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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

Patanjali only elaborated the doctrine


Sankhya philosophy, with the addition of a peculiar form of mental asceticism as the most effective means of acquiring saving knowledge, appears to have assumed definite shape in a manual at an earlier period than any of the other orthodox systems. This is the Yoga philosophy founded by Patanjali and expounded in the Yoga Sutras. The priority of this text-book is rendered highly probable by the fact that it is the only philosophical Sutra work which contains no polemics against the others. There seems, moreover, to be no sufficient ground to doubt the correctness of the native tradition identifying the founder of the Yoga system with the grammarian Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras therefore probably date from the second century B.C. This work also goes by the name of Sankhya-pravachana, the same as that given to the later Sankhya Sutras, a sufficiently clear proof of its close connection with Kapila's philosophy. In the Mahabharata the two systems are actually spoken of as one and the same.

In order to make his system more acceptable, Patanjali introduced into it the doctrine of a personal god, but in so loose a way as not to affect the system as a whole. Indeed, the parts of the Sutras dealing with the person of God are not only unconnected with the other parts of the treatise, but even contradict the foundations of the system. For the final aim of man is here represented as the absolute isolation (kaivalya) of the soul from matter, just as in the

Sankhya system, and not union with or absorption in God. Nor are the individual souls here derived from the "special soul" or God, but are like the latter without a beginning.

The really distinctive part of the system is the establishment of the views prevailing in Patanjali's time with regard to asceticism and the mysterious powers to be acquired by its practice. Yoga, or "yoking" the mind, means mental concentration on a particular object. The belief that fasting and other penances produce supernatural powers goes back to remote prehistoric times, and still prevails among savage races. Bodily asceticism of this kind is known to the Vedas under the name of tapas. From this, with the advance of intellectual life in India, was developed the practice of mental asceticism called yoga, which must have been known and practised several centuries before Patanjali's time. For recent investigations have shown that Buddhism started not only from the theoretical Sankhya but from the practical Yoga doctrine; and the condition of ecstatic abstraction was from the beginning held in high esteem among the Buddhists. Patanjali only elaborated the doctrine, describing at length the means of attaining concentration and carrying it to the highest pitch. In his system the methodical practice of Yoga acquired a special importance; for, in addition to conferring supernatural powers, it here becomes the chief means of salvation. His Sutras consist of four chapters dealing with deep meditation (samadhi), the means for obtaining it (sadhana), the miraculous powers (vibhuti) it confers, and the isolation (kaivalya) of the redeemed soul. The oldest and best commentary on this work is that of Vyasa, dating from the seventh century A.D.

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