tad-abhāvāt saṁyogābhāvo hānaṃ tad dṛśeḥ kaivalyam
tad-abhāvāt saṁyoga-abhāvaḥ hānaṃ tat dṛśeḥ kaivalyam
“From the not-being of that [not-knowing], the not-being of conflation. This leaving [leads to] the oneness of seeing.”
In Sanskrit, a- is a prefix of negation, and abhāvaḥ means not-becoming or not-being. The dictionary gives the English translation as disappearance or absence, themselves words formed from prefixes of negation (dis-, ab-), but here in sūtra II.25 the play on negatives is best expressed, I think, by “not.” The first two words form a double negative: tad-abhāvāt, “from the not-being of that,” or, rather, “from the not-being of not-knowing (avidyā, threading through from last sūtra)”.
What is this negation? The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad defines Brahman as neti neti, “not this, not this.” The ultimate, in other words, is unnameable, beyond any idea. Theologian Matthew Fox says that the inner work of the spiritual journey is fourfold, consisting of
– awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
– uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
– birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
– justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)
It is the second of these aspects, the Via Negativa, that Patañjali describes here. It is not comfortable to let things go, it is not easy to turn inward and discover the darkness of uncertainty. But an important part of the yoga process is experience of the unknowable, a suspension of conceptualization, conclusion, decision. The mind drives to form a new concept, to reestablish (in Rohit Mehta’s language) psychological continuity, and yet it is a yogic moment to not let that concept come into being, to not let that decision be made, to let go to what we don’t know. This is hānam, the abandonment of our old ways. The birth that comes from hānam is, says Patañjali–dṛśeḥ kaivalya, the oneness of seeing. (Kaivalya, from kevala, “alone,” could also be described as integration, wholeness, union, freedom. It is the subject of Chapter Four.)
Today, in my life, how does this ultimate unknowable speak to me? It is a time of environmental catastrophe and political malfeasance, and I am experiencing disillusionment, hypervigilance, despair. These are valid feelings and presentiments. Yet they can also catch me and hold me. Incapacitate me. Can I feel these things, know what I know, and let go–not hold on with such conviction, with such vehemence? Can I not try to argue against them? Can I let myself not-know? And if I can practice this abandonment, then what? What is left? According to thirteenth-century mystic and prophet Meister Eckhart–what is left is to sink into love, to be present to the creation that is before, within, around.
Matthew Fox says that we are all mystics. And we are all prophets. The Via Negativa leads us to our source, which is unknowable. Yet it is from here that we will move forward–in oneness.
Now I ask how that can be, this freeing of our knowing from all form and images and yet knowing things in themselves without hindrance from outside or change in oneself? I answer that it comes from the simplicity which is ours as human beings. For the more purely human beings are free from themselves and in themselves, the more simply they know all diversity in themselves and remain unchangeable in themselves. — Meister Eckhart
God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction. –Meister Eckhart (both quotes taken from Passion for Creation, by Matthew Fox)
“Pure perception indicates seeing things as they are. If we know life as it is at any moment without any projection of the mind then we shall know the secret of right relationship with that life.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.25
“If we want to experience heaven on earth, we have to grasp the qualities of nature, the guṇas, that is to say the polarity of rajas and tamas, the eternal pulse of nature between movement and stillness, and the higher balancing state of sattva. …If we understand the flow of these forces, we can reach balance, and from balance go on to true freedom. ” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.25
“We all feel the call, consciously or unconsciously, from Gaia, from Mother Earth, from our children and grandchildren and ancestors to come, from Spirit, to change our ways. To undergo metanoia — or conversion, rebirth, waking up, or all of the above. To do this we need to be lovers again who are more in love with the world than ever. More grateful for existence, for the nourishing and beautiful Earth, for her marvelous creatures, for her suffering, than ever before. More struck by reverence and respect for the miracle of our being here, the gift of existence in this amazing universe with its 13.8-billion-year history — ‘isness is God,’ says Eckhart.” –Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart, A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times
• How do you listen to those with opposing views? Are you able to know what you know when others disagree with you?
• Are you able to accept when you are wrong?
• What role does surrender play in your life?
• Has yoga helped you experience oneness in a new way? Has it freed you?
pronoun in compound
|masculine noun, 5th case singular, “owing to”
||not-being, absence (from a-, “not,” + bhū, “to be, become”)|
|masculine noun in compound
||conflation, union (from sam-, “together,” “all,” “same,” + yuj, “to join”)|
masculine noun, 1st case singular
|not-being, absence (from a-, “not,” + bhū, “to be, become”)|
neuter noun, 1st case singular
|leaving, abandoning, cessation (from hā, “to leave”)|
neuter pronoun, 1st case singular
feminine noun, 6th case singular, “of”
seeing (from dṛś, “to see”)
|neuter noun, 1st case singular
oneness, aloneness (from kevala, “alone”)