Patanjali Yoga Sutras – Know Thy Self

“The simplest meaning of the word sutra is “thread”. A sutra is, so to speak, the bare thread of an exposition, the absolute minimum that is necessary to hold it together, unadorned by a single “bead” of elaboration. Only essential words are used. Often, there is no complete sentence-structure. There was a good reason for this method. Sutras were composed at a period when there were no books. The entire work had to be memorized, and so it had to be expressed as tersely as possible Patanjali’s Sutras, like all others, were intended to be expanded and explained. The ancient teachers would repeat an aphorism by heart and then proceed to amplify it with their own comments, for the benefit of their pupils. In some instances these comments, also, were memorized, transcribed at a later date, and thus preserved for us.”

From the Translators’ Foreword.


The physical exercises that we orchestrate today in the name of Yoga are part of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga was designed to prepare the aspirant for his spiritual journey by perfecting his body. Patanjali refers to this portion of the Yoga in 34th aphorism of the first chapter –

प्रच्छर्दन – विधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणास्याः ॥ ३४॥
prachchhardan – vidhaaranaabhyaan va praanaasyaah ॥ 34॥

The translation in the book reads – “The mind may also be calmed by expulsion and retention of the breath.”

What is to Yoga beyond the physical exercises that we do today? If an aspirant limits the scope of Yoga according to his convenience and ignorance to the physical, he develops an obsession with the body with time and the purpose of Yoga which is to find a union with the Atman is defeated. Take a look at yet another yoga-junkie on your instagram account and you will understand my point.

Questions that seek you

1. What is Yoga?
2. What are the various kinds of Yoga? How is Karma Yoga different from Jnan Yoga? How is Jnan Yoga different from Bhakti Yoga?
3. What is Kriya Yoga?
4. What is the difference between Concentration and Meditation?
5. What is the significance of Purusha and Prakriti?
6. What is Prana?
7. Who is Ishvara?
8. What is Raja Yoga?
9. How is sex related to spirituality?
10. What is Samadhi? What is Nirvikalpa Samadhi?
11. Who is a Yogi?

If you have been looking for no-noise, no-vagueness, no-nonsense answers to those questions, the book is for you.

It is not in my knowledge if anyone around me is undertaking any research on Chinese Whispers but if I had to suggest one case study for such an endeavour, it would be Yoga. It is almost like we have been playing Chinese whispers through centuries with most of our inherited treasures. Patanjali is said to have lived sometime between fourth century B.C. and fourth century A.D. Before Patanjali, the gems of Yoga were scattered and people referred to different sources for instructions on Yoga. The compilation, formulation, and codification were Patanjali’s work to do.

Chinese whispers not only distort the message but also weaken it with each pair of extra ears. As you keep moving away from the original idea, it keeps fading with the arrival of distortions and conflicting versions. Continued for long enough, the original message remains no more and in its place comes an entirely new phenomenon. In most of the cases, this phenomenon would be diametrically moved from the original concept but since it still lies on the circumference of the same circle, people gain benefits, albeit nothing measurable to those of the original idea. As long as people can see and measure these benefits, they do not care if what they are following is truth or just a cult repackaged and branded as the truth.

 Swami Prabhavananda

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras met a similar fate. I am talking of a time somewhere in the 19th century. It wasn’t before the years following 1893 when Swami Vivekananda travelled with his own message to the west that Patanjali was on centre stage once again. Swami Vivekananda delivered several lectures on Raja Yoga which together with free translations and commentaries on the yoga sutras of Patanjali came out in a book-form and endeared Yoga Sutras to the western audience almost immediately. The book in my hand is a later work by a monk of the order Swami Vivekananda established himself. Patanjali Yoga Sutras was intended for the western audience and was named How to know God when it was first published by the Vedanta Society of Southern California in 1953. Later, it was published for the Indian audience and Sutras in Devanagari script were added. Swami Prabhavananda, who has to his credit one of the most widely read translations and expositions of the Bhagavad Gita has produced a lucid translation of the Yoga Sutras together with Christopher Isherwood of the The Berlin Stories fame (Time 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.) 

The book doesn’t tamper the original text and is divided into four section namely, Yoga and its aims, Yoga and its practice, Powers, and Liberation. Sutras are first presented in Sanskrit (Devanagari script) followed by a simple translation and a brief explanation with examples. While sutras were formulated by Maharshi Patanjali so that the generations of the future could understand and memorize them, like every other formulation, these sutras need elaboration to get comprehended with a sense of completeness. The first step towards a life driven by these sutras is to understand them completely. This book prepares that first step for the mankind. Raja Yoga of Swami Vivekananda should be your next read to climb up the stairway to self-realization.

There is an underlying principle in Indian spiritual traditions and texts. They have no place for dogmas and they proclaim with the most resounding of voices that spirituality is to be experienced, life is to be understood, self is to be realized. As such, for all expeditions of the horses of sensory organs with the mind as the charioteer, there has to be a master of this charioteer. This master is seldom seen and rarely identified. The master is the sun, the charioteer is only the moon. The charioteer must do what the master wishes. For most part of one’s life, the charioteer remains inflicted by ignorance and thinks it is the master. So, the sensory organs act like billiard balls – colliding, deviating, and digressing all the time. To know the absolute master is to control the pseudo-master and become a true Yogi – is the message of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, the book, the translation, and the exposition alike. Who is the Master and how is it known? There are questions in life that seek you. Set forth and find the answers. 


You may purchase your copy of the book by clicking on the link provided below – (A Ramakrishna Math, Chennai publication.)


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