Although Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s The Secret of the Yoga Sutra and David Gordon White’s The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography could not be more different in terms of core message and approach, both share the same underlying problem. Essentially, this is that each in its own way replicates the dominant paradigm that divides our studies of the Yoga Sutra (YS) between 1) practitioner-oriented studies that are reverentially devoted to explicating it as a timeless truth, and 2) narrowly empiricist academic studies that are utterly dismissive of the concerns and experiences of practitioners. This split between lived practice and scholarly inquiry is unfortunate in that it narrows the scope of ideas and information in ways that impoverish both.
In the world of contemporary Western yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is revered as canon, which is to say that the yoga community accepts this collection of philosophical aphorisms as fundamental to yogic practice and as significant in the process of understanding the history of our tradition. This work, the jump-off point for many yoga philosophy conversations, is written in a unique form, characteristic of its time: the sutra.
Once the yogi has had an experience of pure consciousness, the mind continuously strives to attain, over and over again. Attunement to the universal energy of the gunas is only one piece. There is an internal landscape, at the depths of the human mind that must be analyzed, parsed, and deconstructed. This deep psychological work happens at the most subtle level, where thoughts originate and instigate our behaviors and emotions. This exploration is the path to freedom.
The two historical texts employed by yoga practitioners to navigate the path are the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The former promises freedom, or “kaivalya,” from the shackles of embodied existence through the state of samadhi; the latter promises a kind of blissful transcendence of the body-mind conundrum through union with God. These two texts offer a wealth of information to all who read them and pose an important question: what kind of yoga will you practice?
Delving into the ancient yogic texts requires having a strong sense of imagination and a splash—if not more—of suspended of disbelief. More than mere philosophy, these texts introduce the reader to a symbolic works in which hangs the delicate veil that separates reality from myth. In fact, many ancient yogic texts and their study depend on the very question of the existence of reality.
Love is the easy yoke, the discipline which removes every burden. The yoke of love is known as Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti, pure devotion, is the short cut to realization. Please don't do yoga practices without love. Love is so easy; one moment of immersion in pure love dissolves all burdens. Love immediately centers you in the heart, the dwelling place of the Supreme.
To be a true yoga master, you need to master the art of negation. That’s Patanjali’s idea, from the Yoga Sutras:
2.33 Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam
The practice of pratipaksha bhanavam prescribes that, when disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite thoughts should be brought into awareness.
It takes a good amount of logical and spiritual training to know how to approach the art of negation. It’s like when you were studying algebra, and you learned how to use the order of operations. When you are solving for x, you need to understand the operations and their inverses, and figure out where the parentheses are, to really figure out the value of x. And just like algebra, it takes a good amount of practice to do it consistently well.
It is no secret that, when we hear or read stories about people who’ve left the world (and the things which tied them to it) behind, we often recall familiar images. Some of these may be of mild-voiced gurus sitting in the lotus position under a yellow Indian sunset. Others are of ancient men with misty eyes and beards, regarded as wise sages by travelers and townspeople alike and possessing no more than a rough-spun cloth around their waists.
Students of 21st Century Transnational Postural Yoga typically begin our study with little or no theory; practice is all. As we deepen our practice, we are introduced to what we are told is “Yoga Philosophy.” Depending on the tradition we are studying, this is usually a pat genealogy; we are told that “Yoga Philosophy” is found in the Yoga Sūtras, and that the philosophy they contain is called स़ाम्ख्य, Sāmkhya, and that it is dualistic. Because Yoga is supposedly Indian, we are also likely to be introduced to some Indian religious classics: the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gītā. In the course of this, we may be told that some of these texts expound another acceptable Indian philosophical system, that of Non-Dualism (or “Monism”). And there the matter is likely to be left.
To the dreadlocked, inward gazing sadhus along the burning ghats of Benares, India the ultimate purpose of yoga is not to feel sexier, healthier, and more energetic. To the sadhus, the goal of life is to escape the attachment of samsara and the lusts of the body, escape the cycle of birth and death, stop the cause of bad karma, and, finally, to awaken one’s identity with the superconscious Self, or atman.