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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- An Introduction

by Brianna/ shantiprana

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are divided into four chapters, the first of which is called Samadhipada. In it, Patanjali gives his definition of yoga, and discusses various problems one might confront on the path to yoga.

1.1 "atha yoganusasanam"

The first word, atha, is a kind of prayer, for both an auspicious beginning, and a successful conclusion of the work. This sutra can be translated as, "Here begins the authoritative instruction on yoga." Patanjali has not made any claims as to being the founder of yoga. He has studied under his own master, and is passing on the wisdom of the tradition.

1.2 "yogasgcittavrttinirodhah"

Here is one of many beautiful definitions of yoga. "Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction with no distraction." What is meant by this aphorism? It means the state of one-pointedness. My teacher used to tell us, "We spend our whole lives with our minds going in a thousand direction, and our bodies going in one. In Hatha Yoga, we strive to make the body go in a thousand directions, and the mind go in one." I love this analogy. It applies to all yogas; hatha, kundalini, bhakti, laya, all are differing paths to the same oneness.

What exactly is the direction we should be directing our minds? Towards highest truth, noble understanding, absolute bliss, pure compassion. All are one. Yoga brings the fragmented and fluctuating mind into pure truth.

1.3 tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
(then the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent)

Yoga opens our minds. There are so many influences on the way we percieve: our memory may cause us to project ideas based on past experience and limit our current understanding. We become jaded, saddened by life's hardships, and eventually we come to expect a certain suffering.

As children, we didn't know that touching the stove would burn, that vanilla extract doesn't taste the way it smells, that staying out in the rain could make us catch cold. In our innocence, we opened to new experiences. Our perception of the world and all within it changed minute by minute, HAD to change, to include the new information recieved. We had experiences and ways of percieving then that could not be explained in the language we knew at that time. Slowly we forgot how to be in that space where there is nothing but NOW! Everything is unfolding and blossoming NOW, and we are experiencing it for the first time, even if our eyes have seen it a thousand times.

We never lose innocence. Only people who know everything have no innocence. Yoga takes us into the unknown, and there we are innocent children, discovering, playing, exploring, watching.

1.4. vrttisarupyamitaratra

(In the absence of the state of mind called yoga, the ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind's conception of that object or by a total lack of comprehension.)

Not many of us are in the state of mind called yoga! So according to Patanjali, the majority of us are experiencing the world through the veil of our limited understanding. When I was younger, I tried to read from my grandfather's big collection of Alice Baily books. Of course, they bored me to tears, although at that I age I was probably more capable of grasping their meaning! Now that I am grown, I can understand and contemplate those deeply metaphysical works, yet I only understand on the level of the mind.

We can all say, "I am not the body, I am the atman (soul)." But if someone hits you, you will say, "You hurt me!" And there you are, totally identified with the body. The atman would only say, "The body has been hit, and is sending messages to the brain through the nerves."

So these two sutras are telling us that our perception of reality is obscured. We cannot view the Absolute Truth through the same eyes with which we look upon the rush hour traffic and the tomatoes at the store. Yoga helps us gain understanding and correct perception.


"There are five activities of the mind. Each have both beneficial and problematic potentials."


"The five activities of the mind are: comprehension, misapprehension, imagination, deep sleep, and memory."

In the following five sutras, Patanjali describes each of the above, allowing us to reflect on the mind with objectivity. I don't want to overwhelm you guys, because the real good stuff comes a bit later. For now lets just look at the next sutra:


"Comprehension is based on direct observation of the object, inference, and reference to reliable authorities."

In other words, for the mind to understand, we must have an experience of that which we are trying to grasp. "Direct observation" is sensory experience. "Inference" is the mind at work when a sensory experience is unavailable. It could be logic, or memory. "Reference to reliable authorities" would be trusting a teacher, a text, a close friend, to give accurate information.

By any of these means we might comprehend something. But comprehension in yoga is to truly understand the nature of something. In yoga, we strive to not only percieve, but to KNOW the inherant truth in all things, and FIRST to know the inherant truth of ourselves. We cannot "comprehend" the Most Authentic Self with the mind's usual faculties, so we must chose a reliable authority (i.e. a teacher, book, guru, religion) to refer to. Yoga could be seen as a reliable authority through which we can comprehend the Self.

1.8 Viparyayo mithyajnanamatadrupapratistham

"Misapprehension is that comprehension that is taken to be correct until more favorable conditions reveal the actual nature of the object."

How familiar is this story? We percieve a something to be one way, and then later discover it is entirely differant. How often to we project our preconcieved notions onto present surroundings/people? Another goal of yoga is to help us learn to properly percieve things as they actually are.

1.9 sabdajnananupati vastusunyo vikalpah

"Imagination is the comprehension of an object based only on words and expressions, even though the object is sbsent."

Now this is the definition given by Krishnamacharya and Desikachar. I think imagination is more than this. It is perhaps one of the most powerful of the mind's faculties! It can be used to create change in one's life, as in creative visualization. It is the essential ingredient in all art and scientific endeavors. It acts through our dreams, feelings and emotions. This function of the mind seems to be at it's greatest in childhood. A child can imagine that the ground is hot lava, the air is filled with peanut butter and will behave accordingly, without guile.

1.10 abhavapratyayalambana tamovrttirnidra

"Deep sleep is when the mind is overcome with heaviness and no other activities are present."

Sleep. We all need it. Our busy minds and fragile bodies cannot function without rest. Our minds work in the same cyclical fashion that all of the universe works in, a constant circling from one state to it's oppostite.

In deep sleep we can experience a deeper communion with the Absolute. Astral projection, powerful dreams which reveal the innermost reaches of our psyches. It is necessary, a part of the soul's journey back to oneness. It is also the opportunity for stillness in the body. In our waking life, we are constantly reminded of the body, through hunger, fatigue, back pain, heat or cold, cravings, tension. Our minds are constantly focused on the body. But in deep sleep we let go and journey deep within ourselves.

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