Patanjali Yogasutras – Yogasutras of Patanjali – Web Series Video 4
‘Sūtra’ is a Sanskṛt word that means “string”. In Indian literary traditions, it also denotes to an aphorism or a group of aphorisms in the form of a condensed text. Sūtras are a genre of ancient and medieval Indian texts. Its concise nature helped to teach and transmit ideas from one generation to the next.
Sūtras were structured in a way that they could be easily communicated from the master to student, memorized by the recipient for discussion or self-study or as a reference. A Sūtra is therefore referred to as ‘mnemonic’ i.e. ‘easy to remember’.
It can be said that in a Sūtra, maximum knowledge is given in minimum number of words. It provides the essence. So it may be established that a Sūtra is a short, condensed and cryptic sentence with insightful meaning which is pregnant with deep significance and requires commentaries to reveal the insight and experience of the propounder.
A Sūtra is understood as सूचनात् सूत्रम् i.e. a collection of words to convey some very meaningful and thoughtful subject matter in very concise and crisp form.
Sanskṛit grammarians have come up with a verse that defines a Sūtra, which is as follows:
अल्पाक्षरमसन्दिग्धं सारवद्विश्वतो मुखम् ।
अस्तोभमनवद्यञ्च सूत्रं सूत्रविदो विदुः ॥
Thus, a Sūtra should exhibit the following 6 characteristics to be known as a Sūtra:
- अल्पाक्षरम् (Alpākṣaram) – concise (using least possible words)
- असन्दिग्धं (Aāsanadigdham) – unambiguous / clear
- सारवत् (Sāravat) – laying out the essence of the topic
- विश्वतो मुखम् (Viśvato Mukham) – applicable in every situation, without conditions. It is not relative.
- अस्तोभम् (Astobham) – devoid of Stobha (fillers) like Ha Hu etc. So it should be without any meaningless terms.
- अनवद्यम् (Anavadyam) – which cannot be refuted.
Thus a Sūtra is that which expresses in a gist form, a vast idea in a few words, with no ambiguity and no repetition.
Some believe that Sūtras are like mantras to be meditated upon, to arrive at the right meaning and others say that it is a syllabus, which a guru follows to teach the subject to the students. This method of Sūtra literature was famous when the educational tradition was oral, when printing was unknown and memorizing was expected from the students. Volumes and volumes have been written by a number of commentators to explain, what Sage Patañjali has packed, in his 195 ‘Sūtras’.
Let’s conclude with a prayer to sage Patañjali:
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां ।
मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन ॥
योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां ।
पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ॥
“I bow down with folded hands to sage Patañjali who dispersed the impurities of mind with a treatise on Yoga, impurities of speech with a treatise on grammar and impurities of body with a treatise on medicine”.