A Miscellany of Quotations — Bryant & Damascius

From The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

Years ago, when I started reading the 600-page commentary (900 ebook pages; the page numbers below are ebook ones) on the Yoga Sūtras by Edwin F. Bryant, I wanted to have a better grounding in the philosophy behind the asana I practiced multiple times a week so I would at least know what it was. It has been a slow read — the book I turn to when I’m digesting other things — so I have only just now arrived at the part discussing the yamas and niyamas.

Hooray. 🙌

What this also means is that I have arrived at the most difficult part of the text. Many times earlier on, I read something and thought, “If x is so, then I’m guessing y, but perhaps I just don’t know enough, so certainly y cannot follow from x.”

When impurity is removed, the light of full knowledge, jñāna-dīpti, noted in this sūtra can shine forth, like the sun after the cold season, says Śaṅkara. Another way of putting this is that as the impurities of tamas and rajas dwindle, the luminosity and clarity inherent in sattva can manifest unimpeded. (p. 392)

A major point of common ground among theurgic, yogic, and other types of religious activity is the focus on purifications, abstentions, and the like that bring the self into a better state for doing the work.

Ahiṁsā is the most important yama, say the commentators, and therefore leads the list. (p. 394)

Ahiṁsā is nonviolence, in its most simple definition.

A sāttvic person is empathetic and compassionate towards other embodied beings and would never countenance inflicting violence upon them, what to speak of eating their flesh. Moreover, being insightful, such a person understands the kārmic consequence of violent actions, as will be indicated in II.34: Any involvement in volent acts of any kind requires that the perpetrator be subjected to the same violence at some future time as kārmic consequence. Moreover, inflicting violence is a quality of tamas, and thus eating meat increases the tāmasic potential of the citta, further enhancing ignorance. A vegetarian diet is nonnegotiable for yogīs. (p. 397)

Much of the discussion surrounding ahiṁsā in the commentary is about vegetarianism. I am not vegetarian, which is one of several reasons that I bristle somewhat whenever I go to a yoga class and the instructor calls us yogis. I do asana, pranayama, meditation, and prayer, but it’s not the same thing — if you can’t meet the entrance requirements ……

[A]voiding untruth extends to the point of abstaining from reading fiction, for Hariharānanda. The yogī is always contemplating spiritual truths and does not occupy his or her mind with fictional or worldly trivia, silly fantasy, daydreaming, or imagination. (p. 399)

In all seriousness, I remember reading sections of the commentary on Patañjali’s Chapter I and thinking, “Someone is eventually going to say that I am wasting my time with my love of writing poetry and fiction, and I believe in the power of art to bring Heaven down to Earth, so we’re going to have a philosophical impasse, and I should never actually call myself a yogi.” And someone did carry this out to its logical conclusion.

Vyāsa defines renunciation of possessions as the ability to see the problems caused by acquisition, preservation, and destruction of things, since these only provoke attachment and injury. There is trouble involved in acquiring things in the first place, says Hariharānanda, trouble again in trying to preserve and upkeep them, and trouble and distress when we inevitably lose them. For such reasons, possession produces saṁskāras, and these activate in the future to cause distress in the form of hankering for objects, or lamentation for having lost them. Hoarding wealth without sharing it is sheer selfishness and points to a complete lack of sympathy for the plight of others, says Hariharānanda. (p. 400)

Minimalism as a whole should acknowledge its roots in yogic philosophy, Stoicism, and other schools. (Many of the more visibly spiritual people in the movement are Christians, so they’re less likely to cite non-Christian religions and philosophical systems.) Minimalism 101 is a paraphrased, highly verbose version of this paragraph.

The term “universal” by definition should make any further qualification redundant, but Patañjali makes a point of additionally naming and eliminating any possible grounds or pleas for exception: These yamas are anavicchinnāḥ, not exempted because of one’s class, jāti; place, deśa; time, kāla; or circumstance, samaya. This is as absolute a statement as can be made. [… T]here is a discussion in certain quarters of the Yoga community in America about the jurisdiction of the yamas in the twenty-first-century West. Whatever direction such discussions may take, and whatever hybrid practices evolve in the West under the rubric of yoga, this sūtra makes it very clear that as far as Patañjali is concerned, there are no exceptions to these rules at any time in any place for anyone aspiring to be a yogī as defined by his system. (p. 402-403)


Patañjali’s intent cannot be expressed much more clearly. The yamas are universal prescriptions — there are no exceptions, says Vyāsa. Aspiring yogīs in the modern context are thus informed in this sūtra that renegotiations of the yamas due to the exigencies of modern times and the Western landscape are emphatically not recognized by the classical Yoga tradition. (p. 406)

A few quotations above, I said that I am not vegetarian. For the longest time, every time I tried to eat less meat protein, I ended up feeling hungry more or less instantly after I ate, regardless of what or how much. (In the 00s, while learning about Pythagoreanism and reading ethical things discussed on the Kyklos Apollon listserv, I felt some pressure to try.)

Eventually, after doing my genome, I learned that my body actually just doesn’t have the gene variants to understand what to do with many vegetarian forms of nutrients, so I stopped feeling guilty. Also, most legumes fuck me up regardless of how I prepare them — the ones that don’t are edamame, chickpeas, and condiment amounts of lentils and mung beans. I can also eat idli and dosas in moderation. However, I have always been fine eating animals, even bone-in. My ancestors had no selection pressure to eat a more vegetarian diet, which makes me very unsettled about climate change; these genetic things are not quite so desirable if we have to reduce meat consumption to save the planet. When I was reading Marinus’ Life of Proclus, it was actually kinda funny how Plutarch tried to intervene with Proclus to tell him to eat small amounts of meat because he assumed he would need it to keep his stamina up, so I don’t think I’m alone. 😂

While I find the sūtras and the practice of asana, pranayama, and the like helpful, I agree with Bryant about the importance of meeting entrance requirements to actually use certain terms for oneself. He mentioned medical advice suggesting animal products in the commentary as an example of prohibited samaya, so that’s that, it would seem.

The other yamas are truthfulness, non-stealing, non-attachment, and non-possession. It is possible to work on virtue and to do what one can, and the only way out is up, so we can all chalk up those hands and start climbing. 🧗‍♀️ Maybe that highly positive, optimistic part of me is the one that has had several glasses of the Platonic kool-aid.

Vācaspati Miśra considers devotion to īśvara to be the most important of all the yamas and niyamas. As we will see below, cultivating the yamas and niyamas produces beneficial results, but it is only from īśvara-praṇidhāna that the ultimate result of yoga, namely, samādhi, is gained (II.45). Also, it is important to note again here that although īśvara-praṇidhāna was optional as a method of meditation in the first chapter, it is not optional here in the context of the niyamas. As with the requirements of kriyā-yoga at the beginning of this chapter, Patañjali is requiring a theistic practice at least at this point in his system. (p. 410-411)

Īśvara = a God = theism. 🙃

From Damascius’ Lectures on the Philebus

I must say that I am really enjoying Damascius’ treatment of false pleasures, although I will not point to a specific passage or say why. My GF has been the patient recipient of maybe four(?) images of passages with my appended comments. As always, this is the one translated by L. G. Westerink.

It is Plato’s conviction that Providence also controls the inward motions of the soul; for if the direction of its expectations depends on the favour of the Gods, it is evident that the Godhead also governs the depths of the soul. (§180)



The truth is rather this: since we have been wrenched away from the Good in the process of manifold partition, hope is given us so that we may thereby hold on to it somehow and not fall away from it completely, but return to it at least through hope. (§181)

I am pleased with this passage because it reminds me of the prayer I gave to Elpis, so perhaps I am on the right track.

True comedy satirizes powerless ignorance, the corrupted kind also attacks virtue. (§203)

That is a very concise burn. Why do I not see people quoting this lecture note section on the Internet. Here, let me help:

damascius true comedy virtue smaller

The base image is a public domain one from the Wikimedia Commons. There’s a larger size, but that didn’t seem to load instantly in the post, lol.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s