II.27 तस्य सप्तधा प्रान्तभूमिः प्रज्ञा

tasya saptadhā prānta-bhūmiḥ prajñā
tasya sapta-dhā prānta-bhūmiḥ prajñā

“The wisdom that comes from this [discernment] is sevenfold–it reaches the innermost ground of one’s being.”

Patañjali reintroduces the idea of prajñā, the special knowledge “that carries truth in it”; we might ask–what is the truth of ourselves? what levels of truth are we aware of within ourselves?  We may adhere to spiritual principles on an intellectual level but find no connection to them in the day-to-day. How do we come to know through and through ourselves, as Mr. Iyengar might say, on a “cellular level”?

Mr. Iyengar seems to enjoy the various traditional interpretations of “sevenfold” knowledge. He cites the classical commentator Vyāsa’s seven divisions of consciousness, and he muses on other layers or spheres that one might see in a sevenfold way. (See tables 10-11 in Light on the Yoga Sūtras.) Mr. Iyengar’s seven “levels of knowledge” speak to modern yoga practice in a recognizable way. They are: knowledge of body, energy, mind, intelligence, experience, absorption of flavor, self. The sixth level,  absorption of flavor–rasātmaka jñāna–is especially intriguing. Rasa is taste; rasātmaka is “taste of the essence.” How wonderful to recognize taste as a form of knowing. Do we taste our lives? Do we allow for the absorption of experience? How far does our awareness extend?

Rohit Mehta is not concerned with the number seven per se: he asserts that sevenfold is a traditional way of referring to the totality of existence. He interprets prānta-bhūmiḥ (literally, “up to the most inner place”) to mean the emotions and senses as well as the intellect. In this sense, his interpretation of the sūtra is very similar to Mr. Iyengar’s. The knowledge that comes from yoga is a knowledge that permeates, it is a way of knowing that comes from permeation, from processing, from tasting.

Whether I like it or no, life takes me through the layers of myself, the “spheres of knowledge,” as Mr. Iyengar says. Yoga practice brings greater awareness of body, breath, consciousness, yes. Yet practice becomes significant in the living, in relationship–to the world around me, to people, to nature. It is there that reality presents itself, the reality in me, the reality around me. Rohit Mehta says, “To be a participant and yet to be a witness, this alone can be called total awareness.”

The “totality” that this sūtra suggests leads me to reflect on a difficult challenge in practice: the experience of disappointment, loss, failure. These have confronted me with the limits of my insight, the precariousness of my serenity.  They have also helped me know the truth of myself better. Pema Chödrön, in her jewel-like book Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, says one way to understand failure is “when things don’t turn out as we want.”  Contemplative practice might be considered, in its essence, as the action of holding the rawness of pain, a way of practicing failure.

There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or  not, we all want to succeed, especially if you consider success as “it works out the way I want it to.” You know it feels good in the gut and in the heart because it worked out. So failing by that definition is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.

And failing is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.

I think in college or university, if there is one thing that prepares you for having some idea of how to work with the rawness of things not working out the way you want them to, it would be contemplative education. As I listened to all the other speakers, it reinforced what I already thought was true, which is that you have gotten a lot of instruction and encouragement and support for feeling how things impact you and not just going down the tubes with it, but actually taking responsibility for what is happening to you and having some tools about how to work with painful feelings, raw feelings.

So fail, fail again, fail better. It’s like how to get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart. Or how to get good at “welcoming the unwelcome.”

–Pema Chödrön, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better (commencement address, 2014, Naropa University, Boulder Colorado)

Yoga practice is a practice in feeling, in “tasting.” The wisdom that yoga brings, as Patañjali expressed in I.48, is of the heart, through the heart. It comes through the senses, through experience, from connection, from life.

—–

“Its area or prāntabhūmi has to be saptadhā or sevenfold. The word saptadhā  really indicates a totality, for when one speaks of the total nature of man or of the universe, one speaks of it as sevenfold. Patañjali says that this awareness has not only to be uninterrupted [II.26] but it has also to be total. This means that one has to be aware of the totality of one’s being. This awareness has to be not merely with cold intellect, but with emotions and also the sensorial mechanism of the body. It must penetrate the entire fibre of one’s being. It must not be that of a witness who looks at the flow of continuity from a distance. A witness can be aware only from the outside and such an awareness from a distance is of no avail. To be a participant and yet to be a witness, this alone can be called total awareness.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.27

“There are seven states of awareness of the human consciousness, which are dealt with differently by different traditional authors. For me, the seven states of knowledge (prajñā) are either on a perceptible level or on the levels of integration (saṁyama). On a perceptible level are: knowledge of the body, including organs of action and senses of perception (śarīra), knowledge of energy (prāṇa), knowledge of the mind (manas), clarity of intelligence (vijñāna), experienced knowledge (ānubhavika), absorption of the flavour of experienced knowledge (rasātmaka), and the knowledge of the seer (puruṣa). On the levels of integration are: the body, senses, energy, mind, intelligence, consciousness and self.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.27, p. 139

Questions:
•What would you consider to be knowledge that comes from the totality of yourself? What is it to know the totality of yourself?
•Do you taste your āsana practice? Your prāṇāyāma practice? Your relationships?
•How does failure affect you?
•What does it mean to you “to be a participant and yet to be a witness”?

tasya

pronoun, 6th case singular

of that (referring to “the path” of previous sūtra)

sapta-dhā

adverb

seven-layered (sapta, “seven,” + dhā, often used as a suffix with numbers to give the sense of having or holding; here, “having seven aspects”)

prānta-

masculine noun in compound

border, edge, end (pra + anta, “end, inner part”)

bhūmiḥ

feminine noun, 1st case singular

ground, place (from bhū, “to be”)

prajñā

feminine noun, 1st case singular

wisdom, knowledge (from pra- , “forth,” can suggest completion, fullness, perfection + jñā, “to know”; the verb prajñā means to discern, especially in reference to required action)

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