Some of you might remember the Sutra Sagacity series from back in the days of Infinity Crossing. Well, partly because some of you asked for it, and partly because I feel the philosophy and psychology of yoga is vastly undervalued against the fun and immediacy of the physical practice, we are happily resurrecting, revamping, and updating this series here for you, the MOJO Mob. You see, the lessons we learn from our yoga practice can transform how and why we live our lives the way we do, driving us to live with more mojo off the mat and even design our own MOJO Life. So, whether this in-depth look at the wisdom of yoga is new to you or a review, I know there are fresh nuggets of knowledge for us all to glean here.
Now, to get us all started in a fresh headspace this week, I recommend you start out with our Meditation to Relieve Anxiety from the lovely Kassandra Reinhardt. This should help clear the cobwebs of our daily grind and get our mind ready to receive the wisdom of the ages. Check it out for free this week only right here:
*Uh-oh, this free video of the week expired! Enjoy this MOJO Yoga Preview of our Meditation to Relieve Anxiety practice, or try the full practice for free in your first 30 days, along with over 100 hours of high quality yoga and movement practices to help you get your mojo working anywhere, anytime.
Ahh, that’s better, isn’t it? Now, let’s enlighten ourselves up with Sutra Sagacity! Don’t you just love that word: sagacity? Mmm, say it again. Sagacity. Yeah, that's a good one. In case you’ve never heard this word before or have forgotten what the heck that means, here's a quick refresher:
sa·gac·i·ty [suh-gas-i-tee] noun
Acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgment.
Now, I'm sure we've all heard at least a little talk about Patanjali's Yoga Sutras during our jaunts in the yoga world. But what do you really know about these sutras? Who the heck was Patanjali, anyway? I must confess: while I know something of the figure of Patanjali, what the sutras are, and know quite a few sutras by heart, I cannot say that I really know the Yoga Sutras, their context and meaning. In fact, they are such a densely-packed body of knowledge that it seems nearly impossible to grasp a comprehensive understanding of them. But that doesn't mean we can't give it a good old college try!
That's why, I'm going to drag you kicking and screaming along with me as I endeavor to explore the Yoga Sutras one by one. And, since there are 195 sutras (or 196, depending on who you ask), this is going to take a while. Who knows how it will all unfold? Can you feel the suspense? I want to note that some people dedicate a lifetime of intense study to the knowledge within and
surrounding a subject like the Yoga Sutras. I have deep respect for those people and make no claims to be one of them. I'm somewhere between the extremes of irreverent layman and ascetic scholar. My intentions with this project are to simply gain a better understanding of the subject around which I have centered much of my life, and to put that subject in context with modern means. Essentially, this is a project of fluid structure, that will change shape along with blog and along with me. So fasten your seat belts, kids. Keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle and secure all loose items. It's gonna be a wild ride!
*Note: As of now, I'm compiling and processing my information from the following sources, which I'll cite frequently (I'm sure this list will grow and change, too):
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translation and commentary by Edwin F. Bryant,
- The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation and Commentary by Georg Feuerstein
- Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
- "Main Page of Yoga Sutras" at swamij.com,
- The Yogi's Roadmap by Bhavani Silvia Maki, and…
- my own nescient understanding of them all.
While the currently accepted scholarly understanding of the history of yoga is subject matter more apt for a lengthy text, let's just say yoga is pretty darn ancient. Archaeological explorations of the remnants of the Indus Valley civilization, spanning the territory of modern day India and Pakistan and dating to 3000-1900 B.C.E., have uncovered evidence of some semblance of yogic practices even then. The best known example is a seal depicting a horned figure in a seated posture with arms extended, resting on the knees, much as one would sit to meditate even today (minus the horns, of course, unless you're really into that sort of thing). Just in case the horns bug you, there are depictions of other figures in seated posture without horns, so you can just let that part go.
Yoga is referred to on numerous occasions, albeit in some varying forms, in the earliest Indic texts, from the Vedas to the Upanishads to the Mahabharata. In this long history, yoga seems to really have been a widely varying set of practices united by the purpose of seeking to understand the ultimate truths of reality, developing through a hodgepodge of evolving cultural contexts, and masked by the obscurity of time. Simple, right?
Written sometime between the 1st and 2nd century C.E., Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are so significant because they are really "the first systematized treatise on the subject" of yoga. (Bryant, xxxiv) It should be understood that Patanjali was by no means the only one to attempt to codify yoga, but his version certainly became the dominant one. Notably, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata outline ideas of yoga as six or eight-limbed systems, among many other categorizations. In fact, the more one looks at these texts, the more clear it becomes that Patanjali was essentially a synthesizer.
It should thus be noted that Patanjali did not invent yoga. Clearly, countless variations of yoga existed long before Patanjali. Rather, he "systematized the preexisting tradition and authored what came to be the seminal text for yoga discipline." (Bryant, xxxiii) Indeed, the Sutras could be seen as a crossroads of the many divergent paths of yoga leading up to the time of their writing, and from which yoga continued to evolve in varying directions. It is the delineation of the common thread. Bryant notes that Patanjali's Yoga Sutras became the "canon for the mechanics of generic yoga, so to speak, that other systems tinkered with and flavored with their own theological trappings." (Bryant, xxxiv)
The form of the Sutras reflects the tradition of oral transmission of knowledge in India. "Sutra" means thread, and "refers to a terse and pithy philosophical statement in which the maximum amount of information is packed into the minimum amount of words." (Bryant, xxxv) This means that the Sutras themselves might seem like a bunch of gobbledygook at first, second, and even hundredth glance. They are in a form that supposedly makes their memorization easier: in many ways, they are mnemonic devices. Georg Feuerstein thinks of them as maps, while Bryant likens them to the few bullet points a lecturer might prepare to give a more lengthy presentation (Bryant, xxxv).
As such, the Sutras are meant to be unpacked, discussed at length, and explored through experiential practice. So, while you will find some Sutras to be very straightforward, many others bring to mind the perplexing tradition of the Zen Koan. This is why I anticipate Sutra Sagacity to be a very long, delightful ride.
As for the content of the Yoga Sutras, well, we'll get in to that as we go along. A broader view of the approach that the Sutras outlines emphasizes the meditative, or dhyana-yoga, path. Sister schools of thought in the realm of yoga run from karma-yoga, the path of action, to jnana-yoga, the path of knowledge, to bhakti-yoga, the path of devotion. Still, although it came to be regarded as the authoritative text of one of the six schools of classical Indic philosophy, "Patanjali's text is not so much a philosophical treatise as a psychosomatic technique of meditative practice." (Bryant, xlv) In other words, it's much more of a how-to manual for delving into the depths of consciousness than a philosophical or even theological monolith.
Ultimately, yoga as a system is one of countless practices devised by humans over time seeking ways in which to understand the fundamental essence of our existence. The frame of thought evolved from foundational ideas of the world in duality: individual pure consciousness, atman or purusa, existing in crude matter, prakrti, and the quest to directly realize pure consciousness extricated from that matter. As Bryant notes, "Yoga claims to provide a system by which the practitioner can directly realize his or her purusa, the soul or innermost conscious self, through mental practices." (Bryant, xlvii) The ultimate goal of Yoga is expressed in Patanjali's text as samadhi, or meditative absorption in that realization of pure consciousness. All the rest just tells us how to get there…wherever there is.
Phew! If you stayed with me all the way through to this point, congratulations! You are quite possibly as big a nerd as I am. In the next edition, we'll get down to business and look at the first sutra in book one. With the Sutra Sagacity series thoroughly christened for its voyage, I'll say this: I have no idea what this series is going to become along the way, but I am so excited to see where we all are on our own paths upon its culmination.
As a final note, if you want to find more time in your daily routine to read such things as the Yoga Sutras, our featured premium video this week has a solution! Check out Day 6 of The Find Your MOJO Challenge and learn how developing your morning ritual will not only help you carve out some reading time, but really boost your mojo in so many other ways. So, MOJO Members, just login to see this one at the top of your Member Home Page this week. And of course, if you’re not a MOJO Member yet, check out this preview and start your MOJO Membership today to get the rest of this tutorial. Happy journeying!
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