The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

date Oct 2, 2018
authors Sri Swami Satchidananda
reading time 20 mins

Yoga as a physical practice is merely a means for meditation

The physical Yoga, or Haṭha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga—namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.

What is Raja Yoga?

Rāja Yoga itself is an integral approach. It does not simply advocate meditation but takes into consideration the entire life of a person. Its philosophy is scientific. It welcomes and, in fact, demands experimental verification by the student.

One truth, many paths

Sri Gurudev took every opportunity to bring together people of various traditions to see the oneness in all spiritual endeavors. He never called himself an exclusive member of any one faith, group or country but rather dedicated himself to the principle that “Truth is One, Paths are Many.”

Yoga is union

Normally, the word Yoga is translated as “union,” but for a union there should be two things to unite. In this case, what is to unite with what? So here we take Yoga to mean the Yogic experience. The extraordinary experience gained by controlling the modifications of the mind is itself called Yoga.

Racing mind

The moment the manas records, “I’m getting a fine smell from somewhere,” the buddhi discriminates, “What is that smell? I think it’s cheese. How nice. What kind? Swiss? Yes, it’s Swiss cheese.” Then, once the buddhi decides, “Yes, it’s a nice piece of Swiss cheese like you enjoyed in Switzerland last year,” the ahaṁkära says, “Oh, is it so? Then I should have some now.” These three things happen one at a time, but so quickly that we seldom distinguish between them.

Projection and perception

The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection. Your values may change within a fraction of a second. Today you may not even want to see the one who was your sweet honey yesterday. If we remember that, we won’t put so much stress on outward things.

Things outside

“As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude toward them does that.

If you control your mind…

That is why the entire Yoga is based on citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ. If you control your mind, you have controlled everything. Then there is nothing in this world to bind you.

Seer and the Knower. The thinker and the watcher.

You are the Knower or Seer. You always see your mind and body acting in front of you. You know that the mind creates thoughts; it distinguishes and desires. The Seer knows that but is not involved in it.

True reflection

If the mind has a lot of waves like the surface of a lake, you will be seeing a distorted reflection. If the water of the mental lake is muddy or colored, you see your Self as muddy or colored. To see the true reflection, see that the water is clean and calm and without any ripples.


But without any identifications, who are you? Have you ever thought about it? When you really understand that, you will see we are all the same. If you detach yourself completely from all the things you have identified yourself with, you realize yourself as the pure “I.” In that pure “I” there is no difference between you and me.

Neither pain or pleasure

Whatever the thought is, if there is no selfishness behind it, it can never really bring pain to the person concerned. The result is neither pain nor pleasure, but peace. Seeing this truth, we should analyze all our motives and try to cultivate selfless thoughts. That is our first and foremost duty.

Watching with equanimity

We have to watch carefully the moment a thoughtform arises in the mind. We become analysts. This itself is Yoga practice—watching our own thoughts and analyzing them.

Practice with intension and consistency for a long time

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.

How to practice - deliberate Practice

If you are that patient, your mind is more settled, and what you do will be more perfect. If you are unsettled and anxious to get the result, you are already disturbed; nothing done with that disturbed mind will have quality. So, it is not only how long you practice, but with what patience, what earnestness and what quality also.


The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving from objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.

Peaceful mind

When the mind is tossed by these desires one after the other, there won’t be peace or rest in the mind. And with a restless mind you can’t have steady practice. When you want to do something constantly, your mind should not be distracted by other desires. That’s why this sort of dispassion or non-attachment must always go with the practice.


In Yogic meditation we experience the involution. It could be called the creation and destruction. But, actually, there is nothing created in you; nor is anything destroyed. As the Bhagavad Gītā explains, the unmanifest appears as manifest and then returns to the unmanifest.


Although you appear to be in the world then, you are not involved. Having achieved this, the world is just a shadow from which you are completely free. That is what is meant by a liberated person.

Mantra and Japa

The meaning of mantra is “that which keeps the mind steady and produces the proper effect.” Its repetition is called japa.


We say it is the easiest because you need not go to a particular place nor have a particular time for it. It is not somewhere outside you, but always within. Wherever you are, your mantra is with you. To worship a form you have to have a picture or image and a place to keep it. But in mantra practice it is always in your heart, the most sacred place, because it is your beloved.

First obstacle: Disease

The first obstacle is physical disease. Disease makes you dull, and a dull mind will doubt everything because it doesn’t want to penetrate into a thing to understand it. When doubt is there, there is a carelessness, a sort of lethargic attitude or laziness. And when the mind loses the interest and alertness toward the higher goal, it has to do something else so it will slowly descend to the sensual enjoyments.

Meditation requires physical fitness!

When some people meditate, they tremble and perspire. These are symptoms of physical weakness. But such things will not happen if we keep our body in proper condition by right diet, exercise, proper rest and if we do not allow it to be lazy or dull.

Consistency in a single direction

When you decide on one thing, stick to it whatever happens. There’s no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down.

Change your tactics with time

You are not going to cling to the object but just use it as a ladder to climb up. Once you have reached the roof you leave the ladder behind.

4 keys

So Patañjali gives four keys: friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys always with you, and when you come across any one of these four locks, you will have the proper key to open it.

Mind keys

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Jealousy and anger

By that jealousy, you will not disturb the other person, but you disturb your own serenity. Those people simply got out of the car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

Don’t try to advise such people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them, you will lose your peace.

Breathe and mind…

“Where the mind goes, the prāṇa follows.” We see that even in our daily life. If your mind is agitated, you will be breathing heavily. If you are deeply interested in reading something or thinking seriously and break the concentration to watch your breath, you will notice that you are hardly breathing. That is why after deep thinking, you sigh heavily or take a deep breath.

Breaking the Habit patterns

He just concentrated on that mantra and forgot everything else. All the sins slowly dried up for want of nourishment and died away. If you do not pour water on your plant, what will happen? It will slowly wither and die. Our habits will also slowly wither and die away if we do not give them an opportunity to manifest. You need not fight to stop a habit. Just don’t give it an opportunity to repeat itself. That’s all you have to do.

Meditation tools

In meditation you are conscious of all three — subject, object and process of meditation. But at this point, the three become one; either the object becomes subject or subject becomes object. And when there is no subject-object separation, there is no process either.

Analogy of meditation

Tapas also refers to self-discipline. Normally the mind is like a wild horse tied to a chariot. Imagine the body is the chariot; the intelligence is the charioteer; the mind is the reins; and the horses are the senses. The Self, or true you, is the passenger. If the horses are allowed to gallop without reins and charioteer, the journey will not be safe for the passenger.


Self-discipline is an aid to spiritual progress, whereas self-torture is an obstacle.


But brahmacarya, or celibacy, means control, not suppression, of the sex desire or sex force. If the mind can be filled with sublime thoughts by meditation, mantra repetition, prayer, study of scriptures and contemplation of the sexless, pure Self, the sex desire will be devitalized by the withdrawal of the mind.

Learning !== Experiencing

Many people simply become walking libraries. They have thousands of books recorded in their brains like computers, but that doesn’t mean they have actually experienced the Self. The Self cannot be known by theory alone. By merely thinking, no one has ever understood the One that is beyond the mind.

Reading vs Practice

Sometimes, learning becomes an obstacle if you don’t know what and how much to learn. So, limit your reading and put into practice what you read. Just select one or two books—anything that will remind you of your goal.

5 Obstacles

Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles.

Order of obstacles

The order is also significant: because of ignorance of the Self, egoism comes. Because of egoism, there is attachment to things for the ego’s selfish pleasure. Because sometimes the things we are attached to do not come or are taken away, hatred for those who get in our way comes in. And, finally, because we are attached to things and afraid of death, there is clinging to life in the body.

From within

The ancient scriptures have a fable about this animal which has a scented spot above its forehead that gives off the musk fragrance. This deer runs here and there in search of the scent, not knowing the scent comes from its own forehead.

Habit -> Character -> Life -> Instinct

When we do something several times, it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character, and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct.

How meditation breaks the thought patterns

But you can only understand the smell and see that the thoughts are there when they manifest. To get rid of the impressions completely, you have to break the ego. So, first you clean the superficial things, and ultimately you break the pot. By meditation you can understand the thought forms and clean them up. Then when you have gotten a glimpse of where and how they are, you can slowly trace them to their root and finally cut it out.

3 types of karmas

There are, then, three kinds of karmas: those being expressed and exhausted through this birth (prārabdha karma); new karmas being created during this birth (āgami karma); and those waiting in the karmāśaya to be fulfilled in future births (sañjīta karma).


The very word “understanding” is a combination of two words: “under” and “stand.” To understand, we should stand under. But stand under what? Under where we now stand. We should know where we stand first and then try to “under” stand, to go a little deeper.


But now I understand that none of this is permanent. I have watched millionaires become paupers, famous beauties become wrinkled.” When that understanding comes, we no longer trust the worldly pleasures nor run after them. When we stop running after the world, the world says, “All right, I won’t bother you any more. But whenever you wish to make use of me, I’m ready to serve you.”

4 noble truths

These sūtras are reminiscent of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha: the misery of the world, the cause of misery, the removal of that misery and the method used to remove it.

Discomforts are relative

If we are sad over a minor discomfort and all of a sudden receive a telegram saying our business has suffered a tremendous loss, we immediately forget the small problem. The attention is instantly transferred. So everything is relative. Every experience in the world is mental.

Everything is going on changing from one form to the other..

You give different names to the different shapes the wood takes, but the basic substance is there always. If we could always remember this, we would never worry about the loss of anything. We never lose anything; we never gain anything. By such discrimination we put an end to unhappiness.


When profit comes, they are responsible. When loss comes, God is responsible. Our attitude should be constant: either we are responsible for everything or God is. We should always blame it on the big “I” or the little “i” but not on whichever is convenient at the time.

External Yoga: reading, studying by heart, visiting meccas. Similar to the tech world: reading books, studying engineering / moocs, visiting Shenzhen or Silicon Valley

By this he means external Yoga: reading books, learning all the scriptures by heart, going on pilgrimages to all the temples, āśrams and churches in the world. That is all bāhya, or external practice. Some people waste thousands of years in such effort. If we only look within, we will see the Light as if we were seeing our own image in a mirror.

Mind and limbs

We should spend a little time in the morning and evening to go within. Gradually we can extend this to our entire daily life. Whatever our limbs do outside, we can keep our minds pulled inside.

8 limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of Yoga are: 1. Yama (abstinence) 2. Niyama (observance) 3. Āsana (posture practice) 4. Prāṇāyāma (breath control) 5. Pratyāhāra (sense withdrawal) 6. Dhāraṇā (concentration) 7. Dhyāna (meditation) 8. Samādhi( contemplation, absorption, superconscious state).

Luck meets the prepared mind

“When the disciple is ready, the guru comes,” is a well-known Hindu saying. When the receiver is well-tuned, the music comes. We need not send out invitations. All that is necessary is for us to tune ourselves. Then, without even a second’s delay, the guru will come in some form. If we are not ready though, even with a hundred gurus around, we won’t be benefited.

Bear injury

My Master said, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate. Bear insult. Bear injury. That is the highest sādhana (spiritual practice).” To go into a corner and say a mantra is easy sādhana. Anyone can do it. But if we are insulted and keep a serene mind, it is higher than saying thousands of rosaries of japa. That is tapasya.

Asana for meditation

Āsana means the posture that brings comfort and steadiness. Any pose that brings this comfort and steadiness is an āsana. If you can achieve one pose, that is enough. It may sound easy, but in how many poses are we really comfortable and steady?

Physical and mental toughness

Unless the body is perfectly healthy and free from all toxins and tensions, a comfortable pose is not easily obtained. Physical and mental toxins create stiffness and tension. Anything that makes us stiff can also break us. Only if we are supple will we never break.

Hatha Yoga before meditation

In order to achieve such a meditative pose, we may practice many preliminary cultural poses. This is why Hatha Yoga was created. People trying to sit quietly found they couldn’t it. They encountered pain, stiffness, bile, gas, etc., and thought, “What is the reason for these things and how can we get rid of them?”

Sitting quietly without any mantra or jap is harder

If the body is still, it is easy to make the mind still. One of my masters, a great tantric yogi, used to say, “You need not repeat any prayers or even do japa. Just sit quietly for three hours in a row with no movement whatsoever, without even winking, then everything will be accomplished easily.”

Breathing in ratio and retention

In the normal practice of nāḍī śuddhi we keep a ratio of one to two. If we take the breath in for a count of five, we send it out for a count of ten. Of course, we do not send out double the amount of breath, but we send the breath out twice as slowly as it entered. Thus, we can gain control over our exhalation. Usually we exhale more quickly than we inhale. In this practice, we try to reverse that procedure and gain mastery over the involuntary muscles.

Control and discipline

Control and discipline are very necessary in our lives. Without discipline nothing can be achieved. The whole world functions in a regulated, orderly way. If everything were merely haphazard, no great scientific inventions could be possible, nor would they be necessary. If the sun, moon and earth didn’t rotate in a disciplined way, how could calculations be made to send up a rocket?

Focus on senses

The senses are like a mirror. Turned outward, they reflect the outside; turned inward, they reflect the pure light. By themselves, the senses are innocent, but when allowed to turn outside they attract everything and transfer those messages to the mind, making it restless. Turned inward, they find peace by taking the form of the mind itself.

What is practice?

“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”

Trained mind

This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, your bringing it back; its running, your bringing it back. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you. You will be able to say, “Okay, sit there quietly.” And it will. At that point you are meditating.

Moral high ground and virtue signalling

The mind wants something. It wants to achieve this or that. What for? To be proud of itself. It develops ego. It makes your “I” and “mine” bigger. Selfish desires are still there. If you are after siddhis like astral traveling, clairvoyance and clairaudience, I ask you why. You may say, “Oh, I thought I could help people.” I say that this is just an excuse. You want to show you can do something. You want to be proud of it.

Mind and tranquility

Here, Patañjali gives a nice example of how a farmer allows the water to run into the field simply by removing the obstacles in the water course. Your mind also wants to run to its original source of tranquility, but there are impediments on the way that obstruct the flow.

Teacher is there to remove obstacles

Your practices and your teacher do the job of an agriculturist. The guru is not really bringing you anything new; instead, he or she is simply removing the obstacles so the flow of consciousness will be continuous and the water can reach its source. Water is already running in the canal. The cultivator simply goes looking for some obstacles and takes them out. Once the cultivator removes them, he or she doesn’t need to tell the water it can flow.

Ever peaceful self

Mind is a part of the ever-changing nature. However clever we are, we can only keep the mind quiet for a little while. Therefore, our aim is not to keep the mind peaceful but to rise above the mind and realize the ever-peaceful Self.

Be a witness

When you are the witness you are not responsible for your actions because you are not acting. So, either act and be responsible, or allow the mind and body to act and be a witness, totally free.

Learn from the drudgery of daily life

The entire life is an open book, a scripture. Read it. Learn while digging a pit or chopping some wood or cooking some food. If you can’t learn from your daily activities, how are you going to understand the scriptures?