Traditional Raja Yoga is summarised in an important document called the ‘Yoga Sutras’ (threads of Yoga) which was written by an individual or group of individuals known as ‘Patanjali’. The Yoga Sutras are the most organised and complete theoretical and philosophical description of Raja Yoga set out in sayings or aphorisms. The sutras are are notable for systematically describing the eight “limbs” or steps that will quiet one’s mind and achieve kaivalya.
In addition to describing the philosophical basis of Yoga, the sutras also clarify many important Indian esoteric concepts, such as karma.
The 196 aphorisms are divided into 4 chapters or books as follows:
Samadhi Pada (51 sutras)
Patanjali describes yoga and then the nature and means to attaining samadhi – the blissful state where the Yogi is at one with the universe. One of the famous aphorisms in this chapter is:
“Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ” – “Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications”
Sadhana Pada (55 sutras)
Sadhana is the sanskrit work for ‘practice’ and in this chapter patanjali outlines Kriya Yoga (Yoga of selfless action) and Ashtanga Yoga (eight path Yoga).
Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)
This chapter describes the supra-normal powers or siddhis that were thought to be acquired through Yoga and explains that the use of these powers should be avoided and attention of the Yogi should be firmly fixed on liberation.
Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)
This final chapter describes the nature of liberation (moksha) – the goal of Yoga and the phenomenon that is the transcendental self.
Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the Yoga sutras in more detail – starting with the eightfold path.