Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Swami Hariharananda Aranya

The Yoga Sutras is one of the most important texts on Yoga for sincere students.

The Yoga Sutras are attributed to the legendary Sage Patanjali. They are often referred to as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Much controversy rages over the time when this work was written and over the identity of the author. Eminent Indologist Surendranath Dasgupta dated this work around 200 B.C. Whatever may be the dates of the Yoga Sutras, this fine work lifted Yoga from a form of mysticism to a science.

Yoga Sutras and Buddhism

To most sincere students on the path of spiritual transformation, it is of no importance and rightly so, but to those with a scholarly bent of mind, these questions often come up: Were the Yoga Sutras written before or after the Buddha? Did the Yoga Sutras borrow from Buddha Dharma? Was Patanjali the founder of Yoga?

Though the Yoga Sutras were written well after Buddha, the germs of Samkhya and Yoga Philosophy already existed in the Upanishads millennia before the birth of Buddha. The seers of the Upanishads exercised a strong influence on the entire spiritual landscape where, there has been, over the last five thousand years a tremendous fusion of spiritual traditions and philosophies. Buddha Dharma as well as Yoga has borrowed basic concepts from the Upanishadic seers.

Often Patanjali is compared with the Buddha and regarded as the founder of Yoga. While the Buddha was the founder of Buddha Dharma, Patanjali was merely the codifier of Yoga Sutras. In this great work of synthesis Patanjali codifies the science of Yoga.  The Yoga Sutras comprise of 196 terse statements, divided in to four chapters or padas. Pada means footstep or simply a step.

Sutras and the practice of contemplation

The word Sutra is Sanskrit for thread. This implies a thread that leads from one statement to the next. The Sutras were not just an aid to the memory, they also served as an object of contemplation. It must be remembered that Yoga was and is a living tradition in India handed down from Master to student. Thus the emphasis remains on this relationship and not on verbose texts.

This work was compiled when printing was not available and the old methods of writing on the bark of the birch tree were easily destroyed. Thus knowledge was transferred and preserved through an oral tradition. All works of knowledge were compiled as short pithy statements. In this ancient form of learning emphasis was placed on contemplating upon and integrating each sutra until it sunk in to the mind and subtly transformed the mind. Unfortunately today, many sincere students learn the sutras by heart without having understood the essence of the sutra. This parroting of sutras only produces academicians, intellectuals and pundits. It does not lead to wisdom. 

The four chapters are: Samadhipada, Sadhanapada, Vibhutipada, Kaivalyapada

Some Commentators on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Since Patanjali only left behind the pithy statements, one assumes that detailed discussion and practices accompanied these. The foremost commentator on the Yoga Sutras is without doubt Vyasa. Commentaries have been written on the commentary Vyasabhasya by ancient commentaries such as Vachaspati and Vijnana Bhiksu.

The phenomenon of writing commentaries on the commentaries can to stretched to the limit when one observes that some modern commentators have written entire books on just the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, forgetting that the purpose of the Yoga sutras is not academic study but contemplation, introspection and  of course practice.

A highly regarded modern commentator is I.K. Taimni, his commentary is called "The Science of Yoga."