Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Some pages from a historic Yogasutra manuscript (Sanskrit, Devanagari). The verses are highlighted and are embedded inside the bhasya (commentary).
Patañjali Statue (traditional form indicating kundalini or incarnation of Shesha)

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE by Patanjali who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from older traditions.[1][2][3] The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic.[4] The text fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century.[5]

Before the 20th century, history indicates that the medieval Indian yoga scene was dominated by the various other texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha, texts attributed to Yajnavalkya and Hiranyagarbha, as well as literature on hatha yoga, tantric yoga and Pashupata Shaivism yoga rather than the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.[6]

Hindu tradition holds the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali to be one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy.[7][8] However, the appropriation - and misappropriation - of the Yoga Sutras and its influence on later systematizations of yoga has been questioned by scholars such as David Gordon White,[5] but reaffirmed by others such as James Mallinson.[9]

Modern scholars of yoga such as Philipp A. Maas[10] and Mallinson[11] consider the Bhasya commentary on the Sutras to be Patanjali's own, and the Sutras to be his summary of older accounts of yoga. The combined document is thus considered to be a single work, the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.[11]

Author and dating

Author

The Yoga Sūtras text is attributed to Patanjali.[12][13][14][15] Much confusion surrounds this Patañjali, because an author of the same name is credited to be the author of the classic text on Sanskrit grammar named Mahābhāṣya. Yet the two works in Sanskrit are completely different in subject matter. Furthermore, before the time of Bhoja (11th century), no known text states that the authors were the same.[note 1]

Dating

Philipp A. Maas assesses Patañjali's Yogasutra's date to be about 400 CE, based on tracing the commentaries on it published in the first millennium CE, and a review of extant literature.[10]

Edwin Bryant, on the other hand, surveys the major commentators in his translation of the Yoga Sūtras.[16] He observes that "Most scholars date the text shortly after the turn of the Common Era (circa first to second century), but that it has been placed as early as several centuries before that."[17] Bryant concludes that "A number of scholars have dated the Yoga Sūtras as late as the fourth or fifth century C.E., but these arguments have all been challenged. ... All such arguments [for a late date] are problematic."[18]

Michele Desmarais summarizes a wide variety of dates assigned to Yogasutra, ranging from 500 BCE to 3rd century CE, noting that there is a paucity of evidence for any certainty. She states the text may have been composed at an earlier date given conflicting theories on how to date it, but latter dates are more commonly accepted by scholars.[19]

Compilation

The Yoga Sutras are a composite of various traditions.[2][3][1] The levels of samādhi taught in the text resemble the Buddhist jhanas.[20][note 2] According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (aṣṭāṅga yoga) and action yoga (Kriya yoga).[21] The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 sutras 1-27, chapter 3 except sutra 54, and chapter 4.[2] The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 sutras 28-55, and chapter 3 sutras 3 and 54.[2]

According to Maas, Patañjali's composition was entitled Pātañjalayogaśāstra ("The Treatise on Yoga according to Patañjali") and consisted of both Sūtras and Bhāṣya.[10] According to Wujastyk, referencing Maas, Patanjali integrated yoga from older traditions in Pātañjalayogaśāstra, and added his own explanatory passages to create the unified work that, since 1100 CE, has been considered the work of two people.[1] Together the compilation of Patanjali's sutras and the Vyasabhasya, is called Pātañjalayogaśāstra.[22]

According to Maas, this means that the earliest commentary on the Yoga Sūtras, the Bhāṣya, that has commonly been ascribed to some unknown later author Vyāsa (the editor), was Patañjali's own work.[10]