At the turn of the twentieth century a wise teacher from south India described the culmination of Yoga in a very alluring manner. “When mind the bumble bee, sips the honey-like sweetness of one’s own bliss, fluttering ceases and it is drawn into union.
This poetic description given by Narayana Guru echoes and elaborated the definition of Yoga given in one of the foundation texts of yoga, the Bhagavad Gita (VI:23) : “Yoga is disaffiliation from the context of suffering.
These definitions are not academic. They speak directly to our experience of life, which can range from being punctuated by suffering to being permeated by it. They also speak to our constant yeaning and search for happiness.
Yoga originated as a natural response to this human condition. It is why it was developed why its teachings have been followed, elaborated and passed down time immemorial to the present.
Yoga is the science of harmonious union with one’s own self, the world and the cosmic law that governs the entire universe, ranging from the cognizing of a sensation to the formation of a galaxy.
This commentary by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati unlocks the secrets of this perennial wisdom and shows how pertinent and valuable the transforming path of yoga is to our lives today.
A special appendix, “Letters to an Aspiring Yogi,” offers a basic orientation and initiation into the practice of yoga which as Guru Nitya makes clear, “Is a common path for all human beings irrespective of their cultural geographic and religious affiliations.
After his matriculation, Guru Nitya left home as a wandering mendicant to familiarize himself with the land and people of his country of birth. He met great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and poets repute and sat at the feet of several spiritual masters, including Sufi fakirs, jain munis, and Buddhist monks, and Hindu teachers such as Ramana Maharshi and Nityananda.
In 1947 he joined the University collage Alwaye, Kerala to continue his academic studies. After specializing in philosophy and psychology, he taught these subjects in Indian universities. In 1951, he accepted Nataraja Guru- founder and head of the Narayan Gurukala – as his spiritual preceptor. In 1973 he followed his as head and Guru of the Gurukula, a world community of spiritual seekers. Between 1970 and 1980 he taught courses in psychology, philosophy, yoga and aesthetics at universities in the US and other countries. He also was the chairperson of the East-West University of Unitive Sciences and the Commissioner for would education.
Guru Nitya published over 120 books in Malayalam and 80 books in English as well as countless articles on philosophy psychology social ethics and aesthetics. His writings combine rare insight and profound wisdom with and ability to communicate in terms readily understood by students everywhere.
Yoga is the science of harmonious union with one's own
self, the world, and the cosmic law that governs the entire
universe, ranging from the cognizing of a sensation to the
formation of a galaxy. From the title itself of the opening
chapter, Samadhi Pada, it is evident that the purpose of Yoga is
to arrive at samadhi, the ultimate state of equipoise in which all
problems of life are resolved. In the second sutra, the
methodology of arriving at samadhi is clearly stated as
cittavrtti nirodha. Vrtti is "modulation or modification." The
entire world can be seen as the expression of countless
simultaneous modulations in and through a million devices of
the stuff of the world. Here vrtti is conjoined with citta, which
means "the compulsive emergence of memories." Rodha is
"preventing or obstructing any possible motion or move-
ment." When ni is added to rodha, it means "total cessation."
So cittavrtti nirodha is "the restraint of mental modifications."
From the day of our birth, all through our life, what we
experience is the continuous stream of consciousness. We see
many people struggling to get at least a moment of rest from
the streaming in of doubts, memories, thoughts, feelings, and
disquiet caused by several apprehensions, fears, and
imaginations that can all be classified under two heads: pain
and pleasure. Most people are convinced that the modulation
of consciousness can never be stopped. But when this
universally accepted master of Yoga pronouncedly asks for its
termination, we are encouraged to think it is possible.
The title of the second chapter, Sadhana Pada, refers to the
scope and possibilities of the study of Yoga. What we always
experience is our confrontation with necessity. Every time we
are confronted with a need, the question of how it can be
fulfilled arises in our mind. We look for a potential to actual-
ize. A possibility is suggested from inside. Then it is human
nature to be hopeful and to look for probabilities. When we
pass from a possibility to a probability, the possibility gains
more clarity. When several possibilities are hypothesized, we
find that certain postulations are more relevant to the given
frame of reference than the others. A postulation can be
actualized only by testing the validity of a chosen probability.
This is a process by which we decide what cause can yield
what result. When we see the result manifesting, we move
from a postulation to its actuality. Thus we find out for
ourselves that actualization of an envisioned result is the
revelation of the solution to our problem.
The person who is bent on actualizing the realization of
the potential envisaged in a certain probability is called a
sadhaka. The postulation is called sadhanam. The actual perfor-
mance or the exerting of energy in a methodical way to bring
the actual from the potential is sadhana. One sound that is
predominant in all these terms is dha. It has dynamic affinity
with the sound dhi, which means "the discerning intelligence"
in all experiences of certitude. In the case of the Yoga aspirant,
the sadhanam being sought is samadhi. Three of the functions
of consciousness-the interrogative (manas), recall and
remembrance (citta), and the sense of agency known as ego
(ahamkara)-are all psychic forces that pull the' faculty of
judgment (buddhi) in different directions.
The discerning intellect should stand upright like a pillar
(adhiina) without being confused by disturbing thoughts,
emotions, or a plethora of memories. When a steady state of
consciousness is maintained by the intellect, the pull from all
sides is met equally (sama). That position is called samadhana or
equipoise. When intelligence maintains a continuous neutral
position and does not yield to any emotionally tainted
memory, the state that is stabilized is called samadhi. Thus
both the Samddhi Pada and the Sadhana Pada point us toward
the cessation of the modulation of consciousness.
Yoga is presented by Patanjali in the form of a series of
aphorisms (sutras), in which each aphorism is like a pearl
strung on the necklace of the science of contemplative union
and ultimate liberation. His Yoga Sastra is usually looked upon
as an eightfold ascending path (Astanga Yoga), which is
presented in detail in the Sadhana Pada. The eight components,
known as limbs, are grouped in four complementary pairs of
discipline. The first pair is composed of yama, restraining from
negativity, and niyama, carrying out positive programs of
injunctions. When your mind is properly restrained and kept
on positive programs, it gains a firm ground wherein you can
restfully establish yourself for the advancement of your
unitive vision. Remaining on such firm ground is called asana,
the third limb. When a steady state comes to the mind, prana
(vital energy) becomes regulated, the ascending and
descending movement of the breath becomes harmonious, and
energy becomes equally distributed. This is pranayama, the
The fifth limb occurs when the mind has been
withdrawn from distractions (pratyahara); this enables you to
clearly see the beneficial norms of life. A normative notion
comes in the form of a harmonized hierarchy of values. When
all values of interest are structured around the peak or
crowning value, life has a central principle to regulate
thoughts, words, and actions. This inner principle is dharana.
Dhar means "to support." Dharana, the sixth limb, is the
supporting principle that keeps you always clear-headed and
provides a stable basis for your programs of life. When the
stream of consciousness flows evenly as desired and
channeled by the individual, that harmonious flow is dhyana,
the seventh limb.
Just as all rivers flow to the ocean, when all thoughts
and inner movements merge in a state of absorption, samadhi
comes. Samadhi means "union." Most people think of the
union referred to by Yoga as an act of conjunction of two
disparate elements. This is incorrect. When a sleeping person
wakes up, there is no conjunction. There is only the
transformation of an innate nature, which is experienced as an
empirical awareness. Similarly, in Yoga, what is happening is
not a union with a second reality but a change from heteroge-
neity to homogeneity. In other words, you gain a unitive
vision of life in your understanding, dedicated program of
action, and progressive cultivation of happiness, which is
identical with the happiness of the world.
The final two chapters, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada,
are not included in this volume, because-for people
preferring to live the normal lifestyle of an individuated
person-the instruction in the discipline of Yoga is completed
in the first two chapters. A slight exception is that the first four
verses of Vibhuti Pada have been included because they flesh
out the explication of the eight limbs.
At the turn of the twentieth century a wise teacher from South India described the culmination of yoga in a very alluring manner. “When mind, the bumble bee, sips the is drawn into union.” This poetic description given by Narayana Guru echoes and elaborates the definition given by given in one of the foundation texts of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita (VI:23): “Yoga is disaffiliation from the context of suffering.
These definitions are not academic they speak directly to our experience of life, which can range from being punctuated by suffering to being permeated by it. They also speak to our constant yearning and search for happiness. We are all acquainted with fluttering not to say, disturbed and agitated nature of our minds, as they respond to inner and outer provocations. Yet we have all tasted, senses, or at least heard of the possibility of bliss. We want to make true lasting happiness our own, but don’t know how.
The teachings of yoga are a direct, compassionate response to human suffering. They are also very wise, offering a practical philosophy capable of guiding us from suffering to happiness. But we should note that the assurance given by the Gita is not that we can somehow escape or destroy the context of suffering but rather that we can disaffiliate ourselves from it. We suffer because we are afflicted with a case of mistaken identity. We see ourselves as physically and psychically separate, when, in fact we are a part of one whole. Yet it is so easy to think we are nothing but the tiny bit of the universe that is bounded by physical outline and defined by our experiences. From that mistaken identity, all forms of suffering follow, from the petty to the profound.
In the Yoga Sastra, the science of harmonious union presented by Patanjali, the obstacles to happiness are expressed in compelling detail as: physical pain or distress, depression, doubt, exaggeration, laziness, orientation, and instability. Although he wrote long ago, this list could just as easily have been compiled today. Whatever external causes of suffering we encounter, whether global, social, interpersonal, or intrapersonal, we as individuals experience them as our own pain, distress, confusion instability, and so on. Even the suffering of others evokes our compassion, we personally experience it within.
We suffer and we seek happiness and freedom from suffering. yoga originated as a natural response to this human condition. It is why it was developed, why its teachings have been followed elaborated and passed doen from time immemorial to the present.
Yoga is as ancient as human history and reaches even beyond it to the past so distant that it is hidden by the shrouds of our unknowing. According to Alain Danielou, renowned scholar of Indian religion, history, and art, yoga originated as long ago as the sixth millennium B.C.E. as an aspect of spiritual practices affiliated with the archetypal contemplative known as Siva. These extremely ancient beginnings are attested to by finds made in the sand-buried ruins of Indus Valley civilization first discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. “These ruins, covering a considerable area of which only a tine part has been explored, reveal the existence –between the third and second millennium B.C.E.- of one of the most developed and refined civilizations of the ancient world…. [I] stretched as afar as the Ganges valley and along the coast toward modern Mumbai. Mohenjo Daro the best preserved of the towns of this civilization is uniquely moderns, with its grid of streets its balconied houses its bathrooms jewels, engraved seals, systems, its balconied houses, so on. Such a city is the result of a very long-lived culture.”
Plentiful among the engraved seals of the Indus Valley were those bearing depictions of an archetypal yogi, sitting cross legged under the spreading branches of a tree. According to Nataraja Guru, a penetrating mid-twentieth century philosopher who united Eastern and Western outlooks in his universal approach, “this figure of the man meditating under a tree has dominated the spiritual language of India persistently and continues to dominate it today as ever. Both literature and iconography are full of references to this archetypal emblem.”
Wherever we are in the world, we can readily call to mind examples that reveal how this potent image has spoken to people everywhere, most often as depictions of the mediating Buddha, but also of other wisdom teacher such as the Jain gurus, as well as iconographic representations of various saints and deities, both male and female. Regardless of our spiritual or religious affiliation, we are drawn to the serenity of the meditating figure, the gentle smile that indicated the happiness and peace we yearn for, sensing that it speaks of an inner foundation a steadiness that can weather the storms of life.
As Nataraja Guru points out, this ancient spiritual tradition also manifested in literature in the histories epics and religious, philosophical and mystical writing that preserved and developed India’s indigenous spiritual heritage. The Dravidian Indus Valley civilization was highly developed long before the Aryan invasions. The roots of yoga thus pre-dated Hinduism, which developed out of the initial clash (and subsequent synthesis) between the contemplative ways of the Dravidians and the aggressive sacrificial practices that marked the Aryan worship of gods who personified the forces of nature.
Both of the great ancient epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, record this clash in symbolic form. Certain actual events related in these texts, both of which drew on even more ancient sources are dated roughly to the third or second millennium B.C.E Both epics make ample reference to Yoga as a discipline of senses and mind, practiced to gain spiritual insight and power. But more to the point is the section at the heart of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita. It along with Patanjali’s Yoga Sastra is one of the primary and best known sources of the teachings of yoga.
In the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. the Buddha’s early sermons gave expression to yogic ides, particularly in the four brahma-viharas-friendliness, compassion joy and equanimity and the eightfold path both which are very similar to the tents of Yoga Sastra. Although its principles and practices are fundamental to the practices of the Hindu Buddhist and jain religious the science of yoga is unrelated to any religion. The disciplines of yoga are not predicated on any set of beliefs and are not related to any forms of worship of God or gods.
But his scientific nature of Yoga does not mean it is divorced from our lives. it reveals intimate details of how memory and thought, it offers us a clear approach and methodology to free ourselves. As the second chapter the Sadhana Pada, makes very clear the disciplines of the this science are not performed in a vacuum. In fact, they are predicated of universal and perennial significance. Although the practice of Yoga is an individual pursuit, it naturally results in greater harmony with others.
There is a lot of uncertainty, which has given rise to of Patanjali’s Yoga Sastra with estimates typically ranging from the third century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. Although the date cannot be fixed with certainly, “this brief text represents the earliest known systematic statement of the philosophical insights and practical psychology that define Yoga. Through the centuries since its composition, it has been reinterpreted to meet the needs of widely divergent schools of Indian Yoga, for which it remains an essential text.” Yogis and scholars agree that Patanjali was an able compiler and editor whose work helped to preserve and pass down the priceless wisdom of Yoga the science of harmonious union.
The form Patanjali adopted that of the sutra was often used in Indian philosophy. The word sutra which literal means “thread,” refers both to the short statements or aphorisms of intense condenses meaning of which the ancient philosophical textbooks were composed as well as to the entire work consisting of such aphorisms strung together. Each of the six major systems of Indian philosophy have their “Sutra” textbook such as the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana for Vedanta, the Sankhya Pravacana Sutras of Kapila for Sankhya, and both Buddhism and Jainism have their Sutra texts as well.
The condenses nature of the sutras of the sutra texts a well the intricate and subtle nature of Sutra style-coupled with were composed in makes it imperative for us to have the aid of an able translator and commentator in order to understand the powerful teachings the Yoga Sutras embody. Over the centuries many wise and compassionate teachers in India took up the challenge of interpreting them. Some of the most well-known are Vyasa in the fifth century, Vacaspati Misra in the ninth Bhoja Raja in the eleventh and Vijnana Bhiksu in the sixteenth (who all wrote in Sanskrit).
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries numerous scholars and teachers undertook the task of translation of both the original text and its commentaries into English. Sadly, the result was often a text in which Patanjali’s intent of guiding us fro suffering to freedom was obscured in he tangles of language and philosophical discursiveness. Still, several well-done translations and helpful commentaries were also shared with the world.
Another obscuration arose paradoxically, through the manner in which Yoga become popular in the West. Instead of the comprehensive, holistic way of life expressed by Patanjali’s Yoga sastra, yoga was typically packaged-most often as a commercial product-as merely a form of exercise, a series of streches, postures and breath control with an occasional nod toward meditation. all of this can be very beneficial of course and it certainly must answer a need as yoga has not only become very popular, but also big business. A study done in early 2008 estimated that in the U.S alone almost 16 million people were practicing yoga and that they were spending 5.7 billion dollars a year on yoga classes and products.
But the theory and practice of yoga offer much more in the way of invaluable guidance, which this commentary reveals. Guru Nitya presented these insights and explanations as a series of classes for his students in the U.S. Singapore, and India, in response to their yearning for liberation form suffering. Published serially in the Gurukulam magazine from 1986 to 1999, this commentary includes only the first two of the four chapters of Patanjali’s work but, as Guru Nitya will make clear it is a full exposition of the transforming path of Yoga.
Also included as an appendix are a series of Letters to an Aspiring Yogi” that Guru Nitya wrote some years before commencing this commentary. Although they are placed after the exposition of the sutras they are as good place to begin as they offer a basic orientation and initiation into the practice of Yoga. The text is necessarily rich with recurring technical Sanskrit terms so a Sanskrit Glossary has been provided for ready reference.
With the compassionate wisdom of Guru Nitya as your guide you are invited to enter into Yoga, and to benefit from its teachings and practices, leading you, like the bumble bee, to the heart of the sweet bliss of your own self, which is the self of all
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