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Asmitā: The Affliction (kleśa) – A Textual Review Based On 15 Saṃskṛta Commentaries Of Yogasūtras

1. Introduction

In the study of Yogasūtras, the term Asmitā is an important concept. The term appears in three occasions in the Yogasūtras 1.17, 2.6, and 4.4. Among these three contexts of occurrences, this paper focuses on the second occasion of the occurrence.

Asmitā, in the first instance is employed as the fourth level of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi. Third context of occurrence considers Asmitā as the causal material for creating Cittas for a Yogin in the context of Siddhis.

The second occasion is where; asmitā is discussed as a kleśa – an affliction that is experienced in our day to day life. Many translators consider Asmitā as the Yogic term to denote Ego. Ego or the notion of ‘I’ is central in human identity and ‘I’ is part of every human transaction. The Yogic treatment of this concept of Ego or ‘I’ could be understood by studying the concept of Asmitā in its second occasion of occurrence.

From a textual perspective, towards attaining clarity on this, it is essential that the views of all accessible classical Samskrta commentaries are consulted. The fifteen commentaries that could be consulted for the study are –

1) Commentary of Vyāsa 2) Tattvavaiśāradī of Vācaspati Miṡra, 3) Pātañjalarahasya of Rāghavānanda, 4) Yogavārṭīkā of Vijñānabhikṡu, 5) Bhāsvatī of Hariharānanda Āraṇya, 6) Rāja-mārtāṇḍa of Bhoja, 7) pradīpikā of Bhāva-gaṇeśa, 8)vṛttiḥ of Nāgojī-bhaṭṭa, 9)maṇi-prabhā of Rāmānanda-yati, 10) candrikā of Ananta-deva-paṇḍita, 11) yoga-sudhākaraḥ of Sadāśivendra-sarasvatī 12) Vivaraṇam of Śaṅkara-Bhagavatpāda, 13&14) Yogasiddhānta-candrikā &, Sutrārthabodhinī by Nārāyaṇatīrtha 15) Tīkā of Balarāma Udāsīna

 2. The Sūtra

Sage Patañjali defines asmitā as – dṛg-darśana-śaktyorekātmatevāsmitā (PYS 2.6). The direct translation of the Sūtra reads – Asmitā is the feeling of identity between the power of seeing and the power by which one sees. (Rukmani, (2001))

 3. Initial connecting commentary

Before going into the Sūtra and terms that form part of the definition of Asmitā, it would be worthwhile to see the view of the commentators about the connection of this Sūtra with the previous Sūtra.

  • The commentaries tattvavaiśāradī (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)), vārttika (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)), yogasiddhāntacandrikā (Gopālabhaṭṭa 1910) state – “After stating Avidyā, its effect asmitā is stated”. Yogasudhākara (śāstrī 2009) commentary uses a slightly different wording – but the meaning remains the same. It states “asmitā, the root of which is Avidyā is stated now”.
  • In addition to the above view, Tattvavaiśāradī (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)) states that (Asmitā is stated (after Avidyā) as) “it is superior to rāga and others”. Balarāma udāsīna’s ṭīkā clarifies the view of tattvavaiśāradī (Udāsīna (1908)). It states- “in the absence of asmitā – Rāga and others will not arise. Hence the superiority of Asmitā”.
  • Vivaraṇa (Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) states – “now asmitā which is a wrong knowledge is being stated”.

It is interesting to note that the connecting commentaries have not only connected the previous avidyā Sūtra with this Sūtra but also connected this Sūtra with the next Sūtra on Rāga etc.

 4. Word by word Analysis

Grammatically the Sūtra on asmitā has four words – a) dṛg-darśana-śaktyoh, b) ekātmatā, c) iva and d) asmitā. Asmitā is the term to be defined. The rest of the terms are the constituents of definition.

4.1 The Term – Asmitā

Interestingly, all the commentators are focused on the meaning of the definition of the term asmitā and not on the term asmitā itself in the context of this Sūtra.

Grammatically, the term Asmitā is formed as follows – Asmi is  first personal singular form of the verb that is derived from the root ‘as’ – to be. Asmi gets translated as ‘I am’. When the Pratyaya (affix) ‘ta’ meaning bhāva (nature thereof) is added as per Sage pāṇini Sūtra 5.1.119 (Vasu, (1906)) then the form asmitā is attained. Hence the meaning the term asmitā literally, is – “I-am-ness”

4.2 The Term – Dṛg-darśana-śaktyoh

The first term in the Sūtra is – Dṛg-darśana-śaktyoh. The only commentary that presents a compound split in one go is Tattvavaiśāradī (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)). It is stated – dṛk and darśanaṃ are themselves powers. Of the two (power of dṛk and darśanaṃ). (dṛk ca darśanaṃ ca te eva śaktī, tayoḥ). Regarding splitting the compound Pātañjalarahasya (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)), a sub-commentary to Tattvavaiśāradī suggests a slightly different approach.

It states – “In a dvandva compound the last term (here the word śakti) that one hears, is attached to each of the previous components.” Both these approaches do not drastically effect a change in the meaning of the terms. But many commentators have used the terms dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti. Hence, Pātañjalarahasya approach is followed in this paper and the compound is split as dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti.

4.2.1  A note on the word śakti – three interpretations

Before going into the meaning of dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti it would be worthwhile to look at the meaning given to the term śakti which is common to the two terms to be analyzed. Only a few commentaries discuss the meaning of the term. The following table presents the three meanings presented to the term śakti in the commentaries –

Table 1: Three Interpretations of the term śakti

Tattvavaiśāradī’s comment on the term śakti is worth noting. It probably indicates that, it is only in the context of asmitā that the potential of Dṛk and darśana to be the experiencer and experienced is expressed in the Sūtra. Sage Vyāsa (Śāṡtrī GD (2007)) also in his commentary in the asmitā Sūtra (2.6) explains that – Bhoga is not possible without the superimposition of identity between experiencer and the experienced.

Vārttika seems to interpret the usage of the term śakti to avoid non-applicability (avyāpti) of asmitā in the state of dissolution (pralaya). In the manifest state, asmitā is ‘experienced’ as a super-imposition of identity between Puruṣa and Buddhi. But- in the state of Pralaya/ dissolution – no special outcome (activity) is seen.

Rukmani TS (2001, Footnote 1, pg.27) explains the implication of Vārttika statement as follows – The potency (śakti) in the two to come back into the relationship as experiencer and the experienced (is) in accordance with Karma.

Probably Vārttika tries to indicate that the result of Karma in the form of the wrong perception of dṛk and darśana, which leads to asmitā and otherworldly experiences may not be experienced in the state of dissolution, which is the suspension of manifestation.

But it does not mean that the results of Karma will vanish. This result of Karma in the form of the wrong perception lies as a latent potency during dissolution and appears when the creation manifests. Thus the utilization of the word śakti may serve to indicate the infallibility of Karma in delivering its results.

The explanation of maṇiprabhā and yogasiddhāntacandrikā that could be seen in the table above seems to be common to both the above views of Tattvavaiśāradī and Vārttika. The capability or potency of dṛk and darśana can either be taken to refer to the potency at the time of dissolution dṛk and darśana to come back into the state of superimposition when the creation will manifest again or the potency that is aquired by the superimposition of dṛk and darśana in asmitā.

The interpretation given in Tattvavaiśāradī to connect the potency to the experiencer and the experienced in the context of asmitā seems to be in line with Sage Vyāsa’s thought and also relevant to asmitā and hence more appropriate.

4.2.2  dṛk/dṛkśakti – Five interpretations

Now let us consider the first component of the compound dṛkdarśanaśaktyoḥ i.e dṛkśakti. The following table gives the four meanings given to the word dṛkśakti by the commentators.

Table 2: Four interpretations of dṛkśakti

As evident from the table, the majority of the commentators prefer the meaning Puruṣa probably to clearly indicate that dṛkśakti is consciousness. In seven Sūtras, Sage Patañjali in yogasūtras uses the term puruṣa (PYS 1.16, 1.24, 3.35, 3.39, 3.55, 4.18, 4.34) to indicate consciousness whereas the term draṣṭā is found only in four occasions ( PYS 1.3, 2.17, 2.20, 4.23) Though there are eight occurrences (PYS 1.47, 2.5, 2.6, 2.18, 2.2.1, 2.41, 4.13, 4.25) of the term ātmān in Yogasūtras, only in four occasions it is used in the sense of the consciousness ( 1.47, 2.5, 2.41, 4.25).

Hence, following the footsteps of Sage Patañjali the choice (puruṣa) might have been made. But draṣṭā is also an insightful choice by vārttika as the current Sūtra is about the dṛk and darśana both of which are associated with seeing/experiencing. Maṇiprabhā uses both the terms puruṣa and draṣṭā.

Though in Vivaraṇa commentary, the term upalabdhi is used along with the term puruṣa, it is to be taken only as pure knowledge or consciousness. In darśana texts, the term upalabdhi has many connotations including the meaning buddhi in nyāyasūtra (1.1.15) – Vidyābhūṣaṇa (1913), which cannot be applicable here, as darśanaśaktiḥ is presented as buddhi.

Interestingly, the term ātmā is used by Tattvavaiśāradī probably, to indicate the cause and effect connection between avidyā and asmitā. Of the four aspects of avidyā anātmani ātmakhyāti is the fourth factor, which is directly seen as asmitā by Tattvavaiśāradī. It can been seen later that darśanaśakti is derived by Tattvavaiśāradī as anātmā.

The term svabodha, svato bodha, used by the bhāsvatī commentary to describe dṛk/dṛkśakti is also worth noting. Here it seems to mean knowledge of oneself or knowledge of self by one’s own self. This is to be contrasted with the description of darśanaśakti by the same commentator (look under the discussion of word darśanaśakti in this article).

Thus by looking at the commentaries it becomes amply clear that the dṛkśakti is to be understood as consciousness (puruṣa), which is the seer (draṣṭā), self-luminous (svabodhaḥ) and the real self (ātmā). All the four meanings are complementary to each other and bring out various dimensions of the expression dṛkśakti adding to the understanding, leaving no element of doubt the nature of dṛkśakti.

4.2.3 Darśanam/Darśanaśakti – Seven interpretations

The following table presents the seven different expressions presented to the term darśana/darśanaśakti by various commentators.

Table 3: Seven interpretations of Darśanaśakti

The word Buddhi used by Sage Vyāsa is in line with the usage found in the Yogasūtra itself in a similar context in the fourth chapter, PYS 4.22 (citerapratisaṃkramāyās-tadākārāpattau svabuddhisaṃvedanam). Here we find the term buddhi being used by sage Patañjali as the one getting associated with consciousness.

Five other commentators concur with the views of Sage Vyāsa. Even vivaraṇa conveys the same meaning without using the term buddhi when it says antaḥkaraṇādhyavasāyarūpā. It is well known that ādhyavasāya is the function of Buddhi. (Sāṅkhya Kārikā 23) (Sharma (1933))

The term anātmā used in Tattvavaiśāradī as stated earlier in the context of dṛkśakti, clearly helps to connect avidyā Sūtra with this Sūtra on asmitā in terms of indicating their cause and effect connection. But as it is a non-specific interpretation of the term darśanaśakti, and hence has very wide applicability.

So it does not seem to exactly pin point what exactly darśanaśakti means.
The word Sattva is a very apt usage in yogasudhākara to denote darśanaśakti because, in three instances Sage Patañjali in Yogasūtras prefers the word – Sattva to contrast with puruṣa – PYS 3.35, PYS 3.49 and PYS 3.55

The description of Bhojavṛtti indicates the composition of the Gunas of the intellect attained in the process of evolution. But this aspect of the intellect does not seem to be of much relevance in this context. But by corollary, if sattva, as proposed by yogasudhākara, is what is being indicated here also, then both of these interpretations can be seen together.

The meaning Pradhāna presented in Sūtrārtabodhinī is strange though not entirely out of place. Everything other than consciousness/Puruṣa is Pradhāna hence this meaning is not out of place. But is it appropriate in this context? It may not be so. Because in Tattvavaiśāradī (2.23) ((Śāṡtrī GD (2007)) we find the derivation of the term Pradhāna as – – that from which all effects are created is called Pradhāna.

Hence as evident, the term Pradhāna is suitable in the context of the creation process. As this is the context of Ego as a cause of affliction (kleśa), identifying oneself with the material cause of creation does not suit the context.

This analysis by contrast clarifies the appropriate direction to be taken for the interpretation of the term darśana-śakti. The meaning given in Bhāsvatī given in the table seems to be bit farfetched. If darśanaśakti itself is explained in terms of intellect identifying itself as consciousness, then this will make the expression in the Sūtra – ekātmatā iva (the seeming oneness) redundant.

Based on the above analysis we are left with two terms Buddhi and Sattva. Here again Sattva and Buddhi are two apt expression of the same entity. In Vārttika we find that Sattva and Buddhi are described as one and the same in specific context – sattvādhikyāt sattvaṃ buddhiḥ PYS .3.5 – as there is a predominance of Sattva – Buddhi is Sattva.

Hence based on the discussion above, we see that darśanaśakti indicates Buddhi which is predominatly sattvika, which helps determine and decide. But as stated in Tattvavaiśāradī this is still anātma.  Two fold-etymological derivation of the term – Darśana

Finally, it would be useful to note the etymology presented to the term Darśana in the context of Darśanaśakti. Two etymological derivations are proposed in the commentaries. viz –

a) dṛśyate iti darśanam – That which is seen. The meaning intended is – the intellect is the one that is always seen by the consciousness. This indicates the non-flickering steady nature of consciousness.

Probably this etymology is proposed keeping in view the Sūtra – sadā jñātāścittavṛttayastatprabhoḥ puruṣasyāpariṇāmitvāt – PYS 4.18. The activities of the mind are always known to consciousness, because of its non-changing nature.

This etymology is proposed by the commentaries – Vivaraṇa (Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) , Pātañjalarahasya ((Śāṡtrī GD (2007)), Maṇiprabhā (Śāstrī (2009)), Yogasiddhāntacandrikā& sūtrārtabodhinī((Gopālabhaṭṭa, (1928))

b) dṛśyate anena iti – That by which (objects are) seen. This derivation brings out the instrumentality of the intellect in perception. This etymology might have been proposed by taking the view of the Sūtra – draṣṭṛdṛśyoparaktaṁ cittaṁ sarvārtham ॥ 23 – The ability of the citta to get in touch with the perceiver and the perceived and bring about the knowledge of everything (the subject and the object) is discussed in the Sūtra.

This is according to the commentaries – Vārttika ((Śāṡtrī GD (2007)), Pradīpikā & Nāgojībhaṭṭavṛtti (Śāstrī (2009)), Though both the derivations are grammatically appropriate, the former etymology seems to be the one closer to the purpose of the context.

The instrumentality of the intellect (objects) is not the point of discussion here. The seeing of the intellect/ or the reflection/shadow of the consciousness falling on the intellect and their non-distinction due to wrong perception, is the subject matter of discussion.

Hence the former etymology seems to be more appropriate. Thus based on the textual analysis, darśana-śakti is the intellect (Buddhi, Sattva) which is seen by the unwavering consciousness.

4.3 The term – ekātmatā– Six interpretations

These two terms are critical to the Sūtra as it brings out the connection between the aforementioned dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti which in turn is the definition of asmitā. The following table presents seven views of the commentators

Table 4: Six interpretations on ekātmatā

On ekātmatā – a) ekasvarūpāpattiḥ- attainment of one form , b) ekārthatā, – becoming one entity c) atyantamekākāraḥ – extreme oneness of form d) Tādātmyam – identity, e) ekatābhimānaḥ – conception/supposition of oneness, f) ekatvapratibhāsaḥ – appearance of oneness – e are the six expression that can be gleaned from the above table that presents the connection between dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti.

These six expressions above can be divided into two A – a to d and B – e and f. Under A it can be seen that the mere identity between dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti is presented. Whereas B incorporates the nature of a perception/cognition/notion that it creates, which exactly is considered as Ego and this suits more in the context of affliction (kleśa). Additionally, Tattvavaiśāradī brings out the cause of the attainment of the same form (avidyāpāditā).

As can be observed from the explanation of the previous terms of the Sūtra this commentary is consistent in establishing the cause and effect connection between avidyā and asmitā in the process of defining asmitā. The word tādātmya is a compact expression by Maṇiprabhā et al. It indicates – bhedābheda – apparent oneness of two entities which are different from each other (Nyāyakośa (jhalakīkar, 1928).

4.4 The Term Iva – three interpretations

It can also be noted from the table above, that the word ‘Iva’ – ‘as if ‘has been given three interpretations in commentaries –

a) Tattvavaiśāradī (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- states that ‘as if’ indicates that the seeming oneness is not the absolute reality (na tu paramārthataḥ)

b) Vivaraṇa -(Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) – takes the word ‘as if’ to indicate the extreme distinctness between the two (dṛkśakti and darśanaśakti) (ivaśabdenātyantaviviktatāmācaṣṭe)

c) Maṇiprabhā (Śāstrī (2009)) – takes the word ‘as if’ to indicate that , the notion ‘I am’, (by the perception of identity) is due to wrong perception.

In the same vein Yogasiddhāntacandrikā & sūtrārthabodhinī -(Gopālabhaṭṭa, (1928)) – state that the expression ‘as if’ indicates that the notion of oneness is due to the (common place) perception ‘I am’

It can be observed that all the three interpretations are not opposed to each other and being complementary they contribute to the current understanding of the fact that the superimposition of the identity is not the ultimate truth and it is just an appearance of identity between two extremely distinct entities and finally the identity has arisen from a wrong notion.

5. Other inputs from the commentaries on this Sūtra 

Apart from explaining the meaning of the terms of the Sūtras, commentaries offer other related, insights and explanations. They can be seen below

5.1 Bhoga is by Asmitā

Sage Vyāsa (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- the principal commentator states that “Bhoga – worldly experience happens only when the extremely distinct power of experiencer and the power of experienced become as if extremely inseparable. When nature is known, Kaivalyam is attained, how come Bhoga- worldly experience?

To substantiate this he also quotes a statement – “Purusa is different from Buddhi. Unable to see both of them being distinct from each other in terms of ākāra, śīla, vidyā and other factors one considers that (Buddhi) as consciousness only by delusion (Moha)”.

Asmitā has thus been presented as the cause for Bhoga by Sage Vyāsa. He also states that the absence of Asmitā leads to Kaivalya.

The words of Sage Vyāsa are further explained by sub-commentators.

5.1.1 View of Tattvavaiśāradī

Explaining Sage Vyāsa’s need to for making such a statement that connects Bhoga and Asmitā Tattvavaiśāradī (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- states – A query may raise that why should one say that there is the superimposition of Buddhi and Puruṣa that gives affliction, why can’t Buddhi and Puruṣa be one and same entity? To preempt and answer to this, the above statement by Sage Vyāsa was necessitated which brings out the distinct nature of Buddhi and Puruṣa, and the notion of oneness is just a superimposition due to wrong knowledge.

5.1.2 Views of Vivaraṇa

With regard to connecting Bhoga to with Asmitā – Sankara in his Vivaraṇa(Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) states – Only when there is a notion of “I” the connection with “I am happy”, “I am suffering” happens. (This is Bhoga). He further states that – without superimposing consciousness in the mind how can one speak about being happy or sad? That which is the object of the notion ‘I’ is the substratum of notions of happiness and sorrow. He also states that – there is a cause and effect relationship between the notion of ‘I’ and worldly experience.

5.1.3 Views of Vārttika

Vijñānabhikṣu (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- adds to the discussion. In essence, he states that the otherwise impossibility of the experience (Bhoga) is proof to establish that there is non-perception of distinct-ness (between Buddhi and Puruṣa).

If the separateness of both is said to be perceived then Kaivalya, the separation between the two will happen by the higher detachment (Para-vairagya). How is worldly experience possible?

Vijñānabhikṣu (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- quotes a Sūtra from chapter three (3.35)– the non-difference I cognition of the sattva and Puruṣa is Bhoga (worldly experience) to substantiate this view.

He also gives the expression of experience to connect Bhoga and Asmitā – “I who is happy is the one who experiences it”. This is the indicator of the notion of non-separateness of Puruṣa and Buddhi.

5.2 Views of sub-commentators on the Distinguishing factors – ākāra, śīla, and vidyā – between Buddhi and Puruṣa quoted by Sage Vyāsa 

It could be noted above that in the process of connecting Bhoga and Asmitā, Sage Vyāsa gives a quotation that presents the distinct features of Buddhi ad Puruṣa. The quotation in Sage Vyāsa’s commentary has been attributed to Pañcaśikhācārya, a Sāṅkhya exponent, by sub-commentaries like Vārttika and Bhāsvatī.

The quote presents three factors that distinguish Puruṣa and Buddhi, viz., ākāra, śīla, and vidyā. The quote also states that this super-imposition is due to delusion. (Moha). The following table comparatively brings out the views of sub-commentators on three distinguishing attributes of Puruṣa and Buddhi.

Ākāra, Śīla, and Vidyā of Puruṣa


Vārttika deals with this differently. Vijñānabhikṣu (Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- states – because of the non-distinction between Puruṣa and Buddhi, people consider their Ākāra as having peacefulness, etc (and also terrible nature and confusion), Śīla as having various states of consciousness such as waking, etc (dream and deep sleep) Vidyā as being endowed with education, etc.

He probably intends to indicate that in essence there is no Ākāra, Śīla, and Vidyā for Puruṣa. But the superimposition with Buddhi brings in all these notions.

Vivaraṇa (Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) presents some more analysis of the quotation presented by Sage Vyāsa. It states that in the quotation “Unable to see both of them being distinct from each other in terms of ākāra, śīla, vidyā, and other factors one considers the (Buddhi) as consciousness only by delusion (Moha).” the portion – “Unable to see both of them being distinct from each other” refers to Avidyā.

Inability to see the distinction is Avidyā. And by implication, we can conclude that what follows in the quotation is “…one considers that (Buddhi) as consciousness only by delusion (Moha)” is the expression of Asmitā.

It could be noted from the table above that, Bhāsvatī does not separately give the meanings of the three terms in the context of Buddhi. Probably the commentary might have skipped that due to either the fact that it has been discussed in earlier commentaries or due to the implication that the opposite of what is stated to Puruṣa is the quality of the Buddhi.

5.2.1 Meaning of the term delusion (moha)

The term Moha, that is mentioned in the quotation of Vyāsa is explained by Vācaspati Miśra(Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) as – the Samskaras generated by the previous avidyā. Or it is Tamas, as Avidyā is Tamasic in nature. Vārttika takes Moha as Avidyā indicated in the Sūtra prior to the Asmitā Sūtra. Other commentators are silent on this term.

5.3 Difference between avidyā and Asmitā

In Vivaraṇa and Vārttika we find an exposition of the difference between Avidyā and Asmitā. In Vivaraṇa (Śāṡtrī& Śāṡtrī (1952)) it is stated that – Earlier (In the Sūtra on Avidyā) in the instrument of Puruṣa which is the mind, which is not the real self, seeing the self, which is in the form of the wrong perception was stated as Avidyā. But here perceiving/seeing the oneness of Puruṣa and Buddhi is stated as Asmitā. This is the difference (between avidyā and asmitā).

Vijñānabhikṣu(Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- states – “The difference between Avidyā and Asmitā is this, at the beginning in the intellect & c, the general idea of “I” (Is avidyā); this avidyā can be understood as difference cum identity since it is not accepted as absolute identity ;

The note was given by Rukmani, TS (2001) on the above view is worth noting – Though to all practical purposes avidyā and asmitā appear to be the same, Bhikshu mentions their difference as of one generality and particularity. Thus the initial general notion of I in the intellect which is a false notion is avidyā. Therein, there is an absence of total identity between the intellect and Puruṣa, i.e., there is a difference-cum-identity.

But in asmitā which arises after avidyā” there is a complete identity between the intellect and Puruṣa, because which all the qualities of the intellect are superimposed on the Puruṣa as I am the experiencer, I am the Ishvara & c. Therefore, the total identification of intellect and Puruṣa is due to asmitā.

Vijñānabhikṣu(Śāṡtrī GD (2007))- continues – that alone is avidyā and not subsequent superimposition of the good and bad qualities of the intellect upon Puruṣa like ‘I am Ishvara’ ‘I am the experiencer’, nor is it an illusion of absolute identity between them (the intellect and Puruṣa) like that (which is created in the mind) by two distant trees, whereas asmitā is of this dual nature.

Though there is no difference between avidyā and asmitā as far as illusion is concerned ”, because of the further- difference in the form of cause and effect, avidyā and asmitā are spoken as different.

The knowledge of these two being cause and effect is known by observing the world, amongst human beings, at the beginning, there is a sense of identity, in the wife, son, servant and so on. And it is only later that their joy and sorrow & c is felt in oneself (as one’s own); thus initially in limitations (conditions) like water and so on, there is a superimposition of the moon and so in the form of reflection & c, and only later through the reflection is the superimposition of movement, dirt & c, on to the moon.

Rukmani, TS (2001) adds the following notes to clarify the above sentence – From all these examples, the resultant difference between Avidyā and Asmitā seems to be one of degree alone. Both are illusion alright.

But in the former, there is as yet not total identification between Puruṣa and intellect which will come about only when activity begins. Thus in spite of Bhikshus explanation one is left with the idea that both avidyā and asmitā are not very different; the same illusion before the experience is called as Avidyā and after activity begins it is called asmitā.

Vijñānabhikṣu(Śāṡtrī GD (2007)) – further states – This state of cause and effect is mentioned through the words of Pañcaśikhācārya in the earlier Sūtra; similarly it is mentioned in the Sāṅkhya Kārikā also in the course of the text as

‘Therefore (because the sentient Puruṣa is the non-doer and the active prakriti is insentient) due to the connection between the two, the insentient Prakrit & c, appears as sentient and similarly though activity is in fact of the constituents (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas) of Prakriti, the indifferent Puruṣa appears as the doer.

Bhāvagaṇeśavṛtti and Nāgojībhaṭṭavṛtti, generally, toe the line of discussion of Vijñānabhikṣu on the difference between avidyā and asmitā. Other commentators are silent on the above aspect.

6. Summary and Conclusion

The Yogic viewpoint on Asmitā (Ego) is made amply clear by the commentarial interpretations. The summary of contributions of the commentaries that were observed are presented below –

a) Linguistically, the commentaries present five interpretations of dṛk/dṛkśakti, Seven interpretations of Darśanam/Darśanaśakti Six interpretations of the term – ekātmatā and three interpretations of the term Iva – that are the part definition of the āsmitā, which presents the various shades of interpretations of the concept of asmitā. This gives a lot of content for reflection and contemplation.

b) It was clarified that Asmitā (Ego) is the effect of avidyā and cause of Rāga and others afflictions. This presents Ego in a continuum, rather than in isolation. Towards self-transformation, when methods/strategies are devised the cause and effect (symptoms) continuum of Ego –are to be taken note of.

c) In the discussion above it could be noted that Avidyā leads to Moha. And moha in turn leads to Asmitā. Moha is explained as the subliminal impression created by Avidyā which is Tamasic in nature. This is a very practical insight from the commentaries. Avidyā itself works through the impressions that it has created. Hence in the process of overcoming asmitā, methods are to be devised which work towards proliferation of such (Sattvika) subliminal impression that could reduce the impact of the avidyā-generated subliminal impressions. This insight in based on the guṇas is unique and worth emulating in working towards overcoming other afflictions also.

d) Though ignorance (avidyā) and Ego (asmitā) apparently look similar, avidyā is wrong knowledge – knowing the non-self as the self, whereas asmitā is the superimposition of identity between the consciousness and the intellect. Though asmitā is the effect of avidyā, the nature of difference between avidyā and asmitā reveals that asmitā is more severe/intense in clouding/blurring/blinding the clarity about the true nature of self than avidyā.

e) Only when asmitā (Ego) exists worldly experience of happiness sorrow etc are possible (Bhoga). The word śakti in Dṛk and Darśana indicates the same. The potency of being the experiencer and the experienced is only due to the affliction called Ego – asmitā. This is a crucial insight that presents the impact of asmitā in day to day life. Thus from Yogasūtra perspective every worldly experience revolves around the kleśa called asmitā (ego) and hence understanding it and working on it becomes central in managing our lives better.

f) With regard to understanding the difference between Buddhi and Puruṣa three features are presented– ākāra (form), śīla (nature/conduct) and Vidyā (knowledge). Reflective practices can be developed based on the trio to slowly work towards reducing the impact of Ego (asmitā).

g) As the various shades of meanings of the term asmitā, which is one among the kleśas has been described, the utilization of the tools of Kriyā-yoga which is prescribed by Sage patañjali to address these kleśas, can be done in a more meaningful manner

From a textual perspective, this review has attempted to study and consolidate the views of fifteen commentaries on the concept of asmitā, an affliction. The views of these commentaries were mostly studied individually before this or only partially compared.

Though views of commentaries that could not be accessed for this study might have more insights, the general direction of the flow of thoughts on this Sūtra has been brought to light through this attempt.

This textual review and consolidation of views from these classical commentaries can be useful in comparing notes with contemporary psychological theories on Ego. Finally, it was mentioned in the introduction that there are three occurrences of the term asmitā in Yogasūtra. As one major context of expression of asmitā has been surveyed and reviewed, the other two contexts can be compared and contrasted on this basis.

Note: Translations of original texts given in Italics are by the author of this paper, unless otherwise indicated. References given in those places point to the original Saṃskṛta sources.


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