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.
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.
Radhakrishnan and Moore attribute the text to Patañjali, dating it as 2nd century BCE, during the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE). Scholars such as S.N. Dasgupta, claim this is the same Patañjali who authored the Mahabhasya, a treatise on Sanskritgrammar. 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.Gavin Flood cites an even wider period of composition, between 100 BCE and 500 CE.
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
Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:
Samadhi Pada (51 sutras). Samadhi refers to a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. Samadhi is the main technique the yogin learns by which to dive into the depths of the mind to achieve Kaivalya. The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means to attaining samādhi. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: "Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ" ("Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications").
Sadhana Pada (55 sutras). Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline". Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
Kriya yoga, sometimes called Karma Yoga, is also expounded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.
Ashtanga Yoga describes the eight limbs that together constitute Rāja Yoga.
Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras). Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for "power" or "manifestation". 'Supra-normal powers' (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers should be avoided and the attention should be fixed only on liberation.
Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras). Kaivalya literally means "isolation", but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation, liberation and used interchangeably with moksha (liberation), which is the goal of Yoga. The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.
The eight limbs of Yoga
Ashtanga yoga consists of the following limbs: The first five are called external aids to Yoga (bahiranga sadhana)
Yama refers to the five abstentions: how we relate to the external world. (The five vows of Jainism are identical to these).
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.
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."
Asana: Discipline of the body: rules and postures to keep it disease-free and for preserving vital energy. Correct postures are a physical aid to meditation, for they control the limbs and nervous system and prevent them from producing disturbances.
Pranayama: control of life force energies. Beneficial to health, steadies the body and is highly conducive to the concentration of the mind.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from their external objects.
The last three levels are called internal aids to Yoga (antaranga sadhana)
Dharana: concentration of the Chitta upon a physical object, such as a flame of a lamp, the midpoint of the eyebrows, or the image of a deity.
Dhyana: steadfast meditation. Undisturbed flow of thought around the object of meditation (pratyayaikatanata). The act of meditation and the object of meditation remain distinct and separate.
Samadhi: oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation. Samadhi is of two kinds:
Samprajnata Samadhi conscious samadhi. The mind remains concentrated (ekagra) on the object of meditation, therefore the consciousness of the object of meditation persists. Mental modifications arise only in respect of this object of meditation. This state is of four kinds:
Savitarka: the citta is concentrated upon a gross object of meditation such as a flame of a lamp, the tip of the nose, or the image of a deity.
Savichara: the citta is concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation, such as the tanmatras
Sananda Samadhi: the citta is concentrated upon a still subtler object of meditation, like the senses.
Sasmita: the citta is concentrated upon the ego-substance with which the self is generally identified.
Asamprajnata Samadhi superconscious. The citta and the object of meditation are fused together. The consciousness of the object of meditation is transcended. All mental modifications are checked (niruddha), although latent impressions may continue.
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] 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
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. 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. 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).
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.Isvara is defined here as "a distinct Consciousness, untouched by afflictions, actions, fruitions or their residue". 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. 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.
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.
However, the essential similarities between the Samkhya and Patañjali's system remained even after the addition of the Isvara principle, with Max Müller noting that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...." The Bhagavad Gita, one of the chief scriptures of Hinduism, is considered to be based on this synthetic Samkhya-Yoga system.
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. 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 SarvāstivādaAbhidharma and from Sautrāntika."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. 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.
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. 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). It also names Ahinsa as one of five essential virtues].
Adi Shankara who wrote a commentary on Yoga Sutras
Traditional commentary: Yogabhashya
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'. 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. 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.
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. " A list of 22 Classical commentaries can be found among the listings of essential Yoga texts (mantra.org). 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. 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.
Non-dharmic contemporary response
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. 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.
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.
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.
^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.
^For an overview of the six orthodox schools, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, "Contents", and pp. 453-487.
^For a brief overview of the Yoga school of philosophy see: Chatterjee and Datta, p. 43.
^Introduction, p. xi, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. By Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul. Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.
^Introduction, p. xi, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. Motilal Banarsidass, 1987. By Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul
^For attribution to Patañjali and a dating of 2nd century BCE see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 453.
^Dasgupta, Surendranath. Yoga-As Philosophy and Religion Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1924
^For the philosophical nature of Sanskrit grammarian thought see: Lata, Bidyut (editor); Panini to Patañjali: A Grammatical March. New Delhi, 2004.
^For the Yoga Sutras as a collection dating to the 2nd or 3rd century, see: Michaels, p. 267.
^For dating between 100 BCE and 500 CE see: Flood (1996), page 96.
^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").
^Müller (1899), Chapter 7, "Yoga Philosophy," p. 104.
^Tähtinen pp. 2–5; English translation: Schmidt p. 631.
^Christopher Chapple (2008) Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom New York: SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7475-4
^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.
^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:  (accessed: January 16, 2011)
^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 Tr.fr. Sanskrit, Trevor Leggett, Rev. Ed. Routledge (1990) ISBN 978-0-7103-0277-9.
^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.
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