This book by Dr. Desmarais is by all means a positive contribution in the field of Yoga, Indology and cognitive neuroscience. It covers Eastern
and Western, ancient and modern, religion and metaphysics, psychology and epistemology, as well as the cultural heritage for these.
The book is arranged in six chapters using our common concept of show as a metaphysical stage: getting ready for the show; entering
the theatre; taking the stage; all the world as stage; following the plot; thickening of the plot; and finally, the lights come up. This has its source in
the Samkhya metaphor of prakrti as analogous to a divine actor, on the world stage and in a cosmic drama. Another symbolic metaphor that
comes before our mind is that of Ardhanarinatesvara of Lord Siva, depicted as the Cosmic divine Supreme actor endowed with half-female in his
person. The reader, the spectator or audience member, symbolizes the Purusa of Samkhya and Yoga.
The author, using this structure, provides an excellent exposition of the contents of the Yoga-sutra (YS) text of Patanjali; serially, with
all its major technical terms and concepts. Dr. Desmarais, with utmost care and balance, focuses on mind, consciousness and identity as the
central trinity. Within this, the complex issue in mind and its relation to matter is considered from a number of dimensions in the YS.
Accompanying this explanation of mind, consciousness and identity in the YS, is a parallel exposition of these topics from the
perspective of the cognitive neurosciences today. The book successfully fulfills the aim of bridging the gap between what belongs culturally to
the West, and what belongs to the East. The one side exhibits the material objective character, the other subjective spiritual-the two dimensional
profile of man. The task is certainly not an easy one. But Dr. Desmarais remarkably has accomplished this task. With both the traditions, the
author displays a very close familiarity. This is due to two strong holds. One is her semantic and etymological approach to technical terms in
Sanskrit, the other is her’ clear integral vision. Dr. Desmarais knows and states that the YS is of an interdisciplinary nature. So also are the
cognitive neurosciences. The exposition and the interpretation by her of the important terms are very clear, appropriate and significant. Among
the most noteworthy of these terms are: purusa, prakrti, manas, buddhi, ahamkara, citta, vrttis, nidra (turiya), smrti, samyoga, abhyasa, vairagya,
and lastly the kaivalya. In this march she has taken into account important Sanskrit commentaries and translations, modern authors and their
interpretations, and, wherever necessary, provides her own brief survey of Yoga tradition before and after Patanjali: through Vedas, Upanisads,
Gita, up to Jainism and Buddhism-Yoga being the common internal disciple for all. Similarly she provides an overview of relevant topics in the
cognitive neurosciences till to date. Dr. Desmarais’ treatment of the subject, so complex and wide, is judicious, positive and constructive in
The author is well nigh aware of the internal difficulties while paraphrasing and explaining terms, and tries to minimize these by
descriptively defining and interpreting the concepts. No less aware is she is the external difficulties that one faces while switching over from one
language to another that belongs to a distant family, such as the Sanskrit (ancient India) and English (modern European) languages, subjects and
traditions she declares rightly that exact translation of Sanskrit terms is not possible, very often the words need to be accepted as they are and
supplemented with the words need to be accepted as they are and supplemented with the nearest translation possible or a word approximately
synonymous in meaning. Dr. Desmarais’ resolution of these difficulties is well acceptable. One of her observations about Yogic research,
assessment and evaluation needs to be noted and highlighted. Yoga is a practice, a field of experience subjective in nature. The number of cases
for research is very small compared to other fields. The experience is ever changing as for instruments, they have limited capability, a limited
range of applications (confined to part not to whole), and also are subject to interpretation. The results often are not consistent or similar, but
sometimes contradictory, or controversial. While analysis based upon research in the neurosciences on Yoga is interesting, under such
conditions much of it must necessarily remain hypothetical.
Such limitations come even clearer to light if we consider the issue of bi-laterality. In living beings respiration mechanism is bilateral.
Bi-laterality is in fact neglected even in modern medicine. Instead, we treat the body only as a whole. The tests carried about of blood, sugar,
cholesterol or the measurements taken of blood pressure, temperature, resistance or other neuro-cognitive responses are not bilateral, nor
simultaneous, so experimental results show discrepancies or anomalies here as well. Thus there is need to understand and develop bilateral
anatomy, bilateral physiology, bilateral pathosymptomology and bilateral therapeutics to do justice to not only Yogic practices but to any
prescription of medicine, diet and lifestyle (ausadha, anna, vihara), to be corroborated by in vivo (clinical, subjective) and in vitro (objective,
laboratory) experiments. The total picture and total perspective arising from these developments would be more meaningful.
In this context it has to be noted that there is a deep-seated problem about mind, as a substance/category, its location, function and
nature. In fact this is true of all the inner faculties. Modern science does not officially accept them as there is no objective proof for their
existence or location, not does it accept them a priori like previous science (classical or ancient), or like Indian sciences or most of the schools
of philosophy. How, therefore, can these experiments be made? So the inner faculties are beyond experiments to date. The research is confined
only up to the nervous system and structural part of the brain. Inner faculties are functional, but brain, nerves etc. are structural. Only by mutual
correspondence and inference can we assert their existence, contents and their meaning. This involves all the fundamentally important issues:
structure-function, subjective-objective, experience-experiment, a priori-a posteriori.
Modern medicine (life sciences, cognitive neurosciences) follows modern science, therefore it does not accept inner faculties
officially, but could not escape them in practice or in clinics. This is the situation in mathematics: AB - BA, whose converse may or may not be
true. Yoga and Ayurveda took the positive view, accepting the inner faculties as a priori and also functional in character, yet further assigned
material or substantial status to them. Their location has been assigned to the heart, in light of meditation and contemplation (subjective
experience and experiment with eyes closed generally), while the brain (head) is accepted as a place of manifestation (indriya-sthana), a field of
sensory perceptions; in fact the whole body is an extension of the same.
Once this position is accepted, then it is within the realm of physics and the laws of physics. Functional modification, expansion,
extension, mutation, transformation is then possible. Rasayana and vajikarana (revitalization, rejuvenation, stimulant) are the two classes and
cyavanaprasa, brahma-rasayana, bhallataka-rasayana and all mercurial and sulphur compound products called Bhasmas, are the examples in this
direction. Kayakalpa i.e. the technique and the procedure to transform the psychosomatic person aimed at this. Khecharivati, and Yogic
Khecharimudra run parallel to achieve levitation, aerial flight etc. Patanjali’s Sutra in which the author has elucidated "jaty-antara-parinamah
prakrty-apurat," is noteworthy in this context. Modern genetic engineering would make this claim objectively possible tomorrow. It would be a
culmination of cognitive neurosciences, when Quantum Field Theory practically achieves Grand Unification. If modern science positively
incorporates observer and inner faculties, in addition to genetic engineering, there certainly would be emergence of Great Grand Unified Theory
of modern science.
Yoga subjectively, and Ayurveda, objectively on an individual, and a very small scale, no doubt, have paved the path in this march. They
displayed not only a model, not only a method but also a procedure, which would remain a psycho-physiological standard, parallel to the modern
The technical term plasticity (or neuroplasticity), used by the author, when abstracted would be analogous to fluidity i.e. the field of
Fluid Mechanics, that would cover hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, aerodynamics and space dynamics. From this, we can correlate the earth,
water, heat, air and ether of ancient sciences, to a great extent. If this is accepted, them the role of air (pneuma), the bridge between all the rest of
the elements and principles, would become more prominent and pronounced. Then further the role of vayu (prana, breath) as a link, a bridge
between microcosm (bilateral respiration mechanism in living being) and macrocosm, would become clear. As Nyaya, Yoga and Ayurveda
accept, air accommodates thermal and hydraulic properties as a continuum (heat-cold), and spatial properties also. Operationally then, air appears
like a complex conjugate that unifies QM and GR theories harmoniously. This is the message of Yoga and Ayurveda to be precise. Modern
science has to elevate itself to that height, which would imply an integral version of it, by accommodating religion, metaphysics, philosophy and
epistemology. Dr. Desmarais’ book is definitely a step ahead in this progression. Therefore aptly she states that Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras stand for
a transformative approach to human resource development. Changing Minds is the title and aim also of the book.
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