THE CHAPTER OF THE SELF
S’ankara in the 8th century AD founded four main monasteries, one in each of the four corners of India. The senior in status is at Sringeri in the south, and the late HH Abhinava Vidyatirtha was 35th in unbroken succession there from the founder; he took an active interest in the present book and the later translation of S’ankara’s Yoga Sutra commentary.
Basic text, from a lost Upanishad:
He is great, a mass of splendour, all-pervading, the Lord.
The yogi who practises realization of that in everything, and always holds to firmness in that, will see that which is hard to see and subtle, and ejoice.
And whoever sees the Self alone in everything, he is Brahman, glorious in the highest heaven.
From the S’ankara commentary: The doshas are obsessive passions, fears, and convictions which obstruct the vision of the Self; the yogas are thepractices which overcome the doshas.
It may be asked, how are those who want freedom to put forth the tremendous efforts in the yogas of angerlessness and the others, which are opposed to the doshas, the cause of life itself? Yogas and doshas are mutually exclusive, like movement and rest, and why should it be only that the yogas destroy the doshas, and not the other way round? To this the answer is: The yogas are the stronger ones because they are associated with right Knowledge (samyag-dars’ana)and the others are destroyed because they are destroyed because they are weak, being associated with false knowledge (mithya-pratyaya). So it isthat the yogas kill their opponents, just as in the world it is men of powerful intellect who destroy the weak-minded. And elsewhere in this Lawbook it is taught that those who are free from anger are stronger than those subject to anger and passion….So having thrown off the doshas which torment human beings, one goes to peace, to fearlessness, to freedom.
The short Chapter of the Self (adhyatma patala) is one section of the ancient Indian Lawbook called Apastamba (about 500 BC); the Chapter is on Yoga as the means to realization of the universal Self. It is of exceptional interest and importance for at least three reasons: (1) It quotes some verses from an even older Upanishad not now extant, which must have belonged to the earliest stratum, (2) this short section of the Law book was surprisingly picked out by S’ankara to comment on; it is not a traditional subject for that. It must therefore represent his views exactly, or he would not have selected it. For instance, the stress on the necessity that the liberating Knowledge must be firm and unwavering is identical to the jnana-nishtha doctrine stressed in his Gita commentary. (3) There are links with his other commentaries which point to the authenticity of the commentary (here translated for the first time).
The text and commentary deal with realization of the Supreme Self by means of Yoga practice. The first part of the present book gives the translation of the Chapter and the Shankara commentary.
The second part fills out details of the traditional Yoga practice, on the lines given by the recently discovered S’ankara commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. A full translation of the latter also has been made by the author – see ‘S’ankara on the Yoga Sutras.’
The author of this book, and translator of the original text, is an Orientalist and a scholar of Japanese. He makes an interesting point in his Introduction when he says: Philosophy alone is sterile: yoga alone is a frightening tangle’.
…In the first part of the book, the Chapter of the Self text, dated about 500 BC, and the 700 AD commentary on it, are given with notes on authenticity and so on. In the second part, he brings together the Shankara commentary and the same sage’s exposition of the Yoga of the Self, thus avoiding the difficulties.
The last section is concerned with the actual practice, based on the author’s eighteen years under Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri. There is an excellent chapter on worship, wherein the vital question of finding out what one really worships is discussed in depth. Further chapters deal with the chanting of OM, and with Action and its fruits, and a reprint of this particular section could with marked advantage be handed to the win-at-all-costs contestants of today…
To sum up, this is an excellent and enjoyable book, geared to the needs of the Western world and to the serious student of the Path.
This book presents an ancient Sanskrit text dealing with self-realization, God-realization and yoga, aiming at a radical and permanent change of the individual consciousness, which as it stands is limited by a sort of illusion. It is the kind of illusion experienced by a man dreaming of a terrifying lion whose roars are in fact his own snoring, or by people who faint at ‘Dracula’, or grip their seats in panic at a Cinerama.
The texts of realization may not dispel illusion if the mind that receives them is clouded and only partially attentive; the methods of making it clear and effortlessly one-pointed are called, collectively, yoga.
Realization is its own goal, but yoga is a means.
As a means, yoga can be used fractionally to acquire some imagined advantages in life as it now is, But these are temporary, and do not confront the ultimate problem. They correspond to improving the circumstances of a dream. Isolated yogic methods can be used to give some calmness, or improve health, or produce vigour. One who is prepared to practise hard can make the mind and memory brilliant. But if these seeming advantages are in the service of a fundamental illusion, there is no lasting peace; and in a disturbed mind, the temporary gains arouse waves of excitement which in the end destroy the yoga practice itself.
Many presentations of the ancient teachings concentrate on only one part: philosophy alone, or yoga practice alone. Pure scholars ignore the yoga practices and religious devotions which appear in the texts; to them yoga is in the same category as Chinese acupuncture until a few years ago – something was known about it, but it never occurred to anyone that it might be worth investigating. On the other hand, those interested in yogic exercises give no attention to the texts which say clearly that exercises alone will merely reinforce the illusion which is the cause of all man’s frustrations.