By means of surpassing consideration of the inner self, She, the ineffable waking sleep [known as Ajādya Nidrā] may appear as she causes peoples’ old associations [both mental and physical] to vanish, [and so one] turns away from all worldly concerns
When the roots of resolve and intention have been cut off, when the net of action has been uprooted leaving no residue, Yoga Nidrā, who is the auspiciousness [which comes] due to constant practice [and that] never fades, unfolds in the Yogi
In the commentary on śloka 17 I pointed out that going forward, there are some ślokas in which Adi Śankaracarya’s tone gradually gets a bit more personal. The voice of omniscient, detached authority is set aside, and he alludes to the fact that enlightenment hasn’t yet happened to him. In śloka 17 he uses the imperative mode and an extremely colloquial translation might read something like “lay it on me, sister.” Here, in śloka 23, the mood is intensified because now Adi Śankaracarya asks “when will it happen?” This is probably something of a stretch (Yoga pun!), but when I read śloka 23 I can’t help but be reminded of Psalm 13. If you snoozed in Sunday school, or schul, or never went to either, the first stanza goes like this:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Now Adi Śankaracarya isn’t being quite so dramatic, of course, but the sense of his inquiry is similar. If he’s asking when it will happen then it hasn’t happened yet, and a sense of longing is implied.
In this cluster of ślokas we have three new names for the transcendent state for which Adi Śankaracarya yearns. All of them are feminine. In śloka 23 the new name is Sahaja Amanaska, which is yet another term that is typically left as a proper name and is untranslated. Like the other proper names this one is translatable and it means, roughly, “spontaneous mindlessness.” Or perhaps “naturally arising trance state.” It breaks down like so: saha=with; ja=born; amanaska=without perception or intellect (prefix a=negation+manas=mind).
It’s a bit chicken and egg here, it seems, because typically in Yoga we suppress the senses so the Mind will become still. But in this śloka the order is reversed: the trance state suppresses the senses. Either way the next step is the same. Attention to matters of the material world is let go and one’s focus settles on the Self, or the Paramātman, or whichever label you choose.
Śloka 24 continues with the turning away from the mundane motif and introduces another name, Ajādya Nidrā. Most of us know that nidrā means sleep, whether from Patañjali, or the meditation technique, or the āsana from the Intermediate Series. Ajādya means waking, or unstupified. Remember from śloka 15: “neither awake, nor in the state of sound sleep… it is indeed strange.” The formula remains in place. Do the work of meditation and a profound trance state may come which will in turn facilitate breaking away from all of the attachments and aversions which cause suffering. It’s important to note here that the faith element is still in play. Remember in śloka 23 Adi Śankaracarya asks when it will happen, and in śloka 24 we are told not that it shall happen, but that it may. A critical distinction which reminds us that there are no guarantees. [A somber, political aside: the difference between shall and may probably cost several innocent teenagers their lives in Parkland, Florida. The Broward County Sheriff’s office’s rules of engagement stated that a deputy may engage a suspected mass shooter in order to neutralize the threat. Since it was not mandated with a shall, a cowardly deputy present at the scene chose to wait for backup and not to go into the school while children were being shot. Choose your words carefully, people!]
Śloka 25 presents a conundrum for a translator. It states “when the roots… have been cut off” and “when the net… has been uprooted.” While surely a point is made, it just doesn’t make too much sense, linguistically speaking. Wouldn’t one uproot roots and cut a net? It was very tempting just to switch them in translation but in the end I couldn’t in good conscience do so. The reason is because in Sanskrit one can combine nouns to express various concepts. These are called compound nouns. Some compound nouns can be just two words, like the typical heroes’ epithet “mahabaho” (mighty armed). Others can be quite long, expressing complex thoughts. My favorite, from my text book Devavānīpraveśika, describes young Krshna: gopīpīnapayodharamardanacañcalakarayugaśalin, or, “having two hands trembling to knead the swelling breasts of the cowgirls.” All in one word. Compounding is not unique to Sanskrit. It happens a lot in German (schadenfreude, anyone?), and then there’s this gem from Welsh. It’s the name of a town: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which means: “The church of St. Mary of the pool of the white hazels near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio of the red cave.” It’s a real place, no shit. I digress. All the way to Wales, of all places. So the reason I couldn’t transpose uprooting to the roots and cutting to the net is that both of those “when” statements are also compound words. “When the roots of intention and resolve have been cut off” is all one word, and to remove the verb “cut off” would be a bridge too far, so to speak. In a sense all translation amounts to a sort of damage control. Or triage, even. I used to think that a translator’s job was to render concepts as comfortably idiomatic as possible in the new language but now I think his or her duty is really to the original language. Due to grammatical constraints, and words/concepts that simply don’t translate, etc. it’s impossible to render things precisely. So you make decisions and do the best you can. If a given translation seems stilted or awkward to you it’s probably because the translator is trying to keep as close as possible to the original syntax. And conversely, if it reads super comfortably in the new language you can be assured that the translator has taken significant liberties. I think it’s the least we can do, especially with sacred/religious/philosphical texts, to take as few poetic liberties as possible.
Only four ślokas to go! And they’re good ones, with lots to unpack so stay tuned!