Book 2, Sutra 9: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Adherence to views
is a self-driven force
hidden within
even the wise.”

In this sutra Patanjali gives us a definition of the 5th and final “klesha” or obstacle originally listed in Sutra #ii.3. The Sanskrit for this obstacle is “abhinivesha.”

There are 3 things that are odd about this sutra. First of all, “abhinivesha” is translated as something like “desire for life,” “fear of death” or “clinging to life” in all versions that I reviewed (except Ballantyne/G.Deva). But even without much Sanskrit knowledge I know that “abhinivesha” doesn’t have the root words connected with death (mrityu), fear (bhaya) or life. Only Tigunait points this out but then uses this discrepancy to reinforce its interpretation as “fear of death.” Why? Bryant gives a clue to this puzzle by implying that the oldest commentators on this sutra interpret it in this way and so, everyone else has followed. But, the word “abhinivesha” doesn’t have this clear cut definition in the Sanskrit dictionaries that I consulted. More commonly it is translated as “a proneness to something, an adherence to something, an insistence on something, an obstinacy, an intentness, a determination, a tenacity, an inclination.” Ballantyne alone dares to honor this discrepancy somewhat by translating “abhinivesha” as “tenacity [of mundane existence].”

The second odd thing about this sutra is that “fear of death” or “desire for life” should technically fall within one of the earlier listed kleshas: desire/attachment (raga) or aversion/dislike (dvesha). Some commentators explain this away by saying that “abhinivesha” is special because we are born with this as an instinct and so, doesn’t fit in the other kleshas. Patanjali does seem to imply something special about this sutra by stating that “abhinivesha” is self-powered somehow and is so fundamental that it affects even the wise. Why would fear of death affect even the wise? Some commentators get around this discrepancy by stating that the “wise” (indicated in this sutra) are not actually wise but just learned or intellectual. But the word, “vidusah,” literally means wisdom not scholarly. Why would the truly “wise” still cling to the body, especially in a culture where reincarnation is a deeply held belief and one has already had countless bodies in prior lives?

The third odd aspect of this sutra is Patanjali’s singling this obstacle out as self-powered or having its own inertia. Many commentators explain this as a reference to reincarnation; ie, the fear of death comes from having died in previous lives and so, it is carried over. Patanjali could have made some reference to rebirth if this was true but he did not.

If “abhinivesha” means “will to live” or “fear of death” for Patanjali then it should not have been a separate klesha. Instead Patanjali should have described it as a summation of the other 4 kleshas. In fact when you combine ignorance of who we are (avidya) with conceit (asmita) with attachment (raga) with aversion (dvesha) you get the drive to survive. Insisting that Patanjali was okay with the logical fallacy of including it as a separate obstacle is insulting to Patanjali the sage. We must interpret this sutra in a way that indicates Patanjali was supremely intelligent or else we are stating that he was not and then we’re stupid for studying what he wrote. If we want to respect his text as truly profound we must look deeper into the possible meanings of this sutra.

If we interpret “abhinivesha” not as a desire or an aversion but instead, as “an insistence,” “a rigid adherence,” “an obstinacy” according to the conventional definitions listed in Sanskrit dictionaries we see something quite profound here. The tendency to take a stand on issues, to have our own viewpoint on issues, to have tendencies towards things is a fundamental quality of being alive that even the wise exhibit! When one gains wisdom, in fact, one is often more certain that one’s views on any given issue is valuable, significant. We insist or adhere to our own views when we are wise as much as when we are stupid. That tendency is deeply rooted as Patanjali states in this sutra (“rudhah”). It runs even deeper, is even more profound, than the simple fear of death or clinging to life which is relatively easy to overcome for Indians born within their cultural insistence on reincarnation.

Patanjali tells us that “abhinivesha” contains its own momentum or inertia. That means that it is not dependent on other actions in order to influence us. It is therefore an inherent part of being alive. This is significant philosophically because within Hinduism most things are the result of something else: cause and effect. We experience something because of a choice we made sometime in the past. Patanjali is stating that “abhinivesha” is beyond this cause and effect! It is uncreated! No matter what we do, if we are alive and conscious in some way, we have this tendency to adhere to things, to insist on things, to be obstinate on our particular viewpoints. Patanjali uses the Sanskrit “sva-rasa” here, meaning it has its own momentum or own flavor or special essence. I expect that this sutra, interpreted in this way, will be important to remember and refer back to in later parts of Patanjali’s text. I wonder is the “sva-rasa” of this sutra is connected to “sva-rupe” of sutra i.3?!?

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).

Book 2, Sutra 8: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Aversion (the 4th obstacle) occurs
in connection with experiencing suffering.”

In this sutra Patanjali gives us a definition of the 4th of the 5 kleshas or obstacles already listed in Sutra #3. The Sanskrit is “Duhkha Anusayi Dveshah.” It is the opposite or the converse of the prior sutra concerning “sukha” or pleasure. “Duhkha” means pain or suffering. “Anushayi” is that which accompanies something else, that which remains after a union with something, that which is the result of some other cause. And “Dvesha” is dislike, displeasure, aversion, horror, repulsion and even hatred.

This sutra, like the last, appears simple because it is only three words and covers something that is well-known to be a problem within yoga: aversion to anything that might be uncomfortable. Despite its simplicity there are real differences in the various ways that this sutra is translated and those differences raise questions about what this sutra is really referring to.

The first question is whether Patanjali means to say that all dislike is a klesha or obstacle to yoga. If we feel an aversion to lies or cowardice is that an obstacle to yoga? If we dislike violence and situations in which we are prone to hurt others is this an obstacle to yoga? Additionally, what is the role that pain and suffering plays? Is an aversion to suffering, itself, an obstacle to yoga? Isn’t a desire to end suffering a motivating factor in practicing yoga in the first place?

In the prior sutra I discussed how memory may play a role in these two obstacles (love & hate). Remembering pleasurable experiences we are led to desire them again. Is it also true that experiencing pain is a problem because we remember earlier experiences of pain and so, get agitated in advance of the experience? When we remembered experiences of pleasure we got excited (or passionate) about the possibility of experiencing that pleasure again and that excitement disturbs the mind, inhibiting yoga. Something similar happens with pain, causing fear and anxiety. But don’t we also naturally recoil and become mentally disturbed over unexpected pain that we’ve never known before? So, does it really matter whether we remember our past experiences of pain or not? Without such memories won’t we still become disturbed upon being stabbed with a knife?

For such a seemingly simple sutra there are a tremendous number of ways that it has been translated. Out of 40 versions I found at least 20 different ways authors chose to describe this sutra. Here’s a few:

Hate is an aversion for any object of the senses. –Bailey
That which dwells on pain is aversion. –Dvivedi
Aversion rests on the sorrowful. — Feuerstein
Aversion is recoiling from pain. –Purohit
Aversion is that which follows identification with painful experiences. — Satchidananda
Aversion is clinging to pain. —
The repulsion that accompanies pain. –Taimni
Aversion is that which dwells in pain. –Vivekananda
Aversion stems from experiences of pain. –Bryant
Aversion is the consequence of displeasure. —
Hatred follows from attachment to suffering. –Miller
Aversion is that which attempts to avoid pain. –Vishnudevananda
Dwesha is the repulsion accompanying pain. –SatyaSaraswati
Aversion is that which follows upon suffering. –Nambiar
Aversion is the dwelling upon pain. –Stiles
Unhappiness leads to hatred. –Iyengar
Aversion is a residue of suffering. –Hartranft
Aversion is clinging to dissatisfaction. –Chapple
Dvesha is repulsion or hatred.

Some of these imply that we automatically go into resistance mode after we have experienced pain. But what about the one accomplished in yoga? If pain automatically causes aversion then even the yogi is not free of such an obstacle. Some of these translations state that the very act of trying to avoid anything is the obstacle. What about trying to avoid pain by practicing yoga? Isn’t yoga a response to experiencing pain? Does that make the practice of yoga an obstacle to succeeding in yoga?

It seems that this sutra could be interpreted either way: that aversion always follows pain or that aversion only occurs when the experience of pain “dwells” with us after the experience. Is there a way, however, to interpret this sutra so that it does not contradict the motivation to experience peace through a still mind which involves an aversion to experiencing disturbances of the mind? Is the pain experienced when we act in a shameful manner an obstacle if we are attached to that shame and pledge to avoid it in the future? If so, is the dislike of immoral action an aversion which we must not adhere to either? Do we block our progress if we have desire for yoga practice and hate the suffering caused by the untrained mind?

In the Buddha’s sutras this conundrum is avoided by not stating that aversion is universally a hindrance to spiritual maturity. Aversion is good if it helps us to stop acting in a way that causes pain. The Buddha is thereby free to state that the path to enlightenment is characterized by a extreme repulsion without contradicting himself. For the Buddha it all came down to what we choose to feel dislike of; dislike of peaceful states brings bondage whereas dislike of anxious impermanent things brings freedom.

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).

Book 2, Sutra 7: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“The Passion that arises
from a desire for pleasure
is the 3rd obstacle to yoga.”

In this sutra Patanjali gives us a definition of the 3rd of the 5 kleshas already listed in Sutra #3. The Sanskrit is “Sukhanushayi ragah.” Sukha is pleasure, that which is pleasurable. Anushayi is that which accompanies something else, that which remains after a union with something, that which is the result of some other cause. And Ragah is desire, passion, attraction, attachment. The word, Ragah, is commonly used in Indian music to indicate a harmonious co-mingling of musical elements and it is used in the Upanishads to mean the process of coloring or dyeing something (according to Wikipedia). So it has the sense of allowing something to become a part of you (just you do with music or like a cloth takes a dye).

This sutra appears simple because it is only three words and covers something that is well-known to be a problem within yoga: attachment to pleasure. Despite its simplicity there are real differences in the various ways that this sutra is translated and those differences raise questions about what this sutra is really referring to.

The first question is whether Patanjali means to say that all pleasure is a klesha or obstacle to yoga. Vishnu Devananda writes that “Attraction is that which dwells on pleasure” and this seems to imply that all attraction is an obstacle for Patanjali. But didn’t Patanjali state in earlier sutras that attraction to Ishvara or God is good within yoga? Is Patanjali really condemning all pleasure in this sutra? Or are there pleasures that are not obstacles to yoga? If we experience pleasure in meditation,for example, is that an obstacle too, even if it leads us to practice more meditation?

Bounchard translates this sutra as “Passion, in excess, is one of the principal causes of human beings’ slavery.” He adds the phrase “in excess” to resolve the issue but that is not indicated by the Sanskrit. Tigunait similarly adds a phrase of his own to this verse. He writes “Craving pleasant memories and the objects associated with them is raga, attachment.” Adding the word “memories” is rather insightful. If we consider “pleasure” deeply and how it could inhibit yoga we realize that if we had no knowledge of anything pleasurable then we wouldn’t get excited about something we might experience in the future. Without that “memory” then, our mind might remain quite clear. So perhaps it is the remembering of pleasure that blocks yoga.

The vast majority of translations of this sutra that I read seem to say that Patanjali is implicating all pleasures as potentially acting as an obstacle. Iyengar writes that “Pleasure leads to drive and emotional attachment.” Hartranft writes that “Attachment is a residue of pleasure experience.” And Taimni writes “That attachment which accompanies pleasure is raga.” None of them make distinctions in the source of the pleasure that causes the obstruction to yoga.

Stiles, however, words his translation in a way that doesn’t make all pleasure bad for yogis. He writes “Attachment is the dwelling upon pleasure.” For him then, it’s not the pleasure that causes attachment it is our choice to dwell on that pleasure. So we can experience pleasure as long as we don’t dwell on it. But what exactly is “dwelling” on pleasure? If we are motivated to meditate again by the pleasure of meditation are we “dwelling” on it? Purohit writes that “Desire is the longing for pleasure” which implies that it is only when we add craving to an experience of pleasure that we block yoga. So it is our reaction to the experience of pleasure that causes the blockage in yoga according to him.

It seems that this sutra could be interpreted either way: that attachment always accompanies pleasure or that attachment only occurs when the experience of pleasure “remains” with us after the experience. Is there a way, however, to interpret this sutra so that it does not contradict the devotional love expressed towards “Ishvara” promoted by Patanjali in earlier sutras? Is the love for God an obstacle (a klesha) too, if it is carried and “clung to” by the bhakti? Is the pleasure experienced in meditation an obstacle if we are attached to that pleasure and crave to experience it again and again? Is the state free from all disturbances of the mind (that Patanjali stated earlier is the goal of yoga) pleasurable? If so, is that a pleasure which we must not adhere to either? Do we block ourselves if we have desire for yoga practice and dwell upon the pleasure it gives us?

In the Buddha’s sutras this conundrum around pleasure is solved by specifically defining the attachment to the pleasure of the senses as an obstacle to enlightenment. The Buddha is thereby free to state that enlightenment is characterized by a supreme pleasure without contradicting himself. For the Buddha it all came down to what we choose to feel pleasure from; pleasure from impermanent things brings bondage whereas pleasure from permanent things brought freedom.

Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, seems to prefer to use the Sanskrit, “kama” (lust), rather than “raga” (as in 2:62), specifically indicating that pleasures derived from objects of the senses are problematic. Maybe Patanjali will clear this up in a similar way in a later sutra. We shall see. In the meanwhile the word “raga” has an interesting connection to how Patanjali describes “samapatti” in sutra 1.41. Remember that Patanjali used the analogy of a clear crystal picking up the color of its surrounding to describe the clear mind state of “samapatti.” Here, in this sutra, Patanjali chooses a word that already has connotations of “being colored, being dyed.” So another interpretation of this sutra could be: “Pleasure can color the mind in a way that hinders the practice of yoga.” The mind that is clear like a crystal, however, is immune to this coloring just like a clear gemstone is never actually colored by its surroundings, it only appears to be.

The vast majority of translations use the word “attachment” for “raga” in this sutra but I don’t think this is the best choice. “Raga” can be translated as “passion” instead of “attachment” or even “pleasure.” The word “passion” tends to invoke the idea of “excitement” or even “a disturbance of the mind” more than the word “pleasure.” I can imagine taking pleasure in other people’s good fortune, for example, that wouldn’t arouse excitement or “passion” within me and so, would not be an obstacle to yoga. And Patanjali already promoted the pleasure of devotion to God as, at least, very helpful to yoga, possibly even essential. So, the best fit as a translation for “raga” is “passion” rather than “attachment” or even “desire” because it more clearly implies an unhealthy disturbance of the mind. And Patanjali specifically implicates the “passion” that arises because of desire for pleasure. If we feel “passion” for God or “passion” for improving others’ lives that is not connected with the desire to experience pleasure. That kind of “passion” is selfless and so, not an obstacle to yoga.

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).

Book 2, Sutra 6: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Ego is created
by the apparent connection
between the power to see and the experience of seeing.”

In this sutra Patanjali gives us a definition of the 2nd of the 5 kleshas or obstacles already listed in Sutra #3. The Sanskrit is “Drk darshana shaktyor Ek atmata iva asmita.” This sutra revolves around seeing and the power to see, here represented by the Sanskrit “drk darshana:” seer/seeing.

Understanding the distinction that Patanjali is making here around seeing is crucial to the entire compendium of his sutras. He makes reference to it in no less than 14 different sutras (i3, i5, ii6, ii12, ii17, ii18, ii20, ii21, ii25, ii41, iv19, iv21, iv23, iv25). The great Adi Shankacarya wrote an entire treatise using this sutra as the title: “Drk-darshana-viveka:” distinguishing between the seer and seeing. This is, in fact, so subtle and difficult to recognize that even an experienced meditator should be surprised to read that the power to see is not connected to the experience of seeing.

Separating the seer from the seeing allows the seer to dwell in his/her own essence and is the primary result of the mastery of yoga according to the first few sutras of the first book so one isn’t expected to see this truth directly until the end process of yoga. In this sutra Patanjali is describing the klesha or obstacle called “asmita” or “ego” as produced from the ignorance of this separation. He states that the apparent connection between the seer and the seeing causes “asmita” or the selfish drive to accumulate.

As I discussed in my commentary to sutra II.3 many translators have connected a sense of identity or I AM to the Sanskrit word “asmita” (8 of the 40 authors I reviewed). But I rejected this on the basis that Hinduism as a whole does not support the idea that a sense of being or “I AM–ness” is a problem in itself. And Patanjali clearly states in this sutra that “asmita” is a problem! As a tradition, Hinduism sees problems in how we answer the question “who am I” and not in the very asking of the question itself. That is a major difference between the Hindu and Buddhist practices. Even in Advaita Vedanta where the idea that Brahman, or ultimate reality, is just the witness (not directly involved), direct identification (I–ness) with Brahman is practiced. Furthermore, if we look ahead to Book four of these sutras we see Patanjali emphasize the experience of “kaivalya” or “aloneness” as the ultimate truth. How can one experience aloneness without a minimal sense of identity, I–ness or existence? So “asmita” cannot be “a sense of identity,” “I AM,” or “a sense of being,” as quite a few translators have asserted. If “pure awareness” doesn’t have any sense of identity or existence then it cannot be logically called “pure awareness” or any other term because it has no existence! If one argues that Patanjali’s yoga achieves a state completely beyond a sense of existence then it is more Buddhist then Hindu and that argument, whether valid or not, would require a book length work to explore. So for now the logical assumption is that “asmita” means the “ego” or the tendency to possess and hold on to things as “me” or “mine.”

This argument I made in the earlier commentary to sutra ii.3: “The ego is not a sense of I AM, however. The ego is a sense of mine and what is not mine. It is a sense of limitations to the I AM; that there are things that it lacks, that it has shortcomings and that it has enemies or obstacles to its well-being. Pride, arrogance and smugness are often connected to the ego but is more generally described as the tendency to possess and hold onto things. I don’t think that “I-feeling” or a “sense of being” is necessarily the ego [for Patanjali].”

For this reason, I feel that “asmita” is best described as the “ego” or the sense of ownership. The possibility that we own anything that we see (or are aware of) is produced by believing that we are connected to what we do. In other words, we believe that our true self, the power of seeing itself essential to purusha, is directly involved in the act of seeing (which is delivered through the undependable senses). It appears as if we are involved in the sensorial world and so, we believe it. Patanjali tells us that this is an error and that this error is an obstacle to success in yoga. We can understand this error to be an obstacle because it produces the ego which wants to own things (acquire things). But we can’t own anything if we’re not directly connected to the experiences we witness! That tendency to own things leads to a whole array of painful experiences from anxiety to agitation to sorrow to depression. And these experiences block our ability to quiet the mind. When we correctly witness the divide between the power of the seer and the seeing itself we open the door to a permanent peace of mind. This is the fulfillment of yoga for Patanjali.

Please note that the idea of seeing in this sutra is not strictly limited to the power of the eye. For Patanjali, “seeing” symbolically represents awareness, witnessing and even knowing anything. The Sanskrit is used in this way throughout other Hindu texts (most prominently the Srimad Bhagavatam) and we will investigate this further in the many sutras to come that revisit this issue around “seeing.”

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).

Book 2, Sutra 5: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras


“Seeing what is impermanent, impure, painful
and not me or mine
as something that is eternal, pure, joyful
and me or mine
is Ignorance.”

In this sutra Patanjali continues his exposition on what ignorance or avidya is from the last sutra #4. So he is giving even more emphasis to it after having already stated that it underlies the other obstructions or kleshas. In this sutra he gives us a definition: seeing something as something that it is NOT. More specifically he tells us that ignorance is incorrectly thinking that something is stable (permanent), worth valuing (pure), happiness-causing (joyful) and is a part of me/myself/mine. Conversely, wisdom or the absence of ignorance must be correctly seeing something as unstable (impermanent), worthless (impure), causing suffering (painful) and not a part of me, myself or mine.

There are differences in the way that various translators describe the pairs of opposites involved: seeing what is “evil as good,” “transient as eternal,” “perishable as imperishable,” “bliss as suffering,” “refined as unrefined,” “what is soul as what is physical,” “transient as permanent” and “non-Atman as Atman.” But overall the meanings are the same.

Patanjali uses the Sanskrit word, “Atman,” which I take to indicate the “self” as do most translators I have read. What could “atman” mean if not the “self?” If Atman was something other than the self, like the soul perhaps (if we see our soul as not being our true self), then what is the problem with misidentifying it? Patanjali is not saying that ignorance is seeing an elephant as a dog or a Ford mustang as a Mercedes Benz. That’s not ignorance or avidya within Patanjali’s Yoga. Ignorance has to do with our basic assessment of what makes up me or my life. What do we perceive as me or mine? Am I eternal or vulnerable to death? Are the things in my life (inside and outside of the skin) good or bad? Can they make me happy or do they only cause suffering? Is what I see as valuable in life actually valuable? In other words, will the benefit I see it giving me last a long time or fade away quickly?

The implication is that most of us are ignorant. Otherwise we wouldn’t experience the kleshas of ego, selfish desires, aversions to things and a habitual defensive response to the world. So if I am ignorant then Patanjali is saying that I am looking at life and identifying things as me or mine, as dependable, as valuable, as capable of making me happy and I am completely wrong about all of it. The truth, Patanjali says within this sutra, is that what I see as me or mine is actually not who I am nor anything that I actually own. Additionally, what I see as dependable and stable is actually fleeting. What I see as valuable and worth owning is actually worthless. And what I think will make me happy will actually only make me miserable.

The vast majority of translations of this sutra that I read support these implications. A few seem to be making an attempt at skirting them. Barbara Miller writes that this sutra should read “ignorance is seeing an essential self where there is no essential self.” I can’t agree with her here however. Seeing something that is actually not there is not the same as thinking something is something it’s not.

Bryant also has a version of this sutra that appears to whiggle out of the implications I listed above. He writes: “Ignorance is the notion that takes the self, which is joyful, pure and eternal, to be the nonself which is painful, unclean and temporary.” To me that reads as if we see our true self but disregard it as worthless and painful. But the rest of the translators read Patanjali as asserting “what we see as the self is actually nonself, what we see as valuable is actually worthless, etc.” With Bryant’s translation it seems like all we need to do is start appreciating ourselves more and we will be free of ignorance. Instead, the other translations imply that we must stop appreciating as ourselves or our property what is undependable, pain inducing and actually not ourselves nor our property.

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).


Book 2, Sutra 4: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras



“Ignorance is the base upon which
the other obstructions rest and grow.
They can be either dormant,
feeble, intermittent or intense.”

This is the first explanation in detail of the 5 kleshas listed in the last sutra #3. Ignorance or avidya is listed first and Patanjali is emphasizing its importance again by stating that it is foundational to all the obstacles. Patanjali is therefore conversely stating that gaining wisdom, or the end of ignorance, is central to yoga.

Some translators actually define the relationship between avidya and the rest of the kleshas as cause and effect although Patanjali’s choice of Sanskrit doesn’t contain any clear indication of causation here. Otherwise most authors are in agreement about the correct translation of this sutra. A few good questions are raised by this sutra however and we will keep them in mind as we go forward is: what role does wisdom play in Patanjali’s yoga? Is wisdom the goal? If it’s not the goal then is it essential in order to reach the goal? Is the elimination of the ignorance klesha the only real essential component of yoga, through which all the rest of the obstructions will disappear leaving us free to dwell in our own true selves?

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).


Book 2, Sutra 3: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra


“The Klesha’s, or obstructions, are
ignorance, ego, selfish desire, hatred
and obstinancy.”

In the last sutra #2, (of this Book 2) Patanjali taught us that “klesha,” or the blocks, are weakened by kriya yoga. It is for this reason and to experience samadhi that we practice kriya yoga. In sutra #1 he told us that kriya yoga consists of 3 elements (tapas, self-inquiry/study of the scriptures and commitment to the Divine).

In this sutra #3 Patanjali lists the kleshas. He will spend the next 6 sutras going into detail about each of the kleshas. Remember that these are the blocks not just to kriya yoga but to yoga in general; that is, these are the things that must be weakened and then eliminated. When they are gone we are free to rest in our own true nature and are free of all disturbances of the mind; thus, we succeed in yoga.

All of these 5 klesha’s are translated in various ways according to differing opinions. Some of those opinions are supported by Patanjali’s text in other places and some are based on the individual translator’s sense of what yoga is. In other words, translators must bring their own opinions to the process of translation of these sutras the proof of which is that the translations vary so greatly at times. As I stated earlier, the sutra style, which is succinct and poetry-like, is open to variation and they were most likely meant to be interpreted in more detail by a guru for his or her student. Yoga and Hinduism in general is very much a lineage based tradition that depends upon skilled and accomplished “gurus” in order to accurately deliver the meaning of what are often hard to decipher texts.

So each translator plays the guru in some way to his or her readers. And as we have seen already in past sutras some translators go against the most logical translation of a certain term using all the clues that Patanjali gives in other parts of his work. They do this, of course, because they are carrying pre-formulated ideas of what yoga actually is.

In my efforts to weigh the contributions from all the 40 versions I am comparing I am not entirely free of this process. I am comparing and contrasting the opinions and trying to gather all the clues that Patanjali has left behind but in the end I am employing some of my experience and convictions about yoga in order to arrive at the final version.

I say all of this here because it is particularly crucial and relevant to this sutra. How one sees the blocks to yoga goes a LONG way to defining what yoga is PRACTICALLY speaking because we have to constantly asses our practice of yoga by how well it is weakening the obstructions. Our assessment of our own progress is therefore directly tied to what exactly we are looking to weaken and eliminate in ourselves. Theoretically speaking, if we have an inaccurate picture of what the blocks to success in yoga are we may not actually experience success when they are eliminated. “I’ve eliminated the klesha’s but I’m still not at peace. Yoga doesn’t work!” No, you’ve read the wrong translation of the klesha’s that’s all. So let’s review the discrepancies in what each klesha is and I will make the case for the one that I’ve picked and listed above. And of course my investigation of the kleshas will continue over the next 6 sutras.

Avidya literally means absence of knowledge, “vidya,” which to most translators is “ignorance,” but some have translated it as “absence of self-awareness,” “nescience,” “ignorance about the true nature of things,” “lack of awareness of reality,” “ignorance of our true nature,” “ignorance of one own’s Self,” “not seeing things as they are,” “ignorance of your True Self,” “ignorance and its effects,” and “lack of awareness of reality.”

Asmita is the next klesha listed and it is most often translated as “ego or egoism” (16 authors) then in descending frequency: “I AM-ness” (7 authors), “sense of I,” (2 authors), “sense of I AM,” “sense of personality,” “sense of being,” “I-ness or individuality,” “pride of ego,” “I-feeling,” “consciousness of I,” and “false sense of identity.” I noticed however that a few authors saw no contradiction between listing “I AM” as an obstacle and also describing the Absolute in terms of universal consciousness. Can there be consciousness without a sense of “I AM?” I couldn’t find any support within other Hindu texts for the claim that the sense of “I AM” is an obstacle to yoga. Nevertheless, 13 authors of versions of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras include some version of the sense of I AM as a klesha or obstacle to yoga.

The ego is not a sense of I AM, however. The ego is a sense of mine and what is not mine. It is a sense of limitations to the I AM; that there are things that it lacks, that it has shortcomings and that it has enemies or obstacles to its well-being. Pride, arrogance and smugness are often connected to the ego but is more generally described as the tendency to possess and hold onto things. I don’t think that neither the “I-feeling” nor a “sense of being” necessarily includes the ego.

Raga is variously translated as well. 15 authors have “attachment.” 7 authors have “attraction.” 6 authors have “desire.” 2 authors have “attachment to pleasure.” 1 author has “liking.” And 1 author has “passion.” I have sided with “selfish desire” for the following reasons. First, “attachment” is already included in “ego.” If an author chooses to translate “asmita” as “a sense of I AM ness” then “attachment” could rationally be connected with “raga.” But “asmita” as “I AM” doesn’t fit with the Hindu tradition. Even Vedanta yogis have no problem saying “I AM Brahman.” Second, Patanjali supports any “desire” for others to thrive in book 1, sutra #33. So not all “desire” is an obstacle.

Dvesha is most commonly seen as the opposite of raga. So Dvesha would be translated as an aversion. Unlike “desires” there are no types of “aversion” that Patanjali supports. In Book 1, sutra #33 Patanjali recommends “ambivalence” towards evil people and acts. Nevertheless, 15 authors translated “dvesha” as “aversion.” 6 authors as “hate or hatred.” 2 authors have both “aversion to pain” and “repulsion.” And then the rest have “dislike,” or “aversion to thought patterns or objects,” or “repulsion towards objects.”

Finally, abhinivesha is translated almost universally as some type of clinging to life: “fear of death” (8 authors), “clinging to life” (7 authors), “will to live” (3 authors), “desire to cling to life” (3 authors) and “fear” (2 authors). There were quite a few others unique to a single author: “sense of attachment,” “attachment,” ” love of thought patterns and objects as being life itself,” “strong desire for life,” “instinctive fear of death and clinging to personality and individuality,” “desire for continuity,” “the entrapped existence,” “love of life,” and “tenacious wish for existence upon the earth.” I choose “drive to survive” because I don’t think Patanjali intended “abhinivesha” to be a type of desire per se because then it would be a type of “raga.” Rather, Patanjali is here pointing to the habit patterns to actively defend our viewpoints and aggressively validate our existence that are programmed into us socially (and perhaps genetically as well). Of course the fear of death is involved but fear is technically covered by “dvesha” already. Neither “raga” nor “dvesha” however cover subconscious habit patterns that get automatically activated whether we like it or not. When Patanjali focuses on “abhinivesha” in sutra #9 I will go into this in more depth.

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).


Book 2, Sutra 2: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

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“The practice of Kriya Yoga
weakens afflicting factors in the mind
leading to absorption in samadhi.”

Originally Patanjali defined Yoga as a disappearance of all disturbances to the mind in Sutra 1.2. Those disturbances are called “vrtti” in Sanskrit. So now Patanjali begins to explain the causes of those mind disturbances. Those causes he calls, “klesha,” in this sutra. The weakening of those causative factors and the introduction to the state of samadhi are both, together, the “purpose” or “value” of practicing kriya yoga.

I have left “samadhi” untranslated but there are a variety of translations used in the texts I reviewed. Bailey has “soul vision,” Feuerstein has “ecstasy,” Houston has “cognitive absorption,” Prabhavananda has the “power of concentration,” Purohit has “illumination,” Nambiar has “concentration,” Stiles has “an attitude conducive to being absorbed in Spirit,” Hartranft has “integration,” Condron has “build perception and move beyond limitation,” and the rest keep the Sanskrit, “samadhi.”


Book 2, Sutra 1: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

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“Tapah svadhaya ishvara pranidhanani kriya yogaha:
Rigorous striving, self-inquiry and dedication to the Divine
make up Kriya Yoga.”

Book 2 is entitled “sadhana,” which means practice or the routines that spiritual seekers undertake in order to achieve the goals of yoga. I included the Sanskrit of this sutra above because each word is considered foundational within the system of Yoga as a whole.

“Tapas” is sometimes translated as a burning sensation that occurs when you go against your likes and dislikes, your normal creature comforts, and choose to practice yoga instead. Historically this word is also used to describe mortifications of the body or actions that deliberately injure the body but both the Buddha (Digha Nikaya sutta 25) and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita taught that such extremes of physical torture miss the point of yoga. (Although, despite those warnings, both Dvivedi and Vivekananda translate “tapas” as “mortification.”) Most often,  it is translated as “austerity” and “self-discipline” in general. Iyengar feels that Patanjali uses the Sanskrit “tapas” to indicate that the aspirant must practice yoga with a “burning zeal.” Vishnudevananda writes that “austerity in this sense means fasting occasionally, rising early to meditate instead of sleeping late, and reducing certain physical comforts for the sake of controlling the mind.” I choose the phrase “rigorous striving” because austerities always involve putting more effort into following yoga to the letter; trading in our non-yoga habits for more yoga. If we make sacrifices for something unconnected to yoga, it is not “striving” and it is not yoga. As Yogis we throw something that we like into the sacrificial fire as a means of making room for more yoga practuice. In the process we purify ourselves of non yogic interests. Within the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says that being human itself is intertwined with sacrifice (3.10) and when that sacrifice is directed at yoga (or spirituality) it is called “tapas.” If we suffer sacrifices for something other than spirituality (for our career, for example) it is not part of “kriya yoga.”

“Svadhaya” is a Sanskrit word that has less precedent of usage than “tapas” and so, translators disagree as to exactly what Patanjali is referring to with it. The most general translation of the word seems to be “one’s own personal study.” What the object of such study is intended here is debated. Some feel it indicates the natural introspection that comes with meditation; ie, “self-inquiry” and “know thyself” where one studies oneself. But other translators and commentators feel that “svadhyaya” specifically means the repetition of a mantra and another group believes that it indicates the study of sacred texts (like Patanjali’s for example). Authors like Hartranft feel that Patanjali is telling the aspiring yoga to constantly evaluate his/her own progress and that’s the meaning of “self-study.” Out of the 40 versions I looked at they are pretty evenly divided on which out these 3 objects of “self-study” Patanjali intended.

I have already covered the debate that exists around “Ishvara pranidhanani” because Patanjali taught this practice already in sutra 23. Feel free to review that sutra using this link. As I explained there, I feel that Patanjali intended “Ishvara Pranidnanani” to mean a devoted level of dedication to the Divine in the form of a guru or Saint (a fully liberated person). I feel that Patanjali was a theist (not a nondualist in the strict sense) who recommends seeking God’s grace through the intercession of one already in contact with HIM/HER. If he felt that “brahman niskriya” or that God merely witnesses as many schools of Vedanta believe then he wouldn’t make “Ishvara pranidhana” so important in his yoga. I don’t see support for the idea that Patanjali was recommending devotion to the Divine only so that the seeker can eventually realize that there is no such thing as a relationship to the Divine because all such dualisms are simply ignorance.

Patanjali calls these three practices (tapas, svadhyaya & Ishvara pranidhana) “kriya yoga.” And “kriya” is mostly agreed upon as meaning “action, active.” Some have pointed out the apparent contradiction between including the act of prayer and devotion to God under the heading of “active yoga.” Iyengar feels that this is not a contradiction and that bhakti yoga (or the path of devotion to God) should be considered a type of kriya yoga. He writes that any discipline which helps to purify one’s body, speech and mind is part of kriya yoga. “Our body is purified through self-discipline (tapas), our words are purified through self-study (svadhyaya) and our minds by love and surrender to Him (Ishvara pranidhana).” He feels that this sutra represents the paths of karma yoga (through discipline), jnana yoga (in self-study) and bhakti yoga (in Ishvara pranidhana) all together under the larger umbrella of kriya yoga. Iyengar, here, seems to ignore the general definition of karma yoga as service to others (which so far is absent from Patanjali’s sutras). But KN Saraswathy also has a different definition of “karma yoga” and writes that the whole of Book 2 is “karma yoga” oriented to purify the mind alone, feeling that “tapas” refers to a process of purification.

(post photo credit: watercolor by kilaya ciriello, ©2006).

Book 1, Sutra 51: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



With this sutra Patanjali closes a circle that he opened with “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah” (sutra 2). Within “nirbijah samadhi” the yogi has a mind “free of fluctuation.” In the intervening 49 sutras Patanjali has taught us about a process of arriving at this state of mind. He has emphasized unrelenting energetic practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya) as essential components. Along with energy, he has listed faith, a purified memory and samadhi as components of the path to this state of mental freedom. He has taught us the use of meditation (samapatti) to reach and develop samadhi. He has also recommended dedication and surrender to “Ishvara,” a qualified guru or embodiment of the Divine. And in this sutra Patanjali explains that in the final stages of yoga even the wisdom concerning the purpose of existence, itself, must be released in order to completely free the mind of all disturbances.

Once that wisdom itself is relinquished then the yogi is “nirbijah,” or without a center. The mind, at that point, is truly free. It has no definable center and so, cannot be assaulted or disturbed from any direction. As the Buddha says, the mind at that point cannot be located anywhere by anyone or anything. The mind is established free of all thoughts, perceptions or investigations because it is completely anchored in its own form, “svarupe avasthanam,” as sutra 3 states. And that form is not located anywhere in either space or time (mostly due to a purification of the memory faculty which I discussed in the commentary connected to sutra 43).

This concludes book 1 but does not conclude all that Patanjali has to tell us about yoga. As we have seen so far, Patanjali is writing in a very beautiful style that becomes easier to interpret once we see its patterning. This treatise is called the “Yoga Sutra” for a good reason. “Yoga Sutra” literally means “necklace of wisdom.” This is a very fitting title because this sutra, as we have seen, must be taken as a whole. In other words, each “bead” of wisdom must be considered relative to the next one and also relative to all the other beads on the string.

The two important observations related to this that I have made so far is that (one) we can correctly interpret any given sutra by comparing its key Sanskrt terms with the same terms used in other sutras and double check that using the Bhagavad Gita. In other words, all uses of the same Sanskrt word, taken together, can help us decode any one given use. And (two) we can rely upon Patanjali’s repetition of all the key themes. As we will see in the further books, 2-4, Patanjali will be describing the key terms and stages of yoga over and over in slightly different ways. Book 1 is therefore not isolated from books 2-4 and vice versa. Taken together we have the best chance of really understanding Patanjali’s yoga, its practices, its principles and its goals.

I suspect that in my future posts we will discuss the same topics, ideas and even the same Sanskrit words that we have seen already in book 1 but our understanding will deepen and hopefully, with more understanding, our appreciation and enthusiasm will increase as well.