Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Root of Integral Yoga (part one)
An Integral Yoga System as a Holistic structure
We owe to the great Sage Patanjali a workable Yoga system that has become the blueprint of most of the Yoga practiced today. Patanjali’s amazing wisdom comes not only from the knowledge he teaches, but mostly from his ability to collect and assess and later present the science of union in the YOGA SUTRAS. This system, popularly known by the term ASHTANGA YOGA, or the Yoga of Eight Limbs, is the most integrated, comprehensive and even holistic view of Yoga that has been passed down to us from ancient cultures.
Unfortunately, these days we find a lot of ASHTANGA YOGA places that are only teaching asanas, little pranayama, and very little concentration. In other words, from the eight limbs of the integral system of Yoga described by Patanjali, only three, or at the most four, are integrated in the commercial spirituality that we have at our disposal today.
Dating Patanjali as an author and the YOGA SUTRA as a literary work is a difficult task. Many eminent authorities have placed Patanjali as early as 1000 B.C. Others have put him in the sixth century A.D. He is one of three colossal spirits that opened not a new religion or a tradition, but gave to the human spirit the idea of using methods and the spirit of doing so.
Charaka brought to light the science of life, Ayurveda. Panini brought the science of language and structure, Sanskrit grammar. And Patanjali revealed the science of transformation, Yoga.
You cannot be far from the truth when you see the mysterious presence of the Trinity coming through these three ancient sages. Similarly, three ancient Sanskrit sources quote; “Charaka purified the body with Ayurveda; Panini purified our tongue (language) with his grammar; while Patanjali purified the mind with his Yoga.”!
The YOGA SUTRA is the most elaborate ancient work one can find on Yoga. It is not the kind of yoga-for-dummies work that we are used to today. Being written in the code of initiates, this genuine yoga bible, as some authors have called it, selects only the genuine practitioners in order to deliver the secrets of personal development and spiritual betterment. A serious practitioner of Yoga finds in the SUTRA a concise, condensed and succinct presentation of Yoga.
This concision is essential if we not only want to transmit a collection of rigid indications for practice, but the whole spirit that needs to animate the practitioner in order to be successful. For it is the spirit of Yoga and the whole preparation of the exercises that truly unlock the entire complex of occult resonances and bring forward its amazing effectiveness. Stripped of its attitude and morality, Yoga becomes psychosomatic gymnastics that has limited effects.
Therefore, the Great Sage Patanjali gave an example of mastership of the word, doing with words what God does with the entire creation: giving strong guidelines that are unmistakable and at the same time leave room for the aspirant’s experimentation so that the guidelines are only lessons. The Great Teacher discreetly watches from the Heavens, while the aspirants complete their practice, generation after generation, perfecting it in their own understanding and under the loving guidance of their Masters. This is the Yoga Sutra that I have met and practiced from, under the guidance of a Great Master.
It is a SUTRA or a thread holding together 195 Sanskrit aphorisms that reach to the highest level the human spirit can aspire to in order to guide the aspirant there.
For achieving this genuine spiritual accomplishment in written transmission of spirituality, the terms Patanjali uses are not open to poetic license, as the SUTRA is a scientific work on Yoga. With little more than half sentences, literally no more than a string of nouns and adjectives, often without auxiliary verbs, the guidelines given are spiritually encoded, locking away the knowledge from the spiritual adventurers.
The SUTRA is more of a “secret code” of esoteric spiritual concepts and can be deciphered only by a genuine Master who has already achieved the spiritual goal that YOGA SUTRA points towards. Using the SUTRA as a skeleton of an idea, the Master will fill in the rest with the knowledge needed by the practitioner.
The YOGA SUTRA of Patanjali is not a work from which a new student of Yoga can get something other than a framework of Yoga practice, but apparently without a very practical value. It is the manual of the Masters in Yoga being supplied with a structure to build up a most elaborate integral Yoga system.
The YOGA SUTRA of Patanjali that we know of contains only 195 verses or sutras. The original may have been much longer and may have been abridged or shortened by many other writers over the ages. What makes this work unique is the fact that it is a framework of the “Science of Sciences” which is Yoga. One cannot alter and change the terms of a science to suit one’s fancy, without destroying the whole structure. One cannot put in or take out anything without altering the whole framework. Therefore the integral YOGA system that is presented in the YOGA SUTRA is invariant to culture, religion, human interpretation and even the methodology that derive from it. Starting from this frame that Patanjali revealed, one can only end up with a similar YOGA system.
Patanjali reveals an integral Yoga that has a number of Yogas embodied in the whole system. They are just like the lines and geometrical bodies of a yantra that separately means something distinct, but together create the representation of another reality that is much more than the sum of all its parts. However, we cannot drop some of the Angas or branches of the Ashtanga Yoga just because they do not suit our lifestyle, or they are not very popular in our neighbourhood. Upon closer inspection, anyone can see that this is the very form of a holographic structure where the sum of all parts enjoy a totally new quality that is afterwards reflected in all the parts. The practitioner of an integral Yoga system built on the guidelines of YOGA SUTRA will add one by one all those Yogas in the practice, but only when assimilated will they together produce a spiritual leap to another level of consciousness. This reality stays unguessed by those who cannot intuit the way an integral system works, just like someone who is ignorant about IT will not guess what can result from correctly putting together a pile of electronic spare parts from a computer.
Without proper guidance in the practice of an integral yoga system in our modern times, those involved in Asanas and Pranayamas very often drop the need for Yama and Niyama – the prerequisite morality and ethics that form the foundation of an effective Yoga practice. They rush to do some body stretching, to feel strong tingling sensations, or to feel energy flowing into their bodily systems. But the further evolution of the consciousness is jeopardized by the weak moral foundation that was not put in its right place from the beginning. It is true that a class of moral lessons will not sell nowadays (especially since it has to be in the beginning), but that which is sold without this moral foundation … is not Yoga, as Patanjali already warned us long ago.
Others who want to go to “Meditation Yoga” drop all of the outer phases of Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara, as well as the inner phase of Dharana, and begin straight at Dhyana, or meditation, as though the other steps are not necessary for them! Apart from the arrogance that such an attitude shows, (which is expected considering they skipped the morality classes), it also makes the attempt to realise meditation as “a continuous focus of the flow of attention towards the subject of meditation” an almost impossible task. It is just like attempting to jump directly on the top of a mountain from the bottom of the valley, without having any training or taking any road towards the top. And again, what kind of meditation class will start today with moral lessons and simple Asanas and still have students? But what will result without those other Yogic “limbs” will not be meditation, and not even Yoga. It will be only a training of patience for sitting still for longer periods of time, a time off in order to think, a time with oneself … interesting maybe, but not Yoga. Again YOGA SUTRA plays the role of the blade of discernment – sorting out the genuine from the commercial scams.
Leaving out parts of the integral Yoga system leads to a mutilation of this amazing practice for meagre purposes, reducing its spiritual effects to mere exotic aesthetics with a fancy flavour of well-being and fashion. It has brought out an incredible “Ego Yoga” that often takes comic forms. On one side we find the “armchair Yogis”, satsang consumers, and “professional” meditators who look down on the others who are still caught up with what they call “body Yoga”, while at the other end of the spectrum we find those who are acrobatically practicing Asanas and Pranayama as Ashtanga Yoga, an eight limb Yoga that has been reduced to only two. They consider concentration to be just a faculty that we have to use in order to align the body very well with the ideal position from the picture, while meditation, in most cases, is reduced to an inner contest of body immobility for long periods.
In the middle of this circus that is nowadays called Yoga, I believe that the integral Yoga of Patanjali is the most authentic path of Yoga available to the modern person. It fits perfectly with the modern paradigm of thinking … if explained from a genuine Yoga Master.
To read part two in the series: “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Root of Integral Yoga” click here.
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