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Yoga Sutras and Patanjali, the father of Modern Yoga

Yoga is one of the greatest gifts from the East to the World. The mental relaxation and the physical freshness and agility is just the added benefit of what it does to the soul, liberating it and connecting it within the cosmos around us. The yoga classes as such have been sprouting at every nook and corner of the urban cities and some even refer the books to copy the asanas and some use the Internet. While it is best that we get the knowledge from the horse’s mouth here is a look into the person who created Yoga Sutra.

Some practitioners believe he lived around the second century BCE and also wrote significant works on Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine) and Sanskrit grammar, making him something of a Renaissance man. But based on their analyses of the language and the teaching of the sutras, modern scholars place Patanjali in the second or third century CE and ascribe the medical essays and grammar to various other “Patanjali.”

He was master of language – Sanskrit, mathematics and of astronomy. He is known as the father of modern yoga. He did not invent yoga as it is generally believed. Yoga was already there in various forms, which he assimilated into a system.

Birth of Patanjali

One version states that all the Munis and Rishis approached Lord Vishnu to tell him that even though He (incarnated as Lord Dhanvanthari) had given them the means to cure illnesses through Ayurveda, people still fell ill. They also wanted to know what to do when people got sick.

Sometimes it is not just physical illness, but mental and emotional illness too that needs to be dealt with. Anger, lust, greed, jealousy etc. How does one get rid of all these impurities? What is the formula? Vishnu was lying on the bed of snakes — the serpent Adishésha with 1,000 heads. When the Rishis approached Him, He gave them Adishésha (the symbol of awareness), who took birth in the world as Maharishi Patanjali.

Another version relates that in order to teach yoga on earth, he fell from heaven in the form of a little snake, into the upturned plans (a gesture known as Anjali) of his virgin mother, Gonika, herself a powerful yogini. Here he’s regarded as an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king named Remainder (Shesha) or Endless (Ananta), whose coils are said to support the god Vishnu.

The Yoga Sutra

Image credit – DeviantArt/LOGARITHMICSPIRAL

Shiva, the Adiyogi or first yogi, transmitted yoga to the Sapta Rishis or the seven sages many thousands of years ago. He had the highest understanding of human nature, but he didn’t put anything down in writing. He was too wild to be a scholar. He found it was too difficult to put everything he knew into one person, so he chose seven people and put different aspects of yoga into them. These became the seven basic forms of yoga. Even today, though these have branched off into hundreds of systems, yoga has still maintained seven distinct forms.

Sutra literally means a thread. Or in modern language, we can say it is a formula. Patanjali came much later and sort of assimilated everything. He saw that it was getting too diversified and complex for anyone to understand in any meaningful way. So he assimilated and included all aspects into a certain format – as the Yoga Sutras.

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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras a book because it is not a book. It is a complex arrangement of tools. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms). The Yoga Sūtras 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.

According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely “eight limb yoga” (ashtanga yoga) and action yoga (Kriya yoga).

The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 sutra 1-27, chapter 3 except sutra 54, and chapter 4. The “eight limb yoga” is described in chapter 2 sutra 28-55, and chapter 3 sutra 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 blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. Samadhi is the main technique the yogi learns by which to dive into the depths of the mind to achieve Kaivalya. The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means to attaining samādhi. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: “Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ” (“Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications”).[22]

Sadhana Pada (55 sutras). Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for “practice” or “discipline”. Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).

Kriya Yoga is closely related to Karma Yoga, which is also expounded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.

Ashtanga Yoga describes the eight limbs that together constitute Rāja Yoga.

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 temptation of these powers should be avoided and the attention should be fixed only on liberation. The purpose of using samadhi is not to gain siddhis but to achieve Kaivalya. Siddhis are but distractions from Kaivalaya and are to be discouraged. Siddhis are but Maya, or illusion.

Kaivalya Pada(34 sutras). Kaivalya literally means “isolation”, but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation or liberation and is used interchangeably with moksha (liberation), which is the goal of yoga. The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.

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Just to give you some sense of what kind of a man he is – he starts such a great document of life in such a strange way: the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is just half a sentence, not even a full sentence. The sentence is like this, “And Now Yoga.” If you have seen money, power, wealth, and pleasure, you have tasted everything in your life and you have realized that nothing is going to fulfill you ultimately and work in the real sense, if you have gotten that point, then it is time for yoga. All the nonsense that the whole world is involved in, Patanjali just brushes it aside with half a sentence. This is why the first sutra is “and now yoga.” That means, you know nothing works and you do not have a clue about what the hell this is. The pain of ignorance is tearing you apart. Now, yoga. Now there is a way to know.

Eight components of yoga

Ashtanga Yoga
source

योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:

yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ

— Yoga Sutras 1.2

“Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (citta)”

“Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)”

Yamas

Yamas are ethical rules in Hinduism 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

Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood

Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing

Brahmacārya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint

Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice,non-possessiveness

Niyama

The second component of Patanjali’s Yoga path is called niyama, which includes virtuous habits, behaviors, and observances (the “dosa)  Sadhana Pada Verse 32 lists the niyamas as:[37]

Śauca: purity, clearness of mind, speech and body [38]

Santoṣa: contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get the past or change them, optimism for self [39]

Tapas: persistence, perseverance, austerity [40][41]

Svādhyāya: study of Vedas (see Sabda in epistemology section), study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches and actions[41][42]

Īśvarapraṇidhāna: contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality)

Āsana

Asana is thus a 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”. The posture that causes pain or restlessness is not a yogic posture. Other secondary texts studying Patanjali’s sutra state that one requirement of correct posture is to keep breast, neck, and head erect (proper spinal posture). Padmasana (lotus), Veerasana (heroic), Bhadrasana (decent), Svastikasana (like the mystical sign), 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)

Prāṇāyāma

Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words prāṇa (प्राण, breath) and āyāma (आयाम, restraining, extending, stretching). It is the practice of consciously regulating breath (inhalation and exhalation).[54] 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).

Pratyāhāra

Pratyāhāra is a combination of two Sanskrit words prati- (the prefix प्रति-, “towards”) and āhāra (आहार, “bring near, fetch”). Pratyahara is fetching and bringing near one’s awareness and one’s thoughts to within. It is a process of withdrawing one’s thoughts from external objects, things, person, situation. It is turning one’s attention to one’s true Self, one’s inner world, experiencing and examining self.

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Dhāraṇā

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. Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another.

Dhyāna

Dhyana (Sanskrit: ध्यान) literally means “contemplation, reflection” and “profound, abstract meditation”. 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. 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”.

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.


Objectives

Patanjali defined yoga as Chitta Vritti Nirodha, which literally means that if you still the modifications and activity of the mind, you are in yoga. Everything has become one in your consciousness. We may be pursuing many things in our lives and going through processes that we call achievements, but to go beyond the modifications of the mind is the most fundamental and at the same time the highest achievement one can attain, because this releases a human being from what he is seeking – from what is within and what is outside – from everything.

Right now, most human beings are using their mind only between their memory and imagination. Memory and imagination are not two separate things. Memory is accumulated past, imagination is an exaggerated version of that. For the survival process, your memory and imagination are good enough, but if you want to explore other dimensions of life, then memory and imagination are not sufficient because they are only a recycling of your past.

Once you are trapped by a pattern, it does not matter who created the pattern, it is a kind of slavery. Essentially, realizing that one is trapped in psychological realities and missing out on the existential experience of the grandeur of creation is the first step towards liberation.

This is the reason why, of all the beautiful ways in which it could be expressed, Patanjali chose the description Chitta Vritti Nirodha for yoga – a technology which can take you towards your liberation or realization.

Explanation Source : Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

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