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An overview of the Yoga Sutras

  • Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth (Deemed University)
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Chairman ICYER, Puducherry, India.
One of the greatest minds of human history is the sage Maharishi Patanjali,
the codifier of the
Yoga Darshana
(a reverential view of the highest reality
through the art and science of Yoga). He must have been indeed an amazing
man, for he is credited with giving us:
Yoga for the purification of the mind (as Patanjali)
Grammar for the purification of our language and speech (as Panini)
(ancient Indian medicine) for purification of the gross
physical body (as Charaka).
These three-pronged aspects of his personality are well brought out in the
found in Bhoja’s commentary on the Sutras that is addressed
to him as follows:
“Yogena chittasya padena vaachammalam sharirasya cha vaidyakena
yoapakarottam pravarammuninaam patanjalim pranjalir anatoasmi”
It boggles our mind to even contemplate this great humane being who lived
only for the welfare and spiritual growth of his fellow brethren. Patanjali was
surely an enlightened soul who had experienced the highest state and yet
stayed back because he wanted others to also have that Darshan of the
Divine and attain the ultimate goal of “Kaivalya”.
The eternal concepts of the Yoga Darshana have been codified in a nutshell
through his Yoga Sutras. These Sutras must have been composed and then
transmitted by the oral tradition since at least 1000 1500 BC but came into
the written form much later in around 500 BC 300 AD that is the commonly
quoted date for them.
The Patanjala Yoga Sutra consists of short succinct Sutras that run together
as if they were making up a garland of pearls on a string. This unique method
common to the oral tradition of Yoga helps us grasp the intricacies of Yoga,
this greatest science of inner experience that has been defined by
Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri as the ‘mother of all sciences’. The
Sutras were always kept short as they were intended to be learnt, memorized
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
and chanted with reverence and understanding in order to facilitate the
development of a deep sense of quiet, inner contemplation. The Yoga Sutras
are an efficient tool to help the sincere Sadhaka remember and understand
the subtleties of the great art and science of Yoga and were NEVER meant to
be a mere instruction manual.
The 195/196 Sutras (this depends on the two different versions that are
available today that defer on the addition of one sutra that is actually an
expansion of the idea presented in the previous Sutra) are arranged in a
logical form and placed into four Padas.
The Padas may be said to be the main chapter-wise division of the Yoga
Sutras, but we must also consider that the term Pada refers to feet and this
may indicate the step-by-step approach advocated by Maharishi Patanjali.
The four Padas are:
1. SAMADHI PADA: This chapter is an exploration of the different
aspects of Samadhi and gives us a clue about the process of
introspective contemplation.
2. SADHANA PADA: This chapter lays out the path of Yoga Sadhana in
the form of a Bahiranga Sadhana though the first five limbs of
Ashtanga Yoga.
3. VIBHUTI PADA: This chapter deals with the Antaranga Yoga and
details the Siddhis or psychic accomplishments that may be attained
through the practice of Samyama on various aspects of the Universe.
4. KAIVALYA PADA: This chapter deals with the attainment of the
highest state of Kaivalya (liberation) that ensues when we finally go
beyond the Kleshas (afflictions) and Karmas (action-reaction
entwinement) to ultimately become ‘ONE WITH THE DIVINE’.
Patanjali has arranged all the Sutras in a deductive and logical manner with
numerous cross references to various important concepts such as the
Kleshas, Karma, Antaraaya, Siddhis and Gunas etc.
What is Yoga? The answer to this question is given by Patanjali at the very
beginning of his unparalleled teachings. Sutras 1.1 1.4 deal with the
definition of Yoga as a process of mental purification. The classical definition
of Yoga as a discipline to control the whirlpools of the subconscious /
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
unconscious mind (
yogah chitavritti nirodah
- 1.2) is given along with the
understanding of the process of oneness with the Vrittis that occurs in the
absence of the “control”.
Sutras 1.5 – 1.11 deal with the five Vrittis that are namely
Pramana – cognitive process
Viparyaya – process of misconception
Vikalpa – illusionary and fantasy prone states
Nidra – the state of inert, sleepy dullness
Smriti – the inner process of memory
He stresses the importance of Abhyasa and Vairagya in Sutra-1.12 when he
says that the Vrittis will cease on their own accord once one has perfected
the twin keys of Abhyasa and Vairagya. He goes on to define Abhyasa as the
uninterrupted, disciplined and dedicated practice done with Divine aspiration
(1.14). The nature of Vairagya as a cultivated nature of dispassionate
objectivity, so essential for every scientist be they either the experimental
modern ones or the experiential ancient sages is dealt with in Sutras 1.15 and
1.16. He gives a cross reference to the highest state of Kaivalya (described in
the final Sutras of Kaivalya Pada) when he states that one must develop
dispassionate objectivity towards even the highest state (Para Vairagya) if
one is to attain it (1.16). As it is often said, if you really love something let it
go. If it comes back to you it is rightfully yours and if not, it was never yours
in the first place!
Patanjali deals with the concept of Samadhi classifying it into numerous levels
and sublevels. The lower state of Samprajnata (that which is obtained
through cognitive thought) is sub-classified into four levels in 1.17 as:
Vitarka - obtained with deep contemplation on gross thought
Vichara - obtained with deep contemplation on subtle thought
Ananda - obtained with deep contemplation on inner eternal bliss
Asmita - obtained with deep contemplation on ‘that’ which defines one’s
individuality from the universality.
He also states in 1.18 that the other (Asamprajnata Samadhi) deals with the
residual impressions (Samskaras) that surface once the thought process has
been dealt with through the previous stages.
Sutras 1.19 1.22 deal with the importance of qualities such as Shraddha
(faithful devotion), Veeraya (strength of body and mind), Smriti (ability to
remember and learn from previous experiences) and Samadhi Prajna (mental
competence for the higher states) that are essential for spiritual success. He
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
also classifies the seekers as Mridu (dull and incompetent ones), Madhya (the
average ones) and Adimatra (the excellent ones) but then tells us that for
the extremely motivated and energetic one who gives up not -the attainment
is much easier (
teevra samveganam asannah
The concept of the Divine is dealt with by Patanjali in verses 1.24-1.26 where
he also stresses the importance of the Pranava and its Japa. The Pranava
AUM (also known by the term Omkara) is rightly given pride of place in all
Indian thought as it is the sound vibration that is the closest to the vibration
of the Universe itself. Patanjali says
tasya vachahah pranava
vibrational sound of the Divine is the Pranava (1.27).
The Pranava consists of the three sacred sounds (Nada) that may be
expressed as:
The Akara Nada– the AAA sound representing creation
The Ukara Nada – the OOO / UUU sound representing sustenance and
The Makara Nada – the MMM sound representing dissolution.
The potent combination of these three sounds results in the production of
the ultimate sacred sound of AUM (Pranava or Omkara Nada). There is no
mantra higher than the Pranava and there is no healing tool higher than the
Divine power of the Universe! Patanjali further states that the Pranava Japa
(repeated utterance of the sound with deep feeling for the meaning-1.28) can
eradiate all the obstacles in the Yogic path towards attaining the realized
oneness with the Divine (1.29).
In Sutras 1.24-26 Patanjali defines the Divine Self (Ishwara) as a special soul
(Vishesha Purusha) who is beyond the Kleshas (inherent psychological
afflictions) and Karma (repercussions of the action-reaction continuum). He
also describes Ishwara as the eternal teacher (
purveshamapi guruh
-1.26) who
is beyond time itself and is the seed of all wisdom (
sarvajna beejam
Patanjali is blessed with foresight and cautions the Sadhakas that there are
many obstacles on the Yogic path to Kaivalya and offer the solutions to them
too. In 1.30 1.32 he describes the nine obstacles faced by a Sadhaka in
their Sadhana and enumerates these Antaraaya or Chitta Vikshepa (1.30) as:
1. Vyadhi – disease
2. Styan – dullness
3. Samshya – indecision
4. Pramada – procastination
5. Alasya – sloth
6. Avirati – sensual craving
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
7. Brantidarshana – fantasy / illusion
8. Alabda boomikatva – inability to attain any higher state
9. Anavasthitatva – inability to maintain that state that has been attained
He also details the four-fold external manifestations of these internal
obstacles (1.31) as:
- Duhkha: pain/suffering
- Daurmansya: despair/ depression
- Angamejayatva: tremors
- Svasa-Prasvasa: irregular respiration
Patanjali then goes on to suggest different methods to stabilize and clear the
mind in Sutras 1.32 1.39. Focused practice of one principle (
-1.32) is stated to be the best method to prevent and deal with the
obstacles and their manifestations. The modern tendency of running from
teacher to teacher and the following of method to method without any depth
can never bring any result as it is the very opposite of this vital advice.
He advocates the adoption of positive attitudes (1.33) such as Maitri
(friendliness towards those who are at ease with themselves), Karuna
(compassion towards the suffering), Mudita (cheerfulness towards the
virtuous) and Upekshanam (avoidance and indifference towards the non-
virtuous). Single minded concentration on the Prana (1.34), the sensory
experiences (1.35), the inner light (1.36) is also mentioned while he
recommends a detached attitude (1.37) with deepening of one’s knowledge
though an understanding of the Dream (1.38) and meditative states (1.39).
Once we stabilize our restless mind, it attains the highest clarity and
becomes crystal-like (abhijatasyeva maneh) in its ability to truthfully
transmit the highest experiences (1.41). This clarity is attained through
different stages that he describes in 1.40 – 1.51
Savitarka Samadhi / Samapattih - (mixture of name, meaning and
knowledge associated with the object exists-1.42)
Nirvitarka Samadhi / Samapattih -( only the object shines forth -1.43)
Savichara Samadhi / Samapattih-( confusion of subtle aspects -1.44)
Nirvichara Samadhi / Samapattih-( clarity of subtle aspects-1.44)
Nirbija Samadhi-( objectless mergence of inner contemplation-1.51)
Thus, through the Samadhi Pada, Maharishi Patanjali helps us contemplate
and understand the working of our mind. We learn about the processes of the
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
inner journey and begin to comprehend the various inner stages on the path
of Yoga, the science of ultimate union.
This Pada deals with the importance of Sadhana, the process of working
towards the ultimate goal in a step-by-step approach. Different aspects of
Sadhana are dealt with precision and a detailed exploration of the concepts
of Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga is presented for the sincere Sadhaka. In
this chapter Patanjali deals extensively with the first five limbs of Ashtanga
Yoga that are known as the Bahiranga Yoga.
The Sadhana Pada starts off with an exploration of the Kleshas (inborn
psychological afflictions) and the methods of their removal. Kriya Yoga, the
potent combination of Tapa, Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana (2.1) is
prescribed as the method to facilitate attainment of Samadhi through the
elimination of the Kleshas (2.2).
The five types of psychological afflictions (Pancha Kleshas) are enumerated in
Sutra 2.3 and then detailed in Sutras 2.5 to 2.9 as:
1. Avidya ignorance of the ultimate reality that manifest as the
mistaking of the non eternal to be eternal, the impure to be pure, the
suffering to be pleasure and the non-self to be the self (this is stated
clearly in 2.5).
2. Asmita egoism that results from misidentifying the mere instrument
of experience (Buddhi) as the ultimate Self (2.6)
3. Raga – attractive attachment to that which gives us pleasure (2.7)
4. Dvesha – repulsive aversion to that which gives us pain (2.8)
5. Abhinivesha the deep rooted survival instinct resulting from fear of
death that is present in all living beings irrespective of any amount of
knowledge (2.9).
Based on the breeding ground of the mother Klesha (Avidya), four different
stages of the Kleshas are described (2.4) as follows:
1. Prasupta – the dormant state
2. Tanu – the attenuated state
3. Vicchinna – the manifest state
4. Udaranam – the overpowering state
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Patanjali describes the important methods to sever the link with Karma that
binds us by action-reaction to countless birth-death-birth cycles for
In Sutras 2.12 2.25 he describes the process of this gradual disengagement
from the Karmic bondage (Karma Bandha). According to Sage Vasishtha in the
Yoga Vaasishtha, Atma Jnana (knowledge of the self) is the only way we can
escape from the clutches of the never-ending cycle of births. Patanjali
echoes this when he says that it is only the wise one endowed with Viveka
(discerning intellect), who can see clearly that all worldly experiences are
ultimately nothing but suffering and pain (
duhkhameva sarvam vivekinah
It is only the highest state of Kaivalya that is the real bliss (Anandam) and
anything less than that is pain according to Patanjali. This is similar in many
ways to the core of the Buddhist philosophy that views all life as suffering.
Patanjali advises us to make efforts to prevent those miseries that are yet to
occur (
heyam dukham anagatam
-2.16) thus giving us a vital clue about the
importance of preventive action in avoiding future sorrow. In Sutra 2.17 he
further states that the cause of pain is the union between the seer and the
seen. This unyielding bondage that causes all suffering is in fact ultimately
due to Avidya, ignorance of the reality (
tasya hetur avidya
Patanjali describes the three Gunas that are the constituents of the
manifest Universe in Sutra 2.18 where he mentions them by their qualities of
Stithi or stable inertness (Tamsica Guna), Kriya or dynamic action (Rajasica
Guna) and Prakasha or illumination (Sattwica Guna). The Gunas are the core of
the entire manifest Universe and play a vital role in our understanding of
both the inner and outer nature.
The real purpose of Yoga Sadhana is expressed by Patanjali in Sutra 2.28
when he states that the sustained practice of the various limbs of Yoga is
meant for the destruction of the impurities, thus enabling the Sadhaka to
cultivate the highest wisdom of enlightenment (
yoganga anusthand ashuddi
kshaye jnana deeptir aviveka kyatih-
To this end he enumerates the eight-fold royal path of Ashtanga Yoga as
yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana Samadhi”
in 2.29.
He then goes on to describe the Pancha Yama and Pancha Niyama with
precision in verses 2.30 2.34. Patanjali describes the Yama-Niyama as great
vows (Mahavratam) and says that they are not restricted by class, place, time
nor circumstance (2.31).
Pujya Swamiji, Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri often said that
Patanjali’s Yoga was “No-option Yoga” with a firm insistence on a strong
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
foundation based on Yama-Niyama being of paramount importance in one’s
Yoga Sadhana.
Pancha Yama- the five moral restraints that help us obtain control over our
lower, animal centric nature thus becoming human. These are:
1. Ahimsa - control of one’s violent tendencies
2. Satya – control of one’s lying tendencies
3. Asteya- control of one’s thieving tendencies
4. Brahmacharya- control of one’s creative energies
5. Aparigraha – control of one’s possessive tendencies
Pancha Niyama - the five ethical observances that help us to enhance our
humane qualities preparing us for the higher, conscious life of Yoga. These
1. Saucha – cleanliness at all levels
2. Santhosha – self contented happiness
3. Tapa - disciplined efforts
4. Swadhyaya – introspectional self analysis
5. Ishwara Pranidhana the ability to surrender one’s will to the higher
divine will after making one’s best efforts. “Do your best and leave the
rest” is another good way to express this concept of Bhakti Yoga that
is extolled by Yogeshwar Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita as well.
Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri often expressed this
beautifully as Atman Prasadanam, meaning thereby that one accepts
with gratitude the results of one’s action coming back in the form of
Divine expression.
He further advises us to cultivate Pratipaksha Bhavanam, the contrary view
when one is faced with negative thoughts of the devolutionary nature that
cause suffering (2.33). In verse 2.34 Patanjali warns us about the negativities
that may be either done directly by us (Krita), or committed by others by our
causation (Karita), or be condoned by us (Anumodita) and digs deeper to find
that these negative actions result due to greed (Lobha), anger (Krodha) or
delusion (Moha).
The concept of Pratipaksha Bhavanam is an amazing teaching and must be
inculcated in our Sadhana of day-to-day living as we face it so many times
each day. Even if we cannot replace negative thoughts with emotion-laden
positive reinforcements, we must at least make an attempt to stop them in
their troublesome track! I have personally found that a strong ”STOP”
statement works wonders in helping block out the negative thoughts that
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
otherwise lead us into the quicksand-like cesspool of deeper and greater
In Sutras 2.35 2.45 of the Sadhana Pada, Maharishi Patanjali details the
Siddhis or psychic accomplishments that manifest when we attain a state of
perfection in the respective Yamas and Niyamas. These are detailed as
Ahimsa - cessation of hostility in the Sadhaka’s presence (2.35)
Satya - whatever the Sadhaka utters will come true (2.36)
Asteya - all riches will flow towards the Sadhaka (2.37)
Brahmacharya - great valour is gained and fear of death is lost(2.38)
Aparigraha - knowledge of previous and future births (2.39)
Saucha - indifference towards the physical body and non-attachment
as well as mental fitness for cheerfulness, one-pointedness, sense
control and vision of the inner self (2.40 and 2.41)
Santhosha - attainment of a state of unexcelled happiness (2.42)
Tapa - destruction of impurities and perfection of body and senses
Swadhyaya- union with the desired deity (2.44)
Ishwara Pranidhana- attainment of Samadhi (2.45)
I find this last statement in 2.45 very interesting indeed for it seems to
suggest that Patanjali is giving us a shortcut to Samadhi! It seems to be a
“One Step” approach to Samadhi that is normally an “Eight Step” approach of
Ashtanga Yoga. It is also fascinating that it is even shorter than the “Three
Step” approach to Samadhi proposed by Patanjali when he mentions the
benefits of Kriya Yoga (consisting of Tapa-Swadhyaya-Ishwara Pranidhana) in
Sutra 2.2 of the Sadhana Pada.
If we understand the concept of Ishwara Pranidhana as the embodiment of
Bhakti Yoga, we can easily understand how the great saints of the past such
as Mirabhai and Andal have attained to that Ultimate Unitive Oneness with
the Universe through pure devotion. Both of these magnificent lady saints of
India merged with the Divine through the fructification of their pure love.
Having given us a clear view of Yama-Niyama as the firm foundation (Adikara
Yoga) of a systematic Yoga Sadhana, Patanjali goes on to describe the third
limb of Ashtanga Yoga, namely Asana as
sthira sukham asanam
in 2.46. This
is the best definition of Asana as a state that radiates stability and ease.
Such a state may be attained only through regular, disciplined and
determined practice.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
The key to attaining this state is given in 2.47 where he advises us to
practice Asana with a relaxation of effort (
prayatna shaithilya
) and
contemplation on the infinite (
ananta samapathibyam
Through the practice of Asana, one attains the state of balanced equanimity
(described in the Bhagavad Gita as Samatvam) that enables one to overcome
the dualities (
dwandwa anabighata
) that normally torment us into imbalance
At the next level Patanjali details the concept of Pranayama and its benefits
in 2.49 2.53. In 2.49 he defines Pranayama as the cessation of the
processes of inhalation and exhalation”. This is similar to the Hatha Yoga
concept of Kevala Kumbhaka, which is a spontaneous cessation of respiration
Such a state of going “beyond the breath” is another example of Patanjali’s
genius in explaining the higher concepts with simplicity. When faced with
something that amazes us, we say, “It took my breath away!” Imagine then,
the state of our breath, when we are face-to-face with the Divine experience
In 2.50 he describes the different varieties of Pranayama such as the
external (Bahya), internal (Antara) and the stupefied (Stambavritti). He also
explains that Pranayama practice is regulated by the location (Desha), season
(Kala) and rhythm (Samkya) making it either to be deep (Dirgha) or subtle
He further tells us that Pranayama enables our mind to attain fitness for the
higher aspects of Yoga that begin with Dharana (
dharanasucha yogyata
-2.53). It also facilitates a reverential vision of the Divine light by
destroying the veil of ignorance that is preventing us from having such a
vision (
tatash kshiyate prakashavaranam
Having described Pranayama that is a bridge between the external and
internal worlds, he goes on to define Pratyahara in 2.54 and 2.55 as the
“withdrawing of the mind from the sensory engagements”. Just as a tortoise
withdraws its limbs into its shell, the senses cease to function as soon as the
mind (the main energy source for sensory function) starts the journey
inwards. No wonder the mind is called the super-sense or the Ekendriya (the
one sense).
At this stage of their Sadhana, the sincere Sadhaka is finally ready for the
onward, inner journey and so Patanjali ends the Sadhana Pada keeping us in
suspense about the fore-coming Vibhuti Pada that will deal with attainment of
powers though practice of the inner, Antaranga Yoga.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Patanjali starts off the third Pada giving definitions of the three internal
aspects (Antaranga) of Yoga, namely Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
He defines Dharana as the process of binding consciousness to a point, place,
region or object (
desha bandhah chittasya dharana
-3.1). He further defines
Dhyana as the state when there is a steady and continuous flow of attention
and concentration on a point, place, region or object (
tatra pratyaya
ekatanata dhyanam
The state of absorptive super-consciousness (Samadhi) is expressed by
Patanjali as an omnipresent state when the mind loses itself and the object
alone shines without differentiation (
tadeva arthamatra nirbhasyam swarupa
shunyamiva samadhi
These three internal limbs comprise the practice of Antaranga Yoga and are
known together as Samyama (flowing together seamlessly) in 3.4 when he says
trayam ekatva samyama
”. He then goes on to describe in 3.17 – 3.37 and then
again in 3.39 to 3.49 the special experiences and powers (Siddhis) that result
from performing Samyama on various gross and subtle objects. Some
examples of these Siddhis are given below.
In Sutra 3.17 he gives a logical explanation about how the Samyama on
distinction between name, object and existence gives us the ability to
understand sounds (speech) of all beings (
sarvabhuta rutajnanam
). Once we
begin to understand this distinction, any language becomes understandable as
all languages are based on this combination of name, form and experience.
He further tells us in 3.18 that the practice of Samyama on Samskaras
(inherent tendencies that manifest as habit patterns) helps us to understand
the results of previous incarnations. This again is very logical for these
patterns that flow from lifetime to lifetime have a clear association. Once
such an association is understood, the cause-effect relationship can be
understood by an analytical process.
In a similar manner he describes many other such Siddhis that include:
- Mind reading (3.19)
- Invisibility (3.21)
- Going beyond the senses (3.22)
- Fore knowledge of time of death (3.23)
- Great strength (3.24)
- Elephantine strength (3.25)
- Clairvoyance (3.26)
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
- Subtle knowledge (3.27)
- Knowledge of the inner stars (3.28)
- Knowledge of the movement of stars (3.29)
- Knowledge of the arrangement of body systems (3.30)
- Power to go beyond hunger and thirst (3.31)
- Power of great steadiness (3.32)
- Vision of Siddhas (3.33)
- Knowledge of everything (3.34)
- Knowledge of mind (3.35)
- Knowledge of pure consciousness (3.36)
- Divine sensations (3.37)
- Transmigration (3.39)
- Levitation (3.40)
- Great effulgence (3.41)
- Divine hearing (3.42)
- Extreme lightness of body (3.43)
- Removal of the veil of ignorance (3.44)
- Mastery over the five manifest elements (3.45)
- Attainment of Anima and the other seven Siddhis (3.46)
- Perfection of body (3.47)
- Perfection of sensory apparatus (3.48) and
- Mastery over the primal cause itself (3.49)
It is very pertinent to note the existence of Sutra 3.38 where he warns us
that the Siddhis we get by the practice of Samyama on different objects are
both an attainment as well as an obstacle to spiritual progress! We find so
many Sadhakas who have lost their way after getting caught up in the magic
of the Siddhis, thus ensuing the absolute loss of their spiritual progress for
many a lifetime to come.
It is with regards to Sutra 3.22 that the different versions end up having
either 195 or 196 Sutras. Sutra 3.21 deals with the concept of developing the
Siddhi of invisibility by blocking the rays of light that cause vision of objects
to occur. In fact this also shows us that Patanjali was an excellent physicist
who understood the laws of light too!.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Sutra 3.22 expands this concept to include the other senses as well, thus
indicating that we develop Siddhis of not being heard, smelt, etc. In the
versions of the Yoga Sutras that do not include this verse, Sutra 3.22 is the
one in which Patanjali talks of attaining foreknowledge of one’s time of death.
For this overview, I am using the version with 196 sutras so that we can
understand this discrepancy between the difference versions a bit better.
The detached attitude towards the manifest world is very important in Yoga
Sadhana, but we are taught by Patanjali that it’s only though the process of
renunciation that the ultimate state of Kaivalya (liberation) may be attained
(3.50). He strongly tells us that we must give up even the desire for that
highest state, if that state is to occur. This idea has a cross reference in the
very beginning of the Samadhi Pada where he says that one must develop
dispassionate objectivity towards even the highest state (Para Vairagya) if
one is to attain it (1.16). The importance of this Para Vairagya that destroys
the very seed of the impurities, thus blessing us with liberation, is described
in 3.51 as “
tad vairagyaapi dosabijakshye kaivalyam
He concludes the Vibhuti Pada by telling us that it is only the equality
between Buddhi and Purusha that brings about liberation (
suddhisamye kaivalyam
-3.56). Such a state can only happen if we ourselves
become a pure medium for the crystal-clear transmission of the Divine
universal impulses. Purity of thought, word and deed is of paramount
importance if we are to become the purest vehicles of the Divine Grace.
In the final chapter that is the shortest of the four (having a mere 34
verses), Patanjali gives us an insight into that highest state of liberation
known as Kaivalya.
At the very beginning he explains how Siddhis (that are mere milestones of
progress on the spiritual path) may be obtained by different methods (4.1)
such as
- Janma- blessed with the Siddhis as a result of birth
- Aushadi- attaining them through the use of herbs
- Mantra- attaining them through the use of incantations
- Tapah- attainment of them through disciplined and austere efforts
- Samadhi-attainment of them through deep contemplation
In Sutra 4.4 he says,
nirmana chitta asmita matra
” meaning thereby that the
mind emerges from the sense of “I-ness” (Asmita). He goes on to advise us
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
that it is only the mind born of meditation that can help us become free of
Karma (4.6). That is due to the three-fold actions that result in latent
impressions known as Vasanas (4.8) that then later fructify into Karma.
He deals with the concept of Karma and describes the relationship between
action reaction in Sutras 4.7 and 4.8. He says that for the common person,
Karma may be either white (pure) or black (impure) or of the third nature but
for the Yogis it is neither white nor black (
ashukla akrishnam yoginah
He discusses the concept of reincarnation in Sutra 4.9 when he states that
the deep habit patterns (Samskaras) have an unbroken continuity and play out
from lifetime to lifetime by giving rise to the different types of incarnations
(Jati), locations (Desha), and time frames (Kala). He also says that they exist
because of the eternal nature of the will to live (
ashisah nityatvat
He gives us an excellent concept of the three fold nature of time (Trikala)
when he says that the past and future both exist in the present reality but
appear different only because of their different characteristics and forms.
This implies that by knowing the present reality one can also gain the
knowledge of the past and future thus becoming a Trikala Jnani (one who
knows all three aspects of time)-4.12.
He helps us understand the Gunas by explaining that they are the backbone
of all that manifests (Vyakta) as well as that which is at subtle planes
(Sukshma) of existence (4.13). He tells us how the same object may be
perceived differently by the different minds because the minds themselves
manifest differently (4.15 4.17). No wonder everyone seems to have their
own view of the world! Each person’s mind is different and so naturally each
person’s perception of the manifest Universe ought to be different whether
we like it or not. Once we realize this truth, we are able to understand others
better and make the world a better place for we realize there cannot be
“just one view”.
A beautiful statement by Patanjali is found in the Kaivalya Pada when he says,
“No object depends upon only one mind (
nacha ekachitta tantram-
4.16)”. so
many people think that the whole Universe would collapse if they we not
there to keep it going! This is a clear-cut message from the great sage that
the Universe can do quite well even if we are not there!
He goes into a discussion about the illumination of the mind and says that the
activities of the mind are always known by the pure-consciousness as it is the
support and source of the mind itself (4.18). The mind is not self-illuminating
(4.19) and so it can’t experience the process of illumination as well as cognize
itself simultaneously (4.20). This is thankfully so, for otherwise there would
be great confusion due to an absurd progression of cognitions dealing with
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
what is seeing what, who is perceiving what, what is perceiving whom, etc
This is why he also states that the mind field that is affected by perceptions
of both seer and seen (subject and object), has the potential to perceive all
(4.23). He further gives us the guarantee that once we “witness” the absolute
reality, the distinction between seer and the subtlest mind, the false
identities and even the curiosity about our own nature disappears on its own
accord (4.25).
As we gradually grow into the higher states, there occurs the dawning of
higher discrimination (Vivekanimnam). When this occurs, the mind begins to
gravitate towards absolute liberation from all experiences that otherwise
result because of the interaction between the seer and the seen (
vivekanimnam kaivalya pragbharam chittam
-4.26). It is as if we are pulled into
that highest state once we get close to it though our self-efforts!
Just when we seem to develop a sense of complacency, Patanjali warns us that
even at this highest level we must be very careful for, if not, Samskaras of
the deep unconscious nature will come into the equation and stall our spiritual
progress once more (4.27). These deep residual impressions need to be dealt
with again by Om Japa, Prana Dharana and other practices used earlier to
remove the Kleshas (4.28).
With the final frontier being conquered, Dharma Megha Samadhi can finally
manifest thus removing the Kleshas and Karma once and for all (
kleshakarma nivrittih
-4.30). Dharma Megha refers to the potent rain cloud of
virtue that has the potential to bless us with eternal freedom. The torrential
rainfall from this rain cloud of the highest nature washes away all the
arrogant, ignorant impurities that were keeping us away from our attaining to
the highest state of ultimate realization.
It is at this point (4.30) that Maharishi Patanjali implies that we become the
Divine itself in the state of Kaivalya as he had earlier defined Purusha as a
special soul who is beyond Kleshas and Karmas (1.24). We become the Divine
by loosing our sense of individuality in order to gain the sense of absolute
Once this state occurs, the Gunas automatically recede back into their
essence having fulfilled their purpose (2.18) of giving us both the enjoyment
(Bhoga) as well as having stimulated us towards the attainment of
emancipation (Apavarga). In fact, we actually even go beyond time itself
(Akala) at this point. There is no more any ramifications of the past or the
future for they disappear completely. At this point we finally exist totally
only in the enlightened Now! (4.33).
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
Patanjali concludes the Kaivalya Pada by saying that once we reach this point
in our spiritual journey, the Pure Consciousness becomes established in its
own True Nature (
purusartha sunyanam gunanam parti prasavati kaivalyam
svarupa pratishtava chiti shaktih iti
With the attainment of this absolute and most dynamic state of being, our
evolutionary journey ends, as we have reached the pinnacle by attaining to our
true essence where division of any kind ceases to exist anymore. Indian
philosophical thought tells us over and over, again and again that our
essential, true nature is Sat-Chit-Anandam (Absolute reality-consciousness
and bliss).
Maharishi Patanjali has given us an amazing and crystal-clear road map
towards Kaivalya though his Sutras. Yet the onus lies entirely upon us to
follow it with the twin keys of Abhyasa and Vairagya for that is the only way
that we can finally attain our goal of absolute liberation - once and for all.
It is important that we never forget to remember his warning that we must
Not Stop when the Siddhis appear for they are mere milestones on the path
and must continue onward on our evolutionary journey from that of a mere
human to the ultimate Divine.
abahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam pranamami patanjalim
I offer my deepest heartfelt salutation to the great Maharishi Patanjali, the
incarnation of the thousand headed Adishesha, armed with the conch, discus
and mace. May he bless us all in our spiritual search for that highest state of
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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: An Overview by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.