What is the book about ?
The Yoga Sutra collects two hundred « philosophical rules » to follow in order to bring enlightement into an individual’s life. « Sutra » in sanskrit means the thread. You can understand this word as you are following a thread leading you toward a greater achievment.
The two hundred Sutras were written in Sanskrit. Sri Swami Stachidananda translated them into english and explained them in common western words.
Sri Swami Satchidananda was (1914-2002) an Indian spiritual master who became famous in the USA.
His purpose when writting this book was to bring the understanding of the Sutras to the western yoga adepts by describing each Sutra with metaphores and examples.
First Book : Portion on Contemplation
The contemplation, called « Samadhi » (the eighth step of the eight-limbs of yoga) in sansrkit, has several levels that bring us to the supreme liberation and unbind us from everything. But first, we have to completely understand the nature and some of us won’t reach this goal in their current life. God is completely part of nature and Patanjali calls it « OM ».
We dive into the importance of the mind and its control on the environment surrounding us and how the mind can experience the same situation in two opposite ways. Then Patanjali explains briefly the tools we can use throughout meditation and daily life like dedication, patience, detachment, behavior toward others, the importance of breathing exercise (pranayama), objects of meditation, etc. He also explains that all knowledge is within us and we surely need an outside guide (person or writing) to lead us into our own inside.
Second Book : Portion on Practice
The application and the utilisation of the tools given in the previous chapter is the main subject of this portion. Patanjali indicates the different obstacles we could encounter whether it is from the outside or from our own body and cousciousness. Through the loss of our ego and the act of letting go, meditation brings us to a higher level of understanding and leaves us with complete detachment toward different life situations. That is how Patanjali mitigates the difficulty of the path that leads to the complete understanding of nature.
Nature is always in mutation. That is why we have to let it guide us with the enjoyement of each present moment and contemplate the changes while disregarding notions of past and future.
In this chapter we are introduced to, and immersed into the eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali teaches us each part and each level of each limb.
Third Book : Portion on Accomplishments
In the third chapter we take a look at the three last stages of the eight-limbs of yoga (dhâranâ = concentration/mind control, dhyâna = meditation and samâdhi = contemplation/absorption), the practice of those three is called « samyama » and it deals with our inside environment as opposed to the five first eight-limbs of yoga which focus on the outside environment.
Through the process of « Samyama » it is possible to attain enlightenment, understanding of all knowledge and even, at a very high level of meditative state, supernatural senses and bodily perfection.
Fourth Book : Portion on Absoluteness
The Absoluteness is when we reach « samadhi », all the efforts for reaching it are gone and we settle down in our true self without the help of mother nature anymore. Our mind is completely at rest unlike our body which is very active but is not influenced by the outside world.
To illustrate the book’s style and the kind of teaching it contains, here is an extract, which is one of my favorite passages :
« Once, a few people went to visit a garden, having been told that there were beautiful big fruit trees there. But the garden was completely surrounded by high walls, and they couldn’t even see what was Inside. With great effort one person managed to climb the wall and see Inside. He saw such luscious fruit that the minute he saw it, he jumped in. Another person climbed up and immediately jumped in the same way. Finally, a third person climbed up, but when she saw it, she said « My gosh, how can I jump in now ? There are so many hungry people below who don’t know what is here or how to climb up. » So, she sat on the wall and said, « Hey, there are a lot of fruits, come on. If you try hard, you can come up like I have. » She lent a hand, pulling people in. »
This beautiful parable from Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is definitely interesting for teachers. Teachers care about others before themselves and in my opinion we should always lead by example, and always keep this notion in mind throughout our life.
What were my feelings during the reading of these commented Sutras ?
Firstly, I was very intimidated by the book and wasn’t sure if I was going to understand the meaning of the Sutras. Nonetheless, it surprised me, because all the words entering in my brain were making sense. And I read the first part of the book in less than one week. Of course, it will take years to apply all the knowledge and finally have a real understanding of the philosophical meanings.
What I like most in Satchidananda’s commentaries are the examples he gives and the stories he tells. And it’s very pleasant to realize deep and strong knowledge through such light tales.
From what I read in several reviews of the book, it seems that this translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the best for western people to be introduced to the philosophy of yoga. I am glad I began my study of the Yoga Sutras with this book because I felt comfortable throughout the reading.
My conclusion :
Understanding the book is easy, but understanding the application of the book through life is not. And it is not through reading that we can grasp it, but through experimentation, practice, devotion and understanding of our true inner self.
This review is sorely lacking. I’m not sure the reviewer actually read the book. I don’t mind admitting I don’t understand the original, nor does anyone I’ve met, but I don’t think Swami Satchidananda understands it either. Not only does he contradict the original text, be he contradicts himself quite a bit. After 1:27, he says “om” is the equivalent of “amen,” then he states “Om” is the best name for God (actually it’s not clear the either om or “Ishvara” refers to God in this section). Then he says the names of God in different cultures are all equally good, before going back to saying how special and unique chanting “om” is. This isn’t the wisdom of Patanjali! This is some guy riffing on the sutras (“threads” in Sanskrit). He also tries desperately to remain ecumenical, and praises all religious scriptures, while only being knowledgeable of Hinduism and Buddhism. Also the “Eight Limbs” as Satchidananda describes them, and are in the chart depicted here, seem to be informed by the Eight Limbs as described by other Hindu scriptures called the “Puranas.” It would be nice if this was better explained. According to “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; A Biography” by David Gordon White, and other historical sources, Indian scholars had abandoned the Sutras for centuries before Swami Vivekananda re-introduced them to the world. I wonder if yoga students would be better off if this work remained forgotten.