Although yoga has only become popular in the west only for a few decades, it has been a powerful philosophy and lifestyle in the east for more than 5000 years. Having its roots of origin in the ancient Hindu texts, it comes with a long and deep history.
The philosophy and concepts of yoga are mentioned in various texts along with many explanations of its practices. Nevertheless, yoga is most systematically elaborated and presented in The Patanjali Yoga Sutras. It is perhaps the most popular influencer for wisdom, concepts, and practices of yoga even for modern yoga cultures today.
Furthermore, the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is one of the finest knowledge for the path of spirituality laid out in an easy and structured format for anyone seeking enlightenment.
Sutras (in Sanskrit) literally means a thread or string that holds things together and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is an ancient philosophy that enlightens one in the knowledge of yoga, its origin, and the ultimate purpose.
Its purpose is to make the principles and practices of the Yoga formulae more understandable and accessible for all. In the Yoga Sutras, practical and easy suggestions are presented through which one can experience the ultimate benefits of a yogic lifestyle.
Guided by a single thread, a kite can glide and soar to amazing heights. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are life’s threads, each one rich with knowledge, tools, and techniques.
These sutras guide not only the mind but also one’s very being to its full potential. Basically, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer a systematic form of wisdom for attaining self-realization/enlightenment.
The Origin of Patanjali Yoga Sutras
The creator of the sutras (formulae/threads of knowledge) is Maharishi Patanjali, who is also considered as ‘the father of Yoga’. Although people know very little about Patanjali himself, many believe he’s thought to have lived between 200 and 500 B.C.
At the time when the Ayurveda was the greatest wisdom, people had to cure their illness. Patanjali brought forward this powerful knowledge, which came to be known as ‘Yoga Sutras’.
Since, being sick it is not just sickness in the body, but also the sickness in the mind and emotions. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali projects the knowledge that doesn’t just cure the body but also purify the mind, emotions and the complete existence itself, all through Yoga. Patanjali Yoga Sutras with a total of 196 Sutras is divided into 4 chapters.
The Four Chapters of Patanjali Yoga Sutras
i. Samadhi Pada – 51 Sutras
Samadhi refers to a blissful state of existence that is believed to be even beyond mind and meditation. It is believed to be so beautiful that you slip into a transcendental state where even the feeling of ‘I’ (the ego) is absent.
In a meditation, memory is still awake but one becomes free from the clutches of memory if you practice Samadhi. Thus, Samadhi is a primary technique the yogis learn by which they dive into the depths of the self to achieve Kaivalya.
Thus in this chapter, the author describes yoga and then our true nature and then he instructs the means to attain Samadhi. Patanjali begins this chapter with a definition of yoga as the state that arises when fluctuations in the mind are stilled.
He tells us that a balance of effort and letting go are the ways to attain mental silence. Patanjali lists the obstacles we may encounter to attaining mental silence. But, having overcome such obstacles, he explains what it is like when we have achieved mental silence as well.
ii. Sadhana Pada – 55 Sutras
Sadhana in Sanskrit means ‘practice’ and Sadhana Pada simply means, ‘the path of practice’. Here, in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains the two paths or the two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eight-limbed Yoga).
He begins with a definition of Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, which consists of deliberate effort, a study of the self and traditional texts, and devotion. The purpose of Kriya Yoga is to alleviate the causes of suffering and to attain Samadhi. Kriya Yoga has three parts:
- Tapas – Endurance and Acceptance.
- Swadhyaaya – Self-awareness, and self-study.
- Ishwara Pranidhaana – Devotion to and love for the divine.
The Ashtanga yoga is also known as the 8 limbs of Yoga, which is a systematic and practical set of yogic knowledge divided into eight basic parts. Mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the most famous and highly practiced philosophy of yoga, the chapter of ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ is one of its core knowledge. Thus, understanding and practicing the eight limbs of yoga is a must for any yogi.
The eight limbs of yoga support one another, but their progression isn’t meant to be rigid. For example, someone might begin the practice of an asana before they have mastered Niyama, still, they must follow the overall elements of the 8 limbs to have a wholesome growth.
iii. Vibhuti Pada – 56 Sutras
The third chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is about the results, power, and manifestation once the union is achieved. It is said, yogis achieve mystical powers (siddhi) due to the regular practice of yoga.
However, this chapter notifies yogis that these very same powers can become a hindrance in their path to liberation. Furthermore, it warns against the temptations of the eight siddhis or supernatural powers that a yogi can achieve in the higher levels of spiritual development.
The 56 sutras in this chapters dive deeper into the last three limbs of yoga, which are collectively known as Samyama. Patanjali explains how Samyama is used as the finer tool to remove the subtler veils of ignorance, in this chapter.
iv. Kaivalya Pada – 34 Sutras
The fourth and the final chapter of the Yoga Sutras from Patanjali is entitled as Kaivalya Pada, which is the chapter on moksha, liberation or enlightenment. The 34 sutras in this chapter explain how the mind is constructed and envelops the inner light of the self. It describes how the yogi deals with the overall process and after-effects of enlightenment.
Patanjali outlines his theory of consciousness, how it is constructed and what happens to it when the mind is liberated and the fundamental confusion between the isolated self and a Universal Self.
Kaivalya means “aloneness” but it does not refer to isolation from people but it rather refers to the deepest realization, where there is no division between self and other. We live in an illusion that we are all separate or divided and the very fall of that illusion upon the experiential realization of the oneness is Kaivalya.
Together, these four chapters from the Patanjali Yoga Sutras focus on a person’s overall evolution as a Yogi. Through the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has provided the highest knowledge to reach the ultimate.
Thus, the Yoga Sutras from Patanjali stand tall as one of the best and the most practiced philosophy in the realm of a spiritual journey for yogis.