THE YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI
The four chapters of psychological magnificence and spiritual liberation.
The Legend of Maharishi Patanjali
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Lord Vishnu was resting on Lord Adisesha, the thousand headed serpent and watching Lord Shiva dance. As the dance continued, the body of Lord Vishnu started vibrating and convulsing which made Lord Adisesha very uncomfortable.
The dance stopped after a while, and Lord Vishnu settled down. Lord Adisesha was surprised at the event and asked Him about the cause of these vibrations. Lord Vishnu replied that he was experiencing ecstasy by watching Lord Shiva dance so gracefully.
Adisesha, being a devotee, prayed to Lord Vishnu to bless him so that he may have an opportunity to make Him ecstatic. Lord Vishnu, pleased by his devotion, told him that he shall spread the knowledge of liberation to the world.
At that time, Goinka was a great Yogi who did not have any disciple. She was old and she prayed to the Sun God to bless her with a worth son who would be able to master all the knowledge she had to impart. One day, she was standing in the river and praying to the Sun God, and she cupped water in her hands and raised them and was going to offer it to Sun when she noticed a tiny snake in her palms. The snake turned into a little human boy who prayed to her to accept him as her son. The child was named Patanjali - the one who was born by falling into palms folded into a prayer.
History of Yoga Sutras
It is believed that Yoga Sutras were authored somewhere between 6th century and 5th century BCE. It is quite probable that this estimation is wrong. Yoga was a secret knowledge for thousands of years, passed down orally from one generation to another by the teacher to students. It may be that Yoga Sutras were composed many hundreds of years, if not thousands, before the estimated date. It is more likely that the Yoga Sutras were written down and made popular after 6th century BCE when Lord Buddha and Mahavir (the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism) were spreading their teachings. There are many similarities between the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali and the teaching of the Buddha and Lord Mahavir including the social and personal codes of conduct.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yoga has come to the fore as a method to take care of the body. The world swears by Yoga today - and the area of focus has been Asanas. It is a new fad per se. I don't deny the benefits of asana practice, but I do not accept that contorting the body into unimaginable poses is all there is to Yoga. Doing a full split, or bringing the head to the knees, or holding a hand-stand are commendable, but these poses do not express the Yogic philosophy. If that were true, one could say Gymnastics and Yoga are similar to each other. A simple man, earning a meagre livelihood and sustaining his family responsibly in a small village of India - but doing it as his duty, without being perturbed, without falling to fantasies, and understanding the flow of life is a more accurate example of a Yogi than a person who can twist his body into knots, put it onto the internet and lose his mind over the number of likes and shares he will get. Yoga is being calm, Yoga is being joyful, Yoga is being unattached to the events and yet being fully involved in them.
Achieving such a refined consciousness is no easy task. Hence, in the last millennia, great Saints and Yogis have imparted knowledge to purify the body-mind complex. The Hatha Yoga Tradition is very old, but it has become available to the public in the last two centuries. Hatha Yoga focuses on the Shatkarmas (Cleansing Processes), Asanas (Postures), Pranayamas (Breathing Techniques), and various other advanced practices like Mudras, Bandhas and Dhyana (Meditation). It focuses on a conducive lifestyle which includes environment, food, and daily routine. The Hatha Yoga masters have given techniques to make the mind razor sharp and get ready for the highest form of Yoga that is the Raja Yoga, which was expounded upon by Maharishi Patanjali.
The human mind is a mystery is an understatement. We go through life trying to find our way and our place. There is so much that we wish for and hope for, but if the mind does not support our desires, there is little that gives us happiness. There are a lot of day-to-day life paradigms that we struggle with, the primary being - how to deal with people in all circles, how to calm down the mind, and how to keep the body fit. Further more, we all are trying to achieve a stable state of consciousness, and spiritual fulfillment that can give meaning to this human birth. This is what Maharishi Patanjali focuses on.
Maharishi Patanjali is widely considered the father of Yoga even though Yoga predates the great scientist by many millennia. Maharishi Patanjali was the first to systemize the knowledge. Surprisingly, Maharishi Patanjali does not give a single asana in his text, but he does include it in his eight limbs of Yoga. Therefore, one need not stick to the thought that asanas are Yoga. Even if you are not extraordinarily flexible, or stand on your head, the path of Yoga has something for you as it is a complete philosophy that fundamentally aims at living a joyous life full of wisdom and responsibility. Yet it does not mean that it is easy to follow the path given by Maharishi Patanjali. A Guru is needed to understand the knowledge that he has imparted.
Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras consists of 195 aphorisms (many texts declare 196 sutras) divided into 4 chapters:
-Samadhi Pada -Sadhana Pada -Vibhuti Pada -Kaivalya Pada
Chapter 1: Samadhi Pada
The first chapter consists of 51 sutras. The chapter is profound and complete in many aspects on its own. It talks about the aim of Yoga, obstacles in the path of Yoga, and qualities one must try to inculcate and methods one can apply to achieve Samadhi. The chapter holds solutions for the spiritually inclined, and a lot of information as well for the intellectually inclined. As evident from the name of the chapter, Samadhi is explained in great detail, with rigorous focus on different stages of Samadhi including Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa.
Chapter 2: Sadhana Pada
The second chapter consists of 55 sutras. It includes the foundational knowledge like the Kleshas which are the primary hindrances in the path of Yoga. The concept of Kriya Yoga consisting of Austerities (Tapas), Introspection (Swadhyaya) and Surrender to God (Ishwar Pranidhana) is given for the seeker to overcome the Kleshas.
Maharishi Patanjali also introduces his eight limbs of Yoga -
Yama - social code of ethics
Niyama - personal code of ethics
He goes on further to explain the limbs falling under the umbrella of Bahiranga Yoga (literally meaning external limbs of Yoga) which includes the first five limbs mentioned above. Pratyahara is sometimes not included in Bahiranga Yoga as it is the process of internalizing the senses - it can be understood as a bridge between Bahiranga and Antaragana Yoga (literally meaning internal limbs of Yoga). The nature of the world and its perception by a liberated soul and by a common soul is also included in this chapter.