The First of Four Chapters of the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali
By Tom Hess
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the most important texts about yoga. A lot of mystery surrounds the text—mainly who wrote it and when was it written? But the truths of the sutras are eternal.
The main principal of the yoga sutras is this—it is only when we can move beyond the individual self to recognize the connection that ties all of life together that we can end suffering within ourselves.
The first chapter of the sutras is called “Samadhi pada” or the “Integration” or “Meditative Absorption” chapter. Patanjali starts off by defining yoga as the stilling of the movements of the mind. When this happens, the practitioner can see things more clearly. When the mind is active the practitioner often sees only the movements, not what’s underneath. This clarity allows the practitioner to the see things in their true nature.
Then the different states of mind are talked about—true perception or true knowledge, misconception or illusion, imagination, sleep, and memory. Understanding these various states of mind allow practitioners to recognize where their minds are.
Then two important concepts of the yoga practice are presented—practice and detachment (Abhyasa and Vairagya). These are clear actions that can guide a person toward integration. What to practice? The eight limbs of yoga that are mentioned in chapter 2. What to detach from? Anything that distracts the practitioner from the goal of stilling the movements of the mind.
The qualities of nature (gunas) are described—Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva (vibrancy, inertia, and luminosity.) These are states of being in which we all reside constantly. We want to be including more sattvic influence in our lives but eventually we would like to leave the gunas behind.
When these gunas are left behind, integration or Samadhi are achieved. The levels of Samadhi are described—Vitarka, Vicara, Ananda, and Asmita (self-analysis, synthesis, bliss, and pure being). One is encouraged to persist in one’s practice—even when one has achieved a certain level of calmness of mind, there is always another layer to practice toward.
Patanjali then goes on to talk about the definition of the Lord; he is a special soul, according to yoga—not subject to change and unaffected by actions with no past impressions.
Then a number of obstacles to the practice are mentioned—physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual; for example, laziness, doubt, pride, delusion, and lack of perseverance.
Patanjali then goes on to describe types of yoga work—single-mindedness, friendliness, compassion, joy, indifference to pleasure and pain, indifference to virtue and vice, retention of the breath after exhale, focus on the heart center, meditations on enlightened being, and dreams in a wakeful state.
The last part of the chapter speaks of various levels of integration or Samadhi. The first is “seeded Samadhi”—becoming meditatively absorbed into an object. The second is “seedless Samadhi”—becoming meditatively absorbed into pure consciousness.
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Stay tuned for the next article in the April/May/June issue of Lotus Guide, when we will talk about the eight limbs of yoga.