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  • Ruth Heal

The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali - an occasional series

Most of us begin our practice of yoga with attending a yoga class where we move the physical body. We came perhaps because we felt tight and sore but over time I have found that we start to explore the breath, and the mind in relation to our physical practice. We begin to feel better and that includes mentally, maybe with a renewed enthusiasm or we find a feeling of calm after each class. Then we hear someone mention the Yoga Sutras and wonder what they are.

Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras are the oldest text of the Yoga Tradition and were written nearly 2,000 years ago. This is around the same time as Christ was around and the Buddha was teaching his route to enlightenment. There was a great surge in spiritual writings, many of which we are still reading today. Disappointingly, we really do not know who Pantanjali was, or even if these writings were all by the same person. We believe he was a yogi who was Hindu and also influenced by Buddhist teachings.

In 196 short aphorisms the Sutras spell out succinctly how the mind works and how we can free ourselves from the compulsive thoughts it generates. It is a road map of human conciousness and expresses the truths of being human, along with ways to lessen our suffering and expand our awareness. They are a philosophical code for living one's life. The Yoga Sutras were originally written in the ancient language of Sanskrit and have been translated and interpreted by many different people. This means as with any translation words in another language do not have definitive English translations. For this reason it is a good idea to read a number of different translations and commentaries on the Sutras.

Here are the first 3 sutras in Sanskrit and then three different translations

Sutra 1.1 atha yoga-anushasanam

Translation 1 - Now, the exposition of yoga.

Translation 2 - Now, the teachings of yoga.

Translation 3 - With humility we embrace the sacred study of yoga.

Sutra 1.2 yogash citta-vritti-nirodha

Translation 1- Yoga is the restriction of the whirls of conciousness.

Translation 2 - Yoga is to still the patterning of conciousness.

Translation 3 - Yoga is the uniting of the conciousness in the heart.

Sutra 1.3 tada drashthuh sva-rupe'vasthanam

Translation 1 - Then the "Seer" appears.

Translation 2 - Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of the conciousness.

Translation 3 - United in the heart, conciousness is steadied, then we abide in true nature - joy.

Translation 1 is from The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein Ph D. He was one of the foremost scholars in the US.

Translation 2 is from The Yoga-Sutra of Pantanjali by Chip Hartranft, the founding director of the Arlington Center, Mass which is dedicated to the integration of Yoga and Buddhism.

Translation 3 is from The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi, and this is subtitled A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.

I would paraphrase this as "Now the study of yoga. Yoga is the joining of mind and conciousness. When this happens we are aware of our true nature." Our true nature is the conciousness not the mind. I personally think reading all three helps to flesh out my understanding of the Sutra.

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