Sutra in Sanskrit means “thread”. The sutras have their origin in Buddhism, when they were recited by the Buddha’s disciple, Ananda who passed them on to others who then documented them. They later became merged into the Hindu culture.
The Patanjali yoga sutras originated from Patanjali around 3 or 4 BC. The Patanjali yoga sutras are founded on the Samkhya philosophy. The philosophy of yoga has its base however in the Shramana philosophies of ancient India which dates back to the Indus Valley civilization, during which there was emphasis on individually liberating oneself of worldly concerns.
Patanjali yoga sutras outline the overbearing path of Raja Yoga. It is made up of 196 sutras which are nothing but aphorisms. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are built around four chapters or padas:
Samadhi Pada: This is the first chapter and it defines the movement of citta (the mind) and yoga in general and in the process, how to ultimately reach a state of Samadhi. This stage of Patanjali Yoga is meant to elevate the people who are near to self realization to an even higher state of wisdom and mature intelligence.
Ishvara is a supreme Purusha who is impervious to the result of actions, or any inner desires. He is a teacher of teachers. The word which is expressed in this stage is “Om” and is symbolic of deep meditation and absolute devotion.
Sadhana Pada: The meaning of Sadhana is spiritual practice. Yoga Sadhana is the thing a yogi does so that it becomes possible to move from a fragmented, disconnected and disillusioned way of life to liberation of the soul and self-realization. The main theme in this stage of yoga is practice. The philosophy followed is not academic theories but actually doing. Sadhana Pada Patanjali transcends from the general context of yoga and goes in specific aspects, beginning with Kriya yoga and its allied activities.
Vibhuti Pada: This is the third chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. This chapter speaks of the awesome powers of the Sadhaka as by now he has achieved all the eight levels of yoga. A Sadhaka is believed to possess supra-normal powers. He is considered as a true yogi, namely a yogi who has attained the highest spiritual level of yoga. These powers are known as Vibhutis and are considered normal to a yogi of this level of achievement.
It is at this stage, however, that Patanjali warns about the threat of temptation, as yogis at this stage are considered to be vulnerable to it. He urges these yogis to try to develop worldly detachment, which leads to one more level of yoga called Kaivalya which means absolute liberation. This brings us to this next and final chapter of the Pantanjali Yoga Sutras, namely, Kaivalya pada.
Kaivalya Pada: This final chapter of Patanjali yoga deals with three aspects of Indian philosophy. The three elements are:
Bhakti Marga: This is a stage of extreme religious devotion, faith and love. The followers of Bhakti Marga are known as Bhaktas and are worshippers of the Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu. The main religious book followed by the Bhaktas is the Bhagwad Gita.
Karma Marga: This literally means the path to self-realization. Karma Marga preaches self-realization through selflessness. Through the practice of Karma Marga, the persons reaches out to God through servitude to mankind.
Jnana Marga: This simply means “the path of knowledge”. The human mind is observed to always seek the truth. This explains the eternal quest for knowledge. This quest for knowledge culminates in self-realization. This is achieved by following Jnana Marga.
The Patanjali yoga sutras are the scriptures which provide guidance to the highest levels of yoga attainable. All the lower levels of yoga have the spirit of these yoga sutras embodied within themselves. The actual following of the Patanjali yoga sutras is however, to be done when the individual is ready for transcending all normal levels of consciousness and needs to reach the pinnacle of human existence.