Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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Patañjali Statue (traditional form indicating Kundalini or incarnation of Shesha)

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian sūtras (aphorisms) that constitute the foundational text of Yoga. In medieval times, Yoga was cast as one of the six orthodox āstika schools of Hindu philosophy. According to the late Yogatattva Upanishad, Yoga is divided into four forms — Mantrayoga, Layayoga, Hathayoga and Rājayoga[1] – the last of which is the highest (or royal) practice.[2][3]

Although the Yoga Sutras have become the most important text of Yoga, the opinion of many scholars is that Patañjali was not the creator of Yoga, which existed well before him, but merely a great expounder.[4]

Compilation and dating[edit]

Various authorities attribute the compilation of the sutras to Patañjali. It is considered that Patañjali was not the first to write about Yoga – other authors had written before him, and he used their writings in his work. However, as it often happens, his text became the authority on the subject.[5]

Radhakrishnan and Moore attribute the text to Patañjali, dating it as 2nd century BCE, during the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE).[6] Scholars such as S.N. Dasgupta,[7] claim this is the same Patañjali who authored the Mahabhasya, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar.[8] However, Indologist Axel Michaels disagrees that the work was written by Patañjali, characterizing it instead as a collection of fragments and traditions of texts stemming from the 2nd or 3rd century.[9] Gavin Flood cites an even wider period of composition, between 100 BCE and 500 CE.[10]


In the Yoga Sutras, Patañjali prescribes adherence to eight "limbs" or steps (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga", the title of the second chapter) to quiet one's mind and achieve kaivalya. The Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical basis of Rāja Yoga, and are considered to be the most organized and complete definition of that discipline. The Sutras not only provide yoga with a thorough and consistent philosophical basis, they also clarify many important esoteric concepts which are common to all traditions of Indian thought, such as karma.

Structure of the text[edit]

Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:[11][12][13]

The eight limbs of Yoga[edit]

Ashtanga yoga consists of the following limbs: The first five are called external aids to Yoga (bahiranga sadhana)

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, inflicting no injury or harm to others or even to one's own self, it goes as far as nonviolence in thought, word and deed.
  • Satya: non-illusion; truth in word and thought.
  • Asteya: non-covetousness, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is his own; non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya: abstinence, particularly in the case of sexual activity. Also, responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. It suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. "Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others."[15]
  • Shaucha: cleanliness of body and mind.
  • Santosha: satisfaction; satisfied with what one has.
  • Tapas: austerity and associated observances for body discipline and thereby mental control.
  • Svādhyāya: study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within,
  • Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to (or worship of) God.

The last three levels are called internal aids to Yoga (antaranga sadhana)

Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā, Dhyana and Samādhi is referred to as Samyama and is considered a tool of achieving various perfections, or Siddhis. But as stated above, siddhis are but distractions from Kaivalaya and are to be discouraged. Siddhis are but maya, or illusion. The purpose of using samadhi is not to gain siddhis but to achieve Kaivalya.

According to I. K. Taimni,[note 1][16] the cumulative and collective mastery of the eight limbs aids one in performing Samadhi efficiently. Samadhi then becomes the main tool used by the yogi to descend through the various layers of consciousness towards the very center of consciousness. Mastery of the eight limbs is only the prerequisite to begin the descent through consciousness to its center (bhindu or laya center). The descent through consciousness involves mastery of samskaras and overcoming the kleshas, and constitutes an effort of will perhaps greater than mastery of the eight limbs. It is through the descent of consciousness to its center, and passage through this center by dharma mega samadhi that the Atman is realized and Kaivalya is achieved. Kaivalya is related to "isolation" not because a relative being becomes isolated from all other relative beings, but because consciousness becomes its essential nature: the wholeness and fullness of the Absolute, of which there is only one. There is no other next to the Absolute; hence it is isolated. This state is the fullness, completeness, and total freedom of being (svatantra). In this state Atman is Brahman. Thus, the eight "limbs" are the means to samadhi, and samadhi is the means to the end which is Kaivalya.

Philosophical roots and influences[edit]

The Yoga Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy, an orthodox (Astika) and Atheistic Hindu system of dualism, and are generally seen as the practice while Samkhya is the theory. The influence of Samkhya is so pervasive in the Sutras that the historian Surendranath Dasgupta went so far as to deny independent categorization to Patañjali's system, preferring to refer to it as Patanjala Samkhya, similar to the position taken by the Jain writer Haribhadra in his commentary on Yoga.[17] Patañjali's Yoga Sutras accept the Samkhya's division of the world and phenomena into twenty-five tattvas or principles, of which one is Purusha meaning Self or consciousness, the others being Prakriti (primal nature), Buddhi (intellect or will), Ahamkara (ego), Manas (mind), five buddhindriyas (sensory capabilities), five karmendriyas (action-capabilities) and ten elements.[18][19] The second part of the Sutras, the Sadhana, also summarizes the Samkhya perspectives about all seen activity lying within the realm of the three Gunas of Sattva (illumination), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (lethargy).[20]

The Yoga Sutras diverge from early Samkhya by the addition of the principle of Isvara or God, as exemplified by Sutra 1.23 - "Iśvara pranidhãnãt vã", which is interpreted to mean that surrender to God is one way to liberation.[18][21] Isvara is defined here as "a distinct Consciousness, untouched by afflictions, actions, fruitions or their residue".[22] In the sutras, it is suggested that devotion to Isvara, represented by the mystical syllable Om may be the most efficient method of achieving the goal of Yoga.[23] This syllable Om is a central element of Hinduism, appearing in all the Upanishads, including the earliest Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, and expounded upon in the Mandukya Upanishad.[24]

Another divergence from Samkhya is that while the Samkhya holds that knowledge is the means to liberation, Patañjali's Yoga insists on the methods of concentration and active striving. The aim of Yoga is to free the individual from the clutches of matter, and considers intellectual knowledge alone to be inadequate for the purpose – which is different from the position taken by Samkhya.[18]

However, the essential similarities between the Samkhya and Patañjali's system remained even after the addition of the Isvara principle,[25] with Max Müller noting that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...."[26] The Bhagavad Gita, one of the chief scriptures of Hinduism, is considered to be based on this synthetic Samkhya-Yoga system.[27][28]

Samkhya and Yoga are thought to be two of the many schools of philosophy that originated over the centuries that had common mystical roots derived from the early Vedic and Indus-Saraswati periods. The orthodox Hindu philosophies of Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, as well as the non-orthodox Nastika systems of Jainism and Buddhism can all be seen as representing one stream of spiritual activity in Ancient India, in contrast to the Bhakti traditions and Vedic ritualism which were also prevalent at the same time. The Vedanta-Sramana traditions, Idol worship and Vedic rituals can be identified with the Jnana marga, Bhakti marga and the Karma marga respectively that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Yoga sutras incorporated the teachings of many other Indian philosophical systems prevalent at the time. In Vyasa's commentary to the Yogasutras, (Yogabhashya) and Vacaspati Misra's subcommentary it is stated that the samadhi techniques are directly borrowed from the Buddhists' (Jhana) with the addition of the mystical and divine interpretations of mental absorption.[29] Karel Werner writes that "Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika."[30] Robert Thurman writes that Patañjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox.[31] However, it is also to be noted that the Yoga Sutra, especially the fourth segment of Kaivalya Pada, contains several polemical verses critical of Buddhism, particularly the Vijñānavāda school of Vasubandhu.[32]

The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism.[33][34][35] Three other teachings closely associated with Jainism also make an appearance in Yoga: the doctrine of "colors" in karma (lesya); the Telos of isolation (kevala in Jainism and Kaivalyam in Yoga); and the practice of non-violence (ahimsa), though non-violence (ahimsa) made its first appearance in Indian philosophy-cum-religion in the Hindu texts known as the Upanishads [the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE, one of the oldest Upanishads, has the earliest evidence for the use of the word Ahimsa in the sense familiar in Hinduism (a code of conduct). It bars violence against "all creatures" (sarvabhuta) and the practitioner of Ahimsa is said to escape from the cycle of metempsychosis/reincarnation (CU 8.15.1).[36] It also names Ahinsa as one of five essential virtues].[37]


Adi Shankara who wrote a commentary on Yoga Sutras

Traditional commentary: Yogabhashya[edit]

The Yogabhashya is a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali which has been attributed in the discourse of the tradition to Vyasa. The Yogabhashya states that 'yoga' in the Yoga Sutra has the meaning of 'samadhi'. Shankara in his commentary, the Vivarana, confirms the interpretation of yogah samadhih (YBh. I.1): 'yoga' in Patañjali's sutra has the meaning of 'rest'.[38] The interpretation of the word 'yoga' as union is the result of later, external influences that include the bhakti movement, Vedanta and Kashmiri Sivaism. But "Svaroopa-pratishthaa" (last sutra of last chapter in Patañjali's Yoga-Sutra), i.e., "resting in one's real identity" is the ultimate goal of Yoga, and it can also be expressed as "union with one's real identity, after putting to rest all movements in the mind", because 'Yoga' literally means 'Union'.

Ganganath Jha (1907) rendered a version of the Yoga Sutras with the Yogabhashya attributed to Vyasa into English in its entirety.[39] This version of Jha's also include notes drawn from Vācaspati Miśra's Tattvavaiśāradī amongst other important texts in the Yoga commentarial tradition. Even though Vyasa is credited with the Yogabhashya, many hold its authorship to Vyasa impossible, particularly if Vyasa's immortality is not considered.

Other commentaries[edit]

Countless commentaries on the Yoga Sutras are available today. A popular yoga internet site says " For those who are serious about practicing the profound teachings of the Yoga Sutra, it is recommended to have several translations and commentaries at hand. "[40] A list of 22 Classical commentaries can be found among the listings of essential Yoga texts ([41] This list doesn't include modern, contemporary works.

"Raja Yoga" - a book by Swami Vivekananda provides translation and an in-depth explanation of Yoga Sutra.

Among other recent thinkers and spiritual leaders who have attempted the task, Shri Shailendra Sharma, relying on his own experience as a practitioner of Kriya yoga, translated the Sutras into Hindi and included a commentary on them.[42] Another modern yoga thinker, Ravi Shankar, taught a course in December 1994 on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the substance of which was published as a new commentary.[43]

Non-dharmic contemporary response[edit]

There has recently been considerable debate in non-dharmic contexts regarding the philosophical debt that Yoga owes to the Hindu civilizational milieu that it arose in. Controversy has arisen from the claims by Christian and Muslim religious leaders that the practice of Yoga violates the core tenets of Christianity and Islam owing to its unmistakably Hindu content.[44][45][46][47][48] This was attempted to be overcome by promoting Yoga as divorced from Hindu spirituality, which in turn led to protests from Hindu and Indian groups.[49]


Although Patañjali's work does not cover the many types of Yogic practices that have become prevalent, it forms the basis for the theory of Yoga that underlies all subsequent "schools" of Yoga and their practices. In other words, all later schools of Yoga presuppose Patañjali's work.[50]

The Sutras, with commentaries, have been published by a number of successful teachers of Yoga, as well as by academicians seeking to clarify issues of textual variation. There are also other versions from a variety of sources available on the Internet. The many versions display a wide variation, particularly in translation. The text has not been submitted in its entirety to any rigorous textual analysis, and the contextual meaning of many of the Sanskrit words and phrases remains a matter of some dispute.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taimni's commentary on Patañjali's Yoga Sutras


  1. ^ Yogatattva Upanishad, translated by K. Narayanasvami Aiyar. YTU 18(b)-19. Now I shall proceed to describe Yoga to you: Yoga is divided into many kinds on account of its actions: (viz.,) Mantra-Yoga, Laya-Yoga, Hatha-Yoga, and Raja-Yoga.
  2. ^ For an overview of the six orthodox schools, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, "Contents", and pp. 453-487.
  3. ^ For a brief overview of the Yoga school of philosophy see: Chatterjee and Datta, p. 43.
  4. ^ Introduction, p. xi, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. By Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul. Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.
  5. ^ Introduction, p. xi, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. Motilal Banarsidass, 1987. By Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul
  6. ^ For attribution to Patañjali and a dating of 2nd century BCE see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 453.
  7. ^ Dasgupta, Surendranath. Yoga-As Philosophy and Religion Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1924
  8. ^ For the philosophical nature of Sanskrit grammarian thought see: Lata, Bidyut (editor); Panini to Patañjali: A Grammatical March. New Delhi, 2004.
  9. ^ For the Yoga Sutras as a collection dating to the 2nd or 3rd century, see: Michaels, p. 267.
  10. ^ For dating between 100 BCE and 500 CE see: Flood (1996), page 96.
  11. ^ a b c d e Woods 2003.
  12. ^ a b c d e Iyengar 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d e Madhvacarya 2008.
  14. ^ Radhakrishnan and Moore, p.454
  15. ^ "The Eight Limbs of Yoga, A Basic Overview". Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  16. ^ I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-Sutras of Patañjali in Sanskrit , ISBN 978-81-7059-211-2
  17. ^ p222. A history of Indian philosophy, Volume 1 By Surendranath Dasgupta
  18. ^ a b c Indian Philosophy Vol 2, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. p314
  19. ^ p236. Classical Sāṃkhya: an interpretation of its history and meaning, By Gerald James Larson
  20. ^ Reconciling yogas: Haribhadra's collection of views on yoga. By Christopher Chapple, Haribhadrasūri, John Thomas Casey p16
  21. ^ Yoga sutras of Patañjali Sutra 1.23, from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali by B.K.S Iyengar
  22. ^ Reconciling yogas: Haribhadra's collection of views on yoga. By Christopher Chapple, Haribhadrasūri, John Thomas Casey. p15
  23. ^ An outline of the religious literature of India. By John Nicol Farquhar. p. 132.
  24. ^ [1][dead link]
  25. ^ Zimmer (1951), p. 280.These two are regarded in India as twins, the two aspects of a single discipline. Sāṅkhya provides a basic theoretical exposition of human nature, enumerating and defining its elements, analyzing their manner of co-operation in a state of bondage ("bandha"), and describing their state of disentanglement or separation in release ("mokṣa"), while Yoga treats specifically of the dynamics of the process for the disentanglement, and outlines practical techniques for the gaining of release, or "isolation-integration" ("kaivalya").
  26. ^ Müller (1899), Chapter 7, "Yoga Philosophy," p. 104.
  27. ^ "Samkhya: Right Understanding – The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita – Chapter 3". Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  28. ^ "Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6: Sankhya-yoga". 1972-12-12. Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  29. ^ David, John (1914). The Yoga System of Patanjali with commentary Yogabhashya attributed to Veda Vyasa and Tattva Vaicharadi by Vacaspati Misra. Harvard University Press. 
  30. ^ Karel Werner, The Yogi and the Mystic. Routledge 1994, page 27.
  31. ^ Robert Thurman, "The Central Philosophy of Tibet. Princeton University Press, 1984, page 34.
  32. ^ An outline of the religious literature of India, By John Nicol Farquhar p132
  33. ^ Christopher Chapple (2008) Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom New York: SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7475-4 p. 110
  34. ^ Zydenbos, Robert. Jainism Today and Its Future. München: Manya Verlag, (2006) p.66
  35. ^ A History of Yoga By Vivian Worthington (1982) Routledge ISBN 978-0-7100-9258-8 p. 29
  36. ^ Tähtinen pp. 2–5; English translation: Schmidt p. 631.
  37. ^ Christopher Chapple (2008) Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom New York: SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7475-4
  38. ^ Sankaracarya; Patañjali; T. S. Rukmani; Vyasa. Yogasutrabhasyavivarana of Sankara: Vivarana Text with English Translation, and Critical Notes along with Text and English Translation of Patañjali's Yogasutras and Vyasabhasya. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-81-215-0908-4.
  39. ^ Ganganatha Jha (translator) (1907). The Yoga Darśana: The Sutras of Patañjali with the Bhāṣya of Vyāsa. With notes from Vācaspati Miśra's Tattvavaiśāradī, Vijnana Bhiksu's Yogavartika and Bhoja's Rajamartanda. Rajaram Tukaram Tatya: Bombay Theosophical Publication Fund. Source: [2] (accessed: January 16, 2011)
  40. ^ "Yoga Meditation". Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  41. ^ "Fundamental Texts of Yoga". Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  42. ^ "English translation". Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  43. ^ "Patanjali Yoga Sutras | Patanjali Yoga | Commentary Sri Sri Ravi Shankar". The Art of Living. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  44. ^ Brant, Robin (November 22, 2008). "Malaysia clerics issue yoga fatwa". BBC News. 
  45. ^ "Why yoga is unlawful – Islam web – English". Islam web. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  46. ^ "Indonesia's Fatwa Against Yoga". Time. January 29, 2009. 
  47. ^ "Health – Should Christians Do Yoga?". 2001-02-25. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  48. ^ Grossman, Cathy Lynn (September 20, 2010). "Yoga poses dangers to genuine Christian faith: Theologian". USA Today. 
  49. ^ Vitello, Paul (November 27, 2010). "Hindu Group Stirs Debate in Fight for Soul of Yoga". The New York Times. 
  50. ^ For an overview of the scope of earlier commentaries: Complete Commentary by Sankara on the Yoga Sutras: Vivarana Sub-commentary to Vyasabhasya on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Sanskrit, Trevor Leggett, Rev. Ed. Routledge (1990) ISBN 978-0-7103-0277-9.
  51. ^ Christopher Key Chapple; Reading Patañjali without Vyasa: A Critique of Four Yoga Sutra Passages, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 85-105.


  • Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984). An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (Eighth Reprint ed.). Calcutta: University of Calcutta. ISBN 978-81-291-1195-1. 
  • Feuerstein, George (translator) (1989), The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali: A New Translation and Commentary, Inner Traditions, ISBN 978-0-89281-262-2 
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0. 
  • Iyengar, B. K. S. (2002), Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, HarperCollins UK 
  • Madhvacarya; Beloved, Michael (2008), Yoga Sutras of Pataņjali, 
  • Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-08953-9. 
  • Müeller, Max (1899). Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika. Calcutta: Susil Gupta (India) Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7661-4296-1.  Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
  • Radhakrishnan, S.; Moore, C. A. (1957). A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-01958-1.  Princeton paperback 12th printing, 1989.
  • Ranganathan, Shyam (2008). Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra: Translation, Commentary and Introduction. Delhi: Penguin Black Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-310219-9. 
  • Sharma, Chandradhar (1987). An Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0365-7. 
  • Tubb, Gary A.; Boose, Emery R. (2006). Scholastic Sanskrit: A Manual for Students. New York, New York: Columbia University Press (published 2007). ISBN 978-0-9753734-7-7 
  • Woods, James Haughton (translator) (2003), The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 978-0-486-43200-7 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryant, Edwin F. (2009) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York: North Point Press. ISBN 978-0-86547-736-0
  • Govindan, Marshall. Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas, Babaji’s Kriya Yoga and Publications,2000, 2nd edition 2010, ISBN 978-1-895383-12-6
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1993, 2002). Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Hammersmith, London, UK: Thorsons. ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4
  • Master, E. K. The Yoga of Patañjali Kulapathi Book Trust ISBN 978-81-85943-05-3
  • Swami Satyandanda Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ISBN 81-85787-18-2
  • David Gordon White (2014). The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14377-4. 
  • Wood, Ernest (1951). Practical Yoga, Ancient and Modern. Being a New, Independent Translation of Patañjali's Yoga Aphorisms, Interpreted in the Light of Ancient and Modern Psychological Knowledge and Practical Experience. London, UK: Rider and Company.

External links[edit]