Seed and Cloud as Metaphors of Liberation in Buddhist and Pātañjala Yoga: An Intertextual Study

Karen O'Brien-Kop

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    Conventionally, the label ‘classical yoga’ has been aligned to, and sometimes conflated with, the text of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra, produced in the 4th-5th century. Yet if we broaden the scope of inspection to a wider textual corpus from the same period, we can identify a richer and more complex discourse of classical yoga, which is also employed in Buddhist traditions and which is semantically entangled across religious boundaries. In particular, this study focuses on dialogic interaction between three contemporaneous texts via the use of shared metaphorical systems to explain theories of liberation. There are a number of close correspondences, hitherto unexplored, between the soteriology of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and both the Sautrāntika positions in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and the earliest textual layers of the Yogācārabhūmiśāstra. I draw on conceptual metaphor theory to demonstrate how yoga, yogācāra, and Sautrāntika constructed their soteriology under the broad metaphorical banner of bhāvanā qua cultivation. Bhāvanā is a complex orientational metaphor that was adapted by these different religious traditions because it could encompass both ‘cessative’ and ‘aspirational’ aspects of yogic practice, as reflected in the spatially polarised metaphors of the seed in the earth and the cloud in the sky. There are also close overlaps in the ontologies of these three textual traditions. The dialogic relationship between Brahmanical and Buddhist yoga soteriology indicates a need to re-assess which texts are included under the rubric of ‘classical yoga’ and to foreground the role of yogācāra and its śāstra in this category.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • SOAS, London
    • Proferes, Theodore, Supervisor, External person
    • Mallinson, James, Co-supervisor, External person
    • Pagel, Ulrich , Co-supervisor, External person
    Award date5 Dec 2019
    Publication statusUnpublished - Dec 2018

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