The Yoga Guide

The Yoga Sutra

The Yoga Sutra, one of the six darshanas in the Hindu school of philosophy, is a set of 95 aphorisms written somewhere between 1,700 and 2,200 years ago by the Indian philosopher Patanjali. Patanjali is said to be the compiler, not author, of the Sutras as they were traditionally for generations passed down by memory from teacher to student. This does not lessen the impact Patanjali had on the world of yoga. His assemblage of this once oral tradition formed the theoretical and philosophical base for all Raja Yoga and is still considered one of the most organized and comprehensive definitions of this practice.

The Yoga Sutra is not sacred scripture. It is not historical fact. It is not interested in new knowledge. It is a book built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy and the Bhagavad-Gita and is a set of phrases strung together like a string of beads designed to hold still one's thoughts and feelings. It seeks perspective on the nature of knowing, a way to clear the mind of accumulated experiences that bind us to a world of pain. To silence one's mind and come together with that of the divine, the Sutra calls for an adherence to the eight limbs of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. By this practice, freedom hinges on the ability to detach from the bonds of memory and in turn allow one to realize the possibility of the spiritual world.

Patanjali separated the 195 aphorisms of the Yoga Sutra into four chapters or pada. The first of the four chapters holds 51 of the sutras and is referred to as Samadhi Pada. It is in this portion where the yogi achieves a blissful state of being and is absorbed into the One. The second chapter contains 55 sutras and is entitled Sadhana Pada. This pada illustrates the practice of yoga in the forms of Kriya or action yoga and Ashtanga or eightfold yoga. Within Ashtanga, one would follow the following abstentions: violence (ahimsa), lying (satya), thievery (asteya), sexual activity (brahmacharya), and possessions (aparigraha), as well as the following observances: purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), austerities (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and a surrender to God (ishvarapranidhana). The third chapter also contains 55 sutras and is referred to as Vibhuti Pada. It is here where one would find the higher states of awareness and the techniques of yoga to attain them. The final chapter possesses only 34 sutras and is identified as Kaivalya Pada. To translate the word literally, Kaivalya would mean isolation, but within the Yoga Sutra, a better interpretation would be liberation or emancipation. One must transcend relational thinking in order to realize the isolation of absolute freedom.

The Yoga Sutras not only provide yoga with a thorough philosophical basis, but in the process, also brings to light many mystical concepts common to all traditions of Indian thought.



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