrary in nature to the places visited by cows.
But, you will ask, (if there is to be a compound at all, there must be a relation of qualifier and qualified, and) how can there be a relation of qualifier and qualified here (in the case of a-vidyā), as there is in the case of the blue-lotus, since avidyā is one entity, and existence and non-existence (represented by ‘knowledge’ and ‘not’) are contradictories? Admittedly, if the compound had been (a tatpuruṣa) meant only to assert the non-existence of knowledge, it would have been unintelligible. Hence the principle holds (here, as in a bahuvrīhi compound) that that in which the non-existence of something else is asserted is understood to be (a positive entity) different from that thing. And this is what the sūtra (Pāṇini VI.i.145) implies when it says: ‘(We have the form) goṣpada (and not gopada when the compound go-pada is used) to mean either “visited by cows” or “not visited by cows” or (when it is used to mean) “a measure” (pramāṇa) (of rainfall, namely “a puddle”).’
Where the meaning is taken as ‘not visited’, the compound is understood as a bahuvrihi (where a negation does not negate the existence of the referent, as the latter lies outside the meanings of the words in the compound) (Pāṇini II.ii.24). ‘Unvisited’ means ‘where no visitation (ever) occurs’.
And aṿidyā (though not a bahuvrīhi compound) is to be understood, in a similar way, as ‘neither right knowledge, nor absence of right knowledge, but a (positive) cognition of a different kind, contrary to right knowledge’.
(End of excursus)