1.1 अथ योगानुशासनम्

atha yogānuśāsanam

atha – now; yogaḥ – of yoga; anuśāsanam – instuctions, commands, precepts

And now the (authoritative) instructions of yoga.

1.1 atha yogānuśāsanam

And now the instructions of yoga.

So, when we look at this first of the sūtras, this first śloka, the initial word ‘atha’, is a word that is commonly used to begin sūtra writing. Amongst all the possible meanings, the one that is used here is, ‘now’. And when we say ‘now’, we are not speaking of a moment in time as it were, but it’s like having finished all of the preliminary studying or endeavoring in other ways for things, now we take to this path. So the traditional commentators say that this word ‘atha’ is deemed as somewhat sacred and thus also functions as an auspicious opening to the text. It’s used, as I said, in many other sūtras, like for instance the Vedānta Sūtra or the Brahma Sūtra, which is probably the most famous of all the great spiritual sūtras. It begins – ‘athāto brahma-jijñāsā’ – “So now, therefore, we should inquire into Brahman (or the Highest Truth or Ultimate Reality).”

So, what’s been stated here is, it’s kind of like having finished all other previous study and practice. The second word in this sūtra is ‘anu’, and ‘anu’ denotes a continuation of something – it’s not something that’s newly evolved. So, there is reference here to these teachings of yoga being very ancient and this is a continuation of them.

The second part of the word – ‘śāsanam’ -. this word ‘śās’ is often understood in terms of a command, a command that is not unwillingly received, but something which is deeply authoritative. We often see that in the modern world there is this tendency to want to reject authority because it’s perceived that the authorities are sort of dominating or controlling us, and we’re unwilling to be in that position. But my usage of the word, ‘authority;’ or ‘authoritative’ here, is in the sense of someone who has a very profound depth of knowledge and is therefore known as like a leading authority. And so, if you want to know something from someone who has such a fund of knowledge, you approach them in some humility seeing them as an authority.

So one way in which we can understand perhaps the use of this word ‘atha’ in the beginning of this śloka  is kind of like: Now, after previous learning we begin the authoritative study of yoga following the previous saints or rishi’s – the great yogi’s. The word ‘yoga’ here… there has always been some… at least… it’s become popular to talk about it now. Krishnamacharya… I think it was his influence who… he taught his disciples that there were two sub-roots, if I can use that term. And it’s not an accurate Sanskrit term, but so people can understand, there is the original root of the word ‘yoga’ – it’s ‘yuj’.

And if we look at two derivative roots from that, the great grammarian Panini said that the two possible ways that this could be understood – one was ‘yujir-yoge’, which literally means union – which is how many people understand yoga –  to mean this union or yoking, and the other alternative that Panini gave was ‘yuja samadhau’ or ‘samādhi’. So, one could understand yoga to either mean union or samādhi.

So Vyāsa, in his commentary he states “yogaḥ samādhiḥ” – or ‘yoga’ means samādhi. So, I’ll be talking about that in some detail a little bit later. That needs a lot of sort of …one needs to contemplate on a deeper meaning and understanding of this. So, I’m basically making the point – don’t be confused that there are two distinctly different meanings – they’re two completely different things. It is a fact that Patañjali’s use of samādhi will frequently be in connection with contemplation and the eventual transcendental absorption, and we will speak about this as we go forward.

Yoga, as a school of philosophical school or a spiritual path, is understood to be part of of the six Orthodox Vedic philosophies or schools – Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṁsā, and Vedānta . And these were known as the ‘ṣaḍ darśana’ or the six schools of orthodox Vedic philosophy. But these categorizations were not really found in ancient Vedic texts.

Yoga, which we’re speaking of here as a philosophical or standalone school is actually more modern than the more ancient references to yoga that we find in the Upaniṣads, in the Mahābhārata for instance, and we can see that this philosophically six darśan’s, or six schools of Vedic orthodoxy, came into being or became recognized as like standalone institutions, if I can put it that way, or philosophical ideas and teachings. Their prominence is actually from within this Common Era, and so the school of yoga is a standalone school of yoga, is probably much less than 2,000 years. And so we should understand that, at the time of Patañjali there was no school of yoga. He is presenting contemplative yoga and referencing it as of course being yoga – which is rightly done.

In reference to the term ‘samadhi’, I think there is some need to sort of try to understand this. ‘Samādhi’ is the final attainment of yoga practice. Unlike the seven other limbs in this ashtanga yoga process, samādhi is not something that you ‘do’. The yāmas and niyāmas, asana prāṇāyāma, pratyahara, dhāraṇā, dhyāna – these are things that you ‘do’, or that you practice, but samādhi is not something that you ‘do’ or that you ‘perform’. It is the experience of the awakening – an experience of myself as a pure spiritual being or entity, free from any material covering or material consciousness. It is a total and complete absorption in transcendence.

Samādhi however, is sometimes translated as being ‘concentration,’ and it is valid to do that but it can also be misleading for someone that it’s not well enough schooled in yoga teaching. Concentration can be understood as being like a mental state or involving the mind. But, the mind, we must understand, is a material object and enlightenment means transcending that which is material – transcending the mind. Vyāsa states that the mind itself can exist in five possible states, and they all have Sanskrit terms, translated in English as: restless, stupefied, distracted, one-pointed, and arrested. So we will speak about this in some detail when we get to the appropriate slokas.

Vyāsa, in his commentary, has stated that in any one of those states, one can momentarily experience a full concentration, and said to be in samādhi . But the moment of concentration that one may experience in those conditions is actually subordinate to the moments of unrest of the mind, and as such, that type of concentration cannot be actually regarded as yogic samādhi. Vyāsa says that the type of concentration that leads to samādhi, must have specific characteristics. And those characteristics are: being one-pointed; bringing enlightenment about a real entity (meaning the ātmā, the puruṣa, or the seer); must weaken the Kleśas (the obstacles on the path of enlightenment); must loosen the bonds of karma; and pave the way to actual samādhi.

So we can see, in his expounding on this, that we should not even think that any momentary absorption and one-pointedness is going to result in samādhi or spiritual advancement, if our practice is not having these characteristics. So, thank you very much and we will continue with the next verse shortly.