Yoga Sutras, The Practice

by Vyaas Houston, M.A.

There seems to persist a belief among us that the various states of samādhi - let alone nirvāṇa or kaivalya - described in ancient classical texts on yoga are unapproachable. For thousands of years before the more recent ages of worldwide commerce, industry and technology, this was not the case. In the vast body of sacred Sanskrit texts as well as vernacular literature, we see a continuous outpouring of unbounded enthusiasm and encouragement, a seemingly endless reservoir of inspiration from countless enlightened sages, generation after generation. The apparent result of this long sustained outburst was that throughout its duration, the expectation of spiritual illumination was high.

This tidal wave of nurturing wisdom is the blessing of ancient rishis who divined a perfect language to sustain a love for knowledge and cultivation of the purest essence of truth, the discovery of oneʼs self. I had the good fortune to meet numerous Indian lovers of Sanskrit, infused with the brilliance of this magnificent tradition. One in particular kindled the fire in me.

This book outlines the precise and reliable information of classical texts as a direct means for anyone to apply yoga, access samādhi and fulfill the model of Yoga. The basic premise is that anyone who chooses to use meditation practice in conjunction with the insights of ancient yogic wisdom, can always proceed on to the discovery of something yet subtler than the prior daysʼ practice yielded until one day oneʼs experience becomes so subtle that all boundaries disappear. Itʼs difficult for me personally to imagine how that might be possible without the teachings so tenderly crafted in the Sanskrit language. This book outlines that progression from the perspective of classical yoga.

During my early years of Sanskrit study, the greater part of the 1970ʼs, my teacher Ramamurtti Mishra would from time to time focus on the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Although I was enchanted by all aspects of Sanskrit, there was a distinctly different feeling whenever we touched on the Sūtras. I had only a superficial grasp of the meaning at the time, but I was deeply affected by an indescribable feeling they conveyed. It pulled on me. After devoting more than thirty years to their study I now have a sense that the feeling I experienced was the power of a vast and voluminous body of yogic knowledge, compiled over millenia that had been concentrated and perfectly captured in essence into just 195 Sūtras, terse word equations.

This concentrating of knowledge had long been a highly valued literary form for many hundreds of years before Patanjali. The most notable sūtra work of antiquity was Pāṇiniʼs great grammatical treatise Aṣṭādhyāyī  “Eight Books”, wherein through awe inspiring genius, the master had concentrated the correct forms of infinite potential words and grammatical relationships into just 4000 sūtras. The standard which Pāṇini, in approximately 500 B.C. and those who had come before him had set was absolute brevity. Not even a syllable was wasted by repetition where information gleaned from context could be connected even from remote chapters. What such a system of literature makes possible is knowledge of the whole, once the individual pieces are known and the connections between the parts are made. In the case of Pāṇini, what is known is grammar, the proper forms of all existing words and potentially, those which do not yet exist, all maintaining the exquisite harmony and purity of Sanskrit aesthetics in each and every word.   

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras are a similar proposition in regard to knowledge of yoga. His requires just 195 sūtras in 4 books. Whereas Pāṇini provides the mechanical process for achieving the correct forms of infinite possible words, Patanjali provides through his sūtras all stages of practice and insight that span the entire spectrum of life from physical creation i.e. identity with a physical body to complete transcendence of form and absolute freedom. Patanjali so perfectly captured the essence of yoga in his Sūtras, that there is virtually no difference between theory and practice. The text is the practice.