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The Beginning of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

meditating face yoga sutras of patanjaliSutra 1 of Book one of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

1. Now, an exposition of Yoga [is to be made]. Raghavan Iyer: “Now begins instruction in yoga.”

This is the usual formula for the beginning of a major text. It is very interesting to see that Saint Matthew began his Gospel in the same manner: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise” (Matthew 1:18). In the Greek text the word is de, which means exactly the same as atha, the Sanskrit word used by Patanjali. Is this a coincidence?

Historical records tell us that the Essenes were condemned by the religious authorities at the time of Jesus for various things, including “the keeping of alien religious texts”–the scriptures of other religions. According to the psychic perceptions of Levi Dowling found in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ the Essenes taught from Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist texts as well as the Hebrew scriptures. So it would be likely that Saint Matthew was aware of the Indian practice regarding expository writings.

And now…

It is common in most Sanskrit commentaries to interpret atha as meaning that there are prerequisites to the studying of sacred subjects, that basic philosophical principles must be first learned, and spiritual disciplines followed, especially moral and ascetic observances. Only then is the student qualified to be taught the wisdom embodied in the text. Commentators say that atha is meant to remind them of this fact and to warn them that if they have not laid such a foundation then their study may be defective and fruitless.

Agreeing with this, Jnaneshvara Bharati renders this sutra in an explanatory paraphrase: “Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.” We will not now outline what the preparation is, since Patanjali will do so in Book II, the Sadhana Pada, in sutra twenty-nine regarding yama and niyama. The reason he waits is given by Shankara in his commentary:

“No one will follow through the practices and restrictions of yoga unless the goal and the related means to it have been clearly set out…as yoga is the result of applying the means to yoga.…Yoga is the goal of the yoga methods.”

First, then will be an explanation of the nature of the state of yoga to which we should be aspiring.

A preparation for the Supreme

Yogananda often said: “Yoga is the beginning of the end,” as the capstone of many lives lived in a positive manner, which included a conscious search for God. In this life there must be a continuation of that mode of life to prepare ourselves for the supreme science, the science of the Absolute which we call Yoga.

Yoga requires preparation. This is proven by the fact that after over one hundred years of yoga teaching and practice in this country there has been little lasting effect, for few indeed have ascended to higher consciousness. The reason is the lack of foundation upon which to build an effective spiritual life.

The yoga peddlers come to town, sell their wares, and move on leaving behind ignorant and confused people trying to get benefit from something completely beyond their capacity. They are not bad people, they are incompetent because they have no background, no preparation, especially in the matter of purification. Patanjali is aware of this, and so his first word in Yoga Darshan is Atha.

In his commentary on this sutra Vyasa states: “Yoga is samadhi”–the superconscious state. Commenting on this Shankara says something different from the usual: “Yoga is not to be taken as from the root yuj in the sense of joining together, but the sense of sam-a-dha: set together. Yoga is samadhana [samadhi], complete concentration.” He makes this assertion because only separate things can be joined.

Later he says: “Yoga is the eternal relation with the Self.” Samadhi–Yoga–is not the bringing about of the union of the two, but the realization of their eternal unity. It is no small point. “The Self is always in samadhi,” says Shankara.

(Because of their supreme authority, Vyasa and Shankara will be quoted a great deal in this commentary. Although much that they say is quite technical, it is impossible to responsibly and completely bring out the meaning of the Yoga Sutras otherwise.)

Next: What is the most quoted verse of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?

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