Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.1

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1.1 With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.

So I’m going to blog a new verse of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali every few days, and some thoughts about it. The version I’m reading is BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras…’ which has a commentary from the man himself. The Yoga Sutras were written over 2000 years ago and outline how yoga (not just asana, but the whole system) can help to develop the mind, emotions and physical body for spiritual end. I should say that Iyengar’s translation is not the only one available, and there is some debate about whether this is the most accurate translation, so I shall refer to these as I go along. The Yoga Sutras are divided into four padas or quarters, the first dealing with samadhi or where the consciousness becomes one with the subject of meditation. This feels like starting at the end, as this is the final limb in Patanjali’s system, but perhaps this will become apparent as I read through it.

This verse is translated here as:

Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.

And here as:

Now I give the explanation of yoga and its practice. 

These are quite different from Iyengar’s version, there are no references to the divine  or blessings, they are more pragmatic in nature. Iyengar states that Patanjali also wrote sutras on grammar and ayurvedic medicine before he wrote the yoga sutras, so perhaps these are the ‘other practices’ referred to here.

As a non-believer in any sort of ‘god’, I struggled with Iyengar’s version when I saw it. In my world there is little place for ‘blessings’ (of what? by whom?), and referring to yoga as a ‘sacred’ art is difficult. I can interpret ‘sacred’ as ‘spiritual’ and take meaning from it that way, that this yogic path is a practical one for spiritual ends.

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2 responses »

  1. Thank you for providing a solid foundation 🙂 I have the translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, who says 1.1 discusses the direct instruction if yoga, as it is not merely a philosophy, which would not satisfy us, but rather something that must be lived and practiced. “We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved”. I am not ‘religious’ either, but agree that the journey should be spiritual – all words (ie sacred, blessings, divinity) are open to your own personal beliefs and interpretations. Yoga is not a religion, but it can be practiced by the religious as a way to deepen, and even access, their own beliefs. I look forward to 1.2 🙂 thanks again xx

  2. Thanks for reading, Helen. Your comment reminds me of Pattabhi Jois’s ‘99% practice, 1% theory’ maxim. I think I am naturally drawn to theory, rather than practice, which is why this journey is such a challenge for me. You’re right, it is mainly an experiential practice.

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