From: LIGHT ON THE YOGA SUTRAS of Patanjali: B.K.S. Iyengar
All yoga as practised today is based on the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms offered more than 2,000 years ago by the Indian sage, Patanjali, and is still, to this day, regarded as authoritative. Historically, Patanjali is said to have lived sometime between 500 and 200 B.C, and much of what is known about him is drawn from legends. He is referred to as a svayambhu, an evolved soul incarnated of his own will to help humanity.
The sutras are regarded as the most profound and enlightening study of the human psyche. The 196 aphorisms, or sutras, cover all aspects of life and are succinct, precise, and profound. Patanjali describes the enigma of human existence and ways of overcoming the afflictions of the body and the fluctuations of the mind, the obstacles to spiritual development.
He shows how, through yoga practice, we can transform ourselves, gain mastery over the mind and emotions, overcome obstacles to our spiritual evolution, and attain Absolute Freedom. Through the practice of yoga we attain the goal of yoga, kaivalya: liberation from the bondage of worldly desires and actions, and union with the Divine.
The Yoga Sutras are divided into 4 chapters or padas, covering the art, science and philosophy of life.
1. Samadhi Pada : on contemplation
2. Sadhana Pada : on practice
3. Vibhuti Pada : on properties and powers
4. Kaivalya Pada : on emancipation and freedom
The first chapter, Samadhi Pada, defines yoga and the movements of consciousness, citta vrtti. Patanjali describes the fluctuations, modifications and modulations of thought which disturb the consciousness, and then sets out the various disciplines by which they may be stilled. The soul is pure, but through the sullying or misalignment of consciousness it gets caught up in the spokes of joys and sorrows and becomes part of suffering, like a spider ensnared in its own web. Citta is the sea and the movements, vrttis, are the ripples. The impurities cleansed, the light of wisdom dawns, ignorance is vanquished and the seeker becomes the seer. Body, mind and consciousness are then in communion with the soul. Yogic practices lead to a spiritual life whereas nonyogic actions bind one to the world. Ego, ahamkara, is the root cause of good and bad actions. Freedom can be attained only by disciplined conduct and renunciation of sensual desires. This is brought about through adherence to the ‘twin pillars’ of yoga, abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa is the art of learning that which has to be learned through the cultivation of disciplined action. Vairagya is detachment or renunciation and the art of avoiding that which should be avoided. Both require a positive and virtuous approach. Samadhi Pada is essentially about the internal quest in which the meaning of yoga, as well as the functions of the mind, intelligence and consciousness are enunciated. The methods of developing and sustaining a permanently balanced and stable consciousness are explained.
The second chapter, Sadhana Pada, deals with the body, senses and mind, and connects them to the intelligence and consciousness. The seeker is taught to perform asanas to become familiar with the body, mind, senses and intelligence. The external sheaths body, senses and mind are perceptible and distinguishable, whereas intelligence and consciousness are not easily perceptible. Patanjali emphasizes the dynamic effort to be made by the sadhaka/practitioner through kriya yoga, the yoga of action. Kriya yoga comprises tapas/selfdiscipline, svadhyaya/selfstudy, and Isvara pranidhana/surrender to God. It is composed of eight yogic disciplines, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. In this chapter Patanjali identifies avidya, spiritual ignorance, as the source of all sorrow and unhappiness. Avidya is the first of the five klesas, or afflictions, and is the root of all the others: asmita/egoism, raga/attachment, dvesa/aversion, and abhinivesa/clinging to life. From these arise desires, sowing the seeds of sorrow. Body, mind and spirit are inseparable: if the body is asleep, the soul is asleep. Sadhana Pada thus begins with the afflictions of the body and their emotional implications and sets out the means to overcome them through the various disciplines of yoga. The practice of pranayama leads to control over the subtle qualities of the elements: sound, touch, shape/form, taste and smell. Pratyahara is the withdrawal into the mind of the organs of action and senses of perception. Yama to pratyahara leads to being like the sea of tranquility which has no ripples.
The third chapter, Vibhuti Pada, speaks of the divine effects of yoga sadhana. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi, the subtle aspects of sadhana, are dealt with in this pada. These draw the mind into the consciousness and the consciousness into the soul.
In the fourth chapter, Kaivalya Pada, Patanjali explains how consciousness can become pure and intelligent, free itself from Nature, and enable the yogi to reach the goal of Absolute Freedom.
Yoga helps the seeker trace the source of all actions, the consciousness, wherein all past impressions, samskaras, are stored. When this ultimate source is traced through yogic practices, the sadhaka is freed from the reactions of his actions. Consciousness becomes steady and pure when the spokes in the wheel of thought are eliminated, referring to desire, action and reaction. The yogi differentiates between the wavering uncertainties of thought processes and the understanding of the Self which is changeless. The yogi does work in the world as a witness, uninvolved, uninfluenced, with virtuous awareness known as dharma megha samadhi.