A structured path for inner transformation through disciplined practices and mastery over the mind.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
OVERVIEW : YOGA SUTRAS 4th Century CE AGE : Composed around the 2nd century BCE to 5th century CE. NATURE : The insights of the Gita served as a precursor to the development of a systematic path of yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali codify these teachings into a comprehensive framework for realising the potential of the human mind and spirit. CONTENT: The Yoga Sutras present a structured path for inner transformation through disciplined practices and mastery over the mind. PURPOSE: Patanjali's Sutras offer guidance on the path of Raja Yoga, which emphasises mental and spiritual discipline. They outline the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) as a comprehensive system for self-mastery. FOCUS : The Sutras expound upon the eight limbs (skills) of yoga as a means to attain self-mastery, inner harmony, and union with the Divine. YOGA : As the Gita emphasised the various paths of yoga, the Sutras provide detailed insights into each limb: Yama (ethical restraints), Niyama (observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (spiritual absorption). TEACHINGS: Teaches controlling the mind's fluctuations, attaining stillness, and experiencing unity of individual soul (Purusha) and universal consciousness (Prakriti). LANGUAGE : Written in classical Sanskrit.
Chapter one of the Yoga Sutras, portion on Samadhi (Samadhi Pada), lays the foundation for the entire text. It explores the nature of the mind, its fluctuations, and the concept of yoga as a means to still the mind's turbulence. Patanjali introduces the term "Yoga" and discusses the various forms of thought patterns that can hinder inner clarity. He outlines the two key components of practice: abhyasa (persistent effort) and vairagya (detachment). This chapter sets the stage for understanding the journey of self-awareness and the profound significance of attaining a state of deep concentration and meditation – the essence of yoga. Yoga is the mastery, the disciplining, not suppressing, of the thoughts of the mind. The goal is not to stop thoughts, as many think it is. Simply mechanically stopping thoughts will not keep them from coming back (YS1:18). We don’t want to stop our brain, we don’t want to stop thought, we don’t want to stop creating. If simply stopping thought is yoga, then a sleep, drugs, or coma is instant yoga. This is why Patañjali describes the nature and quality of thoughts, which thoughts to pursue and which to redirect, and how to gain clarity of what is reality, since it is not that we think, but how we think that is the problem. CHITTA : refers to the entirety of the mind, encompassing consciousness, thoughts, memories, emotions, and intellect. It is the sum total of an individual's mental experiences and processes. In a broader sense, chitta represents the mind-stuff or the field of consciousness within which mental activities occur. VRITTIS : are the fluctuations or modifications of the mind. They are the constant waves of thoughts, emotions, and mental activities that arise and subside in the mind. The mind is rarely still; it is continuously engaged in producing vrittis. Patanjali describe five types of vrittis; correct knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep and memory. These five vrittis contribute to our perception of reality and our reactions to various stimuli. Click the images below for further details. SAMSKARAS : are the mental impressions or imprints left on the mind due to past experiences, actions, and thoughts. They shape an individual's tendencies, behaviours, and reactions. Samskaras are stored in the subconscious mind and can influence future thoughts and actions. Through self-awareness and practice, one can become conscious of these samskaras and work to transform negative patterns into positive ones. Actions and reactions, karma is generated by the vrittis, and the vrittis, in turn, are produced by the kleshas. There is a vicious cycle of kleshas, vrittis and samskaras. Vrittis are recorded in the chitta as samskaras, and these samskaras eventually activate consciously or subliminally, producing further vrittis. These vrittis then provoke actions and reactions, which in turn are recorded as samskaras, and the cycle continues endlessly, leading to much suffering along the way. Yoga aims to bring this vicious cycle (samsara) to an end and it is liberation from this mind created suffering that we are after as yogis. The goal is to quiet the mind's fluctuations (vrittis) and cultivate self-awareness to recognise and dissolve negative samskaras. This process involves disentangling the mind from the attachments and desires that drive the cycle of samsara. By attaining a state of stillness, clarity, and self-realisation, practitioners can break free from the cycle of samsara and achieve liberation (moksha).
The yoga sutras discuss obstacles, known as kleshas, that hinder our journey towards self-realisation. To explore each of these obstacles further, simply double click on the images below.
The 8 (limbs) Skills of Yoga
The eight limbs of yoga, are outlined in the second chapter (Sadhana Pada), the portion on practice, of the Yoga Sutras. By engaging in the practice of the eight limbs of yoga, we can effectively navigate and overcome these obstacles (kleshas). Each limb represents a different aspect of the yogic path, guiding us toward self-realisation. SELF ALIGNMENT 1 YAMA: is a set or restraints or disciplines. 2 NIYAMA: is a set of personal observances or duties. Both the yamas and niyamas, help cultivate inner harmony, keeping us aligned on the path of least resistance. POSTURE PRACTICE 3 ASANA: The practice of physical postures, promotes steadiness and comfort, which helps the overall health and balance of the body. FORCE MANIPULATION 4 PRANAYAMA: Pranayama involves breath control and regulation. Through specific breathing techniques, practitioners learn to control their life force energy (prana) and attain greater mental clarity and focus. SENSE WITHDRAWAL 5 PRATYAHARA: By turning inward and minimising external distractions, we prepare for deeper states of concentration and meditation. MIND CONTROL 6 DHARANA: refers to concentration, where the mind is focused on a single object or point. This practice cultivates the ability to hold the mind's attention steadily, setting the stage for meditation. 7 DHYANA: is the state of uninterrupted flow of awareness towards the chosen object of focus. It involves sustained attention and an immersive experience in the present moment. 8 SAMDHI: Samadhi is the ultimate state of self-realisation. It represents a state of union with universal consciousness. We will cover the 8 in detail and consistently reference the sutras throughout the SKILLS section to ensure a deep understanding and application of these principles. Once you've covered the whole of SKILLS, take the time to read chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras in its entirety. This will provide a comprehensive understanding of the context and interconnections between the different limbs of yoga.
Accomplishments & Powers (siddhis)
Patanjali spends much of the third chapter (Vibhuti Pada) portion on manifestations, describing mystical powers - siddhis. He categorises them into two groups: the first being "lower" siddhis, which include abilities like clairvoyance (the power to see distant or hidden things), clairaudience (the power to hear sounds from afar), and the ability to become very small or large at will. The second group, known as the "higher" siddhis, includes even more profound accomplishments such as telepathy, the ability to control others' minds, and gaining knowledge of past lives. These siddhis are believed to result from intense meditation, concentration, and the redirection of internal energies and are awakened naturally, through spiritual maturity along the yogic path. These abilities do little to help one achieve enlightenment. In fact, an interest in developing these powers is sometimes seen as a dangerous distraction that leads the seeker astray.
The source speaks
tapaḥ-svādhyāyeśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ | samādhi-bhāvanārthaḥ kleśa-tanū-karaṇārthaś ca
Yogic action has three components -- discipline, self-study, and orientation to the ideal of pure awareness. | They help us minimise obstacles and attain samādhi. (See obstacles kleshas above)
Translated - Chip Hartfranft | Swami Satchidananda