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Summary of Yoga Sutras


This article summarizes the 4 chapters of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This text is only for serious students of Yoga who would like to embark on a personal journey of transformation and liberation.


Chapter One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Samadhi Pada

This chapter in fact answer the most basic question "What is Yoga?" Since Samadhi is the culmination of Yoga it occupies an important place in this ancient text. Yet it is rather bewildering for most serious students of Yoga who struggle with this text that the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras begins with what seems the most esoteric state in Yoga. The first sutra gives us a hint. 

Atha: Now

Yoganushasanam: the study, Yoga teachings, Yoga exposition

Atha Yogah anushasanam: Now the study of Yoga begins. Sutra I.1

The first word "now" of this first sutra seems to suggest that the student or the seeker must have already experienced through practice or spontaneously some higher states of spirituality. Through a spontaneous spiritual experience the sadhaka (practitioner) begins to seek and search for guidance. The sadhaka, who plunges spontaneously in to a mystical state seeks an explanation of all that he has experienced. Only such a student will find the analysis of the nature of the mind and thoughts of interest and the serious study of Yoga may then begin.The first chapter explains in the different stages of Samadhi.

It is highly unlikely that any unprepared student will undertake the study of this text. If so, it will remain an intellectual and academic exercise. Clearly only those with burning intensity coupled with sadhana (practice) will be able to decipher this text.

Chapter Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sadhana Pada

Now that the student has been able to analyse his mystical experiences, he is satisfied that he is not alone on this inner adventure and that great ones have left behind a map of the inner world. The seeker is also convinced that he is embarking on a worthy undertaking and can begin the practice of a systematic method to attain spiritual mastery. His aim would be to enter high spiritual states at will and thus be independent from fleeting spontaneous spiritual experiences and occasional insights.

Patanjali explains one of the fundamental principles of Yoga in this chapter. He speaks of Karma and Samskaras and their alliance and how this alliance is the cause of Avidya (ignorance).

Patanjali clearly is addressing those who wish to use a systematic method to reach Self Realization. For these he suggests the path of Astanga or Raja.

To understand the system of practices that Patanjali recommends, we must understand the etymology of the word astanga. Asht means eight and anga means limbs. Just like the limbs of the body the eight parts of Yoga are an inseparable complex whole. These are not steps to be followed one after the other but to be practiced as one whole system of practices.

Many modern commentators of the Yoga Sutras translate Astanga Yoga as the Eight Steps of Yoga, giving the sincere student the impression that he must master the lower steps before he reaches the highest. This chapter addresses "Bahiranga" the five outer limbs.

Chapter Three of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Vibhuti Pada

In this chapter Patanjali deals with the three remaining internal limbs known as "Antaranga". For one who has devoted himself to practice completely and realized the the world is an illusion and only the Self is real many siddhis unfold. Siddhis or supernatural powers such as flying, reading the future, etc are not the purpose of Yoga. These are to be unseen as distractions (if you get lost in the maze of powers) or milestones on the path.

Chapter Four of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Kaivalya Pada

The earlier three chapters do not make any attempt at originality. They make neither any missionary attempts at promoting a particular doctrine nor do they attempt to overthrow any other spiritual traditions. Patanjali is only engaged in systematizing and classifying.

The fourth chapter however deviates from this completely and appears to tie up a few loose ends, that is, answer some questions that may have remained unanswered.

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