Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.1
अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥
atha yoga-anu-śāsanam ||1||
Now instruction in yoga.
Now, the teachings of yoga [are presented].
It is common for authors of philosophical works to commence their treatises by announcing the specific nature of their subject matter, thereby indicating how their undertakings are to be distinguished from other strains of philosophical thought or knowledge systems. Thus, while from the six classical schools of Hindu philosophy3 the followers of the Vedānta school see their tradition as explaining the nature of the absolute Truth (Brahman), and the followers of the Vaiśeṣika and Mīmāṁsā schools as explaining the nature of dharma, duty, and these respective points of focus are announced in the first sūtras of the primary texts associated with those schools, the Yoga school is interested in the subject of yoga. Patañjali accordingly uses the first sūtra of his text to announce the topic of his teachings: The primary subject matter of his text differs from that of other systems insofar as his work will be about yoga.
It is also standard in the commentarial literature, as will become apparent throughout this work, for the later commentators to analyze each word in every sūtra (as discussed in the introduction, sūtra means aphorism or extremely succinct verse), and words are analyzed in various ways—etymologically, semantically, contextually, philosophically, etc. Commentaries thus unpack the meaning of words, both individually and collectively, in the sūtras of primary texts. Vyāsa, Vācaspati Miśra, Vijñānabhikṣu, Saṅkara, Bhoja Rāja, Rāmānanda Sarasvatī, and Hariharānanda Araṇya are, in chronological order, the main commentators recognized as the most important of the premodern period and their interpretations form the basis of the present commentary.
Accordingly, the first word in this sūtra, and thus of the entire Yoga Sūtras, is atha, now, that is, in the present work Patañjali is about to deliver, demarking these teachings from those in other texts (the word also initiates the opening sūtras of other philosophical works). As will be seen below with Vijñānabhikṣu’s comments, the word atha is also sometimes read as differentiating the text in question from other texts in a hierarchical or sectarian fashion, as indicating that when one has exhausted dabbling with other philosophical or religious systems as represented in other texts, one has now finally come to the summum bonum of Truth, namely, that represented by the text in question. The commentators add, as an aside, that the word atha is deemed somewhat sacred and thus also functions as an auspicious opening to the text.
Vyāsa, the primary and most important commentator (whose commentary is almost as canonical as Patañjali’s primary text), then proceeds to discuss yoga, the second word in this sūtra. In accordance with the famous Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇini, he glosses yoga with samādhi, the ultimate subject matter of the Yoga Sūtras. Samādhi consists of various contemplative stages of mental concentration that will be described in detail throughout the text. Indeed, the commentator Vācaspati Miśra traces the etymology of yoga to one of the meanings of the root yuj, to contemplate, which, he points out, is the correct etymology here. The more established etymology from the perspective of modern historical linguistics is, of course, derived from the same Indo-European root as the English word “yoke.”9 Yoga can thus mean that which joins, that is, unites one with the Absolute Truth, and while this translation of the term is popularly found (and may be apt in other contexts, such as the Gītā, IX.3410), it is best avoided in the context of the Yoga Sūtras, since, as was pointed out over a hundred years ago by the famous Indologist Max Müller (1899, 309ff) (and long before that, by the sixteenth-century Indian doxographer Mādhava11) the goal of yoga is not to join, but the opposite: to unjoin, that is, to disconnect puruṣa from prakṛti. If the term is to mean “yoke,” it entails yoking the mind on an object of concentration without deviation.
Elaborating on this, Vyāsa notes that when the mind is directed toward an object, it can manifest five different degrees of focus (bhūmis): wondering, confused, distracted, concentrated, and restrained. It is the last two that are of interest to Yoga: when the mind, citta, is restrained and concentrated, or fixed on one point, a type of samādhi known as samprajñāta can be attained. Samprajñāta–samādhi entails concentrating the mind in various degrees upon an object of concentration (all of which will be discussed at length below). Vyāsa also introduces the notion of asamprajñāta–samādhi in these opening comments. This is the seventh and ultimate level of samādhi, when all activities of the mind have been fully restrained—including those involved in samprajñāta–samādhi of one-pointed concentration on an object. Since asamprajñāta–samādhi will also be discussed at length in the text, we will simply note here that in this state, pure objectless consciousness alone remains, that is, self-contained consciousness conscious only of its own internal nature of pure consciousness rather than of any external object. Vyāsa thus provides a minipreview of the subject matter of the Yoga Sūtras in his opening comments.
Vyāsa makes a point of noting that a distracted mind, the third on his list of states, is not to be confounded with yoga. Vācaspati Miśra elaborates that while it is obvious that the other two states of mind, wondering and forgetfulness,15 are not yoga, a distracted state of mind may appear to be so because it is periodically fixed. However, since such steadiness soon relapses into wondering and forgetfulness, it cannot be considered real yoga. Only the fully concentrated or one-pointed state of mind is yoga.
Vācaspati Miśra notes that the third and final term from this sūtra, anu-śāsanam, strictly speaking means further teaching.16 He points out that the Yājñavalkya Smṛti states that a sage known as Hiraṇyagarbha was the original teacher of yoga. Hence Patañjali is using the prefix anu-, which indicates the continuation of the activity denoted by the noun to which it is prefixed, in this case, śāsanam, teachings. The Mahābhārata also identifies Hiraṇyagarbha as the founder of Yoga (XII.326.65; 337.60). In the Purāṇic tradition (e.g., Bhāgavata Purāṇa, X.71.8), Hiraṇyagarbha is considered to be an epithet of Brahmā, the celestial being responsible for engineering the forms in the universe. In Purāṇic lore—for example, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which is quoted frequently herein (III.8)—Hiraṇyagarbha is born on a lotus emanating from the navel of Viṣṇu, the supreme Godhead, who is reclining on the divine serpent Śeṣa on the cosmic waters pervading the entire universe prior to creation.
(As an aside, Patañjali himself is considered an incarnation of Śeṣa; see commentary in II.47.) Awakening to consciousness atop the lotus, Hiraṇyagarbha has no means of knowing who he is, or what is the source of the lotus or the all-expansive waters, indeed, no means of discerning or knowing anything at all. Confused and disoriented, he stills his mind (in accordance with the next verse), and enters into the ultimate state of yoga (samādhi), as a result of which he is granted a divine vision of Lord Viṣṇu. Hiraṇyagarbha is thus the first yogī in primordial times, and deemed to have written the original treatise on the subject.
Although mentioned in various texts, the Hiraṇyagarbha treatise is no longer extant, but information about its twelvefold content, all overlapping with the material found in Patañjali’s sūtras,17 is preserved in the Vaiṣṇava text the Ahirbudhnya Saṁhitā.18 Indeed, the information provided in this text suggests that Patañjali has, indeed, preserved the ancient formulation of the original philosophy ascribed to Hiraṇyagarbha, rather than patching together some innovative Yogic collage.19 Elsewhere, Vyāsa also refers to the teachings of one Jaigīṣavya as a forerunner of Yoga (II.55). Mādhava in his sixteenth-century doxography (compendium of philosophical schools) states that Patañjali, out of kindness, seeing how difficult it was to make sense of all the different types of yoga scattered throughout the Purāṇas, collected their “essences” (111). Patañjali is not the founder of the practice of yoga, which, Vācaspati Miśra stresses, is an ancient practice that preceded even Patañjali. Thus, by using the prefix anu, Patañjali himself implies that he has articulated and systematized a method from preexisting sets of teachings. His opening sūtra, atha yogānuśāsanam, thus informs the reader about the subject matter of the text.
Although Yoga becomes one of six schools of orthodox Hindu thought, its adherents naturally consider it to supersede the other schools. Vijñānabhikṣu, the most philosophical of the commentators, quotes a number of scriptural passages that point to the supremacy of yoga. For example, Kṛṣṇa, in the Bhagavad Gītā (which Vijñānabhikṣu quotes frequently) states, “The yogī is higher than the ascetic, and also considered higher than the jñānī, one who pursues knowledge. The yogī is higher still than the karmī, one who performs action; therefore, Arjuna, become a yogī” (VI.46). Just as all rivers such as the Gaṅgā are present as parts of the ocean, says Vijñānabhikṣu, so all other schools of thought are fully represented as parts of Yoga. While he allows that one can certainly obtain genuine knowledge from these other schools, all knowledge is, by its very nature, a faculty of the intellect, buddhi; it is not a faculty of the soul proper.
Sectarianism apart, it is perhaps useful to consider the argument so as to establish a preliminary understanding of the mind and intellect from Yoga perspectives. All aspects of mind, intellect, and cognition in Yoga psychology are external to or distinct from the true self, or soul. As will become clearer, the soul, which is pure consciousness, is autonomous and separable from the mind, and lies behind and beyond all forms of thought.
“It is essential to fully grasp this fundamental point in order to understand the Yoga system. Just as in most religious systems the body is commonly accepted to be extraneous to and separable from some notion of a soul or life force, and discarded at death, so (in contrast to certain major strains of Western thought), according to the Yoga system (and Hindu thought in general), the mind is also held to be extraneous to and separable from the soul (although it is discarded not at death but only upon attaining liberation). The soul is enveloped in two external and separable bodies in Yoga metaphysics: the gross material body consisting of the senses, and the subtle body consisting of the mind, intellect, ego, and other subtle aspects of the persona. At death, the soul discards the gross body (which returns to the material elements, to “dust”) but remains encapsulated in the subtle body, which is retained from life to life, and eventually attains a new gross body, in accordance with natural laws (karma, etc.). In order to be liberated from this cycle of repeated birth and death (termed saṁsāra in ancient Indian thought), the soul has to be uncoupled from not just the gross body but the subtle body of the citta as well. The process of yoga is directed toward this end. For our present purposes, then, in contrast to the Cartesian model, knowledge, as a feature of the intellect, or the discriminatory aspect of the mind, is extraneous to the pure self and thus not the ultimate aspect of being.
The point here is that while knowledge is initially essential in leading the yogī practitioner through the various levels of samādhi, concentrative states, it is only through yoga, for Vijñānabhikṣu, that one can transcend the very intellect itself and thus the base of knowledge, to arrive at puruṣa, the ultimate state of pure, unconditioned awareness. From this perspective, Yoga is therefore superior to other schools of thought that occupy themselves with knowledge and thus remain connected to the material intellect. Just as a person with a torch in hand gives up the torch upon finding treasure, says Vijñānabhikṣu, so, eventually, the intellect, and the knowledge that it presents, also become redundant upon attaining the ultimate source of truth, puruṣa, the soul and innermost self. The self is pure subjectivity23 and transcends all knowledge, which is of the nature of objectivity: One knows, that is, one is aware or conscious of, something, hence some other object distinct from the knower or
atha (adv.) now
yoga (m.) union, connection, joining; from √yuj
anuśāsanam (n.nom. sg.) instruction, direction, teaching: anu (after, with) + śāsana, from √śās (chastise, correct, restrain, teach)