Are Patanjali's yogasutras about yoga?
last revision: October, 2017
[This is just a placeholder. Text to be re-written after collecting sufficient references.]
In recent times, the second sloka of Patanjali's Yogasutra seems to have become one of the most often quoted Sanskrit verses, especially amongst non-Indian (and cosmopolitan Indian) yoga ethusiasts.
Yoga is the silencing of the movements of the mind
The statement tends to be taken as Patanjali's definition of yoga, and the previous verse which means "Here follows an exposition on Yoga", seems to confirm that Patanjali intended it as such. And yet, for anyone who has not come to yoga through the yogasutras, but through any of the (many) other schools of yoga, this doesn't sound completely satisfactory. Yoga is normally taken to mean any discipline that re-connects us to the Divine, and while silencing the mind is an important element of that effort, it doesn't feel right to simply define yoga as the silencing of the movements of the mind.
Interesting there is an alternative reading of his text, which is worth exploring in some detail. Vācaspati Miśra, one of the earliest commentators on Patanjali's Yogasutras offers an unusual but actually rather plausible interpretation of Patanjali's usage of the word "yoga". The word "yoga" is most commonly taken as derived from the Sanskrit root yuj-i. Its meaning is then given as the re-union of the Self and the Divine, both as path and as result. There is, however, another word "yoga" that is derived from the root yuj-a, which means concentration, and Vācaspati Miśra suggests that Patanjali might actually have meant this second much less common word. At first sight it may seem rather preposterous to assume that centuries of scholarship and a huge and growing international readership may be wrong about the basic subject matter of Patanjali's work, but the rest of the text actually points rather strongly in this direction.
This interpretation is referred to and then left by the side by Ramakrishna Rao in his translation of and commentary on Patanjali, but there are others who have taken it to be the sole correct understanding of the text. [REFs to original text of Vācaspati Miśra, other SKT sources, and modern commentaries in English.]
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