Wednesday, June 23, 2010


(I wrote this paper for my immersion part 3)

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is based off of Classical Yoga, which is dualistic. We see this dualism in almost every sutra, where Patanjali makes a sharp distinction between Purusha (Self or Spirit) and Prakriti (non-self or matter). Classical Yoga holds that two totally distinct realities exist. One is Purusha the Self, and then separate from that Sprit, there is Prakriti, the non-self, the gross material. Patanjali believes there is no connection, linkage or interaction between Purusha and Prakriti (dual). Although Purusha and Prakriti are not connected, they do depend on each other. Without Purusha there could be no Prakriti, and without Prakriti there could be no Purusha (2:23). Classical yoga believes that humans suffer because they are ignorant to dualism, to the fact that there is both Purusha and Prakriti. Instead of realizing this dualism they falsely identify Purusha (Spirit, Self) with Prakriti (non-self, matter, materialism). Classical yoga says in order to reach liberation (mukti) we must distinguish between the two. We must believe in dualism and we need to realize that there is a Self (Purusha), and at the same time there is a non-self (Prakriti). Patanjali is telling us in The Yoga Sutras that we need to learn how to nirodhah (restrain) our Prakritic nature so we may be absorbed in Spirit (Book 1). Patanjali then goes on and tells us what practices will help us do that (book 2), he says through this practice we may receive supernatural abilities (Book 3) and then we will experience absoluteness, and unlimitedness (Book 4).

It has been really interesting for me to go back to The Sutras after getting so interested in non-dual philosophy. I have read this book many times over the past 5 years, but this time as I read it I tried to see how I could translate the sutras into a more non-dual teaching. I have included my thoughts in parenthesizes on how I think tantra would explain them. However I might be completely wrong in my translation. :)

Book one, Samadhi Pada: a Portion on Contemplation. In the first book of The Yoga Sutras Patanjali talks about the process of separating our identity from our thoughts. We should concentrate and absorb our self into the Spirit (Purusha) instead of mis-identifying with our Prakritic self. The first sutra says “atha yoganusasanam” Now! The teaching/ instruction/ exposition is offered. I really like how he uses the word atha, now. He tells us that the practice of yoga is happening now, in this moment. In this book he talks about learning how to control the mind. In 1:2, Patanjali says that the minds natural state is peaceful but the chitta vritti “the modifications of the mind-stuff” or thoughts disturb that peace. If we could learn how to control the mind though nirodhah (restraints) we would experience this peaceful state. (The tantra side would say instead of restraining the mind, go into the mind and figure out how to appropriately use it in an effective way, so we may align with Grace.) He continues to say only when the chitta vritti, the modifications of the mind-stuff is nirodhah, restrained is it possible to rest in our True Self, and that at all other times when our mind isn’t still we are falsely identifying with our material nature.

Patanjali explains the different kinds of vritti which are either painful or not painful and that we can control the mind through non-attachment (1:12). (The tantra side would say we can align with the mind through appropriate attachment.) Patanjali says that you need to be continuous and steadfast in your practice of non-attachment (or appropriate attachment). Patanjali says if we can detach from the mind and its personal desires completely we will then experience a reflection of Purusha. Since Patanjali believes in dualism, then we are Prakriti and are completely separate from Purusha we can only ever experience the reflection of Purusha, but even the reflection of Purusha is peaceful and is much better than our Prakritic nature.

Patanjali talks about sraddha (faith) and vigor to restrain the mind stuff so we may experience the spirit. (The tantra side would say it is all one, we are part of that one. Through vigor and faith we can use our freedom and choose to align our heart with grace.) Patanjali explains the final stage of yoga, Samadhi and the different kinds of Samadhi. He believes that Isvara is the highest Purusha and we should surrender to this Supreme God, Isvara pranidhanam. (The tantra side would say this is opening to grace, surrendering to this one big intrinsically good divine energy, and that we in no way separate from this Isvara.)

Patanjali talks about obstacles and explains the different ways to concentrate and the different things to contemplate on to prevent these obstacles and to retain steadiness of the mind. I like the positivity of 1:33, “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness” (Sri Swami Satchidananda). Patanjali talks about contemplation on visoka va jyotismati an ever blissful light within (1:36). I remember reading this sutras after I had fallen in love with Anusara and this totally reminded me of the last lines two lines in the Anusara invocation, “Nisprapancaya Shantaya Niralambaya Tejase”. I researched this to see if they had the same or similar meaning, and that is when I learned just how different this dual classical yoga is from the non-dual tantra philosophy that I have been learning about through Anusara. In 1:36, Patanjali is saying that this inner light is separate from us and that we need to move past the body, that the body isn’t a gift it is a hindrance and we need to step over our Prakritic nature so we may be absorbed in this light. The invocation is saying we are that divine goodness and that we are always full of peace. This body is a gift and we should celebrate our embodied freedom.

Book two: Sadhana Pada, The Portion on practice. In this book, Patanjali explains how to attain the goal of Samadhi. This book explains the mind, suffering, and how to live a yoga lifestyle (classical yoga, renunciant). Patanjali explains the three paths of practice that The Bhagavad Gita teaches. Patanjali says we can use our Body/Karma/Action, our Mind/Jnana/Alignment, and our Heart/Bhakti/attitude. “The practical means of attaining higher consciousness consists of three components: self-discipline and purification [Karma], self-study [Jnana], and devotion to the Lord [Bhakti]” (2:1 Mukunda Stiles). He then talks about the 5 kleshas or obstacles that cause suffering including: ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and fear of death (1:3-9) and explains that these obstacles are caused by the ego. (The tantra side would say that the ego isn’t all bad because it allows us to make chooses and allows us to express our freedom).

In 2:29, Patanjali outlines the eight limb path which is made up of yama (the don’ts), niyamas (the do’s), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (contemplation). Ever since I first read The Sutras I loved the yama’s (non-violence, truthfulness, non stealing, creative use of sexual energy, and non selfishness) and the niyamas (cleanliness, contentment, spiritual discipline, self study, and surrender to grace). I try very hard to follow and align these ethical rules in my life.

One of my favorite sutras is when Patanjali describes the third limb (asana) of the eight fold path, sthira sukham asanam (2:46), “asana is a steady, comfortable posture” (Sri Swami Satchidananda). However, I like to look at this sutra a little deeper. Asanam means posture or seat. It is the seat or position you take on or off your yoga mat. This position requires two aspects sthira and sukham. Sthira means strength, stability, and effort, and sukham meaning a sense of comfort, ease, and delight. It is this dynamic balance that brings harmony to our life. Just like how we need a dynamic balance between muscular energy (sthira) and organic energy (sukham) to bring harmony in our body. I used to really use this teaching in my asana practice, and I still do but currently I am finding a lot of strength from this sutra off the mat.

Third Book, Vibhuti Pada: The Portion on Supernatural Abilities and Gifts. This book focuses on the supernatural abilities (siddhis) gained from the practice of samyama. However, Patanjali makes sure to warn us that these powers are not the goal of yoga, they are the by-products (3:38). Patanjali starts this book by explaining the last three limbs of the eight limbed path including concentration, meditation, and contemplation. He says the practice of all three of these on one object is call samyama, and that through the practice of samyama we may receive these powers (3:4). Patanjali talks about many ways to use samyama, and ends this book by saying through the practice of samyama we can purify our mind and when the “mind becomes equal in purity with the Transcendental Self, then absolute freedom, arises” (Mukunda Stiles).

Book four, Kaivalya Pada: The Portion on Absolute Freedom. In this last book Patanjali talks about the forces of nature (gunas) and how to move past the limitations of time and space. He explains that yoga’s goal is a continuously unfolding process of self-knowledge and that this will lead to moksha, liberation. This reminds me of the reasons we practice yoga chit ananda, to know more and to be happy. Patanjali talks about what happens while you are absorbed in Samadhi. In this absolute state of freedom you stop accumulating karma (4:6) and through Samadhi all afflictions and karmas cease (4:30). Patanjali says when you see the duality between the Prakriti and Purusha, “the distinction between the mind and the Atman, thoughts of mind as the Atman ceases forever” (2:25 Sri Swami Satchidananda). (I think tantra would say that when you realize you are part of the one divine energy you are aligning with grace). Patanjali ends this book by saying absolute freedom is the result of “the power of pure consciousness becomes established in it own essential nature” (4:34 Mukunda Stiles).


  1. This is great - I think Patanjali's alleged dualism is something many of us struggle with. While Vedanta was undoubtedly non-dualist and pre-dated Tantra, I do rather feel that Patanjali's focus on method simply caused him and/or the other writers of Patanjali to be less than clear in manifesting their cosmological vision.


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  4. Amazing post, thanks for sharing this article. I am truly motivated by you for blogging. Thank You!


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