I.9 शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वास्तुशून्यो विकल्प:

śabda-jñānānupātī vastu-śūnyo vikalpaḥ
śabda-jñāna-anupātī vastu-śūnyaḥ vikalpaḥ

“Imagination arises from knowledge based on an idea. It is without a real object.”

Imagination, as Patañjali defines it, has no object (it is “empty,” śunyaḥ, of an object); it follows the formation of a word or concept (śabda) that may or may not be based on something real.  Vikalpaḥ might be understood to be the process of conceptualization itself, which is interrelated with how perception happens. The words we use, the ideas we have, affect what we see. It is because of this that yoga’s ultimate goal, in a sense, is to move beyond words. Patañjali  posits a kind of essential knowledge that is beyond conceptualization. (See sūtras I.42-43.)

“Imagination uses thought to create nonexistent realities. An architect walking over the land creates a house in his or her mind. A composer writing pages of musical notes hears a symphony in the heart. Although it cannot be seen in the surroundings, imagination lets us glimpse reality in ourselves.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 14

“Patañjali’s universe is not relative. Some perceptions are true and others are not. We can know truth by perceiving it directly, by inferring it, or by hearing it from others. We can also misperceive, misinfer, or receive incorrect information. In either case, once we begin to imagine what our words evoke, we have subtly turned to a new pattern of thought, conceptualization [vikalpaḥ], that lies at a further remove from reality than inference or testimony.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 4

• Does your mind tend toward abstract thought? Does this help or hinder you in your practice?
• What is the role of imagination in practice? In life?
• Do you feel you benefit from the experience of great art? How?
• Is there a downside to fantasy for you?


masculine noun , 1st case singular

sound, word


neuter noun in compound

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)


adjective, masculine, 1st case singular

following, as a consequence or result (from anu-, “after” + pat, “to fall”)


neuter noun in compound

object, a thing in general, a really existing thing


adjective, masculine, 1st case singular

empty, void (from śvi, “to swell”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

imagination, conceptualization (from vi-, “apart, distinct” + kḷp, “to fit, serve”)

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