Yoga Sūtras (YS) of Patañjali is widely regarded as the canonical text of Yoga Philosophy. The English equivalent of Sūtra is aphorism. YS offers a remarkably rigorous and sophisticated model of human mind. Some of its propositions are being rediscovered in modern Psychology and Neuroscience. YS also contains many practical strategies for a better life with less anxiety and suffering.
Apart from its practical value, YS is a work of beauty for the philosophically inclined. With just 195 terse aphorisms, Patañjali explores the workings of the mind, offers a model of the universe, a philosophy to base one’s life upon and practical tips to the aspiring Yogi. All of it treated with the rigour of logic and reasoning. There is no place for blind faith in a scholarly philosophical work and YS adheres to the standard.
As any scholarly philosophical work, words and phrases used that have multiple meaning in colloquial usage are defined with precision to avoid misinterpretation. However, this has not deterred some enthusiasts who read one or two Sūtras here and there and quote it completely out of context, assigning colloquial meaning to the words, which are in fact defined elsewhere (not far from the picked Sūtra!)in the text.
While it can be a daunting read for the beginner, many gems of wisdom await the patient student. A linear, Sūtra by Sūtra reading of YS is for a serious scholar or the philosophically inclined with some background in the subject. In my experience, the best way is to read concept wise. In the first parsing, it is even advisable to skip more than a few Sūtras and to focus on those pertaining to essential concepts.
- What is Yoga? Sūtras 1.2, 3.1-3.3 shed light on the definition of Yoga.
- What is the purpose of Yoga? Sūtras 2.15-2.17, 2.23-2.28, 2.2, 3.55
- How do we go about it? Sūtras 1.12-1.15, 1.20, 1.23, 1.27, 1.28, 1.33, 1.34, 1.37, 1.39, 2.29-2.34, 2.46-2.51, 2.54, 1.41-1.44, 1.50, 3.35
The above could be covered in a 8-10 hours long workshop as part of a 200 hours TT. It is best to spread it over a week or two as the student needs time for reflection and allied reading.
Some “special topics” could be attempted after the getting comfortable with the essential concepts. For example:
- Theory of Karma. Sūtras 2.12-2.14, 4.2, 4.3, 4.7
- The world according to Saṁkhya. Sūtras 2.18, 2.19, 2.20, 2.22, 4.4, 4.7, 4.12-4.18, 4.21, 4.24, 3.9-3.15
The doctrine of Karma plays an important role. An introduction to this would be necessary as an allied reading even for the essential concepts.