Every student of Yoga is confronted with an absolutely magical understanding of the Human condition, called the“Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. If ever there was a treatise, a book on human potential; then this is it! There can be no other treatise that deals so thoroughly with all that is human, as Patanjali’s. For Patanjali is not a simple author, he is a Master of himself and of Yoga, who demonstrates an acute understanding of the mind and its various latent powers.
Historical Significance of the Yoga Sutras: Patanjali is usually said to have lived historically circa 3500 years BC. He is said to have produced 3 books in his lifetime, the culminating masterpiece being the Yoga Sutras. Scholars, quite rightly contend, that it is not Patanjali who is the actual author of this work – the knowledge has been around since several more millennia, Patanjali organised this vast knowledge into a codified system.
The beauty is that it follows a type a literary style called the Sutra construction, which really is a collection of aphorisms that gradually unravel and throw light on the subject matter – herein, Yoga. Remember that there was no writing, so these terse aphorisms were passed on verbally (and memorised) from Teacher to student over centuries. Hence the need to be exact and brief to the utmost! You will see the beauty wherein Patanjali describes Yoga – the whole of it, in just 4 words!! Such is the mastery.
Mythological setting: There is an enthralling anecdote regarding the coming of Patanjali. As the story goes…..
Once Lord Vishnu was lying on his serpent throne and watching the peerless Lord Shiva dance. Such was the brilliance of the performance that Vishnu was totally relaxed, and in this trance-like state, his weight was becoming lighter and lighter! The serpent he lay on sensed this and immediately wished that he could learn Yoga from Shiva, so as to please his Master so. Vishnu granted the loyal serpent a boon, that he would be born as a sage on Earth and not only would he learn Yoga thoroughly, he would also write a great treatise on the subject that would be revered through the ages!
And so it happened that a female Sannyasin named Gonika who had done severe austerities prayed to the Gods for an offspring to pass on her knowledge to. As she stood in the river with her palms together beseeching the Gods, she was blessed with a baby in her hands! That baby she named Patanjali – meaning oblation to God.
(Anecdotal Refernce: “Light on Yoga”, BKS Iyengar)
Significance of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras in contemporary times: Like all great treatises on knowledge, Patanjali Yoga Sutras speaks an eternal tongue. The issues dealt with are as relevant then, as they are now or will ever be as long as humans are alive! Patanjali codifies the system of Yoga eloquently, and any study in to the science and philosophy of Yoga emanates from these Sutras. Whatever we know of Yoga begins here.
Yoga is explained systematically and categorically through the 196 Sutras, divided into 4 chapters. Through this book, the practitioner (not reader; as Yoga was not meant to be a subject to be merely read and understood intellectually, but to be practised and researched practically); is taken on an unravelling journey of the various states and stages of physical, mental and metaphysical (spiritual) progress. The human potential – whatever we can achieve as humans, up to our highest state is described and the roadmap is laid out for the avid experimenter-scientist.
The First Yoga Sutra of Patanjali:
Now, the Discipline of Yoga.
So if you thought that the Power of Now and similar stuff is modern-day philosophy – think again! Yoga is really the art and science of being able to stay in the now.
In the next sutra, Patanjali defines Yoga – 4 words that are as important as any, in the context of Human Consciousness & Culture. We’ll see that next time! For NOW, it’s the DISCIPLINE of YOGA!!