The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: a yogi’s bedside book
Laura, yoga teacher and passionate about yoga philosophy, tackles a monument ofyoga philosophy andhistory: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, also called aphorisms. It is probably the best known text in the West before the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Vedas. Anyone who has ever done yoga training has probably heard of it.
1. What are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?
2.What do we know about Patanjali?
What are the yoga sutras of Patanjali?
- A text composed of 195 sūtras or aphorisms.
- The Yoga sūtras of Patanjali are divided into four sections (padas)
- The word sūtra literally means “thread,” which could make a sūtra, a thread of thought
- A sūtra is an aphorism constructed to put as much knowledge as possible into as few words as possible
- Patanjali synthesizes the ideas that constitute the school of yoga philosophy, one of the six schools of Hinduism (darshanas). six schools of Hinduism(darshanas)
- There are a large number of translations in all languages, allowing one to deepen one’s knowledge of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.
THE SŪTRA ARE A COMPENDIUM OF KNOWLEDGE
When we talk about this type of literature that we call sūtras, we are talking about a rather minimalist style. This has two consequences:
- These writings are open to many interpretations and the meaning of the sūtras will vary depending on who translates and comments on it.
- A commentary is essential when reading it because without the commentary, the meaning of some can, sometimes, be difficult to detect
THE YOGA SŪTRAS HAVE MULTIPLE INTERPRETATIONS
It lends itself to a lot of interpretations. Thus, there are many commentaries on which they are interpreted. Thus, depending on who is going to comment on it and translate it, we can have very different readings. The conclusions drawn from this may also differ depending on the translator.
The oldest known commentary is the Yoga-Bhashya . Some experts like Philipp Maas consider that Patanjali is the author of this commentary. This theory is still a source of debate among specialists.
The four sections of Patanjali’s yogas sutra
These four sections, or chapters, are what Patanjali calls the Pada (which literally means “foot” in Sanskrit)
This first chapter consists of 51 sūtra (aphorisms). We discover the means of attaining samādhi: a Sanskrit term denoting a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed in union with the personal god (Īśvara) or absorption in the absolute (brahman). This first chapter is for yogis, but not just any yogis. When put in its historical context, this text is addressed to ascetic male Brahmins (people of the priestly class who have renounced the world and live in great discipline). This audience is therefore very specific.
In this Samadhi Pada, he first gives us the definition of yoga. It is intended for people who have already a calm mind, that is to say, to experienced yogis.
The second aphorism in this chapter gives the definition of yoga : yogaś cittavṛttinirodhaḥ, the literal translation of which is “Yoga is the cessation of the activities of thought.” (citta vṛtti, fluctuation of psyche). In other words, “yoga is about suspending psychic and mental activity.”
This is the second chapter is composed of 55 sūtra. The translation of Sādhana is “practice of a spiritual discipline”. Here the author describes two forms of yoga: kriyā yoga and aṣṭāṅga yoga. He expands its audience in this second section, it is intended for those who do not necessarily have a calm mind, but who wish to take the yogic path. In the sense that he defines it: “Yoga is the stopping of the automatic activity of the mind.”
This is the third chapter of the book, it consists of 55 sūtra. Vibhūti is a Sanskrit word meaning “power” (siddhi) or “manifestation”. It describes the higher state of consciousness as well as the yoga techniques to reach it. This is the magical powers section. Patanjali explains that people who are able to master the body and mental energies in their practice will be able to develop magical powers. Among these powers, we can find the one to have an extraordinary strength, the one to see his past lives, the one to be able to enter the thoughts of others…
This chapter is for people who have reached a stage of Samadhi but have not yet left their physical body. The literal translation of kaivalya is “isolation, loneliness. It means “emancipation, liberation” here; it is interchangeable with mokṣa (“liberation”), which is the goal of yoga.
There is indeed an ultimate style of Samadhi which consists of to leave one’s physical body to reach the supreme liberation.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT PATANJALI?
Not much is known about Patanjali. This writing appears in the so-called “classical” period, between the 2nd and 4th centuries of our era.
Some traditions say that he is in fact Ananta, the relic snake of Hindu mythology who descended to Earth to teach us yoga. However, during his descent, he did not have time to transform himself completely and he is therefore often represented as half-man half-serpent.
Just as the great sage Vyāsa is credited with being the compiler of the Vedas, author of the Purāṇa as well as the epic Mahābhārata, Patanjali is given different missions: one was doing grammar, another was doing ayurveda.
It is not known if it is the same one, but the Patanjali referred to compiled the knowledge of the time around the philosophical school of Yoga.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRIBUTION OF THE YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI
THE CAUSES OF SUFFERING
He explains how to get out of suffering and thus defines the psychological causes of suffering which he calls Klesha. The literal translation of Klesha is: “suffering, affliction”, “defilement” or “hindrance, straitjacket”. Kleshas are afflictions experienced by man during his life.
We find this term in different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism…)
In this writing, he explains that in our current life, because we suffer (in the sense that we are ignorant of our true nature), we will accumulate good or bad karma (the word karma means action and the consequences of these actions will be good or bad). These actions leave footprints which are called Saṃskāra in Sanskrit.
These imprints are subconscious and will transfer into our next rebirth cycle (in our next life) and will generate fruits that will be good or bad.
As long as one is in ignorance (avidya), then one will remain on this cycle of rebirth accumulating karma.
LAURA’S FAVORITE SŪTRA
“Friendship, compassion and cheerfulness clarify and calm the mind. This behavior should be exercised indifferently in happiness and unhappiness, towards that which does us good, as towards that which does us harm.” (sūtra l.33)
It is a very universal message that speaks to us of equanimity. This message is reminiscent of the school of Stoicism, whose ideas are known to have existed at the time of Patanjali.
A CURRENT TEXT
To conclude, what is interesting according to Laura, is that many elements resonate in our modern life and world. And this despite the fact that it is not primarily addressed to people of our society or of our time, but rather to wise people who have renounced the world. Indeed, the reading of these texts is not obvious.
Laura refers us to her online programs through which she shares her passion for yogic philosophy and suggests practices to apply it on the mat. Two of its programs focus on:
- The Bhagavad-Gita a fundamental text of yogic philosophy
- The Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali which form the ethical code of the Yogi.
You can get a 10% discount on these programs with the following code: yogom.
Listen to the episode on the Podcast
Watch the episode on YouTube
A look back at the seventh teaching “Light on the yogicphilosophy ” of the Yogom Academy. Laura Arley sheds light onPatanjali’syoga sūtras and the importance of this seminal text. She presents the historical context in which it appears and tells us about the author.
WHO IS LAURA?
Laura Arley is passionate about yogic philosophy. She teaches vinyasa, yin, restorative and seniors in Toulouse and online. Laura is also a teacher of yogic philosophy and speaks at yoga teacher trainings. Find Laura on her website!
As these texts teach us, the practice of Yoga, in all its forms, has many benefits, through exercises of relaxation, concentration, breathing, meditation you will improve both your muscles, your energy, your breath, your mental, and you will keep your figure! This activity allows you to pay more attention to your body and mind and become aware of your strengths and weaknesses!
Are your yoga accessories in bad shape? Are you looking for quality and responsible materials to improve your yoga practice? Yogom is there for you! You will find on its website products made from environmentally friendly materials (cork, merino wool, TPE) that will bring you stability and comfort in any position or exercise during your classes. Yogom also offers a range of books to deepen your knowledge of yoga!
Feel free to share your experience and give your opinion!