Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

From Theosophy Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 sūtras (aphorisms) that constitute a foundational text of yoga, in particular of rāja yoga. They present the royal (rāja) yoga in an eight-limbed (ashtānga) system, and its philosophy is generally based on the Sāṃkhya school.

The sutras were written (or compiled) by Patañjali, the opinion of many scholars being that he was not the creator but a great expounder of the philosophy of yoga, which existed well before him.

General description

The Sanskrit word sūtra means a thread or line that holds things together. It refers both to an aphorism and to a group of aphorisms that summarizes a doctrine in the form of a manual. This kind of abbreviated manual was traditionally prepared for memorization by the student, and meant to be completed by oral instruction.

Patañjali's Yogasūtra is an important part of the Hindu Scripture and a foundational text that has had an enormous influence on yoga philosophy and practice. The text is a compendium of a pre-existing ancient oral yoga tradition. The dates ascribed to its composition vary widely from 250 BCE to 250 CE.

The Yogasūtra shares most of its philosophical ideas with the Sāṃkhya school, except that Yoga proposes the existence of a god (Īśvara) (sūtra-s I. 24-27) where Sāṃkhya puts the question aside as not susceptible of proof.

The Yogasūtra gives a practical instruction of how the state of yoga, and, eventually, of mokṣa (liberation from the cycles of birth) can be attained by disciplined activity.


The text of the Yogasūtra consists of 196 aphorisms (sūtras) divided into four chapters or books (Sanskrit: pāda) as follows:

  • Samādhi Pāda (51 sutras): Deals with the general nature of Yoga and its technique. Its main topic is the different stages of samādhi (a state of absorption sometimes translated as "ecstasy", "contemplation", "trance", etc.), where the yogi becomes one with the object of meditation.
  • Sādhanā Pāda (55 sutras). Describes the practice or discipline (sādhanā meaning "a means to accomplishing something") that leads to the attainment of samādhi. It includes two forms of yoga: i) a preliminary one called Kriya Yoga and, ii) the first five "limbs" of the eightfold system yoga (aṣṭāṅga yoga), which are referred to as bahiraṅga or "external".
  • Vibhuti Pāda (56 sutras). The first part of the third book deals with the three remaining and highest "limbs" of the eightfold system, referred to as antaraṅga or "internal". The rest of the book describes the supra-normal powers (Sanskrit: siddhi) that result from the practice of yoga, both in their positive and negative aspects.
  • Kaivalya Pāda (34 sutras). Describes the nature of liberation (mokṣa) from the cycle of rebirth and the reality of the transcendental self. This is the state of "emancipation" (Sanskrit: kaivalya, literally "isolation").


The following is an overview of topics discussed by Patañjali.[1]

Book 1: On Samādhi

1: Opening aphorism

2: Preliminary definition of Yoga

3-4: The Self in relation to consciousness

5-11: The fluctuations of consciousness

12-16: General means of steadying the consciousness fluctuations: practice and dispassion

17-20: Types of samādhi

21-2: Degrees of commitment

23-8: "The Lord" and his symbolic representation

29-32: The obstacles on the yogic path and the means of their removal

33-9: Specific means of steadying the consciousness fluctuations

40: The range of meditational objects mastered by the adept

41-45: Types of object-oriented samādhi

46-50: The culmination of the object-oriented samādhi

51: The “seedless” samādhi

Book 2: On Means

1-2: The three components of Kriya-Yoga and their rationale

3-14: The causes of affliction (kleshas)—their nature, effects and removal

15-17: Sorrow—its cause and removal

18-19: The nature of objective reality (the “seen”)

20-5: The nature of subjective reality (the “seer” or Self) and its relation to the “seen”

26-7: The “vision of discernment” as the means of dispelling nescience

28-9: The components and rationale of the “eight limb” Yoga

30-4: Specification of the constituents of “restraint” and “observance”, and the method for ensuring their cultivation

35-9: Individual definitions of the various constituents of “restraint”

40-5: Individual definitions of the various constituents of “observance”

46-8: The practice of “posture” and its results

49-53: The practice of “breath control” and its results

54-5: The practice of “sense-withdrawal” and its results

Book 3: On Powers

1: Definition of “concentration”

2: Definition of “meditation”

3: Definition of (object-oriented) “samādhi”

4-6: Definition of “samyama” and its results

7-8: Explanation of what is meant by “inner” and “outer” “limbs” of Yoga

9-15: Consciousness interiorisation in the light of the philosophical concept of “transformation”

16-49: The practice of “samyama” upon various contents of consciousness and the “powers” resulting from it

50-1: The higher form of “dispassion” and last possible obstacles

52-5: The terminal phases of interiorisation

Book 4: On Emancipation

1: The various means of obtaining the “powers”

2-5: The process of creation, with particular regard to the emergence of the finite consciousness

6: The nature of consciousness transmuted through Yoga

7-11: The factors underlying the mechanism of retribution and re-birth

12: The nature of time

13-16: Further explanations about the nature of objective real¬ity

17-23: The knowledge process and the Self as ultimate principle of Awareness

24: The teleological nature (“other-purposiveness”) of objec¬tive reality

25-8: The “vision of discernment”

29-31: The “cloud of dharma samādhi” and its consequence

32-4: The terminal phase of samādhi in terms of the concept of “transformation” and final emancipation


The yogasūtra is not a detailed guide to the practice of Rāja Yoga. The student within the āśrama used it as "memory aid", and without the oral instruction given by the guru many sutras can hardly be understood. This oral tradition later came to be recorded in commentaries, and sub-commentaries. The first commentary on the Yoga Sutras is Vyasa's Sāṃkhya-Pravachana-Bhāṣya. The next traditional commentary on both the Sutras and Vyasa's commentary is a long work by the famous by Vachaspati Mishra, entitled Tattva-vaiśāradī.

Theosophical commentaries

Traditionally, the yogasūtra has been highly regarded within the Theosophical movement. Several members of the Theosophical Society have translated this text or written commentaries about it. Below, a list of them:

  • Clara Codd. Introduction to Patañjali's Yoga. Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1966.
  • Manilal N. Dvivedi. The Yoga-sūtras of Patanjali. Revised edition Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications: 1980. Sanskrit Text and English Translation Together, with an Introduction and an Appendix, and Notes on Each Sutra Based upon Several Authentic Commentaries, All in English.
  • Rohit Mehta Yoga: The Art of Integration. Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. A review of this collection of lectures is available from M. P. Pandit.[1]
  • Ravi Ravindra. The Wisdom of Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra-s: A New Translation and Guide. Sandpoint, ID: Morning Light Press, 2009.
  • Daniel R. Stephen. Patañjali for Western Readers. London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1914. The Yoga Aphorisms of Patañjali Paraphrased and Modernised from Various English Translations and Recensions.
  • I. K. Taimni. The Science of Yoga. Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1961. The Yoga-sūtras of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English. Numerous editions, under various titles, including versions in Italian, Finnish, and recorded for the blind. Available at Centre for Yoga Studies.
  • Tukaram Tatya.The Yoga Philosophy: Being the Text of Patanjali, with Bhoja Raja's Commentary. Bombay: Subodha-Prakash Press, 1885. 2nd edition revised, edited, and reprinted for the Bombay Theosophical Publication Fund by Tookaram Tatya, with introduction by Col. Olcott. Translations in English by Dr. Ballantyne and Govind Shastri Deva. Available at Blavatsky Archives.
  • Ernest Wood. Practical Yoga, Ancient and Modern. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1948. A New and Independent Translation of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, Interpreted in the Light of Ancient and Modern Psychological Knowledge and Practical Experience.
  • Roger Worthington. A Student's Companion to Patañjali. London: Theosophical Publishing House Ltd., 1987. A Presentation of the Yoga Sūtra-s in the Form of Questions, Answers and Comments.

See also

Online resources




Additional resources


  1. Adapted from: Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali. A New Translation and Commentary, (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1989), 19-21.