Patanjali organized the sutra into four parts: Samadhi (absorption), Sadhana (practice), Vibhuti (supernatural powers), and Kaivalya (liberation). Each represents a step in breaking free of our limited definition of consciousness and training the mind to achieve oneness with the universe. Geshe Michael Roach, one of the most respected teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in America and a renowned scholar of Sanskrit, provides authoritative commentary on each of the sutras. His notes and clarification are straightforward and highly readable, untainted by obscure, academic terminology or New Age jargon. The first edition of the Yoga Sutra to present a Buddhist perspective, this paperback original will be welcomed by students and spiritual seekers alike.
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The Yoga Sutra of Master Patanjali
Patanjala Yoga Sutram
A sutra is a short book that tells us the very crux of something--ideas tied tight together, with a stitch of thread. The Yoga Sutra is the mother book of all yoga. It was written about two thousand years ago by Master Patanjali.
Master Patanjali was a great yogi; he knew the physical poses of yoga and the art of breathing: yoga of the body. He was also a great thinker and meditator--a master of the yoga of the mind. He wrote as well famous books on medicine and on Sanskrit, the ancient tongue from which almost all our languages come. He is recognized too as the father of the classical dance of India.
Dancer, doctor, yogi, thinker, master of ancient words. What do they all have in common?
Yoga, as we shall see, has many meanings. One is the union of the winds within our inner body. We unite these winds with our yoga, when we think and understand. The winds will sing within us, the very first words of all. They will flow free, and force us to dance, and to run to heal others.
The Chapter on Meditation
It Begins with Meditation
Prathamah Samadhi Padah
The first chapter describes five crucial steps that we all pass through during our spiritual journey. This journey always begins from pain: we see death, we see people suffer, we dream of saving them. And the journey ends when we change, finally, into a sacred being who actually has the power to save them.
In between its beginning and its end, the road we travel has five parts: five paths, each one leading into the next, each one marked by its own special milestones. Stepping up to each new path from the one before it can only be done in one way. We must be in deep meditation; we must learn to meditate.
Thus it is that the first chapter, the chapter on the five paths, is called the Chapter on Meditation.
The Power of Humility
I.1 I will now review for you
how we become whole.
This then, says Master Patanjali, is why I write my short book. He wants us to know, from the very beginning, that his book contains something of ultimate importance, something worth the precious hours of our life.
And I will only review, says the Master, what I have heard from my holy teachers. He attacks his own pride: I have nothing new to tell you, and there is nothing here that I have made up myself. I am only a vessel for the wisdom of the ages, and I pass it on to you--tried, tested, and unadulterated.
And he says "I will" write this book, for once a Master promises to do something, he does it--or dies trying.
All the great books of India begin with these three noble themes. Their power, their karma, stops all obstacles to the work we now begin.
To Become Whole
I.2 We become whole by stopping
how the mind turns.
Yogash chitta virtti nirodhah.
And what is the Great Mistake? Our mind turns; meaning it turns things around the wrong way. A mother takes her small child to a movie. On the screen, a man is hurting a puppy.
The child cries out, and reaches to stop the man. Perhaps the child can even get up to the screen, and try to hit the man.
But this doesn't stop the man; it has nothing to do with the man. And the child hurts her own hand in the process.
Our mind makes this same kind of mistake, every day, every moment of every day. We need to stop the mistake, and that is yoga. Pain is real--yes--and it really hurts people. But we can only stop it if we can stop misunderstanding where it comes from. And this is what the Yoga Sutra teaches us to do.
I.3-4 On that day
the seer comes to dwell
within his own real nature.
Otherwise it follows
the form of the turning.
Tada drashtuh svarupevasthanam.
Virtti sarupyam itaratra.
It only lasts for a brief time, the first time. And then, despite ourselves, we go back to making the same old mental mistake. But for a few minutes, we see the way we really are: we see that we are not at all the way we always thought we were.
These precious minutes, our first contact with the ultimate reality, are thus called the Path of Seeing. Not because we see these things with our eyes, but because we see them in very deep meditation, with our mind.
Until the day we see, our life continues to follow after the tragic mistake our mind is making, turning things around the wrong way. Until the child sees how things really are, she strikes out at the bad man on the screen, hurting herself and her mother too.
A Day in the Mind
I.5-6 The mind turns
in five different ways.
They can be involved with afflictions
or free of them.
The five are correct perceptions,
mistaken perceptions, imagination, sleep, and memories.
Virttayah panchatayyah klishta-aklishtah.
Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smirtayah.
That is, we are usually seeing most things correctly, throughout the day. (It's true that I may misunderstand how I am, but not that I am.) Occasionally though we do make mistakes about what we see, and we bang the car.
We use our imagination to plan or to daydream, and we spend a good part of each day in sleep. We constantly call on our memories.
Our states of mind are sometimes stained by negative thoughts, thoughts that afflict us and make us unhappy. The ultimate negative thought is that same Great Mistake.
The goal of our yoga is not to stop all thoughts--that would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We simply want to stop the mistake, and all the unhappiness it causes. We want to make our minds ultimately clear, and happy, and loving.
I.7 The different types of correct perception
are those that are direct,
deductive, or based on authority.
Correct perceptions are strong. Once we see something with a correct perception, we can truly say that thing exists.
These correct perceptions come in three types. Most of them are the direct type. I see a color, I hear a sound, I smell or taste or touch something. Hearing our thoughts in our own minds is also a direct type of correct perception.
Deduction is another kind of correct perception: I may not be able to see my socks on the floor in the morning, if they're covered by my pants. But if I dropped them there last night and I've had no visitors in the meantime, I know the socks are there, as surely as if I see them.
The last kind of correct perception is based on authority: I'm in my bedroom and can't see the kitchen, but Mother tells me there's still some breakfast left. And I know it's there, because she's a truthful person.
A Leaf in the Road
I.8 Mistaken perceptions
are wrong impressions that are mired
in false appearances.
Viparyayo mithya jnyanam atadrupa prathistham.
Then I realize that the "mouse" was only the false appearance of a mouse: it was really only a dry leaf blown across the road. And then there's this momentary sense of emptiness--the mouse is gone, it was never there--followed by a slightly foolish feeling as I continue down the road.
Now it's absolutely essential to realize that, on one level, even our correct perceptions are all incorrect. That is, the socks in my hand are socks--that's correct. But deep in my heart is this belief that they are socks that are in my hand because I own them, because I found them at the store, and because I bought them.
All of these ideas about my socks are completely incorrect. There are no socks like that--no more than the man in the movie. It's all the Great Mistake, a mistaken perception that causes all the pain in the world.
Pictures in the Mind
I.9-11 Imagination is a mental impression
that follows a word,
and is devoid of any concrete basis.
Sleep is a case where the mind turns
without any object at all
to help it grow.
Memory is the ability not to forget
an object that you have experienced.
Shabda jnyaya-anupati vastu shunyo vikalpah.
Abhava pratyaya vishaya-asampramoshah smirtih.
Most of our perceptions during the day are triggered by some outside object: seeing an apple is set off by the apple--in a sense the seeing depends, or hinges upon, the apple. When we sleep or dream there may not be any such outer object, but still the mind is turning, or operating, at a low level.
When we have a memory of something, again there is no outer object: just an approximate picture in the mind, sort of a shorthand note to remind us of something.
And so in the course of an entire day, our mind wends its way through different outside objects and inside images or thoughts. But unless we truly understand things--unless we understand what yoga really means--then every single perception and imagination we ever have is infected by the Great Mistake. Feelings, strong feelings, come up about the things we think we see--and the child beats her fist against the bad man on the screen.
Approaching the Door
I.12-13 Stopping it requires constant practice,
and giving up your attachments.
Constant practice means
striving to be there.
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah.
Tatra sthitau yatnobhyasah.
In a general sense, "constant practice" here means the willingness to work very hard to reach our perfect destiny, far beyond the mistakes our mind now makes. Quite simply, we will never be able to complete all the hard work needed to reach our destiny if we don't have a very strong motivation for doing so.
This motivation comes to all of us at some point in our lives. Most often it is some kind of personal disaster or tragedy: the person we most love dies or leaves us, we find out we have cancer--anything that wakes us up to what really matters. People are in pain, and it's up to us to help them. It is our destiny to be the one who helps them.
We begin with a daily inner practice. It will always include three essential elements: being careful never to hurt others; learning to pray or meditate; and relentlessly exploring the question of where things really came from.
Excerpted from "The Essential Yoga Sutra"
Copyright © 2005 Geshe Michael Roach.
Excerpted by permission of Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is by far the most accessible translation of this classic yoga text ever published. Anyone, even those with no knowledge of yogic history or philosophy, can come to understand the meaning of this important ancient text. It is required reading for those practicing yoga asana as well as those interested in eastern philosophy.
This is a good start with basic information that is easy to understand. Anyone interested in yoga should explore this book.