The Library

Sutras and Patanjali

The Sutras (or Aphorisms) of Patanjali

Patanjali is one of those great figures of Indian culture about whom almost nothing is known for certain.  Many scholars attribute the writings of the sutras to a man who lived in the second century BC (give or take a few hundred years!).  Others date Patanjali in the period 200 – 500CE.

Patanjali is widely recognised as being one of the first to put the ancient teachings of yoga and the Vedas into written form.  Some authorities claim that he (or they – because noone knows for certain if the sutras as the work of one or more authors) is best known because his records were most commonly available in northern India and were the first to be `found` by the European colonisers.  Evidence of similar writings and teachings are to be found in other parts of the sub-continent, some much older than those of Patanjali.

Before these teachings were committed to scrolls and palm leaf the oral tradition had ensured the teachings were passed on from guru to shisya for generations.

A sutra (or aphorism) is a terse and often obscure statement about the nature of life and dharma.  Students were obliged to learn the sutras by heart –almost like an aide de memoire.  The role of the guru was then to explain and enlighten the student on their meaning – thus giving meaning to the definition of the guru as one who dispels darkness.

In the sutras are described the steps of yoga which form the basis of western practice of yoga, but with the emphasis on the spiritual aim of yoga – not as a religion but as a spiritual way of life(sadhana).

A few of the most well known sutras include:

Sutra 1          We now begin the study of yoga

2                      Yoga is controlling the activities of the mind (chitta)

27                   His name (God) is Om

2. 1                 Austerity, study, devotion to God, constitute practical yoga.

3. 2                 Union of mind and object is Dhyana.

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