In this lesson, we introduce the Yoga Sutra.
Gain a basic understanding of the historical context of the Yoga Sutra and build a foundation for deeper exploration of the teachings.
Learn about the authorship of the Yoga Sutra and the meaning and use of the sutra style. Consider why Sanskrit is well-suited for communicating these teachings and an issue related to translating the text into English. Examine the branch of yoga from which the Yoga Sutra arises and how the teachings compare to Buddhist philosophy
Questions Answered Here
- Who was Patanjali?
- Translate and describe “sutra.”
- Why were these yoga teachings documented in the sutra style?
- Why is Sanskrit well-suited for communicating the Yoga Sutra?
- What is an issue related to translating the Yoga Sutra into English?
- From which branch of yoga do we find the Yoga Sutra?
- How does the Yoga Sutra compare to Buddhist philosophy?
In this lesson, we learn about the authorship of the Yoga Sutra and the meaning and use of the sutra style. We consider how Sanskrit is well-suited for communicating the Yoga Sutra and an issue related to translating it into English.
Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, lived somewhere between 500 BCE and 200 CE, a time that possibly overlaps the life of Buddha and a period of intense philosophical activity in India. Patanjali was revered as an outstanding scholar and wise man who wrote significant commentaries on Sanskrit grammar and Ayurveda… The Patanjali yoga tradition is a later expression of older teachings based on the source texts of India known as the Vedas. – Nicolai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras 2011 p 1
Patanjali, the Man
Master Patanjali was a great yogi; he knew the physical poses of yoga and the art of breathing: yoga of the body. He was also a great thinker and meditator—a master of the yoga of the mind. He wrote as well famous books on medicine and on Sanskrit, the ancient tongue from which almost all our languages come. He is recognized, too, as the father of the classical dance of India. – Roach, Geshe Michael & Christie McNally, The Essential Yoga Sutra 2005 p 1
Sri Patanjali was the epitome of acceptance of all methods and of broad-mindedness of approach. He did not limit his instructions to one particular technique, to members of any particular religion, philosophy, or in any other way. He gave general principles and used specifics only as examples. – Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2009 p xiv
Lots of Sutras
For millennia the teachings on transformation and awakening were taught face-to-face… Here are some of the famous sutras: The Yoga Sutras, The Kama Sutras, The Shiva Sutras . . . There are lots and lots of sutras. But, what is a sutra? Click here to enjoy a short video. – Eric Klein, Wisdom Heart, What is a Sutra?
Inspiration for the Teacher
Sutras are not intended to be instruction for the student, but inspiration for the teacher. – Leslie Kaminoff
Discovering the Hidden “Thread”
The most important characteristics of this method are utmost condensation consistent with clear exposition of all essential aspects and continuity of the underlying theme in spite of the apparent discontinuity of the ideas presented. The latter characteristic is worth noting because the effort to discover the hidden “thread”of reasoning beneath the apparently unconnected ideas very often provides the clue to the meaning of many Sutras. It should be remembered that this method of exposition was prevalent at a time when printing was unknown and most of the important treatises had to be memorized by the student. Hence the necessity of condensation to the utmost limit. Nothing essential was, of course, left out but everything with which the student was expected to be familiar or which he could easily infer from the context was ruthlessly cut out. – I. K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga 2007 pgs 3-4
Brevity & Clarity
The text is a masterpiece of brevity and clarity. Patanjali has removed all unnecessary words for the following reasons: 1) To allow easy memorization by disciples; remember there were no printing presses at the time. 2) To allow the verses to be the object of inquiry; too may words would confuse. 3) To prevent misquotation and misinterpretation. The verses are sheer poetry combined with sublime scientific precision. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Four Chapters on Freedom 2008 p 6
They Can Be Related to Our Situation
The Yoga Sutras as they were written allow us to question and interpret them, and relate them to our particular situation and life. – Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga 2007 pgs xxi-xxiv
Teaching Brings the Sutras to Life
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the heart of yoga. The heart, hrdaya, is that which does not change and Patanjali gave a permanent definition and form to yoga in his Sutra. The heart without prana, however, is not alive and is without relevance for us. Desikachar explains that the teaching relationship is the prana or life of the Yoga Sutra; it is the teacher who brings the heart into life. The Yoga Sutra is a potent tool for the teacher who is able to make it relevant to the student and thus transmit the transformative power of the heart. – Mark Whitwell (from TKV Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga 1995, pg 145)
Designed to Express the Subtle Aspects of Yoga
The aphorisms are written in Sanskrit, a language designed to express the subtle aspects of yoga. – Nicolai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras 2011p 2
Many Subtleties May Be Lost in Translation
Sanskrit, the language of the sutras, is particularly well suited to this heart-centered approach because it is a vibrational language, one in which words resonate through countless layers of meaning. When this powerful vibrational language is translated literally into a very logical and straightforward language like English, many of its subtleties may be lost. The strength of the English language lies in precise, concrete explanations. It is less powerful when describing the subtler realms, the unity of the feminine and the masculine, and especially the intuitive realm. – Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga 2007 p xxv
- Bachman, Nicolai — The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga link
- Bell, Charlotte — Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice link
- Chopra, Deepak — The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: A Practical Guide to Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit link
- Desikachar, T.K.V. — The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice (Part III) link
- Devi, Nischala Joy — The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras link
- Freeman, Richard — The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind link
- Gates, Rolf & Katrina Kenison — Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga link
- Hartranft, Chip — The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali link
- Internet Sacred Text Archive link
- Iyengar, B.K.S. — Light on Yoga link
- Iyengar, B.K.S. — The Tree of Yoga link
- Iyengar, B.K.S. — Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali link
- Lasater, Judith — Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life link
- Payne, Larry & Richard Usatine, MD — Yoga Rx link
- Roach, Geshe Michael & Christie McNally — The Essential Yoga Sutra: Ancient Wisdom for Your Yoga link
- Saraswati, Swami Satyananda — Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali link
- Satchidananda, Sri Swami — The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali link
- Shearer, Alistair — The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali link
- Taimni, I. K. — The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-Sutras of Patanajli in Sanskrit link
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