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  • Exploring the Yogasūtra: Philosophy and Translation by Daniel Raveh
  • Zo Newell
Exploring the Yogasūtra: Philosophy and Translation. By Daniel Raveh. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012. pp. xviii + 166. Paper isbn 978-1-4411-2212-4.

Exploring the Yogasūtra: Philosophy and Translation by Daniel Raveh is both an exercise in translation and a reflection on the work of translation—between languages, cultures, and historical eras. The participants in the conversation are Patañjali, author/editor of the ancient canonical text Yoga Sūtra; the modern philosophers Daya Krishna and Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya; and, of course, Raveh himself.

Raveh sets up his approach, inspired by Daya Krishna’s concept of samvad (“dialogue”), in the Entrée. Here he reflects on the nature of translation through the medium of a fictional dialogue from Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain. In it, a sadhu converses—through a translator—with Alexander the Great; the process of translation occasions a power transfer, so that the “real” dialogue takes place between the ascetic and the translator, with the emperor present through his absence and the translator center-stage, as it were, mediating between different cultures and ways of thinking. Alexander is not interested in an open dialogue; for him the exchange is about “appropriating ‘the other’” rather than respecting his “otherness” (p. xiv), and he is prepared to kill the sadhu if he dislikes the latter’s questions or responses. As the dialogue continues, the translator takes greater and greater liberties in an attempt to protect the sadhu and make his side of the dialogue more “emperorfriendly.” Raveh compares this fictional dialogue with the process of a Western reader encountering “Patañjali’s narrative of yoga as world-renunciation”:

This is definitely not what the majority of Western readers of the text want to hear. Therefore Patanjali’s radical approach is modified in translation … to create an altogether different, “friendlier” yoga-picture, more digestible for a Western/Westernized stomach to provide the readers (or the buyers) with what they want to hear, namely, integration, harmony, God and Love with capital letters, and the like.

(p. xvi)

Patañjali’s project, as Raveh understands it, is to “translate” between the two dimensions of the human person, sthula and suksma, worldly and unworldly. Translators of Patañjali into English face the further task of mediating the contemporary encounter between the West and India, and reconciling what the Western audience wants and expects to hear with the text’s actual message.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the historiography of the Yoga Sūtra and offer close readings by various commentators on selected key passages. More than any other commentator, Raveh “reads with” Daya Krishna and K. C. Bhattacharya. Of the latter, [End Page 680] he notes that “KCB’s philosophical writings revolve around the notion of freedom. … [He] does not write about Patanjali but with and from Patanjali. He is almost the only one who actually ‘does’ yoga philosophy, and in this respect inspires the present study” (pp. 18, 19).

Chapter 4 “is a samvad or dialogue with Daya Krishna on yoga philosophy” (p. 20), in which Raveh introduces Krishna’s thoughts on translation and philosophy to prepare the reader for chapter 5. This last chapter is Krishna’s essay “The Undeciphered Text: Anomalies, Problems, and Paradoxes in the Yogasutra,” in which Krishna reads Patañjali opposite the Bhagavad Gītā and the Taittirīya-Upaniṣad. This last is, thankfully, well supplied with footnotes to elucidate its rich Sanskrit vocabulary for nonspecialists.

Chapter 4 merits attention here, as this is where Raveh unpacks Daya Krishna’s samvad approach to philosophy prefigured in the dialogue between Alexander, the sadhu, and the translator. The Hindi/Sanskrit term samvad means a conversation, “dialogic encounter, open discussion, sometimes even biting debate” (p. 76); its “sam” root indicates simultaneous participation by two or more. This process, Raveh tells us, is at the heart of Krishna’s philosophy and philosophizing. “The most basic samvad is an interpersonal dialogue, a philosophical meeting in which each of the participants is both … questioning the other and defending his own position” (p. 76) in the classic manner.

As one example...