Fading into Death through Pātañjalayoga
Fading into death through Pātañjalayoga. On the apparent dead-like state of the Yoga practitioner absorbed into contentless samādhi.
This is the title of an online interactive lecture by Rocco Cestola (La Sapienza, Rome).
'Standing like a dead body' is a 'deadly' metaphor occurring among many Yoga texts. It has the intention to portray the image of the extraordinary stillness of yoga practitioners engaged in the advanced phase of meditation. This lecture is a short literary journey among selected Sanskrit texts narrating, in line with the Yoga of Patañjali, the progressive and relentless fading of mind and body into the otherness of the real Self.
Some texts of Classical Yoga written in India between the middle of the sixteenth and the middle of the eighteenth century depict the practitioner deeply absorbed into the advanced phase of meditation using the expression as if was dead. In this context, the metaphors on death can have the simple purpose of conveying the idea of the extraordinary immobility or stillness of the advanced states of meditative absorption.
In which sense immobility or stillness?
Behind this imaginary of motionless runs the fact that once the practitioner reaches the advanced phase of meditative absorption (asamprajñātasamādhi) her/his psychophysical functions and activities are severely reduced to minimal terms if not fully shut down. The overall imaginary narrated through the literature taken here into consideration conveys the representation of the absolute steadiness of the advanced phase of meditative absorption. Being apparently dead, the practitioner is, in reality, fully alive and now in perfect shape to realize her/his own true identity as consciousness without content, a pure vision empty of an object, namely the Self. Thought and practised since times receding into oblivion as a means of release, Yoga locates the Self in the ubiquitous space of otherness of consciousness attainable mainly by committing to asceticism, but also by exemplary individuals at the time of death.
Rocco Cestola obtained his PhD in Indology from the Sapienza University of Roma. He has prepared a critical edition grounded on manuscript sources, the first English annotated translation and a study of the first Pāda of Nāgeśa Bhaṭṭa’s (17th-18th AD c.) Vṛtti on Pātañjalayogaśāstra. Currently, he is an IIAS fellow thanks to a fellowship provided by the J. Gonda Foundation of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). His main project proposal is committed to linking the field of Yoga studies with Sanskrit philosophy of language. In particular, this research project proposes to study a marginal topic concerning the overall role and function of language (śabda), the sphoṭa theory and the linguistic-philosophical arguments as formulated in the text entitled Pātañjalayogaśāstra and its relative literature of explanation.
The lecture will take about 30 minutes. After that, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and engage directly with the speaker and the rest of the audience.