This article discusses a peculiar Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-Yoga theory of transformation (pariṇāma) that the author of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra created by drawing upon Sarvāstivāda Buddhist theories of temporality. In developing his theory, Patañjali adaptively reused the wording in which the Sarvāstivāda theories were formulated, the specific objections against these theories, and their refutations to win the philosophical debate about temporality against Sarvāstivāda Buddhism.Footnote 1 Patañjali’s approach towards the Sarvāstivāda Buddhist theories was possible, even though his system of Yoga is based on an ontology that differs considerably from that of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism because both systems share the philosophical view that time is not a separate ontological entity in itself. Time is a concept deduced from change in the empirical world.Footnote 2 This agreement results from the common philosophical orientation of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and Yoga, which takes the phenomenon of experience as the basis of philosophical enquiry into the structure of the world. As was already argued by Braj M. Sinha (1983, p. 6f.), both philosophical schools identify the structure of temporality with the structure of subjectivity.

The intention that guided Patañjali’s adaptive reuse was twofold. On the one hand, he aimed at winning the debate with Sarvāstivāda Buddhism about how the problem of temporality can be solved. He thus integrated four mutually exclusive theories on temporality into a single theory of transformation of properties (dharma) involving a second-level and a third-level theory on the transformation of the temporal characteristic mark (lakṣaṇa) and on the transformation of states (avasthā), respectively. On the other hand, Patañjali intended to achieve philosophical clarification regarding the question of how exactly properties relate to their underlying substrate in the process of transformation of the three constituents or forces (guṇa) sattva, rajas and tamas of matter (pradhāna) that account for all phenomena of the world except pure consciousness (puruṣa). Patañjali’s theory of transformation is thus of central importance for his Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya ontology, according to which the world consists of 25 categories or constituents (tattva), i.e., of primal matter (prakṛti) and its transformations and pure consciousness.

The existence of a parallel between theories of temporality in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and the theory of transformation in Pātañjala Yoga has long been known. In the early phase of Indological research, it was highlighted, for example, by Fëdor Ščerbatckoj (also known as Theodore Stscherbatsky) (1923, pp. 43–47) and by Louis de La Vallée Poussin (1937, pp. 237–239). The exact relationship between Sarvāstivāda theories of temporality and Pātañjala Yoga has remained, however, largely unexplored.Footnote 3 In 1973, Erich Frauwallner judged the relationship between the locus classicus of Sarvāstivāda temporality, which occurs in all three vibhāṣā compendia, to Pātañjala Yoga in the context of his discussion of the Sarvāstivāda in the following way: “[Ein] Abklatsch dieses Textes hat schließlich auch seinen Weg in das Yogabhāṣyam gefunden.”Footnote 4

According to Frauwallner, a poor copy or an inferior imitation (“ein Abklatsch”) of the Sarvāstivāda theories of temporality has found its way into the Yogabhāṣya, a text that Frauwallner thought to be a commentary on the Yogasūtra composed by an author named Vyāsa around the year 500 CE.Footnote 5 However, as the present author has shown based on observations made by earlier scholars (Jacobi 1929, p. 584, Kane 1934, p. 392f., Raghavan 1938–1939, Bronkhorst 1985), the text of the Yogabhāṣya is probably only a portion of a more comprehensive work, namely the Pātañjalayogaśāstra, in which the Yogasūtra and the Yogabhāṣya appear as an integrated literary composition of a single author whose name was Patañjali.Footnote 6 Independently from the authorship question concerning the Yogasūtra-s and its bhāṣya, Frauwallner overlooked that not only the bhāṣya-part of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra but also yogasūtra-s 3.13 and 4.12 indicate that Patañjali was familiar with Sarvāstivāda theories of temporality.Footnote 7

Frauwallner’s assessment of Patañjali’s degree of philosophical creativity had changed over time. Twenty years before the publication of the just-quoted later verdict, he had remarked more positively on the relationship of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and Pātañjala Yoga in the first volume of his Geschichte der indischen Philosophie (1953). There, he wrote about inspirations (“Anregungen”, p. 416) and details in the implementation of thought (“Einzelheiten in der Durchführung der Gedanken”, p. 416) that Vyāsa, the alleged author of the Yogabhāṣya, had received from Sarvāstivāda Buddhism.Footnote 8

Sinha, in contradistinction to Frauwallner and without reference to his work, did not recognise a historical dependency of Patañjali’s Yoga theory on the conceptions of temporality of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and argued in favour of a “parallelism” resulting from similar philosophical solutions of the problem of temporality in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and early Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-Yoga. A further factor that increased the degree of similarity of philosophical positions may have been, according to Sinha,

a history of interaction between the two schools that one can discern here, even though from the very nature of the case and the general paucity of historical data one is not able to substantiate it through independent sources.Footnote 9

Sinha describes a possible scenario, according to which similarities between Pātañjala Yoga and Sarvāstivāda Buddhism result from similar but independently derived solutions of the same philosophical problem in two systems of thought that both take a subjective philosophical perspective. Once this solution was discovered, early Sarvāstivādins and pre-Pātañjala Yogins may have entered into philosophical discourses leading to further harmonization of their respective positions. Due to historical contingency, this hypothesis cannot be substantiated with written sources.

It is, however, not the case that written sources for the history of pre-Pātañjala Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-Yoga are entirely missing, even if the picture that can be drawn from sources such as the Mahābhārata, the Carakasaṃhitā, the older and middle Upaniṣads and others is incomplete. Neither of these sources attests a theory of temporality similar to the Sarvāstivāda Buddhist theories discussed below in pre-classical Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya currents of thought.

The various views on time within the history of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya philosophy starting from the classical period are the subject of a comprehensive forthcoming study by Isabelle Ratié. Ratié characterises the views on time in the \(\dot {{n}}\)khyakārikā-s by Īśvarakṛṣṇa and its earlier commentaries, i.e. the Suvarṇasaptativyākhyā (only preserved in Chinese translation), \(\dot {{n}}\)khyavṛtti, \(\dot {{n}}\)khyasaptativṛtti, Gauḍapādabhāṣya and Māṭharavṛtti, as

not so much concerned with defining time as they are with denying its causality; they do so by asserting that time has no existence over and above the three constitutive elements of reality acknowledged in Sāṃkhya … .Footnote 10

According to Ratié’s analysis, all early commentaries on the \(\dot {{n}}\)hkyakārikā-s are based on the same interpretation of stanza 61. And this

… early interpretation of the S[ā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya]K[ārikā] seems to have offered little more than an argument of authority regarding the ontological and causal status of time (namely: since the S[ā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya]K[ārikā] do[es] not mention kāla as a separate item in the enumeration of categories, it cannot be one); and while emphatically denying kāla’s distinct reality or causality, it did not offer any clear definition of it.Footnote 11

Taking into consideration that the classical Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya position on time differs fundamentaly from that of Pātañjala Yoga, it is unlikely that the specific solution for the problem of temporality in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and Pātañjala Yoga developed independently from each other. The high degree of conceptional, terminological and literal agreement between the Sarvavāstivāda theories as reported in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmokośabhāṣya and the Pātañjalayogaśāstra even virtually rules out the possibility of parallel developments. Taking into consideration the chronology of the pertinent Sarvāstivāda theories and the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and the fact that Patañjali possibly reused Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya also at other instances,Footnote 12 it is highly probable that Frauwallner judged the historical relationship between the Sarvāstivāda theories of temporality and Patañjali’s theory of transformation correctly.

Frauwallner’s later pejorative verdict on the philosophical quality of Patañjali’s adaptation of the Buddhist theories is, however, problematic. Patañjali did not copy the Buddhist theories poorly, but he adaptively reused them in a new theory meant to outmatch rival Buddhist theories and to defend the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya theory of transformation against possible objections. In support of this assertion, the present article initially introduces the Sarvāstivāda Buddhist theories in their philosophical and historical contexts. After that, the article will discuss Patañjali’s adaptive reuse based on a close analysis of text passages from the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and from Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, which is the oldest formulation of the Sarvāstivāda theories preserved in Sanskrit, and with additional sources.

Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Ontology and the Problem of Temporality

According to Sarvāstivāda Buddhism, all conditioned factors (saṃskṛtadharma) that make up the empirical world are momentary. The factors are active only for the tiny instance of time that is necessary to exercise birth (jāti), duration (sthiti), decay (jarā), and vanishing (anityatā).Footnote 13 Within the short time of their activity, the factors cause the arising of related factors that are similar to their predecessors, which again cause further factors and so on. In this way, the seeming continuous empirical world is, in reality, a stream of discrete momentary factors, each of which is active only briefly.Footnote 14

Sarvāstivāda combines its doctrine of momentariness with the teaching that conditioned factors exist in reality, not only in the present time but also in the past and the future, without acknowledging the existence of time as a separate transcendental or empirical entity serving as a container of the factors.Footnote 15 The combination of the two peculiar doctrines led to philosophical questions concerning the exact nature of momentary conditioned factors and their reality throughout all three times. Already the three vibhāṣā compendia that are preserved in Chinese translations contain four alternative theories on temporality that are meant to answer this question in their specific ways. Two of these compendia ascribe these theories to the four Buddhist masters Dharmatrāta, Ghoṣaka, Vasumitra and Buddhadeva.Footnote 16

As was first noticed by Frauwallner, the four theories appear in two vibhāṣā compendia as doxographical appendices. This may indicate that they were developed sometime before the composition of the vibhāṣā compendia, which is difficult to date. Based on the information provided in Willemen et al. (1998, p. 232), a period from the middle of the first to the middle of the second century CE appears to be a viable learned guess. According to Johannes Bronkhorst (2018, p. 125), the earliest vibhāṣā compendia are possibly even two hundred years older and reach back to the time of the grammarian Patañjali, who lived in the middle of the second century BCE. In any case, they are considerably older than the Pātañjalayogaśāstra, which was composed around the year 400 CE.Footnote 17

It should, however, not go without notice that in the vibhāṣā compendia the four alternative theories appear in a systematic sequence which is based on philosophical considerations. Initially, a theory is presented in which temporality is entirely intrinsic to factors. The sequence leads, via two intermediate positions, to a theory in which temporality is exclusively the result of the factors’ mutual relationship. Thus the four positions’ sequence of presentation does not necessarily correspond to the chronology of their development.Footnote 18 Regardless of whether the author-compilers of the vibhāṣā compendia invented or reformulated the four theories in such a way that they fitted their philosophical program, the Sarvāstivāda theories are still much older than Patañjali’s work on Yoga.

Since the Pātañjalayogaśāstra is the oldest attestation of a Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya theory comparable to the theories of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism, it is virtually sure that Patañjali drew upon the Sarvāstivāda theories when he developed his theory of transformation of matter. The degree of literary agreement between Patañjali’s theory and the four Sarvāstivāda theories in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya indicates that Patañjali may even have used this same work.Footnote 19 A common source for the respective theories in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and Yoga is thus by far the less likely explanation for textual and conceptual agreements in the two systems of thought.Footnote 20

Table 1 The wording of Dharmatrāta’s theory according to AKBh 5.25 in comparison to PYŚ 3.13
Table 2 The wording of Ghoṣaka’s theory according to AKBh 5.25 in comparison to PYŚ 3.13
Table 3 The wording of the theories of Vasumitra and Buddhadeva according to AKBh 5.25 in comparison to PYŚ 3.13

The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya is an auto-commentary on the Abhidharmakośakārikā-s that Vasubandhu composed in the second half of the fourth century CE.Footnote 21 It contains the oldest formulation of the Sarvāstivāda theories of the reality of all conditioned factors throughout the three times preserved in Sanskrit. Vasubandhu adopted the exposition of the four theories from the *Mahāvibhāṣāśāstra and combined each of the four attributions of authorship, which in his exemplar occur at the end of the section describing the theories, into the running text of his work.Footnote 22 Later authors, like Sa\(\dot {\text{n}}\)ghabhadra, a younger contemporary of Vasubandhu who criticised the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya from the perspective of orthodox Sarvāstivāda in his *Nyāyānusāraśāstra, followed Vasubandhu’s formulation of the four Sarvāstivāda theories.Footnote 23

Although the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya is not the oldest available source of the four Sarvāstivāda theories under discussion, it suggests itself for a comparison with the Pātañjalayogaśāstra for several reasons. First, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya is preserved in Sanskrit, whereas earlier attestations are only preserved in Chinese translation. This makes it impossible for the present author to consult them in their original language.Footnote 24 More importantly, choosing the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya for a comparison with the Pātañjalayogaśāstra allows for a comparison of the exact wording of the respective text passages in their original language. Secondly, both works belong to a comparable literary genre, i.e., they consist of a base text, i.e., the Abhidharmakośakārikā-s and the Yogasūtra-s, respectively, which are commented upon and elaborated in the second layer of text, an auto-commentary called bhāṣya.Footnote 25 Finally, also the general approach of Vasubandhu and Patañjali towards the literature of their respective traditions appears to be at least comparable. The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya “is based on the Abhidharma system as it had been systematized by Dharmaśreṣṭhin and revised and enlarged by Upaśānta and Dharmatrāta.”Footnote 26 In his summary Vasubandhu voiced critique of Sarvāstivāda positions from a Sautrāntika perspective and based on his philosophical views that become apparent most of all in the ninth chapter of his work, in which Vasubandhu deals with the refutation of the existence of a permanent self. Patañjali’s work is similar in that it is also based on earlier works (in this case now lost works of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya orientation), among which the Ṣaṣṭitantra by Vārṣagaṇya appears to have figured prominently.Footnote 27 Besides, Patañjali adaptively reused various Buddhist sources.Footnote 28

The Difference in the Mode of Being

Vasubandhu ascribed the first temporal Sarvāstivāda theory to the Buddhist master Dharmatrāta, who tried to solve the problem of temporality by assuming that a factor (dharma) changes its mode of being (bhāva) when it passes through time, without, however, losing its identity. The passage Vasubandhu devoted to the exposition of Dharmatrāta’s theory reads as follows:

The venerable Dharmatrāta claimed a difference in the mode of being. He reportedly said: “A conditioned factor (dharma) changes its mode of being, not its being an entity (dravya), while proceeding in the [three] times. Like a vessel made of gold that has been destroyed and made into something different changes its shape (saṃsthāna) and not its colour. And like milk when transforming into yoghurt loses its flavour, potency, and modified flavour but not its colour. In the same way, also a conditioned factor that comes from the future time to the present time gives up the future mode of being, but not its being an entity. In the same way, when it moves from the present to the past, it gives up its present mode of being, not its mode of being an entity.”

bhāvānyathiko bhadantadharmatrātaḥ. sa kilāha: “dharmasyādhvasu pravartamānasya bhāvānyathātvaṃ bhavati na dravyānyathātvam. yathā suvarṇabhājanasya bhittvānyathā kriyamāṇasya saṃsthānānyathātvaṃ bhavati na varṇānyathātvam. yathā ca kṣīraṃ dadhitvena pariṇamad rasavīryavipākān parityajati na varṇam. evaṃ dharmo ’py anāgatād adhvanaḥ pratyutpannam adhvānam āgacchann anāgatabhāvaṃ jahāti na dravyabhāvam. evaṃ pratyutpannād atītam adhvānaṃ gacchan pratyutpannabhāvaṃ jahāti na dravyabhāvam” iti (AKBh 5.25; ed. Pradhan, p. 296, lines 10–15).

The interpretations of Dharmatrāta’s position within the camp of Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivāda varied in the course of history. In earlier times, Dharmatrāta’s view appears to have been entirely accepted since two out of the three preserved vibhāṣā compendia do not voice any criticism.Footnote 29 The *Mahāvibhāṣaśāstra objects, however, that a difference between the mode of being (bhāva) and the intrinsic nature (svabhāva) of a factor is difficult to maintain.Footnote 30 If the mode of being of a factor would be identical to its intrinsic nature, a factor, while passing from one time to the next, would assume a new nature or identity, and could, accordingly, not remain the same factor in all three times.Footnote 31

Vasubandhu dismissed Dharmatrāta’s theory for a different reason. He thought it to be mostly identical to the philosophical system of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya that he refutes elsewhere in his work.Footnote 32 Thus for Vasubandhu, Dharmatrāta’s theory presupposes the existence of a permanent substrate, which violates the just-mentioned Buddhist theory of the momentariness of all conditioned factors. However, the Saravāstivāda scholar Sa\(\dot {\text{n}}\)ghabhadra, a contemporary of Vasubandhu, did not characterise Dharmatrāta’s theory as crypto-Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya and refuted this criticism as unfounded.Footnote 33 Dharmatrāta’s theory accordingly remained a viable alternative at least in some circles of Sarvāstivāda Buddhisms until the late fourth century.

Outside Buddhism, the view that a substance is permanent is, for example, attested in the Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of the grammarian Patañjali (ca. 150 BCE), who discussed the relationship between an impermanent (anitya) shape (ākṛti) and its carrier, a permanent (nitya) substance (dravya), by drawing upon the example of a piece of gold that may be transformed into various forms.Footnote 34

If, however, Dharmatrāta was a Sarvāstivādin, his theory could not violate the axiom of the momentariness of all conditioned factors. His theory, therefore, did not imply the existence of a permanent substrate that remains identical in time while its properties change. The original intention of Dharmatrāta’s theory becomes clear if one takes a closer look at Dharmatrāta’s examples, in which the two words “shape” (saṃsthāna) and “colour” (varṇa) refer to the two aspects of visible matter (rūpa) that make conditioned material factors recognizable as individual entities.Footnote 35 The choice of these two terms indicates that in Dharmatrāta’s first example the golden vessel is indeed meant to be a material conditioned factor that is subject to momentariness. The golden vessel loses one aspect of its identity, i.e., its shape, but it preserves another aspect, namely its colour. Also in Dharmatrāta’s second example—the transformation of milk into yoghurt – the colour of milk is preserved in transformation, whereas the medical qualities consisting of flavour, potency, and modified flavour change.Footnote 36 Both processes are comparable to the travel of a factor in time in so far as in changing its time a dharma loses one of its aspects, i.e., the mode of being. The same factor preserves, however, all aspects of its identifiability as an individual unit. In this interpretation, Dharmatrāta’s theory is indeed a fully developed Sarvāstivāda theory of temporality that explains how momentary factors exist throughout the three times. Being present, past and future are for Dharmatrāta special modal properties of momentary entities, just like colour and form are properties of what appears as durable entities in everyday experience. Temporality, accordingly, does not affect the existence of a factor as an individual entity (dravya).Footnote 37

Dharmatrāta’s theory was, however, susceptible to misinterpretation, since the word dravya that Dharmatrāta used to refer to an identifiable entity may be used with a different meaning to refer to a substrate, which, as a changeable but durable entity common to all phenomena, carries properties through time,Footnote 38 especially when dravya as something enduring is opposed to a changeable mode of being (bhāva). In this misinterpretation, Dharmatrāta’s theory becomes similar to the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya theory of transformation of a single persistent substance.Footnote 39 As will be discussed in more detail below, Patañjali employed this similarity to adaptively reuse Dharmatrāta’s theory by a slight reformulation of its wording which involves significant semantic changes concerning the terms dharma and dravya. These changes instantiate the ontological disagreement between Yoga and Sārvāstivāda Buddhism.Footnote 40

The Difference in Characteristic Marks

The second theory that Vasubhandhu presented is the one ascribed to Ghoṣaka, who intended to solve the problem of the reality of factors through time by assigning each factor three characteristic marks that account for the time in which the factor exists. The pertinent text passage reads as follows:

The venerable Ghoṣaka claimed a difference in characteristic marks. He reportedly said: “A conditioned factor, when proceeding through the [three] times, is past when it is connected with the characteristic mark of the past without being separated from the characteristic marks the future and of the present. When it is future, it is connected with the characteristic mark the future, without being separated from the characteristic marks of the past and of the present. In the same way, also when it is present, [the factor] is not separated from the past and future. For example: A man who desires one woman is not indifferent to the remaining [women].”

lakṣaṇānyathiko bhadantaghoṣakaḥ. sa kilāha: “dharmo ’dhvasu pravartamāno ’tīto ’tītolakṣaṇayukto ’nāgatapratyutpannābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyām aviyuktaḥ. anāgato ’nāgatalakṣaṇayukto ’tītapratyutpannābhyām aviyuktaḥ. evaṃ pratyutpanno ’py atītānāgatābhyām aviyuktaḥ. tadyathā: puruṣa ekasyāṃ striyāṃ raktaḥ śeṣāsv aviraktaḥ” iti (AKBh 5.25; ed. Pradhan, p. 296, lines 16–19).

According to Ghoṣaka, conditioned factors possess three characteristic marks: that of the past, that of the presence, and that of the future. Two of the characteristics exist inactively, whereas the third one, while being active, determines the time in which the factors exist. The proceeding of a factor from one time to the next is due to a change in the activation of the characteristic marks. The characteristic mark that accords for the existence in one time becomes inactive, whereas the characteristic mark of the next time becomes active.

This brief account of Ghoṣaka’s theory does not explain which causes exactly lead to the activation of one of the three characteristic marks. However, the exemplification of his theory indicates that the Buddhist master may have thought of specific circumstances, just as the awareness of one specific attractive woman may lead to the activation of desire for this particular woman in a man, whose desire for other women remains latent and may be activated under different conditions.Footnote 41

Vasubandhu, following the *Mahāvibhāṣāśāstra, rejected Ghoṣaka’s theory, because he interpreted the existence of all three characteristic marks in a single entity as leading to the undesirable consequence of a mixture of the three times.Footnote 42 According to this interpretation, Ghoṣaka’s theory implies that entities in all three times carry the potential of the other two times. Thus, a past entity would have the potential to become present or future again.

Patañjali, however, who was aware of the fact that Ghoṣaka’s theory was criticised with this argument, adaptively reused it as a second-level theory that explains the temporal transformation of properties (dharma).Footnote 43

The Difference in the State

The third theory that Vasubandhu presented, i.e., the one attributed to the Buddhist master Vasumitra, became generally accepted in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism. Vasumitra regarded the state (avasthā) of a factor to be decisive for its temporal existence. In Vasubandhu’s formulation, this theory reads as follows:

The venerable Vasumitra claimed a difference in the state. He reportedly said: “A conditioned factor when proceeding through the [three] times, having acquired this or that state, is designated as this or that, because of its different state, not because of its different substance. As a single stick,Footnote 44 if put down at the place of one, is called ‘one,’ at the place of a hundred ‘one hundred’ and at the place of a thousand ‘one thousand’.”

avasthānyathiko bhadantavasumitra. sa kilāha: “dharmo ’dhvasu pravartamāno ’vasthām avasthāṃ prāpyānyo ’nyo nirdiśyate, avasthāntarato na dravyāntarataḥ. yathaikā vartikaikā\(\dot {{n}}\)ke nikṣiptaikam ity ucyate śatāṅke śataṃ sahasrāṅke sahasram” iti (AKBh 5.25; ed. Pradhan, p. 296, lines 20–23).

Vasumitra’s theory explains the existence of a factor in the three times as a shift of the position of the factor in time, comparable to a single symbol in the decimal place value system that may have different values according to its position in the number range.Footnote 45 This theory, according to Frauwallner, originally meant that the things move from one time interval to the next, even though the Sarvāstivāda did not have any conception of time as an independent entity.Footnote 46 However, already in the early sources, the Sarvāstivāda exegetics interpreted Vasumitra’s theory differently.Footnote 47 They held the view that the state (avasthā) of a factor in time is determined by its activity (kāritra).Footnote 48 Factors with a present activity are said to exist in the present time, those with a past activity are past, and dharma-s with a future activity are future. According to Frauwallner, this new interpretation contradicts the originally intended theory and must be based on the confusion of two different Sarvāstivāda authorities who shared the same name.Footnote 49

Irrespective of the original meaning of Vasumitra’s theory, the notion that activity determines the time of a factor became not only widely accepted in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism, it also found its entrance in an adapted manner in the theory of the reality of the three times of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra, where Patañjali substituted the conception that activity determines the existence of a factor (dharma) in time with the concept of manifestation (vyakti) of a property (dharma) or a characteristic mark (lakṣaṇa).Footnote 50

Relative Difference

Vasubandhu ascribed the fourth Sarvāstivāda theory of temporality to the Buddhist master Buddhadeva, who thought that the relative difference of factors determines temporality. The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya reports this position as follows:

The venerable Buddhadeva claimed a relative difference. He reportedly said: “A conditioned factor, when proceeding through the [three] times, is designated as the one or the other with regard to what precedes and what follows, because of its different states, not because of its different substance. Just as a single woman may either be called ‘mother’ or ‘daughter’.”

anyathānyathiko* bhadantabuddhadevaḥ. sa kilāha: “dharmo ’dhvasu pravartamānaḥ pūrvāparam apekṣyānyo ’nya ucyate, avasthāntarato na dravyāntarataḥ. yathaikā strī mātā vocyate duhitā vā” iti (AKBh 5.25; ed. Pradhan, p. 297, lines 1–3. Variant reading: anyathānyathiko] emendation (Isabelle Ratié); anyathānyathikī ed.).

Buddhadeva’s theory explains the occurrence of factors in time through their relationship to other factors, just as a woman is called “daughter” in relation to her mother, and “mother” with regard to her child. In other words, a factor a is past in relation to factor b that originated subsequently to factor a. Likewise, factor a is future in relation to factor c that occurred before factor a and so on.Footnote 51

The theory of Buddhadeva met with criticism already in the earliest preserved vibhāṣā compendium.Footnote 52 There, and in later works, it was interpreted to lead to the undesired consequence that all three times exist in each of the three times, because of the sequential occurrence of factors with predecessors and successors. Accordingly, Buddhadeva’s theory would lead to the inflation of the number of times beyond the well-established number three.

Patañjali nevertheless reused the exemplification of a single woman that may be referred to with different designations according to her relation to other persons to illustrate the theory of the transformation of the state (avasthā) of the characteristic marks of properties.Footnote 53

Reasons for the Real Existence of Factors in the Three Times

Already from the time of the earliest vibhāṣā compendia onwards, Sarvāstivāda Buddhism supported the reality of the existence of factors in all three times with four lines of argumentation.Footnote 54 Vasubandhu mentioned these arguments in a nutshell in Abhidharmokośakārikā 5.25 and spellt them out in the subsequent bhāṣya.Footnote 55

The reality of all times [is established] (1) because [the Buddha] has declared it, (2) because [cognitions] arise from two, (3) because [cognitions have] real objects (4) and because [past factors have] results.

sarvakālāstitoktatvād dvayāt sadviṣayāt phalāt / (AKBh 5.24ab; ed. Pradhan, p. 295, lines 7–22).

This series of arguments draws first upon the Buddha’s verbal testimony, which is considered trustworthy because the Buddha is assumed to be omniscient. The second argument is based on the Buddhist notion that consciousness depends on two sets of entities, namely (1) on the visual sense (cakṣus) plus matter (rūpa) and (2) on the mind (manas) plus the factors (dharma). The third argument supports the real existence of factors in the times of the future and the past by drawing upon the idea that cognitions are based upon the existence of really existent entities. Thus, the fact that there are cognitions of past and future factors establishes the fact that past and future entities must exist in reality. The final argument draws upon the conception of karmic retribution, according to which the ethical value of actions determines the quality of experiences in the future. For producing fruition (phala) in the future, past actions need to have a real existence.Footnote 56 As will be shown in the following section of this article, the final two arguments re-appear with only little adaptation in the Pātañjalyogaśāstra.

The Reality of the Three Times in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra

Patañjali addressed the problem of temporality in the context of his soteriology in PYŚ 4.12. There, he discussed the question of how mental impresses (vāsanā) that cause the continued existence of beings within the circle of rebirths by storing karma, may cease through yogic meditation as a means towards final liberation.Footnote 57 The vanishing of the impresses is problematic from the perspective of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya, which denies the possibility of either the generation of an existing entity from non-existence or of the decay of something existing.Footnote 58 Pātañjali counters this possible objection against the Yogic soteriology by explaining that impresses do not lose their existence, but shift from one time to another:

The past and the future exist in reality because properties (dharma) belong to different times (Yogasūtra 4.12). The future is what has a future manifestation, the past is what already had experienced manifestation, and the present is that of which its activity has [just] arrived. And one should know that this triad is the object (vastu) of knowledge. If these [three times] did not exist in reality, this knowledge, lacking an object, could not arise. Therefore the past and the present exist in reality. Moreover, if the fruition of karma, which necessarily arises as either leading to experiences [in the cycle of rebirths] or as leading to liberation, would be unreal (nirupākhya), then abiding by what is wholesome, for which the instruction in this [fruition of karma] is the cause, would not be appropriate.

atītānāgataṃ svarūpato ’sty adhvabhedād dharmāṇām (YS 4.12). bhaviṣyadvyaktikam anāgatam, anubhūtavyaktikam atītam, svavyāpāropārūḍhaṃ vartamānam. trayaṃ caitad vastu jñānasya jñeyam. yadi caitat svarūpato nābhaviṣyat, nedaṃ nirviṣayaṃ jñānam udapatsyata. tasmād atītānāgataṃ svarūpato ’stīti. kiṃca bhogabhāgīyasya vāpavargabhāgīyasya vā karmaṇaḥ phalam utpitsu yadi nirupākhyam iti taduddeśena tena nimittena kuśalānuṣṭhānaṃ na yujyeta. (PYŚ 4.12, ed. Āgāśe, p. 186, l. 3–10).

Already Patañjali’s usage of the technical term adhvan with reference to time in Yogasūtra 4.12 indicates a Buddhist influence upon the passage under discussion.Footnote 59 The shared terminology is, however, not the only similarity of Patañjali’s work with Sarvāstivāda Buddhism. Also, Patañjali’s definition of the three times through references to manifestation (vyakti) and activity (vyāpāra) echoes the Sarvāstivāda interpretations of Vasumitra’s theory, according to which the activity (kāritra) of a factor determines its existence in the three times.Footnote 60 In addition, Patañjali reused the two arguments for the real existence of the three times from Sarvāstivāda sources. His first argument in favour of the Yoga version of the Sarvāstivāda doctrine is quite similar to the second argument that Vasubandhu reported in his Abhidharmakośa: Past and future entities cause valid knowledge. To be valid, knowledge needs to be knowledge of a really existing entity.Footnote 61 Patañjali’s second argument, like the fourth argument of AKBh 5.25, draws upon the concept of karmic retribution. Past actions that lead to retribution in the present or future must be real because otherwise the allocation of the quality of experiences to the ethical quality of actions could not be upheld. Patañjali argues that if this were the case, religious teachings based upon the conception of karmic retribution would simply serve no purpose and, accordingly, would be meaningless.Footnote 62

The apparent reuse of Sarvāstivāda conceptions on the reality of all three times raises questions concerning the deviating ontologies of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and Yoga. As was explained above,Footnote 63 according to Sarvāstivāda, the perceptible world consists of conditioned factors (dharma), each of which is present, i.e., active, for an infinitesimal small time-span.Footnote 64 For Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-Yoga, the perceptible world consists of the gross elements and the senses of living beings that are a transformation of primal matter (prakṛti). Matter, which is unconscious, active, and subject to change, enters into transformation when it comes under the influence of a Subject (puruṣa). The transformation originates from matter when it is in an imperceptible and ungraspable state that is called “without characteristic mark” (ali\(\dot {{n}}\)ga) and finally leads to everything existing in the perceptible world. The same process of transformation is responsible for every change in the outside world as well as for mental events. All these phenomena are, according to Pātañjala Yoga, nothing but transformations of the permanent but changeable matter which consists of the three basic constituents or forces (guṇa) sattva, rajas and tamas.

The ontology of Pātañjala Yoga thus differs fundamentally from the ontology of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism, which denies the existence of a permanent substrate. However, both ontologies agree that phenomena are momentary. For Sarvāstivāda, conditioned factors (dharma) are subject to momentariness, whereas in Pātañjala Yoga the properties (dharma) of a permanent substrate transform in every single moment.Footnote 65

The Adaptive Reuse of Sarvāstivāda Theories of Temporality in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra

Patañjali introduced his specific theory of transformation comprehensively in Pātañjalayogaśāstra 3.13, one of the longest bhāṣya-passages of the whole work. This theory comprises three different aspects: (1) the transformation of properties (dharma), (2) the transformation of characteristic marks (lakṣaṇa) of the properties that account for their passing through time and (3) the transformation of states (avasthā) of the properties and characteristic marks.Footnote 66 All three kinds of transformation occur within this text passage in sequence twice. Initially, Patañjali explains each of them concerning the mental organ (citta) as the substrate of properties. Subsequently, he addresses the transformation of the entities of the outside world under the category of “elements and the senses” (bhūtendriya).

The Transformation of Properties and the Adaptation of Dharmatrāta’s Theory

In his initial treatment of the transformation of properties, which addresses the transformation of the mental organ in yogic meditation, Patañjali’s explanations are quite succinct:

Of these [transformations], the transformation of properties [present] in a substrate is the disappearance and appearance of the properties of activation and cessation.Footnote 67

tatra vyutthānanirodhayor dharmayor abhibhavaprādurbhāvau dharmiṇi dharmapariṇāmaḥ (PYŚ 3.13, § 2 in “Appendix”).

Within the second exposition of the transformation of properties, Patañjali explains the transformation of a property (dharma) in time as the transformation of the mode of its being (bhāva).

In this case, the property (dharma) changes its mode of being, not its substrate (dravya), when it passes in a substrate through the three times of past, future, and present. For example: A vessel made of gold that is destroyed and made into something different changes its mode of being, not its being gold.

tatra dharmasya dharmiṇi vartamānasyādhvasv atītānāgatavartamāneṣu bhāvānyathātvaṃ bhavati, na dravyānyathātvam. yathā suvarṇabhājanasya bhittvānyathākriyamāṇasya bhāvānyathātvaṃ bhavati na suvarṇānyathātvam iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 6, l. 1–3 in “Appendix”).

In this passage, Patañjali adaptively reused the wording of AKBh 5.25 or a very similar formulation, which reports Dharmatrāta’s Sarvāstivāda theory of temporality, by changing the wording of his exemplar slightly.Footnote 68 First, Patañjali added the word dharmiṇi “in a substrate” to render Dharmatrāta’s theory consistent with his ontological premise of the existence of a permanent but changing entity, i.e., primordial matter (prakṛti), the transformation of which accounts for all entities of the world, except the Subjects (puruṣa). Adding a single word, Patañjali also achieved a far-reaching semantic shift for the word dharma within the reused passage. The word is deprived of its Sarvāstivāda Buddhist meaning “conditioned factor,” or “element of existence” and assumes the meaning “property” or “quality” of a substrate. In its adapted and Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-specific meaning, the word does not designate, as it did in its original context, an individual ontological unit or constituent of the world. It now designates a property with a minimal existence of its own, which intrinsically belongs to its underlying substrate. Patañjali introduced a similar semantic shift also with regard to the word dravya within the compound dravyānyathātvam, which in his adaptation now refers to a permanent substrate rather than to a momentary individual entity.Footnote 69

A further change, less significant for the new Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-specific meaning but indicative of the direction of adaptation, is the introduction of the compound atītānāgatavartamāneṣu “in the past, future and present” as an explanatory gloss of the word adhvasu “in the times.” Patañjali felt the need to explain the term adhvan “time” which he may have thought to be unfamiliar for those of his readers who lacked acquaintance with the terminology of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism as referring to the past, present and future time.

Additional adaptations in the wording of Dharmatrāta’s Sarvāsitvāda theory occur in the exemplification. Here Patañjali changed Dharmatrāta’s “shape” (saṃsthāna) to bhāva “mode of being” and Dharmatrāta’s varṇa- “colour” to suvarṇa- “gold”. These changes are again probably motivated by Patañjali’s intention to get rid of specifically Buddhist terminology and to create a description of the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-Yoga theory of transformation of a permanent substrate. In Patañjali’s exemplification, the decisive aspect that the vessel maintains while changing its mode of being is not any longer its specific colour (varṇa), but its being a permanent substrate, i.e., gold (suvarṇa).Footnote 70 By employing a small modification of wording, i.e., by adding the prefix su- to the word varṇa, Patañjali transformed the word “colour” into “gold.”

Patañjali anticipated criticism of his theory of transformation from the camp of philosophers—possibly Buddhists—who were not willing to accept the existence of a continuous substrate as the carrier of properties:Footnote 71

An opponent argues: “The substrate is nothing more than a property because it cannot go beyond [being] the previous entity. When it is subject to the different states of being previous or later, it would have to be unchangeable if it would be continuous (anvayin).”

apara āha: “dharmānabhyadhiko dharmī pūrvatattvānatikramāt. pūrvāparāvasthābhedam anupatitaḥ kauṭasthyenaiva parivarteta yady anvayī syāt” iti (PYŚ 3.13. § 6, l. 3–5 in “Appendix”).

This argument criticises the ontology of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya, which is based on the premise of the continuous existence of a substrate, by taking it ad absurdum. If a substrate can be identified as an entity, like a lump of clay, it cannot be claimed to remain identical through time, because everyday experience shows that entities change, as, for example, a lump of clay may turn into a pot. If the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khyin tries to avoid this difficulty by claiming that the alleged entity is just a property of a continuously existent substrate, then he would have to concede to the undesirable consequence that the substrate is unchangeable. This, however, would violate the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya teaching of primal matter as being permanent but changeable.

To counter this argument, Patañjali points out that his ontology is based on premises that differ from those underlying the objection.

Our position is not wrong. Why? Because we do not accept a one-sided position: This whole world here loses its manifestation, because we deny its permanence. Even when it has lost [its manifestation], it still exists, because we deny its destruction. Its subtlety arises from merging [into causes],Footnote 72 and because of its subtlety, it cannot be perceived.

ayam adoṣaḥ. kasmāt? ekāntatānabhyupagamāt: tad etat trailokyaṃ vyakter apaiti nityatvapratiṣedhāt. apetam apy asti vināśapratiṣedhāt. saṃsargāc cāsya saukṣmyam, saukṣmyāc cānupalabdhir iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 6, l. 5–7 in “Appendix”).

This passage, which the author of the Yuktidīpikā ascribes in his commentary on \(\dot {{n}}\)khyakārikā 10 to the followers of Vārṣagaṇya,Footnote 73 whereas Patañjali does not mark it as a quotation, is based on an ontology that has no room for the dichotomy of being and non-being.Footnote 74 The things of the world are manifestations of the potential contained in a changeable but permanent substance. When entities seem to vanish, they just lose their manifestation. This loss is, however, not a loss of existence, but a merging into an underlying cause, which leads to subtlety, or in other words, to a loss of properties resulting in imperceptibility and not in inexistence.

The Transformation of the Characteristic Mark and Patañjali’s Adaptation of Ghoṣaka’s Theory

The treatment of the transformation of characteristic marks (lakṣaṇa) concerning the mental organ (citta) is much more comprehensive than the explanation of the transformation of properties discussed above. This very fact may already indicate that Patañjali introduced this theory as an innovation to Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya philosophy, which was necessary for explaining how properties of the mental organ change in a way that accounts for the very possibility of spiritual liberation without violating the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya premise that whatever exists cannot cease.Footnote 75 The passage under consideration reads as follows:

The transformation of characteristic marks: Cessation [of mental activity] has three characteristic marks, [that is to say] it is connected with the three times. When this [cessation] gives up the time with the characteristic mark of the future without desisting from being a property, it attains the characteristic mark of the present, in which it manifests in its own form. This is its second time. And this [cessation] is not disconnected from the characteristic marks of the past and the future. In the same way, activation has three characteristic marks, [that is to say] it is connected with the three times. When this [activation] gives up [the time with] the characteristic mark of the present without desisting from being a property, it attains the characteristic mark of the past. This is its third time. And this [activation] is not disconnected from the characteristic marks of the future and the present. While arising, re-activation gives up [the time with] the characteristic mark of the future without desisting from being a property. It attains the characteristic mark of the present, in which, when it manifests in its own form, it is active. This is its second time. And this [re-activation] is not disconnected from the characteristic marks of the past and the future. In the same way cessation [occurs] again and activation [occurs] again.

lakṣaṇapariṇāmaḥ: nirodhas trilakṣaṇaḥ, tribhir adhvabhir yuktaḥ. sa khalv anāgatalakṣaṇam adhvānaṃ hitvā dharmatvam anatikrānto vartamānaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ pratipannaḥ, yatrāsya svarūpeṇābhivyaktiḥ. eṣo ’sya dvitīyo ’dhvā na cātītānāgatābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyāṃ viyuktaḥ. tathā vyutthānaṃ trilakṣaṇam, tribhir adhvabhir yuktam, vartamānalakṣaṇaṃ hitvā dharmatvam anatikrāntam atītalakṣaṇaṃ pratipannam. eṣo ’sya tṛtīyo ’dhvā na cānāgatavartamānābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyāṃ viyuktam. punar vyutthānam upasaṃpadyamānam anāgatalakṣaṇaṃ hitvā dharmatvam anatikrāntaṃ vartamānalakṣaṇaṃ pratipannam, yatrāsya svarūpābhivyaktau satyāṃ vyāpāraḥ. eṣo ’sya dvitīyo ’dhvā. na cātītānāgatābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyāṃ viyuktam iti. evaṃ punar nirodha evaṃ punar vyutthānam iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 3, in “Appendix”).

As discussed above, Patañjali regarded the different states of the mental organ that may appear and vanish sequentially during yogic practices, i.e., the cessation of mental activity (nirodha) and activation (vyutthāna), as properties (dharma) of a continuously existing substance (dharmin). The change that these properties undergo in their temporal dimension is neither a generation of something new nor the destruction of something already existent. Properties, just like their substrate, exist continuously. They change, however, their characteristic marks, which accounts for their specific being in one of the three times.

In creating his specific theory of transformation, Patañjali adaptively reused the second theory reported in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakoṣabhāṣya, i.e., the theory ascribed to Ghoṣaka, which explains temporal change through the three characteristic marks that exist in all three times.Footnote 76 The adaptation of Ghoṣaka’s theory reads as follows:

The transformation of characteristic marks: A property that exists in the three times is past when it is connected with the characteristic mark of the past without being separated from the characteristic marks of the future and the present. In the same way, it is future when it is connected with the characteristic mark of the future without being separated from the characteristic marks of the present and the past. In the same way, it is present when it is connected with the characteristic mark of the present without being separated from the past and the future. Just as a man, who desires one woman, is not detached from the remaining [women].

lakṣaṇapariṇāmaḥ: dharmo ’dhvasu vartamāno ’tīto ’tītalakṣaṇayukto ’nāgatavartamānābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyām aviyuktaḥ. tathānāgato ’nāgatalakṣaṇayukto vartamānātītābhyāṃ lakṣaṇābhyām aviyuktaḥ. tathā vartamāno vartamānalakṣaṇayukto ’tītānāgatābhyām aviyukta iti. yathā puruṣa ekasyāṃ striyāṃ rakto na śeṣāsu virakto bhavatīti (PYŚ 3.13, § 7 in “Appendix”).

Ghoṣaka’s theory originally was an alternative to the one by Dharmatrāta, which explained temporality as a change of the mode of being (bhāva) in conditioned factors (dharma). In Patañjali’s reused version, Ghoṣaka’s theory turned into a second-level theory to the theory of transformation of properties (dharma), which accounts for their temporality by assigning to properties three characteristic marks. Since Patañjali’s adaptation of Dharmatrāta’s theory had already involved a semantic shift in the meaning of the word dharma from the Buddhist meaning “conditioned factor” to the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-related “property,” Patañjali could implement Ghoṣaka’s theory in his theory without significant textual changes.Footnote 77

As mentioned above, Ghoṣaka’s theory was criticised within the circles of Sārvāstivāda Buddhism because it was taken to imply a mixture of times.Footnote 78 The same criticism is also voiced and refuted within Patañjali’s exposition of the theory:

Others object that in this [theory of] transformation of characteristic marks the times would be mixed because all [properties] are connected with all [three] characteristic marks. The refutation of this [objection runs as follows]: The fact that properties are properties is uncontroversial. And if the state of being a property exists, different characteristic marks need to be acknowledged, [since] the present time is not the only characteristic mark of this property. Because, if it were like this, the mental organ with the property of craving would not exist at the time of aversion, since it does not execute craving.

“atra lakṣaṇapariṇāme sarvasya sarvalakṣaṇayogād adhvasaṃkaraḥ prāpnoti” iti parair doṣaś codyate. tasya parihāraḥ: dharmāṇāṃ dharmatvam aprasādhyam. sati ca dharmatve lakṣaṇabhedo ’pi vācyaḥ, na vartamānasamaya evāsya dharmasyaikalakṣaṇam. evaṃ hi na cittaṃ rāgadharmakaṃ syāt krodhakāle rāgasyāsamudācārāt, iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 8, l. 1–4 in “Appendix”).

According to Patañjali, the second-level theory of characteristic marks follows necessarily from the reality of properties of substrates, because properties change over time. If the temporality of the properties would be denied, the reality of the substrate could not be maintained. The substrate would stop to exist as soon as its properties change.

The Transformation Towards Actualisation of Properties Through Characteristic Marks, and Patañjali’s Adaptations of Vasumitra’s and Buddhadeva’s Theories

Patañjali introduced his theory of the transformation of state (avasthā) by applying it to the mental organ and its states during yogic meditations and normal functioning:

Likewise, the transformation of state [is the following one]: At the moments of cessation, the impressions of cessation are strong, and the impressions of activation are weak. This is the transformation of the state of properties.

tathāvasthāpariṇāmaḥ: nirodhakṣaṇeṣu nirodhasaṃskārā balavanto bhavanti, durbalā vyutthānasaṃskārā iti. eṣa dharmāṇām avasthāpariṇāmaḥ (PYŚ 3.13, § 4, l. 1f. in “Appendix”).

This brief explanation indicates that Patañjali’s theory of the transformation of the state of properties deals with properties during their existence in the present time. Similar to Vasumitra’s theory of temporality, which explains the difference of times through a change of the state of factors within the temporal space that coincided with a change in efficacy (kāritra), Patañjali’s theory involves efficacy, which in the present example is the efficacy to produce impressions in the mental organ that can be reactivated as memories at a later instance.

Patañjali’s indebtedness to Vasumitra and Buddhadeva reveals itself even more clearly in his application of this theory to the entities of the outside world:

It is not the substrate that exists in the three times, but the properties exist in the three times. And they either have a [specific] characteristic mark, or they do not have it. Of these, the [properties] with a [specific] characteristic mark, when they obtain this or that state, are designated differently, because of their difference in state, not because of their difference in substance. Just like a single line is a hundred at the position of a hundred, ten at the position of ten and one at the position of one. Or just like a woman, although she is a single person, is called a mother, a daughter, or a sister.

na dharmī tryadhvā, dharmās tryadhvānaḥ. te lakṣitā alakṣitāḥ. tatra lakṣitās tāṃ tām avasthāṃ prāpnuvanto ’nyatvena pratinirdiśyante, avasthāntarato na dravyāntarataḥ. yathaikā rekhā śatasthāne śatam, daśasthāne daśa, ekā caikasthāne. yathā vaikatve ’pi strī “mātā” cocyate “duhitā” ca “svasā” ceti (PYŚ 3.13 § 9 in “Appendix”).

Already the almost identical formulation of the two exemplifications and the usage of the identical term avasthā indicate that the theories of Vasumitra and Buddhadeva as they were formulated in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya may have inspired Patañjali’s formulation of this theory, even if the degree of literary agreement in this adaptation is lower than the one of the two previously discussed cases.Footnote 79

The two Buddhist theories of Vasumitra and Buddhadeva explained temporality with reference to the state (avasthā) of conditioned factors. For Vasumitra, temporality was the result of the movement of a factor within the temporal space, from one state to the next, which he compared to a single symbol or item in the mathematical decimal place value system that assumes different values according to its position. The different values of the stick or pellet illustrate for Vasumitra the travel of a single property through the time of its existence from one time to another. This theory was interpreted as a change in the efficacy of factors.Footnote 80 For Buddhadeva, however, the change of the state did not occur in a temporal space, but in relation to other factors. Accordingly, the mutual relationship of factors defines their temporality. Patañjali integrated both Buddhist theories into his Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya theory of the transformation of states (avasthā) in the present time. Just like a single line executes different efficacies within the number range, properties can be actualized through their characteristic marks as entities in the present time. In Patañjali’s exemplification, a single vertical line can actualize the value of one, ten or a hundred, dependent on the number of numerals attached to it.Footnote 81 Patañjali also acknowledged that the efficacy of a property is relative to the actualisation of other properties, just like the relational terms “mother,” “daughter,” and “sister” are used concerning the relationship of two persons.


Towards the end of this comprehensive exposition of the transformation of matter, Patañjali provided an exemplification of his theory of transformation of properties (dharma) including the second-level theory of the transformation of characteristic marks (lakṣaṇa) and the third-level theory of states (avasthā):

For this [theory] there is an exemplification: The substrate clay, when it assumes a property that differs from the property of having the shape of a lump, transforms into the shape of a pot regarding its property. The shape of the pot gives up the future characteristic mark and attains the present characteristic mark [and] thus transforms concerning its characteristic mark. The pot, which experiences being [relatively] new and old at every moment, attains the transformation of its state. For the substrate, its state is [the attainment of] a different property, and for the property, its state is [the attainment of] a different characteristic mark. Thus one single transformation is explained as having parts. In the same way, [this theory] also applies to [all] other entities.

tatrodāharaṇam: mṛddharmī piṇḍākārād dharmād dharmāntaram upasaṃpadyamāno dharmataḥ pariṇamate ghaṭākāra iti. ghaṭākāro ’nāgataṃ lakṣaṇaṃ hitvā vartamānaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ pratipadyata iti lakṣaṇataḥ pariṇamate. ghaṭo navapurāṇatāṃ pratikṣaṇam anubhavann avasthāpariṇāmaṃ pratipadyata iti. dharmiṇo ’pi dharmāntaram avasthā, dharmasyāpi lakṣaṇāntaram avasthā, ity eka eva pariṇāmo bhedenopadarśita iti. evaṃ padārthāntareṣv api yojyam iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 12 in “Appendix”).

Patañjali exemplified his Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-derived ontology through the substrate clay, whose modification into different shapes he employed to illustrate the transformation of primal matter into all entities of the perceptible world. According to Patañjali’s analysis, a pot, just like all other things in the world, does not exist as an individual entity; it is a property of its substrate, just like the things in the world are properties of the substrate matter (pradhāna). Properties, i.e., alleged entities, appear when they actualise their inherent time characteristics of the present, and they disappear, when they actualise their time characteristic of the past. The actualisation of a different property in a substrate which goes along with the actualisation of a different time characteristic of a property is the transformation of the state (avasthā) of the substrate.

The validity of Patañjali’s theory of transformation as involving three different interrelated aspects is, however, only limited to a conventional level of truths. Ultimately, transformation is nothing but the transformation of the substrate.

From this [exposition], one should understand that concerning the elements and the senses transformation is threefold because properties and their substrate differ. According to the ultimate truth, however, there is just one transformation because a property is nothing more than the nature of its substrate, and this modification of the substrate is proliferated by [a reference to] properties.

etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharmadharmibhedāt trividhaḥ pariṇāmo veditavyaḥ. paramārthatas tv eka eva pariṇāmaḥ, dharmisvarūpamātro hi dharmaḥ, dharmivikriyaivaiṣā dharmadvārā prapañcyata iti (PYŚ 3.1.3, § 5 in “Appendix”).

Although the triple theory of transformation is generally valid and can be defended against objections, it represents only a limited or conventional perspective on the reality of transformation. On a higher level of truth (paramārthataḥ) transformation is not a triple but a single unitary process. It is the mutually incompatible activity of the qualities or forces (guṇa) which make up primal matter (prakṛti). Patañjali restated this crucial point in concluding his exposition of the theory of a triple transformation:

These very transformations of properties, characteristic marks and states do not transgress the nature of the substrate, so that only a single transformation accounts for all these [three] specific aspects: Transformation is the arising of a different property when the previous property of a continuous substrate passes away.

ta ete dharmalakṣaṇāvasthāpariṇāmā dharmisvarūpam anatikrāntā ity eka eva pariṇāmaḥ sarvān amūn viśeṣān abhiplavate: avasthitasya dravyasya pūrvadharmanivṛttau dharmāntarotpattiḥ pariṇāma iti (PYŚ 3.13, § 13 in “Appendix”).

The previous pages have shown that Patañjali adaptively reused the wording of the original Buddhist Sarvāstivāda theories with slight modifications to formulate a new sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya-theory in such a way that the four Sarvāstivāda theories remained recognizable. His close adherence to the wording of his exemplars does not indicate a lack of creativity or philosophical ingenuity. It expresses a strategy designed to win the argument against the adherents of Sarvāstivāda Buddhism by demonstrating that their own, in Patañjali’s view defective, theories of temporality can be rendered acceptable through slight modifications of wording, which involve a major ontological reorientation towards Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya. The validity of this novel theory is, however, only provisional. On a higher level of reality, there is only a single transformation, which may be described elegantly and simply as the arising of a new property when a previous property vanishes.

This formulation is quite similar to, though not identical with, the characterisation of transformation in other sources. According to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya “transformation is the appearance of one property on a permanent substrate when another property vanishes”.Footnote 82 In Vasubandhu’s formulation, properties become apparent (prādurbhāva), whereas for Patañjali, they arise (utpatti). Patañjali’s concluding formulation of his theory of transformation is also quite close to the metrical characterisation of transformation quoted in the Yuktidīpikā, which states that “transformation is called [the process concerning] a substrate that is not deprived of existence when it gets rid of one previous property and assumes a later one”.Footnote 83

It thus appears that Patañjali concluded his novel theory of transformation with a formulation that is very much in line with the views of previous and contemporary mainstream Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya philosophers. The innovative aspect of Patañjali’s theory is therefore not to be found in its conclusion, but in its derivation as a process that on a conventional level can be analysed as being triple.

Patañjali’s elegant and catchy conclusion of his argumentation was, however, at risk of being truncated in the course of its reception, since his formulation involved the concepts of arising (utpatti) and passing away (nivṛtti). This reference to generation could be interpreted as a violation of the Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya tenet of sarvasarvātmakavāda, according to which the destruction of something previously existent and the generation of something previously inexistent are equally impossible. As already Wilhelm Halbfass noticed, an objection along this line of argumentation, which could only be raised if Patañjali’s formulation was taken out of its original context, appears indeed in the Yuktidīpikā on \(\dot {{n}}\)khyakārikā 9, where an opponent quotes Patañjali’s formulation of transformation as involving the notion of the generation of something previously inexistent and the destruction of something existent.Footnote 84

For what is called “transformation” is the passing away of one property and the arising of another property of a continuous substrate. This theory does not provide an alternative way [of defending the notion that the effect pre-exists in its cause], because in this [theory] the cessation of one property is accepted and the arising of something inexistent (i.e., of the new property) is asserted.

pariṇāmo* hi nāmāvasthitasya dravyasya dharmāntaranivṛttir dharmāntarapravṛttiś ca. tatra sato dharmāntarasya nirodhābhyupagamād asataś cotpattipratijñanān nedaṃ mārgāntaram ārabhyate (Yuktidīpikā on \(\dot {{n}}\)khyakārikā 9, ed. Wezler and Motegi 1998, p. 111, l. 15 f. Variant: *pariṇāmo] correction of parimāṇo).

After a comparatively long discussion of various objections against the notion that the effect pre-exists in the cause, the author of the Yuktidīpikā refuted the objection that the theory of transformation involves the notion that entities may be generated or destroyed. He arrived at the conclusion that during transformation properties are neither generated nor destroyed. They just appear and disappear, which affects their epistemological rather than their ontological status.Footnote 85

On the whole, however, Patañjali was successful in formulating a theory of transformation that was well received as magisterial in circles of Sā\(\dot {\text{n}}\)khya philosophy, since it is precisely this formulation that Vātsyāyana quoted in Nyāyabhāṣya 3.2.15 as one out of two similar formulations of virtually the same theory of transformation that he intended to refute because it was incompatible with his Nyāya-specific ontology.Footnote 86