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An Introduction to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali



  • Patanjali defines Yoga as the cessation of mental modifications and identifies its main purpose as to still the mind in order to perceive one's true nature.

  • He stresses the importance of discipline, self-control, and devotion as necessary qualities for a successful yoga practice.

  • "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)."

  • Patanjali introduces the concept of Kriya Yoga, which consists of self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to a higher power.

He discusses the five afflictions or Kleshas that prevent people from realizing their true nature: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear of death.

1. Ignorance (Avidya):

  • Ignorance is the root cause of suffering and prevents people from realizing their true nature.

  • It is the mistaken identification of the self with the body, mind, and senses, rather than the true self which is pure consciousness.

  • Ignorance can be overcome through the practice of self-study and gaining knowledge of the true nature of the self.

2. Egoism (Asmita):

  • Egoism is the identification of the self with the individual ego, leading to a sense of separateness from others and the divine.

  • It is overcome through the practice of selflessness and surrender to a higher power.

  • "When the yogi loses all sense of separateness, then he attains to the state of absolute freedom."

3. Attachment (Raga):

  • Attachment is the desire for pleasure and clinging to pleasurable experiences, which leads to suffering when those experiences end.

  • It is overcome through the practice of detachment and non-attachment, recognizing that all things are impermanent and subject to change.

  • "When one is free from all attachments, then he attains to the state of absolute freedom."

4. Aversion (Dvesha):

  • Aversion is the dislike or aversion to unpleasant experiences, which also leads to suffering.

  • It is overcome through the practice of equanimity and acceptance of all experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant.

  • "When the mind is established in non-duality, then it attains to the state of absolute freedom."

5. Fear of Death (Abhinivesha):

  • Fear of death is the instinctual fear of the cessation of individual existence.

  • It is overcome through the realization that the true self is eternal and beyond death, and that death is simply a transformation of the physical body.

  • "When the yogi realizes that the self is not subject to birth and death, then he attains to the state of absolute freedom."

  • "Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind."

  • Patanjali discusses the eight limbs of Yoga, starting with

Yama (ethical principles)

  • Ahimsa (non-violence) - not causing harm to any living being

  • Satya (truthfulness) - speaking truth and avoiding falsehood

  • Asteya (non-stealing) - not taking what is not freely given

  • Brahmacharya (celibacy or moderation) - conserving one's sexual energy and avoiding sexual misconduct

  • Aparigraha (non-greed or non-possessiveness) - not being attached to material possessions or outcomes

Niyama (personal observances)

  • Saucha (purity) - keeping oneself and one's surroundings clean and pure

  • Santosha (contentment) - cultivating a sense of contentment and satisfaction with what one has

  • Tapas (discipline) - practicing self-discipline and austerity for spiritual growth

  • Svadhyaya (self-study) - engaging in self-reflection and study to gain deeper understanding of oneself and the world

  • Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power) - surrendering one's ego and will to a higher power or divine source

  • Asana (physical postures),

  • Pranayama (breath control),

  • Pratyahara (sense withdrawal),

  • Dharana (concentration),

  • Dhyana (meditation), and

  • finally Samadhi (union with the divine)

He emphasizes the importance of practicing each of these limbs in order to achieve the ultimate goal of Samadhi.

  • "When the mind is still, then there is yoga."

  • Patanjali explains how the mind can be trained to achieve Samadhi through the practice of concentration, meditation, and contemplation.

  • He discusses the obstacles that may arise during this process, such as disease, doubt, laziness, and lack of perseverance, and offers solutions for overcoming them.

  • "Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind."

  • Overall, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali emphasizes the importance of discipline, self-control, and devotion in order to achieve the ultimate goal of Samadhi or union with the divine. The practice of yoga involves stilling the mind through the eight limbs of Yoga and overcoming obstacles that may arise along the way. By achieving a state of stillness, one can realize their true nature and achieve ultimate liberation.

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