Vedic literature, the ancient spiritual treasure of India, is an invaluable gift to us today. The most important questions of human existence and the final answers are discussed and revealed on its pages.
Those who are seeking perfection often wonder what right way to choose in order to achieve the state of perfect bliss and freedom. They are ,yearning for the freedom that is not restrained by time or space, or in other words, by the limits of the material world.
Freedom and happiness are the two genuine qualities of the original state of the soul, and by achieving liberation, it is possible to experience this original state once more. Liberation, the first stage of our spiritual existence, can be attained by the process of self-realization, and this is called yoga.
The author of this volume, Gaura Krsna Dasa (Laszlo Toth-Soma), who is a professor at the Bhaktivedanta College of Budapest, translated Patanjali's Yoga-sutras from the original sanskrit text in a very authentic way. His commentaries contain theoretical and philosophical teachings on yoga, as well as various instructions for those practicing who have already stepped on the path of self-realization. His in-depth knowledge and an over two-decade-long practice make his work a reliable help for those who would like to know their real self and their relation to the final source of all.
The present volume elaborates on the first part of Patanjali's Yoga-sutras, the so-called Samadhi-pada. The following three parts will soon be available.
Vedic literature, the ancient spiritual treasure of India, is an invaluable gift to us today. The most important questions of human existence and the final answers are discussed and revealed on its pages. Nevertheless, over the thousands of years of history, there had been many different ways attempting to understand the truth of the transcendence on the basis of Vedic wisdom. These different paths sometimes led and sometimes misled those who merged themselves into "transcendental adventures," while searching for the truth. Amongst the many approaches, six traditional schools appeared from the mist of ancient times presenting the same knowledge from different viewpoints (darsana). These schools are known as astikas-wherein asti means 'existent, present'- because all of them accept that the Vedas are eternal, that they originate from God, and that they are the infallible source of instructions, even though not each of these schools reach the final essence of the Vedas in their consequences.
The first amongst them, (1) the system of Vedic logic (nyaya), lays down the rules of philosophical argument aiming liberation and specifies the definitions of the basic concepts to be discussed such as the material world, the soul, God, and liberation as the final goal. (2) The so-called atom theory (vaisesika) deals with the structure and the ontology of the material world. The teachings of vaisesika connects the method of logic to the analysis of material existence, demonstrating that living beings in physical bodies in the material world-as the prisoners of material nature-insist on a way of existence to which originally they do not have much to do with, and which eventually falls apart into invisible atoms. (3) The school that studies and analyzes the world in detail (sankhya) develops this method further in order to help those who have already been inquiring about transcendental subjects of distinguishing between matter and spirit. (4) Through the system of astanga-yoga, the original spiritual vision of the soul is being awakened and so the yogi can see himself separate from his own body (and from the material world), and by becoming devoted to God (isvara), he can step on the path of liberation. (5) The path of sacrifices carried out for material benefits (karma-mimamsa) directs the living being towards religion and morals if the sacrifices are performed in accordance with the prescription of the Vedic literature. (6) The school summing up the final, God related teachings of the Vedas (vedanta), diverts one's attention to the supreme attainable goal-namely God, His transcendental nature, and the devotional service rendered to Him - by emphasizing the final conclusions of the Vedas, as they are explained in the Upanisads, the Puranas, and the Bhagavad-gita.
Most of the Indologists argue that the basic principles of Nyaya were compiled and systemized by Gautama Rsi in the 6-5th centuries BC, while his contemporary, Kanada collected the teachings of Vaisesika and Kapila Muni organized Sankhya philosophy (that was reorganized by Isvarakrsna in about the 4-6th centuries AD). Patanjali built up a system to show the full path of yoga in eight limbs (astanga), based on the wisdom of Vedic literature in the 4-3rd centuries BC, and it was Jaimini who summarized the Karma-mimamsa instructions. According to the tradition, the original organizer of the Vedanta doctrines was Vyasa himself, the compiler of the Vedas, but later, in the 8th century AD, Sankara used Vyasa's Vedanta-sutras for constructing his own impersonal, Advaita-vedanta philosophy that considered the personal qualities of God and the soul to be an illusion.
These six orthodox philosophical approaches-similarly to the faculties of modern universities, which represent different disciplines-used to be stages of a process that offered an integrated understanding of the Vedas. However, in the course of time, they had parted from each other and from their Vedic roots, so they became individual schools. During this process, they preserved or lost, in different grades, the idea of the most important purpose regarding human existence, namely the realization of God, the service rendered for Him, and the liberation that leads out of the material world.
The Karma-mimamsa school is a good example for the above. By the 5th century BC, Karma-mimamsa became the primary philosophy of the Indian priest community, but at the same time, it was used for sanctifying mass animal slaughter in the disguise of animal sacrifice. Due to the importance of the universal principle of ahimsa (nonviolence), this would have been impossible in an ontological school that is strongly connected to its roots.
In spite of their different viewpoints, there are a number of basic theses that these schools agree on:
1. They all accept that the final spiritual substance, the soul of the human being is eternal and indestructible, and so it stays alive after the death of the physical body. The so-called self is not influenced by the death of the physical body, however, as long as it is attached to mundane existence, it gains birth in the created material world again and again (reincarnation).
2. In this material world that is created according to the desires of the living beings, suffering is inevitable in all forms of life.
3. The cause of the misery experienced in the material world is not God, but the living being itself, since its circumstances are arranged (by the Supreme) according to its own desires and previous activities. This chain of cause and effect is expressed in the law of karma (wherein karma means 'act, action, performance').
4. The final cause of the suffering of the conditioned souls in the mundane world is that they are unaware of their transcendental nature. This ignorance can be dissolved by transcendental knowledge.
5. They also accept that the real goal of life for all human beings is liberation (moksa or mukti) from material existence.
The six schools trace out six different routes for gaining higher spiritual knowledge, which they represent from different viewpoints and distances. According to the original concept, they were steps gradually leading to the supreme goal, designated by Vedic wisdom, but in due course of time, they became individual philosophical paths, which further developed and changed throughout history. To demonstrate their original function, one can apply the "wheel analogy" well-known from references. If one is sitting on the flange of a huge cart wheel, they constantly rotate while riding up and down. After realizing that sitting in the axle would prevent many inconveniences, one finds themselves in a calm, balanced, and harmonious situation. The center of the wheel, the "hub" is the Vedanta viewpoint, from where Absolute Reality becomes visible to the greatest possible extent.
Patanjali, the Author of the Yoga-sutras
The circumstances of the birth and the life of Patanjali, the author of the Yoga-sutras, are shrouded by the mists of antiquity. In fact, there is very little of what we know about this exalted sage who, in his work, summarized the yoga related teachings of the Vedic literature along with personal experiences of such saints who committed themselves to the search for the transcendence.
The descriptions of his life are usually of the opinion that he must have lived in this earthly world sometime between the fourth century BC and the sixth century AD. However, according to the estimation of the historians and the scholars of the Sanskrit language, it was in the fourth century BC that the so-called aphoristic sutra literature, including the Yoga-sutras, appeared.
In addition, there are many controversies about the identity and personality of Patanjali in academic circles, even though the different yoga traditions do not attach great importance to this question. Presumably, throughout the Indian history, there were more persons named Patanjali. Three of them are well-known. One is the famous linguist who had written a commentary entitled Mahabhasya (The Great Commentary) on Panini's Astadhyayi, the ancient text on Sanskrit grammar, and who compiled the classical literary work on yoga, the Yoga-sutras. A number of commentators of the Yoga-sutras considered the same Patanjali to be the author of the Yoga-sutras and the Mahabhasya (for example Bhojaraja in the 11th century, as well as Caraka and Cakrapanidatta in the 18th century). It was another Patanjali who wrote the Nidana-sutra, the work indispensable to study the literature on Vedic rituals. The third person with the same name was one of the well-known teachers of Sankhya philosophy. According to some historians, the above mentioned three scholars are different persons who lived in different eras.
The Indian tradition stands in stark contrast to this opinion by claiming that all of the previously listed writings are from the pen of the same author. Moreover, a few Ayurveda related treatises are also considered to be the works of the same Patanjali. According to the tradition, Patanjali was not an ordinary man, he was a partial expansion of Anantasesa (one of the incarnations of Visnu, or Krsna), who appeared in the physical world by his own will to assist those living beings on the path of liberations who are chained to the material world in their physical bodies."
Anantasesa is the thousand-headed snake incarnation, whose lap of coils is the resting place of Lord Visnu, and who is the storehouse of all knowledge. He is the exalted Lord of all serpents, whose innumerable hoods represent infinity and omnipresence. Many yogis offer prayers and bow down to Anantasesa before beginning their daily yoga practice.
Vyasa's prayer in the invocation of his commentary on the Yogas-sutras (4-5th century AD) exemplifies the same:
"I offer my obeisances to Vasudeva, who, leaving His original form behind, appears in different ways to serve the benefit of the world and to annihilate the ocean of miseries. As the Lord of the snakes [Anantasesa, the thousand-headed divine snake, the resting place of Visnu], He has many mouths and heads and bears deadly poison. He is the prime proprietor of all (the supreme enjoyer), the source of all wisdom, who is constantly served by His many snake-followers to give Him pleasure. May the Supreme Lord, the effulgent, immaculate Lord of the Snakes, protect us. He is the bestower of yoga as well as its supreme practitioner. "
According to a legend of the Hindu religious and yoga tradition, not much before Patanjali's appearance in the physical world, Lord Visnu-s-laying on the lap of Anantasesa-was admiring the wonderful dance of Siva, the demigod responsible for the destruction of the universe. He was so much delighted and pleased by Siva's dance that His transcendental body began to shake and became more and more heavy for Anantasesa. As soon as the performance was over, the trembling had gone, and the body of the Lord regained its lightness. With astonishment, Anantasesa asked his Lord about the cause of this extraordinary change. In His answer, the Supreme Lord explained that Lord Siva's beautiful and sublime dance had measured this dramatic effect on Him. Upon hearing the story, enchanted by the Lord's words, Anantasesa humbly expressed his desire to learn the art of dance so that he could also satisfy the Supreme Lord, Visnu.
Being impressed by this sincere desire, Lord Visnu foretold that one day Anantasesa would be blessed by Siva for his devotion and his humble service. By Siva's mercy, after manifesting himself in the physical world, Anantasesa can bestow his blessings on humankind by teaching them the science of self-realization (yoga), at the same time fulfilling his ardent desire to become the master of dance. Anantasesa was wondering who could be the right mother to give birth to him in the mundane world.
At the very same time a chaste yogini (female yogi), Gonika approached the Lord with her prayers, because she desired to give birth to a child. Gonika wanted to have a son to whom she can impart the knowledge she had gained by practicing yoga. As she was old but had no children, she anxiously decided to pray to the Supreme Lord, who can fulfill all desires. Turning towards the sun, she performed a very simple sacrifice. After bowing down, she took some water in her palms and lifted her arms while begging to the Lord for begetting a son. This is how she wanted to offer the only gift she could obtain to the Supreme Lord.
Having seen this, Anantasesa had no doubt that Gonika would be the right mother for him. While Gonika was about to lift her arms and offer that little water to the sun, she saw in astonishment that a small snake is creeping in her palms. She was even more amazed when the small snake changed into a human being, who immediately bowed before her and asked her to accept him as her son. Gonika was, of course, pleased by the request of the little boy. As he fell down (pat) from heaven into her palms, joined for prayer (anjali), she gave him the name 'Patanjali'. Gonika lovingly took care of her divine offspring until he grew up to be a dashing young man. According to the Padma Purana, Patanjali appeared as a son of Atri (one of the seven rsis) and Anasuya in Ilavrta-varsa, the celestial land of sublime beauty in the material world, where demigods and enlightened living beings reside. This is from where he descended to the earthly region to teach people about self-realization.
The biographies, full of such and similar legends, actually hide more secrets than what they reveal. However, one can conclude that Patanjali was a great rsi (divine sage), who appeared in the human society to share the fruits of his wisdom with those who are open and able to adopt it.
Nevertheless, the philosophical doctrines and the practical instructions Patanjali analyzed and summarized, had undoubtedly existed in the Vedic yoga traditions centuries before his time. All sages and saints whose goal was self-realization used to follow these teachings in their daily life. Everyone agrees that the sum of the Yoga-sutras is a perfectly compiled scientific summary containing the most important elements and practices of the Vedic yoga tradition, while it can easily be traced back to its origin in the Puranas, the Upanisads, and the Vedas.
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