“Yoga practice takes an individual on an inward journey, and through Yoga, one enters a rarefied state of consciousness, a transparency, and luminosity described by its great philosopher Patañjali as being ‘like a clear jewel.’ “– Christopher Key Chapple
Living with freedom, happiness, and consciousness (the basis of fundamental peace) in all walks of life and good health and harmony are the main objectives of Yoga practice. It is a spiritual discipline and a subtle science comprising a number of methods through which people can realize this union and master their destiny.
Over the last 2700 years, yoga has proved to cater to humanity’s spiritual and material upliftment. Though yoga was practiced since the pre-Vedic period, the great sage Gonardiya, also known as Patañjali, managed to systemize and codify the practices of Yoga, its meaning, and related knowledge into his famous Yoga Sutras.
What are Yoga Sutras?
A great sage and a founder of the Ashtanga yoga tradition, Sage Patañjali, wrote in 500 BC a text containing 196 Sutras in Sanskrit, which are now known as Yoga Sutras. One sutra corresponds to one statement, however, the statements are in Sanskrit. What does that mean? Since Sutras are very condensed as far as meaning is concerned, it takes a lot of effort and knowledge to explain and understand them. You need to know Sanskrit as well as to have an understanding of the philosophy of yoga.
Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters: Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada, and Kaivalya Pada. Samadhi Pada has 51 Sutras and talks about the discipline of yoga, the functioning of the mind, establishing yourself into a true state of being, and the ultimate state of achievement in yoga, among other things.
The second chapter, Sadhana Pada, talks about the tools and techniques to achieve the ultimate goal of yoga. Here are explained in detail all eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. However, the focus is put on the first five limbs.
The third chapter, Vibhuti Pada, explains the remaining three limbs, Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (self-realization). All three are called Samyam.
The fourth and final chapter, Kaivalya Pada, talks about the ways to achieve the ultimate state of Samadhi. There are four ways: by birth, mantra chanting, practicing Tapa (austerity), and practicing yoga.
Yoga teaches us, above all else, about the union of mind, body, soul, and spirit. According to the teaching, humans suffer because of the illusion of separation between individual consciousness and Brahman (Universal Consciousness). The Yoga Sutras serve as a practical guide of a spiritual journey of remembering that union.
The Story of the Author
Patañjali, also known as Gonikaputra, or Gonardiya, was a sage who lived somewhere between the second and fourth century BC. He is the author of two famous Hindu classics – Yoga Sutras, a compilation of Yogic thought arranged in volumes, and the Mahabhashya (‘Great Commentary), a commentary on selected rules of Sanskrit grammar on Pāṇini’s Sūtras, and a commentary on Charaka Samhita, the Ayurveda text.
Patañjali’s greatest gift to the world was that he took the profound knowledge of Sankhya, an ancient Indian system of philosophy, and presented it in a form almost anyone can follow and use. He created a roadmap for spiritual seekers to find enlightenment.
Unfortunately, not much else is known of Patañjali. Aside from a couple of myths about his birth, where he is an incarnation of a thousand-headed serpent named Ananta, little else is known. However, anonymity is typical for the sages of ancient India. They understood that their teachings are the outcome of a group effort spanning multiple generations, and they would usually refuse to take credit for themselves, often stating their work belongs to older teachers. Nevertheless, his influence and impact on modern yoga are fundamental. His Yoga Sutras are viewed as the textual authority for most current practices.
Consciousness as the Ultimate Frontier
In the past, scientists, philosophers, and even the general population had no problem accepting the idea of consciousness in the same way as the physical world’s existence. But with time, science embraced a total materialistic concept of reality. In modern science nowadays, it is assumed that matter existed before the Universe.
Nevertheless, modern science is finally coming to the conclusions held by yogic science for centuries, which is that both the substance and the intention of the Universe come from a deeper reality than the material one – the reality of consciousness.
Consciousness is all-encompassing, blissful awareness, ingrained in everybody and everything. Just as our consciousness is the essence of our minds, cosmic consciousness is the essence of the entire Universe. It exists in everything and everyone, and everyone and everything exists in it. We are all part of and full of consciousness.
There is every reason to feel alienated, depressed, lonely, and fearful in a materialistic world. Materialism simply doesn’t generate optimism in society. In contrast, in a conscious Universe, there is every reason to feel connected with others, happy, and at peace.
As Yogis teach us, the essence of the universe is consciousness, and it is equally viable to think that the essence of the universe is matter. The only difference is that one can be noticed with our minds and scientifically measured, while the other can be experienced internally. In other words, we must find it within ourselves.
There is also a systematic and scientific method of validating consciousness in our daily lives. That is yoga and meditation. By practicing these intuitional sciences where consciousness is confirmed by internal experience, it is possible to experience higher consciousness. This is the path to discovering the greater consciousness within our own, realizing our inner reality as the greater universal reality. The more we choose to expand our sense of reality and being, the more we are connected to all beings. The happiness lies in realizing that all is part of us and that we are a part of all.