By Andre Haralyi, M.A., C-IAYT
The Yoga-Sūtras, believed to be written by the sage Patañjali between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E., consists of 196 sūtras* divided into 4 chapters. The Yoga-Sūtras of Patañjali is considered the owner’s manual for the human mind. This work describes the nature of human consciousness, the means to overcome its conditioned limitations and the eight-fold path towards liberation. Patañjali’s Yoga-Sūtras became the most influential text on Yoga and was the most comprehensive and organized work of his day.
The Yoga system presented in the Yoga-Sūtras, known as Rāja-Yoga (Royal Yoga) or Classical Yoga, heavily emphasizes meditation, contemplation and renunciation, and has been one of the most influential schools of the Traditional Yoga. This philosophical system is also considered to be one of the six classical systems of Hindu philosophy (Ṣaṭ Darśana) among the other five, Sāmkhya, Vedānta, Pūrva-Mīmāmsā, Nyāya and Vaisheshika.
The ultimate goal of this specific branch of Yoga is to recover one’s true identity as the transcendental Self, standing eternally apart from the material world. According to Rāja-Yoga, Self-Realization should be achieved through the transcendence and transformation of the mind. The idea is to oblige the Self to awake to its transcendental status through a progressive withdrawal from the forms of nature. The supreme goal is known as “aloneness” (kaivalya), which is the perfect isolation of the Self.
Although meditation is the main practice of Rāja-Yoga, the other important steps of preparation shouldn’t be dismissed. Meditation and ultimately liberation cannot be achieved if the body is unstable, the breath is erratic and the mind unrestrained.
The Eight-fold Path of Rāja-Yoga
I. Yama: Restraints or Precepts. Moral and ethical rules specially designed to harmonize our interpersonal relationships; the way we interact with others.
- Ahimsā: Non-harming / Non-violence
- Satya: Honesty, Truthfulness or Integrity
- Asteya: Non-stealing
- Bramacharya: Conservation of life energy, control of the sexual impulse, continence, proper sexual conduct
- Aparigraha: Non-grasping or non-possession
II. Niyama: Observances. Self-disciplines specially designed to regulate the inner aspects of our lives; the way we relate to ourselves when no one is looking.
- Śauca: Cleanliness or purity (internal and external)
- Saṃtoṣa: Contentment or equanimity
- Tapas: Austerities, focused determination, self-motivation or drive
- Svādhyāya: Self-study or Self-enquiry
- Īśvara Praṇidhāna: Surrender all actions to a Higher Power/Principle
III. Āsana: Physical postures
IV. Prāṇāyāma: Breath retention
V. Pratyāhāra: Sense withdrawal (when consciousness is effectively sealed off from the external environment)
VI. Dhāraṇā: Concentration
VII. Dhyāna: Meditation
VIII. Samādhi: Absorption
- *Sūtra literally means “thread, formula, or any work/manual consisting of strings of such rules hanging together like threads” and refers to a tightly condensed statement.