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Yoga Philosophy

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a Hindu scripture and foundational text of Yoga. It forms part of the corpus of Sutra literature dating to India's Mauryan period.


In Hindu philosophy, Yoga (also Raja Yoga to distinguish it from later schools) is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work on yoga philosophy and practice.


Patañjali fills each sutra with his experiential intelligence, stretching it like a thread (sūtra), and weaving it into a garland of pearls of wisdom to flavour and savour by those who love and live in yoga.


The Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy and also exhibit the influence of Upanishadic, Buddhist and Jain thought. Karel Werner writes that "Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika." Robert Thurman writes that Patanjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism. This mutual influence between the Yoga philosophy and Jainism is admitted by the author Vivian Worthington who writes:
"Yoga fully acknowledges its debt to Jainism, and Jainism reciprocates by making the practice of yoga part and parcel of life."
Christopher Chappel also notes that three teachings closely associated with Jainism appear in Yoga: the doctrine of karma described as colourful in both traditions (see concept of lesya); the telos of isolation (kevala in Jainism and Kaivalyam in Yoga); and the practice of non-violence (ahimsa). He also notes that the entire list of five yamas (II:30) is identical with the ethical precepts (Mahavratas) taught by Mahavira who predated Patanjali by a few centuries.


In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali prescribes adherence to eight "limbs" or steps (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga", to quiet one's mind and achieve kaivalya. The Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga, and are considered to be the most organized and complete definition of that discipline. The division into the Eight Limbs (Sanskrit Ashtanga) of Yoga is reminiscent of Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path; inclusion of Brahmaviharas (Yoga Sutra 1:33) also shows Buddhism's influence on parts of the Sutras.


The samadhi techniques are identical to the jhanas found in the Pali Canon. In Vyasa's commentary to the Yogasutras, (Yogabhashya) and Vacaspati Misra's subcommentary it is openly admitted that the samadhi techniques are directly borrowed from the Buddhists (Jhana) with just the inclusion of the mystical and divine interpretations of mental absorption.


The Sutras not only provide yoga with a thorough and consistent philosophical basis, they also clarify many important esoteric concepts which are common to all traditions of Indian thought, such as karma.


Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into 4 chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:


Samadhi Pada (51 sutras)
Samadhi refers to a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means to attaining samādhi. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: "Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ" ("Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications").


Sadhana Pada (55 sutras)
Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline". Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
Kriya yoga, sometimes called Karma Yoga, is also expounded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.
Ashtanga Yoga describes the eight limbs that together constitute Raja Yoga.


Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)
Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for "power" or "manifestation". 'Supra-normal powers' (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers should be avoided and the attention should be fixed only on liberation.


Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)
Kaivalya literally means "isolation", but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation, liberation and used interchangeably with moksha (liberation), which is the goal of Yoga. The Kaivalya Pada describes the nature of liberation and the reality of the transcendental self.


Also see:
The Five Yamas
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
The Seven Chakras
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