Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra – Notes – II
It is not easy to define yoga. Etymologically the word is derived from the root √yuj, “to link together,” “to bind closely,” “to harness,” “to bring under the yoke,” and this root also is the source of the Latin jüngere and jugum, the English yoke, etc. In general, the word yoga is used to distinguish every technique of asceticism and every method of meditation. Obviously these varieties of asceticism and meditation have been differently esteemed by the innumerable currents of thought and mystic movements in India. There is a “classical” yoga, expounded by Patanjali in his famous treatise, Yoga Sutras, and it is from this system that one must start in order to understand the position of yoga in the history of Indian thought. But, side by side with this “classical” yoga, there exist uncountable “popular” forms of yoga, which are not systematized, and there are also the non-Brahman yogas (those of the Buddhists and the Jains, for example).
Basically it is this very word, yoga, that has made this great variety of connotations possible. Although in fact, etymologically, yuj means “to link,” it is nevertheless clear that the “bond” in which this action of linking should culminate presupposes as a condition precedent the severance of the bonds that join the spirit and the world. In other words, deliverance cannot take place unless one has first “detached oneself” from the world, unless one has begun by withdrawing from the cosmic circuit, for otherwise one would never succeed in finding oneself again or in mastering oneself. Even in its “mystic” connotation—that is, even in so far as it signifies union—yoga implies a prior detachment from the material, emancipation with respect to the world. The stress is placed on man’s effort (“to bring under the yoke”), on his self-discipline, thanks to which he can achieve concentration of mind, even before he has invoked—as in the mystic varieties of yoga—the aid of the divinity. “To link together,” “to bind tightly,” “to bring under the yoke”—the purpose of all these actions is to unify the spirit, to eliminate dispersion and the automatisms that are characteristic of the secular consciousness. To the “devotional” (mystic) schools of yoga, this “unification,” obviously, merely precedes true union, the union of the human soul with God.
What is characteristic of yoga is not only its practical side but also its initiatory structure. One cannot learn -yoga alone; one requires the guidance of a guru (“teacher”). The yogi begins by renouncing the secular world (family and society) and, guided by his guru, he devotes himself to stepping successively beyond all the behavior and values peculiar to the human condition. He endeavors to “die to this life,” and it is here that one can best see the initiatory structure of yoga. We are present at a death followed by a rebirth into another way of being: the way that is represented by deliverance, by access to a way of being that is not profane and that is difficult to describe, which the Indian schools designate under such different names as moksha, nirvana, asamskrta, and others.