- Yoga Sutra
- The Yoga Sutra of PATANJALI outlining ASHTANGA YOGA is the earliest and most important text of the HATHA YOGA, or “posture yoga,” tradition. It is dated around the second century C.E. The SUTRA designation refers to the text style: a collection of very concise lines that often need further expla-nation to be understood fully. The Yoga Sutra totals 195 sutras divided into four books: Book I is on concentration; Book II outlines the practice and means of reaching the highest goals; Book III details powers gained in the practice of yoga, including supranormal powers; Book IV describes various aspects of the nature of things but par-ticularly the nature of the liberated state. Scholars believe the four chapters may have been written at different times, but all the hatha yoga traditions consider them to be a single authoritative text.Book I begins with a definition: “Yoga is the practice of ceasing the false identification with the fluctuations of the mind.” It then lists the types of mental fluctuations and discusses how to curb their influence on the self, soul, or PURUSHA. It deals with types of concentration (dharana), the obstacles that get in the way, and methods of overcoming them. Finally, it discusses God as a special self and presents the goal of a stable mind and attaining undisturbed calm.Book II begins with methods for overcoming the mental “afflictions,” things that cause distrac-tions. It discusses the origin of KARMA, the causes of sorrow or pain, how to escape these through yoga, the eight branches of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga), abstentions (yama), observances (niyama), pos-tures (asana), breath control (pranayama), and withdrawal of sense organs from their objects (pratya hara).Book III begins by discussing the internal practices of yoga, including MEDITATION (dhyana) and various levels of concentration, including SAMADHI, the highest. It goes on to discuss seed-less concentration (i.e., concentration without an object) and different categories of mental tranquility. Finally it discusses the attributes and powers one can achieve though these practices, including supernormal powers.Book IV discusses philosophy, including argu-ments against other Indian philosophical systems. It ends with a discussion of the highest state of liberation and tranquility.The Yoga Sutra is usually studied together with the ancient commentary of Vedavyasa (VYASA), which expands in detail upon each of the subjects covered in the brief sutras. Most yoga schools rely on this commentary explicitly or implicitly. There are many subcommentaries to the commentary of Vedavyasa, which are used by different schools in support of their particular practices.Further reading: Swami Hariharananda Aranya, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983); Ian Whicher, Patañjali’s Metaphysical Schematic: Purusa and Prakriti in the Yogasûtra, Adyar Library Pamphlet Series, no. 55 (Chennai: Adyar Library and Research Centre, 2001); Ian Whicher and David Carpenter, eds., Yogas: The Indian Tradition (New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003); James Haughton Woods, The Yoga-System of Patanjali, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. 17 (Delhi: Motilal Banar-sidass, 1972).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.