Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Are The Most Important

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Are The Most Important

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is one of Yoga’s most important classical texts. Compiled around 400 CE (though some scholars suggest it could have been composed even earlier), it forms the theoretical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga, also known as the “eight-fold path” or “Ashtanga Yoga.” The Yoga Sutras comprise 196 sutras (aphorisms) divided into four sections or chapters (pada).

Samadhi Pada

The “Samadhi Pada” is the first of four chapters (or “padas”) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It comprises 51 sutras and delves into the nature and practice of concentration or Samadhi. The word “Samadhi” refers to a state of profound meditation where the individual meditating merges with the object of meditation.

The chapter begins with one of the most famous sutras, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha,” which translates to “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Patanjali defines Yoga as a state where the mind is quiet, devoid of the constant churning of thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.

Patanjali categorizes five states of mind – Kshipta (restless), Mudha (stupefied), Vikshipta (distracted), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Niruddha (controlled). The practice of Yoga is aimed at attaining the Ekagra and Niruddha states.

Patanjali identifies five types of mental fluctuations – knowledge, misperception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory. He further explains each of these fluctuations and suggests that Yoga helps in gaining mastery over them. He explains that to reach the state of Yoga, one needs to practice consistently and cultivate a sense of detachment or dispassion (Vairagya).

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

The chapter also defines and differentiates between different types of Samadhi, such as “Sabija Samadhi” (Samadhi with seed or object) and “Nirbija Samadhi” (Samadhi without seed or objectless). Patanjali outlines the obstacles that hinder the path of Yoga, including disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensual desires, false perception, failure to reach firm ground, and instability.

Samadhi Pada describes the various methods to overcome these obstacles, including cultivating attitudes of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference toward happiness, suffering, virtue, and vice.

Sadhana Pada

The Sadhana Pada is the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which provides practical guidance for yoga practice. “Sadhana” means path, so this chapter essentially lays out the path or practice of Yoga. It consists of 55 sutras.

The Sadhana Pada begins by introducing Kriya Yoga, which comprises tapas (discipline or austerity), Svadhyaya (self-study or introspection), and Ishvara pranidhana (devotion to a higher power). Patanjali explains that practicing Kriya Yoga helps to reduce kleshas (afflictions) and leads to Samadhi.

He describes the five kleshas or afflictions that cause suffering: ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment to pleasure (raga), aversion to pain (dvesha), and fear of death (abhinivesha).

One of the most significant aspects of the Sadhana Pada is the introduction of Ashtanga Yoga, also known as the eightfold path. These are:

 Yama (ethical rules)

 Niyama (self-discipline and spiritual observances)

 Asana (posture)

 Pranayama (breath control)

 Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)

 Dharana (concentration)

 Dhyana (meditation)

Samadhi (superconscious state).

We will discuss about each of these in a later blog.

Patanjali provides details about the five yamas, which are non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), non-stealing (Asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and non-greed (aparigraha), five Niyamas, which are cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), austerity (Tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender to a higher power (Ishvara pranidhana).

The sutras explain that postures (asanas) should be steady and comfortable, achieved through relaxation of effort and meditation on the infinite. The chapter also provides insights into pranayama (breathing techniques) and pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), the fourth and fifth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Patanjali also discusses the three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) believed to be the fundamental attributes of all nature and human beings.

Vibhuti Pada

The “Vibhuti Pada” is the third chapter in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It contains 56 sutras and it primarily explains the path to illuminating the extraordinary powers or ‘siddhis’ that come along the yogic path and the means to attain them.

The chapter starts by discussing the last three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga – Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (state of super consciousness). When practiced together, these three are known as Samyama.

The concept of Samyama is integral to the Vibhuti Pada. It represents a higher level of consciousness that can be achieved when one masters Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi — the practice of Samyama results in ‘Vibhuti’ or powers.

Most of the Vibhuti Pada is dedicated to the discussion of the Siddhis. These are powers or abilities that are said to manifest when a yogi has achieved a certain level of spiritual progress. These can include becoming as light as cotton or as heavy as a mountain, knowledge of past and future, understanding the sounds made by all creatures, and so on. There are many such powers enumerated in the Vibhuti Pada.

Even as Patanjali describes these extraordinary powers, he warns against becoming attached to them. These powers, he says, can become obstacles to achieving the ultimate goal of Yoga, which is liberation (moksha). 

Toward the end of the chapter, Patanjali discusses liberation, the ultimate goal of Yoga. When a yogi transcends the gunas, which have fulfilled their purpose, he attains eternal liberation or ‘Kaivalya,’ discussed in greater detail in the final chapter, the Kaivalya Pada.

Kaivalya Pada

The Kaivalya Pada is the fourth and final chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It consists of 34 sutras, and the primary focus of this chapter is “kaivalya,” which translates to “liberation,” “independence,” or “solitude.” This is the ultimate goal of Yoga: to achieve a state of pure consciousness that is free from the influence of external matter and circumstances.

Patanjali discusses emerging from ignorance (avidya) to clarity and knowledge. It requires the understanding that the Purusha (pure consciousness or soul) is separate from Prakriti (matter). He further elaborates on the Gunas – Sattva (purity), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (inertia) that constitute Prakriti. In the state of kaivalya, one transcends these Gunas, meaning one is no longer under the influence of the Gunas or bound by them.

The chapter delves into the nature of the mind and the concept of the ‘Chitta’ (mind-stuff), which is the substance in which mental impressions are formed. The yogi realizes that the seer (Purusha) is independent and untouched by these impressions. Patanjali speaks about the power of discriminative knowledge in achieving Kaivalya. This knowledge leads to understanding the difference between the physical world and the eternal soul.

Kaivalya is when the yogi completely understands and detaches from all material elements and mental impressions. The yogi is now free from the birth, death, and rebirth cycle. In this state, the yogi is aware of the self in its pure, original form, which is unchanging, eternal, and independent.

The Kaivalya Pada sums up the journey of Yoga. It is the culmination of all practices, the final destination, where the practitioner is no longer identified with the material world and rests in their true nature. It describes the state of ultimate liberation and peace and provides insights on how to reach this state. It’s a state of absolute freedom where the yogi lives in the pure essence of the self, beyond all social, cultural, and personal identities.