Yogasutras of Patanjali Web Series – Video 6
Brief biographical background of Sage Patañjali and some related facts of the Yoga Sūtras
Philosophy in ancient India was the product of experiences and not merely intellectual exercise. Sage Patañjali came into the universe at a point of time when yogic knowledge was there in pockets everywhere. He brought it under one banner, systematized and codified it. He compressed the philosophy and practice of Yoga in a systematic and logical way in the Yoga Sūtras. It is acknowledged by him in the Yoga Sūtras themselves that he is only the compiler of Yogic knowledge and not the originator of Yoga (The prefix ‘anu’ in the first sūtra, “Atha Yoga Anuśāsanam” brings out this fact that Yoga follows Śāstra).
Legend related to sage Patanjali’s birth:
Patañjali as a reincarnation of Śeṣanāga (Ādiśeṣa, the vehicle of Lord Viṣṇu) is mentioned in the salutation verse in the book written by Vācaspati Miśra.
It is said that Lord Viṣṇu was once seated on his couch (Ādiśeṣa, the Lord of Serpents) enjoying an enchanting dance performance by Lord Śiva. Lord Viṣṇu was so absorbed in the dance movements that his body began to vibrate to the rhythm of Lord Śiva. This vibration made him heavier and heavier causing a lot of discomfort to Ādiśeṣa who was by now gasping for breath. As soon as the dance came to an end, Lord Viṣṇu’s body became light again. Lord Ādiśeṣa was amazed with this sudden transformation and asked his master about the cause of these breathtaking changes. The Lord explained that grace, majesty and splendor of Lord Śiva had created an equivalent graceful vibration in his own body. Amazed at this, Ādiśeṣa professed a desire to learn dancing to enthrall his Lord.
Lord Viṣṇu predicted that soon Lord Śiva would bid Lord Ādiśeṣa to write a commentary on grammar and at that time he would also be able to dedicate himself to the art of dance. Lord Ādiśeṣa was overjoyed by these words and looked forward to the grace of Lord Śiva. He then began to meditate to find out who would be his intended mother. While meditating, he had the vision of a female Yoga adept and an ascetic, Gonikā who was praying for a worthy son to whom she could impart her wisdom. He realized that she would be a worthy mother for him and waited for an auspicious moment to become her son. Gonikā, thinking that her earthly life was approaching its end, had searched for a worthy son to whom she could transmit her knowledge. But she had found no one. When her penance had come to an end, she looked to the Sun God and prayed to him to fulfill her desire. She took a handful of water, as a final oblation to him, closed her eyes and meditated on the Sun.
She opened her eyes and looked at her palms as she was about to offer the water. To her surprise, she saw a tiny snake moving in her palms who soon took on a human form. This tiny male human prostrated to Yogini Gonikā and asked her to accept him as her son. Hence, she named him Patañjali. (‘Pata’ means fallen or falling and Añjali means palms folded in prayer)”. This is how Sage Patañjali is said to have come into this mortal world.
The text of Yoga Sūtras comprises 195 Sūtras spread over four Pādas / chapters. They are:
- Samādhi Pāda (51 Sūtras)
- Sādhana Pāda (55 Sūtras)
- Vibhūti Pāda (55 Sūtras)
- Kaivalya Pāda (34 Sūtras).
Sūtra work, by its very nature, is concise like a formula, and hence needs a commentary to decode it. Fortunately for us, the text of Yoga Sūtras has attracted the attention of a number of saints who have enriched the yogic literature by their learned commentaries. The Bhāṣya of Vyāsa is regarded as the basic commentary valued by almost all the later writers. Vyāsa Bhāṣya itself attracted several scholars to write commentaries on it. These works aid in unveiling the diverse dimensions and explanation of Yoga Sūtras. All Yoga forms being practiced today have their source, deep-rooted in the Yoga Sūtras, which is a brilliant and systematic line-up of aphorisms offered to human beings. Despite the scripture being more than 2300 years old, it is still regarded as authoritative. These Sūtras are the most profound and enlightening study of the human psyche. In them, Patañjali describes the mystery of human existence. He shows how, with the help of yogic practice and detachment i.e. Abhyāsa and Vairāgya, among other things, we can transform our being, gain mastery over the mind and emotions, overcome obstacles to our spiritual evolution and accelerate the process of liberation. The supreme goal of Yoga is Kaivalya (liberation) and the ways and means to get there are mentioned in the Yoga Sūtras.
This text is so important that masters of Yoga believe that what is not in Yoga Sūtras is not significant at all. It is not even Yoga. Patañjali presents the mind as both the source of and the solution to all our difficulties and shows us the means to rise above our basic instincts and progressively refine our mind so that it achieves and sustains its highest possible potential.