Event — IIAS Lunch Lecture

Śabda as cittavṛtti or the word as mental event: mind, language and cognition through the Yogaśāstra of Patañjali

Rather than emphasize the cessative practice of Yoga, it will be the focus of the present talk to mark the field of language and linguistic cognition. What is the role of language according to the Yogadarśana? Why the sphoṭa theory and linguistic-philosophical arguments recur through the literature of Yogadarśana? Pātañjalayoga teaches a voluntary act of regulated inhibition of psychophysical functions. This, therefore, includes inhibition of linguistic faculties with severe consequences for verbal thought in general.

Lunch lecture by IIAS fellow Rocco Cestola from 'La Sapienza' University of Roma, Italy.

Lunch is provided; registration is required. 

While describing the inhibitory praxis of how to void the mind-body complex of its functions, in the Yogaśāstra of Patañjali emerge contents and structures of those functions themselves. Rather than emphasize the cessative practice of Yoga, it will be the focus of the present talk to mark the field of language and linguistic cognition. Verbal thoughts amount to a specific set of the overall paradigm of mental events occurring in a subject (cittavṛtti). A mental event linguistically structured is explained, according to the Yogadarśana, as one of the specific mental episodes where the language-function is dominant. As instances of those mental events, the mental representation (vikalpavṛtti) and the verbal testimony (āgamavṛtti) will be the subject of discussion.


In the case of the former, vikalpa is by definition regarded as a linguistically structured cognition conceiving it as depending on word-knowledge (śabdajñānānupatī), and void of an objective referent (vastuśūnya). In this regard, a vikalpa can be considered as a generic form of conceptualisation and as a speech-act, and determining the fundamental ground of sender-receiver communication whose output can be either a case of truth-value or untruth-value cognition.


As for the latter, āgama amounts to an instance of a trustworthy testimony. The term āgama can be rendered as 'authoritative and inherited valid belief linguistically transmitted in the form of verbal testimony' and regarded as a specific instance of a speech-act bearing an epistemic content.

Considering both vikalpavṛtti and āgamavṛtti, the topic of linguistic cognition (śābdabodha) is therefore central. Taking an instance of a mental event linguistically structured, the following points do emerge:

a) the sentence (vākya) is the basic, indivisible semantic unit (sphoṭavāda) where the verbal meaning is grasped as a unitary-value;

b) an instrumental function of the speech-sounds (vāgvarṇa) or phonemes do perform an instrumental function conveying verbal understanding;

c) in the Yogadarśana, quite surprisingly, the theory of sphoṭa is employed by the commentators, beginning with the author Pātañjalayogaśāstravivaraṇa (seventh century CE?), in order to illustrate how language does function.  

Rocco Cestola obtained his PhD in Indology from the 'Sapienza' University of Rome. 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. Thanks to the J. Gonda Fund Foundation, and linking the field of Yoga studies with Sanskrit philosophy of language a research project will be committed to the study of the overall role and function of language (śabda), the sphoṭa theory and the linguistic-philosophical arguments according to the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and relative commentaries.

Registration (required)

Please use the web form on the right-hand side of this page to register (by Wednesday 18 Dec, 12:00 hrs if you would like us to cater for your lunch).