Aphorisms – Poynton
Aphorisms on spiritual method “THE YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI” in the light
of mystical experience
JHM Whiteman, (Colin Smythe, Gerrards Cross. 1998. pp xx + 339.
by Professor John Poynton, M.Sc. PhD.
together a mathematical physicist, philosopher, Sanskrit scholar,
mystic and musician with one of the great classics of Eastern
religious practice and thought, and what do you get? In the case of
this book, a work that can soberly be placed among the finest ever
written in the field of self-knowledge and self-development.
‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ have long held an honoured (if somewhat
poorly comprehended) place in Indian literature.
With Whiteman’s insight and scholarship, the Sutras may well
be entering the most significant phase of their history, in being made
accessible to us both in the form of an authoritative translation
into idiomatic English, and also in the form of a literal translation
interleaved with the Sanskrit, with textual and interpretative
commentaries. This allows
the reader both a literary access to the Sutras, and a direct access
by coming to grips with the original Sanskrit.
up to these two sets of translations is an extended section headed
‘Preparatory Studies’. This
is an outstanding piece of scholarship, which the Sutras till now have
lacked. The section covers
the general background and character of the Sutras, their history, and
problems of their interpretation.
In this section, Whiteman stresses that the Sutras, or
aphorisms, outline a comprehensive course of spiritual development,
one that is based on first-hand experience.
It is this emphasis on first-hand experience that is one of the
special features of Whiteman’s treatment of the Sutras.
Whiteman’s output, whether in the area of physics, philosophy
or mysticism, is characterized by a consistent adherence to the
principles of Husserl’s phenomenology, which calls for a plain
description of direct experience, free of prepossessions, speculation
appearance of the term ‘mystical’ in the title could be misleading
to those who apply to the term the common perception of hazy and
accordance with his phenomenological position, Whiteman stresses that
mysticism, as he understands it, is active and practical, and
dependent on the skills of clear-sighted non-attachment and wisdom.
Other-worldly it may in part be, but this is based on direct
perception and knowledge of what is not located in the physical world.
has already written at length on nearly all the topics covered in the
introductory section. The
treatment in his latest book is however more comprehensive and concise
than found elsewhere, and takes many of the topics further along the
lines of clarification and development.
Readers may find some topics difficult to come to grips with, in
that they tend to lie outside the range of common experience.
This could be true especially of Whiteman’s treatment of
personality structure, an area of study, it must be admitted, where
psychologists currently find little to agree about, and where some new
insights should be welcome. Whiteman
describes a corporate structure of personality’, in which
perceivable, non-physical minds contribute to our consciousness; minds
which come and go in the personality and contribute to the generation
of personality-phases throughout life.
difficult for most people to grasp, Whiteman maintains that without
such understanding, much of the Yoga Sutras would be either
incomprehensible or subjected to implausible conjecture.
Whiteman’s study throws the light of direct experience and
knowledge on the Sutras, and also on many Upanishadic and Buddhist
texts, not to mention on much of the contemporary psychological and
parapsychological scene. His
combination of rigorous scholarship, wide knowledge, and deep empathy
with the text can serve as a model for the rejuvenation of other