The Yoga Sutra of Patañjali

The Royal Path (continued)

Over the millennia, different approaches to liberating spiritual practices have emerged. These can be thought of not as different denominations, but as different bodies of technique. There are five major categories that are still practiced today:

Bhakti Yoga – The yoga of devotion. Involves chanting, religious ceremony and ritual sacrifice.

Karma Yoga – The yoga of action. Involves surrendering the individual sense of self to a larger cause. This involves not only charitable works, but an attitude of surrender and service in everything the yogin does.

Jñana Yoga – The yoga of wisdom. This is a highly intellectual mode of yoga. It involves careful study and deduction to discriminate between the transient and the eternal.

Hatha Yoga – The forceful yoga. By cultivating what the ancients termed a “diamond body”, the practitioner aims to effect change on both the physical and spiritual plane through the practice of postures and breath work.

Râja Yoga – The royal yoga. Following the techniques put forth by Patañjali in the Yoga Sutra, the yogin achieves freedom through the application of will power in the form of meditative practices.

In writing his seminal text, Patañjali codified existing yogic philosophy and practice, adding to it his own gloss and ideas. From this, emerged a whole body of philosophical literature in the form of commentaries and expositions that evolved into one of the six orthodox philosophies of Indian thought, or darshanas. Classical Yoga, so named to differentiate the system from the many other interpretations of yogic ideas, shares with its sister philosophy, Shamkhya, the dualist concept that the eternal and the material are forever separate and it is the realization of this that allows the yogin to free himself from the misery of continued rebirths. Strictly speaking, Classical Yoga does not exist as a separate entity in the present day. Its teachings have survived, but have been re-interpreted to serve the predominant monistic (all reality is one) philosophy of Vedanta and the body-centered transformative practices of Hatha Yoga.

The word “sutra” means “thread”, and refers to the ceremonial thread that members of the priestly caste, the brahmin, wear. The sutra style of writing is common in the main texts of the six classical darshanas. The author lays down a number of terse aphorisms to convey his ideas. These sutras are often no more than strings of words that do not even make up a full sentence. This makes the text easier to memorize, useful in what is primarily an oral tradition, with the added benefit of obscuring the meaning, requiring a teacher to interpret it for the student.

(Excerpt from "Practicing Freedom: The Yoga Sutra of Patañjali" by Witold Fitz-Simon, $14.95, available now from or directly from the publisher.)

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