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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Category: Books sutras and myths

Yoga is divided into four forms – Mantrayoga, Layayoga, Hathayoga and Rajayoga.  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 Indian sutras that constitute the foundational text of Raja yoga. There is no agreement on the date it was written with dates spanning the 2nd or even 3rd century BC, to as late as 500 AD.

The Yoga Sutras form the theoretical, practical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga, and are considered to be the most organized and complete definition of that discipline.  Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into 4 chapters or books (Sanskrit pada):

  • Samadhi Pada (51 sutras)
  • Sadhana Pada (55 sutras)
  • Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)
  • Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)

These chapters describe techniques and practises that all lead to greater states of enlightenment. They include many which would be immediately recognisable – breath control, various asanas [exercises] to keep the body fit and well and make it capable of doing some of the other techniques, contemplation and detachment techniques, along with some which superficially appear to be 'moral codes', but which on further examination are actually geared towards reducing threats and squashing the egosuppressing learning and reducing desires.

The Yoga Sutras also include a very helpful classification of the various functions of the Mind which have an impact on how experience is obtained.  There are no surprises – they tie in with most mystic thought from Plato to the Kahuna system there is the  Buddhi (intellect or will), Ahamkara (ego),  five buddhindriyas (5 senses), and so on.

For anyone who is not versed in the language, the names of all the techniques can be quite confusing and explanations have not been helped by all the commentaries, which as far as I can judge add nothing to the original, which stands as a succinct description of best practise. And here we do have a problem.  The Sutras, with commentaries, “have been published by a number of academics 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”.  So trying to find a genuine unsullied version in English is no easy task.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry of the Hindu theological world appears to have wanted to add their two pennurth and none of it, and I repeat none of it, is helpful.

Here is one truly daft comment “The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism”.  There may well be a resemblance because there is only one spiritual world, but it does not show 'influence', all it shows is that the same set of techniques have been proved in both systems.

Sadly, very little of the sutras have been incorporated into the yoga now taught in the west and those eastern schools set up to cater for outside students.

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