Sutra 1.39. Yoga Sutra and Tantra

The subject of Tantra has definitely captured the attention, so I’ve created some intrigue. In order not to keep the reader in suspense I shall just say that:
1. NO, Patanjali did not use the word “tantra” in Yoga Sutras.
2. YES, he highlighted a group of techniques that were later made a groundwork of Tantric yoga. And they shall be the subject matter of this article.
But let us traditionally start with a sutra of Patanjali. The line 1.39 rounds up the cycle of sutras that expose the methods of mind “gathering” and making chitta stable and steady. It is not difficult for translation and, just like the previous one, it has been ignored by commentators. I think we shall soon understand the reason why. So now:
यथाभिमतध्यानाद्वा ॥ ३९॥
1.39 yathā abhimata-dhyānād-vā
yathā (ind.) likewise, similar to, so that. This word, though at first sight seems neutral, has a lot of meanings that may affect one’s understanding of the line;
abhimata (m.) the desired, literally “that what you think about”: the word is made up of the prefix abhi (towards) + mata (thought over), a passive past participle of the root man (to think);
dhyānād (m. abl. sg.) dhyana, or deliberation, in the fifth (ablative) case; formed from the root dhyai (to think);
vā (ind.) or.
Thus the line shall have the following translation:
1.39 Or (mind stability) is attained due to dhyana (deliberation) on [similar to] the desired.
The particle yathā here is a bit confusing, but we shall so far try to understand the meaning without it.
So in this way we come to deal with a technique that seems weird from the perspective of classical yoga – a meditation on something desired. Weird to the extent that it obviously confused the scholiasts, since theoretically yoga teaches one to do away with desires… Vyasa gave the following comment to the line: “one ought to meditate upon the object which is most to his liking. The internal organ, having acquired steadiness it that, will be able to attain to it elsewhere also”. Shankara in his comment added that “it must not be to secure pleasures and so on”. Bhojaraja and Sadashivendra Saraswati paid very little attention to this line. The idea of Bhoja’s comment was similar to that of Vyasa, while Sadashivendra shifted the thesis even further having suggested the word “desired” to imply the image of god so that meditation on it forms the state of ekagrata (one-pointedness of chitta). A technique of this kind of course does exist and connotes to both Bhakti practices and the techniques of yidam visualization that Tibetan tradition is known for. Yet I believe that this line and the techniques that result from it shall be taken more literally. The problem lies in the fact that even at the time of Vyasa yoga was already subjected to some “pressure” on the part of puritanical views developed in the framework of religious traditions – for instance, Buddhism. And further on such influence was becoming even stronger because of Islam and Christianity, so that commentators tried to neutralize the pointedness of the line dealing with desires.
But let us take a look at the situation from a different point. There was a Tradition that turned a meditation on something desired and pleasant into a quite legal instrument. Yes, it is – Tantra is the name. To exemplify the said I shall draw some lines from its most tantric piece – the Vijnyana Bhairava Tantra.[1]
68. [in the process of sex] One should place pleased mind (sukham chittam) between male and female genitals. Because of joy from the coition an exceptional fullness of the winds (energy) is attained.
69. Dating a woman, sharing the arousal, penetration into her. Satisfaction of Brahman’s true essence is called the supreme joy.
70. When reminiscing woman’s pleasure from kissing (verb., licking), sex and hugging, even in absence of the woman there arises a flow of pleasure, O Devesha.
71. Or when attaining an intense joy from meeting relatives after long separation, having experienced this happiness dissolve your mind (manas) in it.
72. Dwell in relishing the taste of food and drinks. Retaining this state brings the greatest bliss.
73 A yogi who has attained unity with delight taken in singing and the same, due to this fullness and exaltation of the mind gets the feeling of selfness.
As we can see, the techniques proposed by Vijnyana Bhairava Tantra are very similar to Patanjali’s line. In terms of Tantra, concentration of one’s mind on something appealing and wanted is a practice. And finally, resuming all the lines above, the author of Vijnyana Bhairava Tantra writes the lines that simply echo the sutra of Patanjali under our consideration:
74. Wherever manas gets satisfied, there it should be held. It is there that the essence (svarupa) of the Supreme Bliss is.
How can we explain these techniques? Do meditations on the desired and appealing (they usually coincide) come as an effective way of practice or they are just a reflection of somebody’s hedonism? That was a joke))) Let us start with a question of what is the mechanism and what are the purposes of focusing on the desired.
1. One cannot but agree with Vyasa in the issue of meditation on something desired to be easier. Though even here we may come across unpleasant surprises. The mind can start wandering away even from a pleasant object given there are superconscious programs, emotional ties and tails present. In psychology, for instance, they have a half-joking term – “a fridge door syndrome”. It stands for a situation during sex when at the very crucial moment one of the participants suddenly recalls the fridge door that could have been left open. And the arousal fades… In this case the reason shall be one’s non-totality in taking the decision, that is, those good old programs, bonds and tails. Elimination of this interfering factors is highly motivated by desire to get a pleasant experience, and from this point these practices are easier to start. Besides, one’s mind gets accustomed to the state of been gathered into one point (ekagrata). That can further on be extrapolated to other fields of one’s activity.
2. The next consideration is more “tantric” in its character. By concentration on emotional experience one intensifies the same, making it more peak in its nature. While peak experiences take a practitioner beyond the frameworks of bland physicality. For instance, at the moment of sexual union you cease understanding where your body is and where is that of a partner. Or you feel his\her sensations the way you feel yours. These experiences are not physical yet energetic in their nature; therefore a person starts thinking and sensing in terms of energy. An ancient sage once said that “Svathishthana is the first truly transpersonal chakra”, yet giving this notion a second thought we understand each chakra to be transpersonal. And this is what Vijnyana Bhairava Tantra actually tells about.
3. If we consider desires to be efflations of human chakras, of one’s svarupa – this is what I wrote about in the previous articles (1, 2, 3) – the idea of this technique that involves gathering one’s mind and bringing it in the state of yoga becomes even more obvious.
At this point we shall come back to the particle yathā that can be translated as “similar to”. Some translators interpret this line in this very manner:
Or, by means of dhyana on [something] similar to the desired.
Though I am not sure it was exactly this meaning that the author implied, this version provides us with another class of techniques. Indeed, very often a person is not completely veridic in comprehending his or her desires. One rather looks nearby, “where the light is but not where the thing was lost”. The dissatisfaction rising from fulfilment of these “similar to genuine” desires induces tension – the scattering of mind. Only in case a person has got at his/her desire and focused on it to the maximum he becomes whole and collected. While comprehending one’s desires requires a deep analysis and study of the self and one’s manifested desires, that is, dhyana. And this is what Patanjali writes about.
[1] The translation is mine. I’ve done it because the existing translations (especially English ones) obviously sidetrack the sexual and “experiencing” aspect of the practice making it as obscure as possible. Those interested may read the following translation of these lines [taken from – translator’s note]
One should throw the blissful mind into the fire (manipura chakra) in the midle of that fible-like lotus stalk (sushumna) or into that which is only full of air (anahata chakra). Then one is united with the remembrance of bliss (68).
By the union with Shakti there is excitation and in the end, one is absorbed into shakti. That bliss (of union) which is said to be the nature of Brahman (ever-expanding consciousness), that bliss is (in reality) one’s own self (69).
O Queen of Gods, the bliss of a woman is attained even in the absence of Shakti. By fully remembering and absorbing the mind in the experience of kissing, hugging and embracing, the bliss dwells (70).
When great joy is obtained (through any event such as) meeting with relatives, one should meditate on that with one-pointedness, until the mind becomes absorbed and the bliss ever arises (71).
If one concentrates on eating and drinking and the happiness obtained by that joy of taste, from such contemplation of enjoyment arises the state of fullness, which then becomes supreme joy or bliss (72).
As a result on concentrating on the pleasures of the senses, such as music or song, the yogis experience equal happiness (or pleasure) within. By being (thus) absorbed the yogi ascends beyond the mind and becomes one with that (supreme) (73).
Whenever there is satisfaction of mind and the mind is held there alone, the nature of supreme bliss manifests (74).