The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the most authoritative text on Yoga as a practice. It is also known as the Yoga Darshana because it is the fundamental text of Yoga as a philosophy (though practice is discussed) as one of the six orthodox systems (darshanas) of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion.
The basis of Sanatana Dharma
The Yoga Darshana is one of thirteen texts upon which the totality of authentic Sanatana Dharma is based. When those texts are studied and applied, then a person is a Sanatana Dharmi: not a “member” or “adherent” of Sanatana Dharma, but an embodiment of dharma, one who is moving toward the ultimate goal of liberation. The thirteen texts are:
- Isha Upanishad
- Kena Upanishad
- Katha Upanishad
- Prashna Upanishad
- Mundaka Upanishad
- Mandukya Upanishad
- Taittiriya Upanishad
- Aitareya Upanishad
- Chandogya Upanishad
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- Shvetashvatara Upanishad
- Srimad Bhagavad Gita (usually just called “Bhagavad Gita” or “the Gita”)
- Yoga Darshana (Yoga Sutras)
Since the Yoga Darshana is based on the Sankhya philosophy (darshana), the Sankhya Karika which is its fundamental text could be considered a fourteenth basic text of Sanatana Dharma.
The upanishads are books of varying length setting forth the spiritual realizations of the ancient sages of India based on their experiential knowledge of the Absolute Reality. They are the oldest of the texts listed here. The Bhagavad Gita is a digest of the upanishads, containing philosophical and practical instruction on the way to attain the same experience as the upanishadic sages. The Sankhya Karika is the basic text of the Sankhya Darshan, the philosophy on which both the Gita and the Yoga Darshan are based. The common feature of all these texts is that they are based on verifiable reality, not intellectual theory (“reason”) or unverifiable “revelation” by a single historical personage whose existence is not even assured, nor is there any way to ensure that the revelation has not been corrupted over the centuries by omissions and interpolations.
There is no need to have “faith” in these texts, for their statements can be verified by any reader, as has been done over thousands of years by countless yogis in India. A virtual army of self-realized men and women have proved their veracity and accuracy. Some of them are living right now as witnesses to the truth of Sanatana Dharma, which is based on the principle that all sentient beings are destined to attain liberation–union with divinity–since they are eternal parts of the Supreme Spirit, the Purushottama.
The Sankhya philosophy is the original philosophy of India, the other darshanas being formulated much later. Therefore the thirteen texts listed above are based on the Sankhya philosophy. As already stated, the Sankhya Karika is the most authoritative Sankhya text, being considered a digest of the teachings of the divine sage Kapila Muni (“Among the siddhas [perfected beings] I am the sage Kapila” Bhagavad Gita 10:26.) A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines Sankhya as: “One of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy whose originator was the sage Kapila. Sankhya is the original Vedic philosophy, endorsed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Gita 2:39; 3:3,5; 18:13,19), the second chapter of which is entitled ‘Sankhya Yoga.’ The Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook says: ‘Sankhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti. Declaring that the cause of suffering is man’s identification of Purusha with Prakriti and its products, Sankhya teaches that liberation and true knowledge are attained in the supreme consciousness, where such identification ceases and Purusha is realized as existing independently in its transcendental nature.’ Not surprisingly, then, Yoga is based on the Sankhya philosophy.” The Sankhya philosophy is the basis of the Yoga philosophy, for Yoga is a philosophy as well as a practice and the goal.
There are various theories about just who Patanjali was, none of which are provable beyond a doubt. Actually this is no problem, since what matters is the fact that the Yoga Sutras are demonstrably true. As Paramhansa Yogananda said in his autobiography: “Patanjali’s date is unknown, though a number of scholars place him in the second century B.C. The rishis gave forth treatises on all subjects with such insight that ages have been powerless to outmode them; yet, to the subsequent consternation of historians, the sages made no effort to attach their own dates and personalities to their literary works. They knew their lives were only temporarily important as flashes of the great infinite Life; and that truth is timeless, impossible to trademark, and no private possession of their own.”
This commentary is not meant to be a scholarly commentary, but a practical one. The translation I have used is that found in The Science of Yoga by I. K. Taimni, though I have consulted a number of other translations throughout.
Read the Next chapter – Samadhi Pada: Yoga Sutras Book I