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What do the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Teach Us?
Posted In: Meditation And Spirituality  4/18/15

Patanjali was a Siddha who lived around 400 CE. His Yoga Sutras are a collection of pithy sayings that form the basis of Ashtanga Yoga, or the Yoga of Eight Limbs. There are 196 sutras in all, divided into four chapters.

The chapter on Samadhi or the state of bliss has 51 sutras. The 51 sutras elaborate on how to contemplate by calming the breath and withdrawing senses inward. The crux of the Samadhi Pada lies in the verse that defines it; it says that the object of Yoga is to prevent the mind from wandering. When we look inward into our own nature, we begin to gain control over our thought streams by distancing ourselves from thoughts that arise incessantly within us.

The incessant streams of thought, according to this pada or chapter, may be painful or painless, but if not sublimated will keep us bound to the perishable and restrain us from becoming one with the eternal and imperishable. Mental impressions formed from useless thoughts and the hankering for knowledge that is ephemeral binds us into actions that lead us nowhere. The steadiness of mind can be achieved only through practice.

The second chapter on Sadhana or practice contains 55 sutras and elaborates on how man can achieve yogic excellence through the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Austere conduct and the study of Scriptures are recommended for progression in Sadhana. With sadhana, man learns to discern between the pure and impure and the worthwhile from the worthless. One learns that pleasure associated with the senses leads to an unending cycle of desire. And that meditation is the way to cut through the veil of bondage to sensory pleasures.

The third chapter called Vibhuti Pada deals with the powers or Siddhis that yogis can accumulate through yoga and penance. It consists of 56 sutras. A steadfast mind is the prime requirement for concentration or meditation that yields divine powers. These powers can and should be used for the good of mankind, but even when used wisely, such yogic powers that include foresight, flight, ability to hold one’s breath indefinitely, increase or decrease in size, etc are at best temptations and should be treated as such. They are an impediment to the ultimate objective of liberation or realization. Intuitive knowledge is one of the gifts that comes as one progresses in the quest for self-control.

Kaivalya Pada, which consists of 34 sutras, explores the path to ultimate bliss or emancipation. Mind waves that are born from insight obtained through concentration are free from mental impressions. Impressions linked to action taken with the desire of fruit bind us to the anticipation of the fruit.

The ego that transcends the physical body gives rise to the creative mind, one that is set free by the removal of obstacles that attract our sensory organs. Freedom from the cycle of cause and effects opens up a person to infinite knowledge with an extent far beyond what we perceive through our senses.


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