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The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali is a collection of Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga – 195 sutras (according to Vyāsa and Krishnamacharya) and 196 sutras (according to other scholars including BKS Iyengar). The Yoga Sutras was compiled in the early centuries CE, by the sage Patanjali in India who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions.
The Yoga Sutras are best known for its reference to ashtanga, eight elements of practice culminating in samadhi, concentration of the mind on an object of meditation, namely yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration of the mind), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption). However, its main aim is kaivalya, discernment of purusha, the witness-conscious, as separate from prakriti, the cognitive apparatus, and disentanglement of purusha from prakriti's muddled defilements.
The Yoga Sutras built on Samkhya-notions of purusha and prakriti, and are often seen as complementary to it. It is closely related to Buddhism, incorporating some of its terminology. Yet, Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, as well as Jainism and Buddhism can be seen as representing different manifestations of a broad stream of ascetic traditions in ancient India, in contrast to the Bhakti traditions and Vedic ritualism which were prevalent at the time.
The contemporary Yoga tradition holds the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali to be one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy. However, the appropriation - and misappropriation - of the Yoga Sutras and its influence on later systematizations of yoga has been questioned by David Gordon White, who argues that the text fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in the late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence as a classic in the 20th century.
The colophons of manuscripts of the Yoga Sutras attribute the work to Patanjali. The identity of Patañjali has been the subject of academic debate because an author of the same name is credited with the authorship of the classic text on Sanskrit grammar named Mahābhāṣya that is firmly datable to the second century BC. Yet the two works are completely different in subject matter and in the details of language, grammar and vocabulary, as has been brought out by the Indologist Louis Renou. Furthermore, before the time of Bhoja (11th century), no known text conflates the identity of the two authors.[note 1]
Philipp A. Maas assessed Patañjali's Pātañjalayogaśāstra's date to be about 400 CE, based on synchronisms between its arguments and those of Vasubandhu, on tracing the history of the commentaries on it published in the first millennium CE, on the opinions of earlier Sanskrit commentators, on the testimony of manuscript colophons and on a review of extant literature. This dating for the Pātañjalayogaśāstra was proposed as early as 1914 by Woods and has been accepted widely by academic scholars of the history of Indian philosophical thought.
Edwin Bryant, on the other hand, surveyed the major commentators in his translation of the Yoga Sūtras. He observed that "Most scholars date the text shortly after the turn of the Common Era (circa first to second century), but that it has been placed as early as several centuries before that." Bryant concluded that "A number of scholars have dated the Yoga Sūtras as late as the fourth or fifth century CE, but these arguments have all been challenged. ... All such arguments [for a late date] are problematic."
Michele Desmarais summarized a wide variety of dates assigned to Yogasutra, ranging from 500 BCE to 3rd century CE, noting that there is a paucity of evidence for any certainty. She stated the text may have been composed at an earlier date given conflicting theories on how to date it, but latter dates are more commonly accepted by scholars.
The Yoga Sutras are a composite of various traditions. The levels of samādhi taught in the text resemble the Buddhist jhanas. According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (aṣṭāṅga yoga) and action yoga (Kriya yoga). The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 sutras 1-27, chapter 3 except sutra 54, and chapter 4. The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 sutras 28–55, and chapter 3 sutras 3 and 54.
There are numerous parallels in the ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma schools of thought, particularly from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century AD, notes Larson. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras may be a synthesis of these three traditions. From the Samkhya school of Hinduism, Yoga Sutras adopt the "reflective discernment" (adhyavasaya) of prakrti and purusa (dualism), its metaphysical rationalism, and its three epistemic methods to gaining reliable knowledge. From Abhidharma Buddhism's idea of nirodhasamadhi, suggests Larson, Yoga Sutras adopt the pursuit of an altered state of awareness. However, unlike Buddhism, which believes that there is neither self nor soul, Yoga is physicalist and realist, like Samkhya, in believing that each individual has a self and soul. The third concept that Yoga Sutras synthesizes into its philosophy is the ancient ascetic traditions of isolation, meditation and introspection, as well as the yoga ideas from the 1st millennium BCE Indian texts such as Katha Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad and Maitri Upanishad.
According to Wujastyk, referencing Maas, Patanjali integrated yoga from older traditions in Pātañjalayogaśāstra, and added his own explanatory passages to create the unified work that, since 1100 CE, has been considered the work of two people. Together the compilation of Patanjali's sutras and the Vyasabhasya, is called Pātañjalayogaśāstra.
The Yogabhashya is a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, traditionally attributed to the legendary Vedic sage Vyasa who is said to have composed the Mahabharata. This commentary is indispensable for the understanding of the aphoristic and terse Yoga sutras, and the study of the sutras has always referred to the Yogabhashya. Some scholars see Vyasa as a later 4th or 5th century AD commentator (as opposed to the ancient mythic figure).
Scholars hold that both texts, the sutras and the commentary were written by one person. According to Philipp A. Maas, based on a study of the original manuscripts, Patañjali's composition was entitled Pātañjalayogaśāstra ("The Treatise on Yoga according to Patañjali") and consisted of both Sūtras and Bhāṣya. This means that the Bhāṣya was in fact Patañjali's own work.
The practice of writing a set of aphorisms with the author's own explanation was well known at the time of Patañjali, as for example in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (that, incidentally, Patañjali quotes). These research findings change the historical understanding of the yoga tradition, since they allow us to take the Bhāṣya as Patañjali's very own explanation of the meaning of his somewhat cryptic sūtras.[note 2]
The Yogabhashya states that 'yoga' in the Yoga Sutras has the meaning of 'samadhi'. Another commentary (the Vivarana) by a certain Shankara, confirms the interpretation of yogah samadhih (YBh. I.1): 'yoga' in Patañjali's sutra has the meaning of 'integration'. This Shankara may or may not have been the famed Vedantic scholar Adi Shankara (8th or 9th century). Scholarly opinion is still open on this issue.
The metaphysics of Patanjali is built on the same dualist foundation as the Samkhya school.[web 1] The universe is conceptualized as of two realities in Samkhya-Yoga schools: Puruṣa (consciousness) and prakriti (mind, cognition, emotions, and matter). It considers consciousness and matter, self/soul and body as two different realities. Jiva (a living being) is considered as a state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti in some form, in various permutations and combinations of various elements, senses, feelings, activity and mind. During the state of imbalance or ignorance, one of more constituents overwhelm the others, creating a form of bondage. The end of this bondage is called Kaivalya, liberation, or moksha by both Yoga and Samkhya school. The ethical theory of Yoga school is based on Yamas and Niyama, as well as elements of the Guṇa theory of Samkhya.[web 1]
Patanjali adopts the theory of Guṇa from Samkhya.[web 1] Guṇas theory states that three gunas (innate tendency, attributes) are present in different proportions in all beings, and these three are sattva guna (goodness, constructive, harmonious), rajas guna (passion, active, confused), and tamas guna (darkness, destructive, chaotic). These three are present in every being but in different proportions, and the fundamental nature and psychological dispositions of beings is a consequence of the relative proportion of these three gunas.[web 1] When sattva guna predominates an individual, the qualities of lucidity, wisdom, constructiveness, harmony, and peacefulness manifest themselves; when rajas is predominant, attachment, craving, passion-driven activity and restlessness manifest; and when tamas predominates in an individual, ignorance, delusion, destructive behavior, lethargy, and suffering manifests. The guṇas theory underpins the philosophy of mind in Yoga school of Hinduism.[web 1]
1.2. Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind.
1.3. Then the Seer is established in his own essential and fundamental nature.
1.4. In other states there is assimilation (of the Seer) with the modifications (of the mind).
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
According to Bryant, the purpose of yoga is liberation from suffering, by means of discriminative discernment. The eight limbs are "the means of achieving discriminative discernment," the "uncoupling of puruṣa from all connection with prakṛti and all involvement with the citta." Bryant states that, to Patanjali, Yoga-practice "essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object."
While the Samkhya school suggests that jnana (knowledge) is a sufficient means to moksha, Patanjali suggests that systematic techniques/practice (personal experimentation) combined with Samkhya's approach to knowledge is the path to moksha.[web 1] Patanjali holds that avidya, ignorance is the cause of all five kleshas, which are the cause of suffering and saṁsāra.[web 1] Liberation, like many other schools, is removal of ignorance, which is achieved through discriminating discernment, knowledge and self-awareness. The Yoga Sūtras is the Yoga school's treatise on how to accomplish this.[web 1] Samādhi is the state where ecstatic awareness develops, state Yoga scholars, and this is how one starts the process of becoming aware of Purusa and true Self. It further claims that this awareness is eternal, and once this awareness is achieved, a person cannot ever cease being aware; this is moksha, the soteriological goal in Hinduism.[web 1]
Book 3 of Patanjali's Yogasutra is dedicated to soteriological aspects of yoga philosophy. Patanjali begins by stating that all limbs of yoga are a necessary foundation to reaching the state of self-awareness, freedom and liberation. He refers to the three last limbs of yoga as samyama, in verses III.4 to III.5, and calls it the technology for "discerning principle" and mastery of citta and self-knowledge. In verse III.12, the Yogasutras state that this discerning principle then empowers one to perfect sant (tranquility) and udita (reason) in one's mind and spirit, through intentness. This leads to one's ability to discern the difference between sabda (word), artha (meaning) and pratyaya (understanding), and this ability empowers one to compassionately comprehend the cry/speech of all living beings. Once a yogi reaches this state of samyama, it leads to unusual powers, intuition, self-knowledge, freedoms and kaivalya, the redemptive goal of the yogi.
The epistemology in Patanjali's system of Yoga, like the Sāmkhya school of Indian philosophy, relies on three of six Pramanas, as the means of gaining reliable knowledge. These included Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumāṇa (inference) and Sabda (Āptavacana, word/testimony of reliable sources).
Patanjali's system, like the Samkhya school, considers Pratyakṣa or Dṛṣṭam (direct sense perception), Anumāna (inference), and Śabda or Āptavacana (verbal testimony of the sages or shāstras) to be the only valid means of knowledge or Pramana. Unlike few other schools of Hinduism such as Advaita Vedanta, Yoga did not adopt the following three Pramanas: Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy), Arthāpatti (postulation, deriving from circumstances) or Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof).
Patanjali differs from the closely related non-theistic/atheistic Samkhya school by incorporating what some scholars have called a "personal, yet essentially inactive, deity" or "personal god" (Ishvara). Hindu scholars such as the 8th century Adi Sankara, as well as many modern academic scholars describe Yoga school as "Samkhya school with God."
The Yogasutras of Patanjali use the term Isvara in 11 verses: I.23 through I.29, II.1, II.2, II.32 and II.45. Ever since the Sutra's release, Hindu scholars have debated and commented on who or what is Isvara? These commentaries range from defining Isvara from a "personal god" to "special self" to "anything that has spiritual significance to the individual". Whicher states that while Patanjali's terse verses can be interpreted both as theistic or non-theistic, Patanjali's concept of Isvara in Yoga philosophy functions as a "transformative catalyst or guide for aiding the yogin on the path to spiritual emancipation". Whereas the purusa (spirit, or true self) of the yogin is bound to the prakriti - the material body subject to karmas and kleshas, the special purusa called Isvara is immaterial and ultimately free.
Patanjali defines Isvara (Sanskrit: ईश्वर) in verse 24 of Book 1, as "a special Self/Spirit (पुरुषविशेष, puruṣa-viśeṣa)."[note 3]} This sutra adds the characteristics of Isvara as that special Self/Spirit which is unaffected (अपरामृष्ट, aparamrsta) by one's obstacles/hardships (क्लेश, klesha), one's circumstances created by past or one's current actions (कर्म, karma), one's life fruits (विपाक, vipâka), and one's psychological dispositions/intentions (आशय, ashaya).
The Yoga Sutras incorporated the teachings of many other Indian philosophical systems prevalent at the time. According to Zimmer, Samkhya and Yoga are two of several schools of philosophy that originated over the centuries that had common roots in the pre-Aryan cultures and traditions of India.[note 4][note 5] Yet, the orthodox Hindu philosophies of Samkhya, Yoga, Vedānta, as well as the non-orthodox Nastika systems of Jainism and Buddhism can all be seen as representing one stream of spiritual activity in ancient India, in contrast to the Bhakti traditions and Vedic ritualism which were also prevalent at the same time. The Vedanta-Sramana traditions, iconolatry and Vedic rituals can be identified with the Jnana marga, Bhakti marga and the Karma marga respectively that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Yoga Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy, and are generally seen as the practice while Samkhya is the theory. The influence of Samkhya is so pervasive in the Sutras that the historian Surendranath Dasgupta went so far as to deny independent categorization to Patañjali's system, preferring to refer to it as Patanjala Samkhya, similar to the position taken by the Jain writer Haribhadra in his commentary on Yoga. Patañjali's Yoga Sutras accept the Samkhya's division of the world and phenomena into twenty-five tattvas or principles, of which one is Purusha meaning Self or consciousness, the others being Prakriti (primal nature), Buddhi (intellect or will), Ahamkara (ego), Manas (mind), five buddhindriyas (sensory capabilities), five karmendriyas (action-capabilities) and ten elements. The second part of the Sutras, the Sadhana, also summarizes the Samkhya perspectives about all seen activity lying within the realm of the three Gunas of Sattva (illumination), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (lethargy).
The Yoga Sutras diverge from early Samkhya by the addition of the principle of Isvara or God, as exemplified by Sutra 1.23 - "Iśvara pranidhãnãt vã", which is interpreted to mean that surrender to God is one way to liberation. Isvara is defined here as "a distinct Consciousness, untouched by afflictions, actions, fruitions or their residue". In the sutras, it is suggested that devotion to Isvara, represented by the mystical syllable Om may be the most efficient method of achieving the goal of Yoga. This syllable Om is a central element of Hinduism, appearing in all the Upanishads, including the earliest Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, and expounded upon in the Mandukya Upanishad.
Another divergence from Samkhya is that while the Samkhya holds that knowledge is the means to liberation, Patañjali's Yoga insists on the methods of concentration and active striving. The aim of Yoga is to free the individual from the clutches of the matter, and considers intellectual knowledge alone to be inadequate for the purpose – which is different from the position taken by Samkhya.
However, the essential similarities between the Samkhya and Patañjali's system remained even after the addition of the Isvara principle, with Max Müller noting that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...." The Bhagavad Gita, one of the chief scriptures of Hinduism, is considered to be based on this synthetic Samkhya-Yoga system.
Scholars have presented different viewpoints on the relationship between Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the teachings in Buddhist texts.
Karel Werner writes, "Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika." He adds, "upon the whole it [Patanjali's Yoga sutras] is more elaborate and summarizes the actual technique of Yoga procedures more exactly than the Buddhist exposition". However, states Werner, "The Buddha was the founder of his system, even though, admittedly, he made use of some of the experiences he had previously gained under various Yoga teachers of his time. Patanjali is neither a founder nor a leader of a new movement. (...) The ingenuity of his [Patanjali's] achievement lies in the thoroughness and completeness with which all the important stages of Yoga practice and mental experiences are included in his scheme, and in their systematic presentation in a succinct treatise." Werner adds that the ideas of existence and the focus on "Self, Soul" in Patajali's Yogasutra are different from the "no Self" precepts of Buddhism.
According to David Gordon White, the language of the Yoga Sutras is often closer to "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, the Sanskrit of the early Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, than to the classical Sanskrit of other Hindu scriptures". He adds, historical evidence suggests that yoga philosophical systems influenced, and were influenced by, other philosophical systems in India such as early Buddhism and Jainism. White mentions controversies about the Yoga Sutras. A significant minority of scholars, notes White for example, believes that Vyasa lived a few centuries after Patanjali and his "Hindu-izing" commentary subverted Yoga Sutras' original "Buddhist" teachings; while the majority scholarly view disagrees with this view.
Other scholars state there are differences between the teachings in the Yoga Sutras and those in Buddhist texts. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras for example, states Michele Desmarias, accept the concept of a Self or soul behind the operational mind, while Buddhists do not accept such a Self exists. The role of Self is central to the idea of Saṃyoga, Citta, Self-awareness and other concepts in Chapters 2 through 4 of the Yoga sutras, according to Desmarias.
According to Barbara Miller, the difference between Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and teachings in Buddhist texts is, "In Samkhya and Yoga, as in Buddhism and Jainism, the most salient characteristic of existence is duhkha or suffering. According to Buddhism, the origin of suffering is desire; according to Yoga, it is the connection between the observer (Purusha) with the observed (Prakrti). In both systems, the origin of duhkha is ignorance. There are also similarities in the means of deliverance recommended by the two systems. In Buddhism, the aspirant is asked to follow the eightfold path, which culminates in right meditation or samadhi. In Yoga, the aspirant is asked to follow a somewhat different eight fold path, which also culminates in samadhi. But the aim of yoga meditation is conceived in terms that a Buddhist would not accept: as the separation of an eternal conscious self from unconscious matter. The purpose of Patanjali's Yoga is to bring about this separation by means of understanding, devotion and practice."
Robert Thurman writes that Patañjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. The Yoga Sutra, especially the fourth segment of Kaivalya Pada, contains several polemical verses critical of Buddhism, particularly the Vijñānavāda school of Vasubandhu.
The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism. Three other teachings closely associated with Jainism also make an appearance in Yoga: the doctrine of "colours" in karma (lesya); the Telos of isolation (kevala in Jainism and Kaivalyam in Yoga); and the practice of nonviolence (ahimsa), though nonviolence (ahimsa) made its first appearance in Indian philosophy-cum-religion in the Hindu texts known as the Upanishads [the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE, one of the oldest Upanishads, has the earliest evidence for the use of the word Ahimsa in the sense familiar in Hinduism (a code of conduct). It bars violence against "all creatures" (sarvabhuta) and the practitioner of Ahimsa is said to escape from the cycle of metempsychosis/reincarnation (CU 8.15.1). It also names Ahimsa as one of five essential virtues].
The contemporary Yoga tradition holds the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali to be one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy. However, the appropriation - and misappropriation - of the Yoga Sutras and its influence on later systematizations of yoga has been questioned by David Gordon White, who has argued that the text fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence as a classic in the 20th century. Its influence was reaffirmed by James Mallinson.
Before the 20th century, history indicates that the medieval Indian yoga scene was dominated by the various other texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha, texts attributed to Yajnavalkya and Hiranyagarbha, as well as literature on hatha yoga, tantric yoga and Pashupata Shaivism yoga rather than the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Much about yoga is written in the Mokṣadharma section of the epic Mahābhārata. The members of the Jaina faith had their own, different literature on yoga, and Buddhist yoga stems from pre-Patanjali sources.
Some of the major commentaries on the Yoga Sutras were written between the ninth and sixteenth century. After the twelfth century, the school started to decline, and commentaries on Patanjali's Yoga philosophy were few. By the sixteenth century Patanjali's Yoga philosophy had virtually become extinct. The manuscript of the Yoga Sutras was no longer copied, since few read the text, and it was seldom taught.
According to David Gordon White, the popularity of the Yoga Sutras is recent, "miraculously rehabilitated" by Swami Vivekananda after having been ignored for seven centuries. It was with the rediscovery by a British Orientalist in the early 1800s that wider interest in the Yoga Sutras arose in the West. Popular interest arose in the 19th century, when the practice of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras became regarded as the science of yoga and the "supreme contemplative path to self-realization" by Swami Vivekananda, following Helena Blavatsky, president of the Theosophical Society. It has become a celebrated text in the West, states White, because of "Big Yoga – the corporate yoga subculture".
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic.
By the early 21st century, scholars had located 37 editions of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras published between 1874 and 1992, and 82 different manuscripts, from various locations in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Europe and the United States, many in Sanskrit, some in different North and South Indian languages. The numerous historical variants show that the text was a living document and it was changed as these manuscripts were transmitted or translated, with some ancient and medieval manuscripts marked with "corrections" in the margin of the pages and elsewhere by unknown authors and for unclear reasons. This has made the chronological study of Yoga school of philosophy a difficult task.
Many commentaries have been written on the Yoga Sutras.[note 6]
Medieval commentaries on the Yoga sutras include:
Countless commentaries on the Yoga Sutras are available today. The Sutras, with commentaries, have been published by a number of successful teachers of Yoga, as well as by academicians seeking to clarify issues of textual variation. There are also other versions from a variety of sources available on the Internet.[note 7] The many versions display a wide variation, particularly in translation. The text has not been submitted in its entirety to any rigorous textual analysis, and the contextual meaning of many of the Sanskrit words and phrases remains a matter of some dispute. Modern translations and interpretations include: