Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a collection of 195 Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutra was compiled sometime between 500 BCE and 400 CE by the sage Patanjali in India who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions. The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic. The text fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century.
Before the 20th century, history indicates that the medieval Indian yoga scene was dominated by the various other texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha, texts attributed to Yajnavalkya and Hiranyagarbha, as well as literature on hatha yoga, tantric yoga and Pashupata Shaivism yoga rather than the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Yoga tradition holds the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to be one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy. However, the appropriation – and misappropriation – of the Yoga Sutras and its influence on later systematizations of yoga has been questioned by scholars such as David Gordon White, but reaffirmed by others such as James Mallinson.
Modern scholars of yoga such as Philipp A. Maas and Mallinson consider the Bhasya commentary on the Sutras to be Patanjali’s own, and the Sutras to be his summary of older accounts of yoga. The combined document is thus considered to be a single work, the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.
Author and dating
The colophons of manuscripts of the Yoga Sūtras attribute the work to Patanjali. The identity of this Patañjali has been the subject of academic debate because an author of the same name is credited with the authorship of the classic text on Sanskrit grammar named Mahābhāṣya that is firmly datable to the second century BCE. Yet the two works are completely different in subject matter and in the details of language, grammar and vocabulary, as was compellingly pointed out long ago by Louis Renou. Furthermore, before the time of Bhoja (11th century), no known text states that the authors were the same.
Philipp A. Maas assessed Patañjali’s Pātañjalayogaśāstra‘s date to be about 400 CE, based on synchronisms between its arguments and those of Vasubandhu, on tracing the history of the commentaries on it published in the first millennium CE, on the opinions of earlier Sanskrit commentators, on the testimony of manuscript colophons and on a review of extant literature. This dating for the Pātañjalayogaśāstra was proposed as early as 1914 by Woods and has been accepted widely by academic scholars of the history of Indian philosophical thought.
Edwin Bryant, on the other hand, surveyed the major commentators in his translation of the Yoga Sūtras. He observed that “Most scholars date the text shortly after the turn of the Common Era (circa first to second century), but that it has been placed as early as several centuries before that.” Bryant concluded that “A number of scholars have dated the Yoga Sūtras as late as the fourth or fifth century C.E., but these arguments have all been challenged. … All such arguments [for a late date] are problematic.”
Michele Desmarais summarized a wide variety of dates assigned to Yogasutra, ranging from 500 BCE to 3rd century CE, noting that there is a paucity of evidence for any certainty. She stated the text may have been composed at an earlier date given conflicting theories on how to date it, but latter dates are more commonly accepted by scholars.
The Yoga Sutras are a composite of various traditions. The levels of samādhi taught in the text resemble the Buddhist jhanas. According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely “eight limb yoga” (aṣṭāṅga yoga) and action yoga (Kriya yoga). The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 sutras 1-27, chapter 3 except sutra 54, and chapter 4. The “eight limb yoga” is described in chapter 2 sutras 28-55, and chapter 3 sutras 3 and 54.
According to Maas, Patañjali’s composition was entitled Pātañjalayogaśāstra (“The Treatise on Yoga according to Patañjali”) and consisted of both Sūtras and Bhāṣya. According to Wujastyk, referencing Maas, Patanjali integrated yoga from older traditions in Pātañjalayogaśāstra, and added his own explanatory passages to create the unified work that, since 1100 CE, has been considered the work of two people. Together the compilation of Patanjali’s sutras and the Vyasabhasya, is called Pātañjalayogaśāstra.
According to Maas, this means that the earliest commentary on the Yoga Sūtras, the Bhāṣya, that has commonly been ascribed to some unknown later author Vyāsa (the editor), was Patañjali’s own work.
Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters or books (Sanskrit Pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:
- Samadhi Pada (51 sutras). Samadhi refers to a state of direct and reliable perception (pramāṇa) where the yogi’s self-identity is absorbed into pure consciousness, collapsing the categories of witness, witnessing, and witnessed. Samadhi is the main technique the yogi learns by which to dive into the depths of the mind to achieve Kaivalya (liberation). The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means of attaining samādhi.
- This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: “Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ” (“Yoga is the restraint of fluctuations/patterns of consciousness”).
- Sadhana Pada (55 sutras). Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for “practice” or “discipline”. Here the author outlines two systems of Yoga: Kriyā Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
- Kriyā Yoga in the Yoga Sūtras is the practice of three of the Niyamas of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga:
- tapas – austerity
- svādhyaya – self-study of the scriptures
- iśvara praṇidhana – devotion to god or pure consciousness
- Aṣṭānga Yoga is the yoga of eight limbs:
- Yama – restraints or ethics of behaviour
- Niyama – observances
- Āsana – physical postures
- Prāṇāyāma – control of the prana(breath)
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
- Dhāraṇa – concentration
- Dhyāna – meditation
- Samādhi – absorption
- Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras). Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for “power” or “manifestation”. ‘Supra-normal powers’ (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā, Dhyana and Samādhi is referred to as Samyama, and is considered a tool of achieving various perfections, or Siddhis. The text warns (III.37) that these powers can become an obstacle to the yogi who seeks liberation.
- Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras). Kaivalya literally translates to “isolation”, but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation or liberation and is used where other texts often employ the term moksha (liberation). The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.
Purpose of yoga
Patanjali begins his treatise by stating the purpose of his book in the first sutra, followed by defining the word “yoga” in his second sutra of Book 1:
yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ— Yoga Sutras 1.2
This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as “Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (citta)”. Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as “Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).” Bryant states that, to Patanjali, “Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object.”
Ashtanga, the eight components of yoga
Main article: Ashtanga (eight limbs of yoga)
Patanjali defines yoga as having eight components (अष्टाङ्ग aṣṭ āṅga, “eight limbs”): “The eight limbs of yoga are yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).”
Main article: Yamas
Yamas are ethical vows in the Yogic tradition and can be thought of as moral imperatives. The five yamas listed by Patañjali in Yogasūtra 2.30 are:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings through actions and speech
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
- Brahmacarya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): Non-greed, non-grasping, non-possessiveness
The commentaries on these teachings of Patanjali state how and why each of the above self restraints help in the personal growth of an individual. For example, in verse II.35, Patanjali states that the virtue of nonviolence and non-injury to others (Ahimsa) leads to the abandonment of enmity, a state that leads the yogi to the perfection of inner and outer amity with everyone, everything.
In Sutra 2.31, Patanjali calls the Yamas Mahavratam, which means a Great Vow. Patanjali states that practice of the Yamas is universal and it should not be limited by class, place, time or circumstances.
Main article: Niyama
The second component of Patanjali’s Yoga path is called niyama, which includes virtuous habits, behaviors and observances (the “dos”). Sadhana Pada Verse 32 lists the niyamas as:
- Shaucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech and body
- Santosha (संतोष): contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them, optimism for self
- Tapas (तपस्): literally translates to fire or heat. But in yogic context it means persistence, perseverance, austerity
- Svadhyaya (स्वाध्याय): Self-study, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches and actions, study of scriptures
- Ishvarapranidhana (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality)
Main article: Asana
sthira sukham asanam॥46॥
Translation 1: An asana is what is steady and pleasant.
Translation 2: Motionless and Agreeable form (of staying) is Asana (yoga posture).— Yoga Sutras II.46
Asana is thus a (meditation) posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed, steady, comfortable and motionless. Patanjali does not list any specific asana, except the terse suggestion, “posture one can hold with comfort and motionlessness”. Āraṇya translates verse II.47 as, “asanas are perfected over time by relaxation of effort with meditation on the infinite”; this combination and practice stops the quivering of body.
The Bhasya commentary attached to the Sutras, now thought to be by Patanjali himself, suggests twelve seated meditation postures: Padmasana (lotus), Virasana (hero), Bhadrasana (glorious), Svastikasana (lucky mark), Dandasana (staff), Sopasrayasana (supported), Paryankasana (bedstead), Krauncha-nishadasana (seated heron), Hastanishadasana (seated elephant), Ushtranishadasana (seated camel), Samasansthanasana (evenly balanced) and Sthirasukhasana (any motionless posture that is in accordance with one’s pleasure).
Main article: Pranayama
Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words prāṇa (प्राण, breath) and āyāma (आयाम, restraining, extending, stretching).
After a desired posture has been achieved, verses II.49 through II.51 recommend the next limb of yoga, prāṇāyāma, which is the practice of consciously regulating breath (inhalation and exhalation). This is done in several ways, inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, slowing the inhalation and exhalation, consciously changing the time/length of breath (deep, short breathing).
Main article: Pratyahara
Pratyāhāra is a combination of two Sanskrit words prati- (the prefix प्रति-, “against” or “contra”) and āhāra (आहार, “food,diet or intake”)
Pratyahara means not taking any input or any information from the sense organs. It is a process of retracting the sensory experience from external objects. It is a step of self extraction and abstraction. Pratyahara is not consciously closing one’s eyes to the sensory world, it is consciously closing one’s mind processes to the sensory world. Pratyahara empowers one to stop being controlled by the external world, fetch one’s attention to seek self-knowledge and experience the freedom innate in one’s inner world.
Pratyahara marks the transition of yoga experience from first four limbs that perfect external forms to last three limbs that perfect inner state, from outside to inside, from outer sphere of body to inner sphere of spirit.
Main article: Dharana
Dharana (Sanskrit: धारणा) means concentration, introspective focus and one-pointedness of mind. The root of word is dhṛ (धृ), which has a meaning of “to hold, maintain, keep”.
Dharana as the sixth limb of yoga, is holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state, subject or topic of one’s mind. The mind is fixed on a mantra, or one’s breath/navel/tip of tongue/any place, or an object one wants to observe, or a concept/idea in one’s mind. Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another.
Main article: Dhyana in Hinduism
Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focused on. If in the sixth limb of yoga one focused on a personal deity, Dhyana is its contemplation. If the concentration was on one object, Dhyana is non-judgmental, non-presumptuous observation of that object. If the focus was on a concept/idea, Dhyana is contemplating that concept/idea in all its aspects, forms and consequences. Dhyana is uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition, flow of awareness.
Dhyana is integrally related to Dharana, one leads to other. Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana the process of mind. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus. Patanjali defines contemplation (Dhyana) as the mind process, where the mind is fixed on something, and then there is “a course of uniform modification of knowledge”.
Adi Shankara, in his commentary on Yoga Sutras, distinguishes Dhyana from Dharana, by explaining Dhyana as the yoga state when there is only the “stream of continuous thought about the object, uninterrupted by other thoughts of a different kind for the same object”; Dharana, states Shankara, is focussed on one object, but aware of its many aspects and ideas about the same object. Shankara gives the example of a yogin in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit; the yogin in dhyana state “contemplates on sun’s orbit alone for example, without being interrupted by its color, brilliance or other related ideas”, according to Trevor Leggett.
Main article: Samadhi
Samadhi (Sanskrit: समाधि) literally means “putting together, joining, combining with, union, harmonious whole, trance”.
Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation. There is no distinction, during the eighth limb of yoga, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity. The thinker, the thought process and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness, samadhi.
All three (Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi) practised on a particular object or subject is called Sanyam by Patanjali.
Samadhi is of two kinds, with and without support of an object of meditation:
- Samprajnata Samadhi, also called savikalpa samadhi and Sabija Samadhi, meditation with support of an object.
Samprajnata samadhi is associated with deliberation, reflection, bliss, and I-am-ness.
- The first two associations, deliberation and reflection, form the basis of the various types of samapatti:
- Savitarka, “deliberative”: The citta is concentrated upon a gross object of meditation, an object with a manifest appearance that is perceptible to our senses, such as a flame of a lamp, the tip of the nose, or the image of a deity. Conceptualization (vikalpa) still takes place, in the form of perception, the word and the knowledge of the object of meditation. When the deliberation is ended this is called nirvitarka samadhi.
- Savichara, “reflective”: the citta is concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation, which is not percpetible to the senses, but arrived at through inference, such as the senses, the process of cognition, the mind, the I-am-ness, the chakras, the inner-breath (prana), the nadis, the intellect (buddhi). The stilling of reflection is called nirvichara samapatti.
- The last two associations, sananda samadhi and sasmita, are respectively a state of meditation, and an object of savichara samadhi:
- Sananda Samadhi, ananda, “bliss”: this state emphasizes the still subtler state of bliss in meditation;
- Sasmita: the citta is concentrated upon the sense or feeling of “I-am-ness”.
- Asamprajnata Samadhi, also called Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Nirbija Samadhi: meditation without an object, which leads to knowledge of purusha or consciousness, the subtlest element.
Ananda and asmita
According to Ian Whicher, the status of ananda and asmita in Patanjali’s system is a matter of dispute. According to Maehle, the first two constituents, deliberation and reflection, form the basis of the various types of samapatti. According to Feuerstein,
“Joy” and “I-am-ness” […] must be regarded as accompanying phenomena of every cognitive [ecstasy]. The explanations of the classical commentators on this point appear to be foreign to Patanjali’s hierarchy of [ecstatic] states, and it seems unlikely that ananda and asmita should constitute independent levels of samadhi.—
Ian Whicher disagrees with Feuerstein, seeing ananda and asmita as later stages of nirvicara-samapatti. Whicher refers to Vācaspati Miśra (900-980 CE), the founder of the Bhāmatī Advaita Vedanta who proposes eight types of samapatti:
- Savitarka-samāpatti and Nirvitarka-samāpatti, both with gross objects as objects of support;
- Savicāra-samāpatti and Nirvicāra-samāpatti, both with subtle objects as objects of support;
- Sānanda-samāpatti and Nirānanda-samāpatti, both with the sense organs as objects of support
- Sāsmitā-samāpatti and Nirasmitā-samāpatti, both with the sense of “I-am-ness” as support.
Vijnana Bikshu (ca. 1550-1600) proposes a six-stage model, explicitly rejecting Vacaspati Misra’s model. Vijnana Bikshu regards joy (ananda) as a state that arises when the mind passes beyond the vicara stage. Whicher agrees that ananda is not a separate stage of samadhi. According to Whicher, Patanjali’s own view seems to be that nirvicara-samadhi is the highest form of cognitive ecstasy.
The epistemology in Patanjali’s system of Yoga, like the Sāmkhya school of Hinduism, relies on three of six Pramanas, as the means of gaining reliable knowledge. These included Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumāṇa (inference) and Sabda (Āptavacana, word/testimony of reliable sources).
Patanjali’s system, like the Samkhya school, considers Pratyakṣa or Dṛṣṭam (direct sense perception), Anumāna (inference), and Śabda or Āptavacana (verbal testimony of the sages or shāstras) to be the only valid means of knowledge or Pramana. Unlike few other schools of Hinduism such as Advaita Vedanta, Yoga did not adopt the following three Pramanas: Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy), Arthāpatti (postulation, deriving from circumstances) or Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof).
The metaphysics of Patanjali is built on the same dualist foundation as the Samkhya school. The universe is conceptualized as of two realities in Samkhya-Yoga schools: Puruṣa (consciousness) and prakriti (matter). It considers consciousness and matter, self/soul and body as two different realities. Jiva (a living being) is considered as a state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti in some form, in various permutations and combinations of various elements, senses, feelings, activity and mind. During the state of imbalance or ignorance, one of more constituents overwhelm the others, creating a form of bondage. The end of this bondage is called liberation, or moksha by both Yoga and Samkhya school of Hinduism. The ethical theory of Yoga school is based on Yamas and Niyama, as well as elements of the Guṇa theory of Samkhya.
Patanjali adopts the theory of Guṇa from Samkhya. Guṇas theory states that three gunas (innate tendency, attributes) are present in different proportions in all beings, and these three are sattva guna (goodness, constructive, harmonious), rajas guna (passion, active, confused), and tamas guna (darkness, destructive, chaotic). These three are present in every being but in different proportions, and the fundamental nature and psychological dispositions of beings is a consequence of the relative proportion of these three gunas. When sattva guna predominates an individual, the qualities of lucidity, wisdom, constructiveness, harmony, and peacefulness manifest themselves; when rajas is predominant, attachment, craving, passion-driven activity and restlessness manifest; and when tamas predominates in an individual, ignorance, delusion, destructive behavior, lethargy, and suffering manifests. The guṇas theory underpins the philosophy of mind in Yoga school of Hinduism.
Samkhya school suggests that jnana (knowledge) is a sufficient means to moksha, Patanjali suggests that systematic techniques/practice (personal experimentation) combined with Samkhya’s approach to knowledge is the path to moksha. Patanjali holds that ignorance is the cause of suffering and saṁsāra. Liberation, like many other schools, is removal of ignorance, which is achieved through discriminative discernment, knowledge and self-awareness. The Yoga Sūtras is Yoga school’s treatise on how to accomplish this. Samādhi is the state where ecstatic awareness develops, state Yoga scholars, and this is how one starts the process of becoming aware of Purusa and true Self. It further claims that this awareness is eternal, and once this awareness is achieved, a person cannot ever cease being aware; this is moksha, the soteriological goal in Hinduism.
Book 3 of Patanjali’s Yogasutra is dedicated to soteriological aspects of yoga philosophy. Patanjali begins by stating that all limbs of yoga are necessary foundation to reaching the state of self-awareness, freedom and liberation. He refers to the three last limbs of yoga as sanyama, in verses III.4 to III.5, and calls it the technology for “discerning principle” and mastery of citta and self-knowledge. In verse III.12, the Yogasutras state that this discerning principle then empowers one to perfect sant (tranquility) and udita (reason) in one’s mind and spirit, through intentness. This leads to one’s ability to discern the difference between sabda (word), artha (meaning) and pratyaya (understanding), and this ability empowers one to compassionately comprehend the cry/speech of all living beings. Once a yogi reaches this state of samyama, it leads to unusual powers, intuition, self-knowledge, freedoms and kaivalya, the soteriological goal of the yogi.
Patanjali differs from the closely related non-theistic/atheistic Samkhya school by incorporating what some scholars have called a “personal, yet essentially inactive, deity” or “personal god” (Ishvara). Hindu scholars such as the 8th century Adi Sankara, as well as many modern academic scholars describe Yoga school as “Samkya school with God.”
The Yogasutras of Patanjali use the term Isvara in 11 verses: I.23 through I.29, II.1, II.2, II.32 and II.45. Ever since the Sutra’s release, Hindu scholars have debated and commented on who or what is Isvara? These commentaries range from defining Isvara from a “personal god” to “special self” to “anything that has spiritual significance to the individual”. Whicher states that while Patanjali’s terse verses can be interpreted both as theistic or non-theistic, Patanjali’s concept of Isvara in Yoga philosophy functions as a “transformative catalyst or guide for aiding the yogin on the path to spiritual emancipation”.
Patanjali defines Isvara (Sanskrit: ईश्वर) in verse 24 of Book 1, as “a special Self (पुरुषविशेष, puruṣa-viśeṣa)”,
क्लेशकर्मविपाकाशयैरपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः ॥२४॥— Yoga Sutras I.24
This sutra adds the characteristics of Isvara as that special Self which is unaffected (अपरामृष्ट, aparamrsta) by one’s obstacles/hardships (क्लेश, klesha), one’s circumstances created by past or one’s current actions (कर्म, karma), one’s life fruits (विपाक, vipâka), and one’s psychological dispositions/intentions (आशय, ashaya).
Philosophical roots and influences
Main article: Yoga (philosophy)
The Yoga Sutras incorporated the teachings of many other Indian philosophical systems prevalent at the time. Samkhya and Yoga are thought to be two of the many schools of philosophy that originated over the centuries that had common roots in the Vedic cultures and traditions of India. The orthodox Hindu philosophies of Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, as well as the non-orthodox Nastika systems of Jainism and Buddhism can all be seen as representing one stream of spiritual activity in ancient India, in contrast to the Bhakti traditions and Vedic ritualism which were also prevalent at the same time. The Vedanta-Sramana traditions, iconolatry and Vedic rituals can be identified with the Jnana marga, Bhakti marga and the Karma marga respectively that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Yoga Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy, an orthodox (Āstika) and atheistic Hindu system of dualism, and are generally seen as the practice while Samkhya is the theory. The influence of Samkhya is so pervasive in the Sutras that the historian Surendranath Dasgupta went so far as to deny independent categorization to Patañjali’s system, preferring to refer to it as Patanjala Samkhya, similar to the position taken by the Jain writer Haribhadra in his commentary on Yoga. Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras accept the Samkhya’s division of the world and phenomena into twenty-five tattvas or principles, of which one is Purusha meaning Self or consciousness, the others being Prakriti (primal nature), Buddhi (intellect or will), Ahamkara (ego), Manas (mind), five buddhindriyas (sensory capabilities), five karmendriyas (action-capabilities) and ten elements. The second part of the Sutras, the Sadhana, also summarizes the Samkhya perspectives about all seen activity lying within the realm of the three Gunas of Sattva (illumination), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (lethargy).
The Yoga Sutras diverge from early Samkhya by the addition of the principle of Isvara or God, as exemplified by Sutra 1.23 – “Iśvara pranidhãnãt vã”, which is interpreted to mean that surrender to God is one way to liberation. Isvara is defined here as “a distinct Consciousness, untouched by afflictions, actions, fruitions or their residue”. In the sutras, it is suggested that devotion to Isvara, represented by the mystical syllable Om may be the most efficient method of achieving the goal of Yoga. This syllable Om is a central element of Hinduism, appearing in all the Upanishads, including the earliest Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, and expounded upon in the Mandukya Upanishad.
Another divergence from Samkhya is that while the Samkhya holds that knowledge is the means to liberation, Patañjali’s Yoga insists on the methods of concentration and active striving. The aim of Yoga is to free the individual from the clutches of the matter, and considers intellectual knowledge alone to be inadequate for the purpose – which is different from the position taken by Samkhya.
However, the essential similarities between the Samkhya and Patañjali’s system remained even after the addition of the Isvara principle, with Max Müller noting that “the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord….” The Bhagavad Gita, one of the chief scriptures of Hinduism, is considered to be based on this synthetic Samkhya-Yoga system.
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is a foundational text of the Yoga philosophy school of Hinduism.
See also: Buddhism and Hinduism § Yoga
Scholars have presented different viewpoints on the relationship between Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the teachings in Buddhist texts.
Karel Werner writes, “Patanjali’s system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika.” He adds, “upon the whole it [Patanjali’s Yoga sutras] is more elaborate and summarizes the actual technique of Yoga procedures more exactly than the Buddhist exposition”. However, states Werner, “The Buddha was the founder of his system, even though, admittedly, he made use of some of the experiences he had previously gained under various Yoga teachers of his time. Patanjali is neither a founder nor a leader of a new movement. (…) The ingenuity of his [Patanjali’s] achievement lies in the thoroughness and completeness with which all the important stages of Yoga practice and mental experiences are included in his scheme, and in their systematic presentation in a succinct treatise.” Werner adds that the ideas of existence and the focus on “Self, Soul” in Patajali’s Yogasutra are different from the “no Self” precepts of Buddhism.
According to David Gordon White, the language of the Yoga Sutras is often closer to “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, the Sanskrit of the early Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, than to the classical Sanskrit of other Hindu scriptures”. He adds, historical evidence suggests that yoga philosophical systems influenced, and were influenced by, other philosophical systems in India such as early Buddhism and Jainism. White mentions controversies about the Yoga Sutras. A significant minority of scholars, notes White for example, believes that Vyasa lived a few centuries after Patanjali and his “Hindu-izing” commentary subverted Yoga Sutras’ original “Buddhist” teachings; while the majority scholarly view disagrees with this view.
Other scholars state there are differences between the teachings in the Yoga Sutras and those in Buddhist texts. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for example, states Michele Desmarias, accept the concept of a Self or soul behind the operational mind, while Buddhists do not accept such a Self exists. The role of Self is central to the idea of Saṃyoga, Citta, Self-awareness and other concepts in Chapters 2 through 4 of the Yoga sutras, according to Desmarias.
According to Barbara Miller, the difference between Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and teachings in Buddhist texts is, “In Samkhya and Yoga, as in Buddhism and Jainism, the most salient characteristic of existence is duhkha or suffering. According to Buddhism, the origin of suffering is desire; according to Yoga, it is the connection between the observer (Purusha) with the observed (Prakrti). In both systems, the origin of duhkha is ignorance. There are also similarities in the means of deliverance recommended by the two systems. In Buddhism, the aspirant is asked to follow the eightfold path, which culminates in right meditation or samadhi. In Yoga, the aspirant is asked to follow a somewhat different eight fold path, which also culminates in samadhi. But the aim of yoga meditation is conceived in terms that a Buddhist would not accept: as the separation of an eternal conscious self from unconscious matter. The purpose of Patanjali’s Yoga is to bring about this separation by means of understanding, devotion and practice.”
Robert Thurman writes that Patañjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. The Yoga Sutra, especially the fourth segment of Kaivalya Pada, contains several polemical verses critical of Buddhism, particularly the Vijñānavāda school of Vasubandhu.
The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism. Three other teachings closely associated with Jainism also make an appearance in Yoga: the doctrine of “colors” in karma (lesya); the Telos of isolation (kevala in Jainism and Kaivalyam in Yoga); and the practice of nonviolence (ahimsa), though nonviolence (ahimsa) made its first appearance in Indian philosophy-cum-religion in the Hindu texts known as the Upanishads [the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE, one of the oldest Upanishads, has the earliest evidence for the use of the word Ahimsa in the sense familiar in Hinduism (a code of conduct). It bars violence against “all creatures” (sarvabhuta) and the practitioner of Ahimsa is said to escape from the cycle of metempsychosis/reincarnation (CU 8.15.1). It also names Ahimsa as one of five essential virtues].
Translations and commentaries
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic.
- In early 11th century, the Persian scholar Al Biruni (973-1050 CE) visited India, lived with Hindus for 16 years, and with their help translated several significant Sanskrit works into Arabic and Persian languages. One of these was Patanjali’s Yogasutras. His translation included the text and a hitherto unknown Sanskrit commentary. Al Biruni’s translation preserved many of the core themes of Yoga philosophy of Hinduism, but certain sutras and analytical commentaries were restated making it more consistent with Islamic monotheistic theology. Al Biruni’s version of Yoga Sutras reached Persia and Arabian peninsula by about 1050 AD.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was translated into Old Javanese by Indonesian Hindus, and the text was called Dharma Patanjala. The surviving text has been dated to about 1450 CE, however it is unclear if this text is a copy of an earlier translation and whether other translations existed in Indonesia. This translation shares ideas found in other Indian translations particularly those in the Śaiva traditions, and some in Al Biruni translation, but it is also significantly different in parts from the 11th century Arabic translation. The most complete copy of the Dharma Patañjala manuscript is now held at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.
By the early 21st century, scholars had located 37 editions of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras published between 1874 and 1992, and 82 different manuscripts, from various locations in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Europe and the United States, many in Sanskrit, some in different North and South Indian languages. The numerous historical variants show that the text was a living document and it was changed as these manuscripts were transmitted or translated, with some ancient and medieval manuscripts marked with “corrections” in the margin of the pages and elsewhere by unknown authors and for unclear reasons. This has made the chronological study of Yoga school of philosophy a difficult task.
Many commentaries have been written on the Yoga Sutras.
Yogabhashya, separate or integral
The Yogabhashya is a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, traditionally attributed to the legendary Vedic sage Vyasa who is said to have composed the Mahabharata. This commentary is indispensable for the understanding of the aphoristic and terse Yoga sutras, and the study of the sutras has always referred to the Yogabhashya. Some scholars see Vyasa as a later 4th or 5th century CE commentator (as opposed to the ancient mythic figure).
Other scholars hold that both texts, the sutras and the commentary were written by one person. According to Philipp A. Maas, based on a study of the original manuscripts, Patañjali’s composition was entitled Pātañjalayogaśāstra (“The Treatise on Yoga according to Patañjali”) and consisted of both Sūtras and Bhāṣya. This means that the Bhāṣya was in fact Patañjali’s own work. The practice of writing a set of aphorisms with the author’s own explanation was well-known at the time of Patañjali, as for example in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (that, incidentally, Patañjali quotes). These research findings change the historical understanding of the yoga tradition, since they allow us to take the Bhāṣya as Patañjali’s very own explanation of the meaning of his somewhat cryptic sūtras.
The Yogabhashya states that ‘yoga’ in the Yoga Sutras has the meaning of ‘samadhi’. Another commentary (the Vivarana) by a certain Shankara, confirms the interpretation of yogah samadhih (YBh. I.1): ‘yoga’ in Patañjali’s sutra has the meaning of ‘integration’. This Shankara may or may not have been the famed Vedantic scholar Adi Shankara (8th or 9th century). Scholarly opinion is still open on this issue.
Medieval commentaries on the Yoga sutras include:
- Vācaspati Miśra (900–980 CE) who composed the commentary Tattvavaiśāradī.
- Bhoja Raja‘s Raja-Martanda, 11th century.
- Vijnanabhiksu‘s Yogabhashyavarttika (“Explanation of the Commentary on the Yoga Sutras” of Vyasa). The writer was a Vaishnava philosopher and exegete who tried to harmonize Samkhya and Vedanta and held the Bhedabheda view.
- Ramananda Sarasvati’s Yogamani-Prabha (16th century).
Modern translations and commentary
Countless commentaries on the Yoga Sutras are available today. The Sutras, with commentaries, have been published by a number of successful teachers of Yoga, as well as by academicians seeking to clarify issues of textual variation. There are also other versions from a variety of sources available on the Internet. The many versions display a wide variation, particularly in translation. The text has not been submitted in its entirety to any rigorous textual analysis, and the contextual meaning of many of the Sanskrit words and phrases remains a matter of some dispute. Modern translations and interpretations include:
- 1907: Ganganath Jha’s Yoga Sutras with the Yogabhashya attributed to Vyasa into English in its entirety. With notes drawn from Vācaspati Miśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī amongst other important texts in the Yoga commentarial tradition.
- 1896: Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga provides translation and an in-depth explanation of Yoga Sutra.
- 1912: Charles Johnston Dublin University: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man.
- 1953: Swami Prabhavananda, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, India.
- 1961: I. K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga commentary with Sutras in Sanskrit and translation and commentary in English.
- 1963: Swami Hariharananda Aranya’s Bhasvati.
- 1978: Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Integral Yoga, Yogaville.
- 1989: Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga-Sûtra of Patanjali: A New Translation and Commentary, Inner Traditions International; Rochester, Vermont.
- 1993: B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Harper Collins.
- 1996: Barbara Stoler Miller, The Yoga Sutras Attributed to Patanjali; “Yoga – Discipline of Freedom. University of California Press, Berkeley.
- 2003: Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary, Shambhala Classics, Boulder, Colorado.
- 2009: Edwin F. Bryant’s The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary. North Point Press, New York.
- 2013: Swami Kriyananda, Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras – The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda. Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City.
- 2020: Viswanatha Thalakola, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Made Simple, Amazon KDP Select, Seattle, USA.
Patañjali was not the first to write about yoga. Much about yoga is written in the Mokṣadharma section of the epic Mahābhārata. The members of the Jaina faith had their own, different literature on yoga, and Buddhist yoga stems from pre-Patanjali sources.
Some of the major commentaries on the Yoga Sutras were written between the ninth and sixteenth century. After the twelfth century, the school started to decline, and commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy were few. By the sixteenth century Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy had virtually become extinct. The manuscript of the Yoga Sutras was no longer copied, since few read the text, and it was seldom taught.
Popular interest arose in the 19th century, when the practice of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras became regarded as the science of yoga and the “supreme contemplative path to self-realization” by Swami Vivekananda, following Helena Blavatsky, president of the Theosophical Society.
According to David Gordon White, the popularity of the Yoga Sutras is recent, “miraculously rehabilitated” by Swami Vivekananda after having been ignored for seven centuries. It was with the rediscovery by a British Orientalist in the early 1800s that wider interest in the Yoga Sutras arose in the West. It has become a celebrated text in the West, states White, because of “Big Yoga – the corporate yoga subculture”.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia