The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
There are many mystical tales about Patanjali. Some claim that he is an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king Ananta, the snake that provides a bed for the god Vishnu. Some believe he did not only write the sutras, but also wrote significant works on Ayurveda and Sanskrit grammar.
Although these tales seem questionable and it is more likely that there were several Patanjalis to credit for their contribution to mankind, there is no denying the importance of the Yoga Sutras. They have inspired yoga practitioners for centuries with a wealth of universal knowledge that is still relevant in modern times.
Despite the fact that little is known about Patanjali, it is generally accepted that the information contained in the Yoga Sutras did not originate from him, but rather he selected the relevant teachings on the mind to combine them into a precisely organised form. The sutras consist of 195 verses and are divided into four chapters (padas) that introduce the subject step by step.
Despite this precision, Patanjali makes it clear that nothing is fixed and things change all the time... Yoga followers often state that they can find a different meaning with each reading of the sutras. It very much depends on your interests and how you approach the study of this text.
Sri Krishnamacharya and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Professor T Krishnamacharya was one of the first to bring the ancient teachings of yoga into the modern world. He used an intelligent approach to yoga, whereby yogaâ€™s tools and techniques are adapted to respect the needs and abilities of each person individually.
The concept of individualised teaching was so important to Sri Krishnamacharya that he believed each chapter of the Yoga Sutras was appropriate to a particular level of student. For this reason he postulated four different students.
Kritanjali is the disciple already advanced in yoga practice. He has progressed and overcome some obstacles. His meditation practice is established. For him, chapter one enables a refining of the process, with a view to obtaining the highest states.
Baddhanjali is like most people, â€˜boundâ€™ by ignorance, self interest, attraction, aversion and fear (called kleshas). He needs direct guidance and a means, or sadhana, to progress further. Kriya yoga, the yoga of practice, which is outlined in chapter two, is for him.
Mastakanjali has a balanced mind. He has arrived at the summit (mastaka) of the mastery of the mind. He needs to be aware of the spiritual dangers his accomplishments may lead to and he should dedicate himself to chapter three.
The fourth chapter is for Purnanjali. This disciple has accomplished his work in the field of yoga and is ready for final liberation. He has to understand the processes he has been through and where they have led.
Translations of the Yoga Sutras
There are many translations of the sutras and it is important to choose an accessible version. The text was always intended to be studied with a teacher, and the nature of a sutra is to be very concise. The word itself means a 'thread'.
It is not too hard to memorise, but the meaning needs elaboration. Below is a short-list of versions that are helpful for the study of the sutras:
- Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by TKV Desikachar
- An easy to read interpretation of the text according to the teachings of the great yogi Sri Krishnamacharya by his son Desikachar. This is a very good introduction to the text.
- The Essence of Yoga by Bernard Bouanchaud
- Bernard is a long time student of TKV Desikachar. This book has a word for word translation, interpretation and questions that cast further light on the meaning of the sutras.
- The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali trans. Alistair Shearer
- This is very good translation, formerly published as 'Effortless Being'. It has a good introduction and the text is clear.
- Four Chapters on Freedom by Satyanand Paramahamsa, Bihar School of Yoga
- This has a word for word translation with a useful and interesting commentary.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali trans. Georg Feueursein
- This is a classic; one of the first translations into English. It is very scholarly and a helpful second stage text for students who have already done some study.