Comments on Patanjali

Comment on Patanjali

My comments on Patanjali: Even a great translation of Patanjali’s definition of yoga doesn’t address some nagging issues. Being arguably among the 2 greatest grammarians of the last 2500 years, and the field of Grammar, Speech, is very sophisticated and wide spread in Indian culture, he composed a SUTRA, a compressed form of Speech, capable of delivering a lot of reference in very few syllables. It is called Yoga Sutra. Other sutras composed during his time and before are unfathomable without commentary. Certainly “Ashtadhyayi,” Panini’s grammar, also in Sutra, had to be redacted in the 16th century, because even the commentary had become too arcane for many students of the time.

Patanjali’s tradition was Speech, and he was one of the greatest masters of it. Yet, we want to read him, as if he was writing as, for example, a 19th century philosopher, presenting his speculations on Truth or God. Although we may assign him to a darshana, or philosophical school, he was not a philosopher, his compositions were not expository, he wasn’t writing non-fiction, he was writing CODE. Not that anything was secret, or he didn’t want others to know – “To the grammarian, to save even a single syllable, was equivalent to the birth of a son (source: shastra stuck inside my head).”

In these sutras and some tantric styles of composition, the references are NOT to ideas, but syllables, and indeed syllables appear where there were none, through decompression, as if we would unzip files on a computer. And the syllables, in turn have references. A master of grammar & composition can send the references in many directions at the same time. Patanjali was such a master.

To extract what looks like a word from The Yoga Sutra, and look it up in Monier-Williams English Sanskrit dictionary, is good for your professor at the university, but just doesn’t cut it among adepts and magi – or yogis. Patanjali is in a class of the greatest esotericists of the last few thousand years.

Yes, we can be inspired by all great literature, make our lives more conscious and happy, and we can do the same with Yoga Sutra. It’s part of its greatness and that of its author.

It’s a lot bigger than it seems. That’s the nature of sutra.


  1. Dear Babaji,

    Would it be somewhat true to say that the nature of Sutra is sort of like microcosm and macrocosm? The magi (or yogi) is said to be able to perceive both directly. Does a Sutra, then, lead to the Awareness of both and beyond? What really is the purpose of a Sutra besides its code? What is its 'bigger meaning'? Or…is it much too big to even get into here?


    1. I think this is not only a fascinating area you are bringing up, Uddhava, but completely central to our knowledge. Certainly within Indian tradition, from which I speak, but I also "speculate" it's application in knowledge in other cultures as well, maybe all culture. We've touched on this before. Indian culture has known for many millenia that knowledge corresponds to arrangement of phonemes, what they call the "indestructibles," or syllables, "akshars." And the sum of all knowledge corresponds with all the possible combinations of these indestructibles. These combinations are not random, however, but reflect and resemble other natural matrices, such as the night sky, the topography of the Earth, the kingdom of plants, and the human body. But the syllables are not (just) sounds – they are articulations, which is different. These matrices resemble each other in very specific ways. The Law of Speech behaves the same whether in the human throat or in the sky or even among plants. But the human articulation of Speech is convenient, meaning it's close. In fact so close that it's too close, and as our attention is drawn into the world for knowledge, we fail to understand that the greatest access is inside your own mouth!! Not by technique! Not by practice! By darshan. This is what Patanjali describes. But Sutra is even more special. There is already compression in Sanskrit by means a of "sandhi," which English actually also uses, but in unauthorized ways. If I ask you, "jeet yet?" You can easily understand I said "did you eat yet." Sandhi "legalizes" this compression also in a manner that is reflected precisely in nature. So Patanjali (and many others) take it a step further. When in sutra, Patanjali articulates "aham," which normally means the pronoun "I" in Sanskrit, he is making reference to the syllable "a" which in this context is the first syllable in the Sanskrit varnamala, or "alphabet," and "ha" which in this context is the final syllable. So for starters, he means the alphabet, not the pronoun, I. But if we consider what I said before about knowledge being all the possible lawful combination of syllables, meaning the perception of the world is based on this, then this varnamala or necklace of phonemes, "aham," which is responsible for the world ALSO means "I." "I" or "aham" becomes a fulcrum, which connects the macrocosm with the microcosm. But that's just touching the surface with "aham" as we could go on for days, not in speculation or in our ideas, but in lawful ways this springs from Patanjali.

  2. Any one of the Yoga Sutras if received has the power to rewrite our inner software which in turn reconfigures the hardware…the body actually changes in response…this is real transformation and I have experienced it in my own body . Reading does not do this.

  3. Babaji,

    So it is truly with authority (direct perception and proper usage of these phonemes) that one could command Speech. Or, does Speech command our individuality? It seems to be the latter. But, my understanding from you is, if you sit in the Extraordinary, then you and Speech cease to be 'two' but are actually One. Therefore, when you Speak, you are the very vibration you utter. Does that seem closer to the truth?

    It seems, this type of Power, this Speech, could be a transmission and a transformation to those who are present, listening to it.

    Am I anywhere near the mark in conventional language, or am I wasting my time?

    1. Let's not concern ourselves with commanding Speech, but having Her darshan. Let's substitute "invoke" for "command." The phonemes are articulated in the process of Speaking, and it is to this articulation that we may focus our attention. Our concern with Authority is our need for handles, there must be some means, an external means, for determining where we are, how we are, when we are. All of nature employs Speech, not just authority. But all in nature is unequal, as is the literacy of reading nature's Speech.

      "You and speech…are actually one…" "you are the vibration you utter.." is too abstract, too speculative for this discussion. Let's leave you and I out of it for the moment, and examine Speech, Herself, in the sense of darshan, with wonder. Let's also be cautious of the consumer kind of thinking that seeks to employ Nature, such as using Her to transmit something. She is transmitting continuously.

  4. Just discovered this discussion through a Facebook an iyengar practitioner ,I have spent many hours with mr.iyengars commentary .I very much thank you

  5. yes, 'an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory', so shivananda of rishikesh is quoted as saying.
    yet, without knowing what & how to do, you cannot practise.
    so i find it extremely important to learn to understand the background and deeper meaning of the scriptures, despite practice always remaining the main focus.

  6. Divine Souls, Dearest Babaji,
    What beautiful insights we have allowed to be expressed through us in theese above comments. One of the common mistakes made today by many of us western students of Yoga is our limited understanding of how the Sanskrit Sutras, once translated into english firstly lose a great deal of thier thier shakti, and secondly they also lose much of thier meaning. Indeed the word and its meaning are akin to Shiva and Shakti themselves. Sanskrit is so contextual and conceptual that the sylables themselves are visual manifestations with the vibration of their divine orgins. To translate Sanskrit into english is akin to genetic modification where the vibration… thus the meaning and internal (microcosm to macrocosm) transformation is therefore also modified. ……

  7. Having read nearly a dozen translations of the Yoga Sutras I have seen several variations of English words used interchangeably to attempt to express the meaning… of course unsuccessfully. The meaning is the Shakti and her Shakta. The Yoga Sutras, have a self selecting audience with each Sutra's divine gifts waiting to be realized at exactly the right time. The service each of your above comments provides to sadhaks is sublime and will serve many as a reminder to realize the truth for oneself! … Yogacharya Gowrishankarananda

  8. Patanjali gives a hint about the sacred use of speech in his definition of Kriya Yoga in the second pada. One practise of Kriya (sacred action) Yoga is svadhyaya, the study of the Self by means of reciting sacred sounds. Its 'resonating' effects awaken (or vedantins would say) uncover the Purusha, the Self.

  9. Gurdjieff coined a fitting term in english that captures the intent of what you're describing: legominism.

    “The term … legominism means a structure of ideas by which ancient wisdom is passed on in a form apparently intended for some entirely different purpose.”

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