Book 1, Sutra 27: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



I am departing a bit from the common translation of this sutra for a number of reasons. First of all, most of the versions of this sutra involve the word, “OM.” Satchidananda’s translation is typical: “The word expressive of Iswara is OM. OM is God’s name as well as form.” The problem is that this sutra doesn’t actually contain the word “OM” (or “AUM,” its alternative spelling). The Sanskrt of this sutra reads, “Tasya vacakah prananva.” Almost all translators are translating “pranava” as “om” but why? “Pranava” is most commonly translated as “his word” or “his name.” So, loosely translated in this way, this sutra would read “His [Iswara’s] signifier is his name.” This is a bit redundant because both “vacakah” and “pranava” are given similar meanings. Translators solve this redundancy by assuming that “pranava” equals “OM.”

Of all translations I have read only Vishnudevananda explains this substitution. The rest just make the substitution as if it was written in stone somewhere. Vishnudevananda writes “OM (AUM), the sacred word of the Hindus, is one of the oldest known words. Over 5000 years ago, and probably earlier in ancient Sumer, OM was known and used as a secret word by Sumerian mystics and priests. When the Indo-Aryan tribes wandered east from Sumer, they carried the precious and sacred word OM with them. In the oldest known Indian scriptures, OM has always had a place of prominence. Nearly all mantras and hymns begin and end with OM. OM is also used alone as a mantra and is considered the most powerful one.”

Okay, but the question still remains, why didn’t Patanjali write “OM” instead of “pranava?” There is a special character for “OM” in Sanskrt. Why didn’t he use that character?

My explanation is that Patanjali used the word “pranava” and not “OM” purposely because of its subtle meaning. In breaking down the Sanskrit word, “pranava,” Zambito writes that it means “to shout/to exult” in a “forward, onward” way. KN Saraswathy explains that “prananva” indicates the words or sounds that extol the “infinite, immeasurable qualities of the Lord” and “consequently, blessings accrue.” So, my interpretation is that Patanjali is saying that such a powerful praising of God IS His name. Sure, “OM” has been used in that way for thousands of years as Vishnudevananda says but Patanjali is identifying God’s name beyond even the limitations of the word, “OM.” In other words, whatever words are used to express a profound, genuine and forceful expression of faith in God’s Unlimited Greatness and Goodness is His name.

There may be a special mystic power to the word, “OM” or “AUM,” that many of Patanjali’s translators claim but technically Patanjali doesn’t mention that connection. His instruction concerning how to call God is so subtle and powerful that it goes beyond even the Hindu tradition and its use of “OM.”





About Kilaya

Kilaya is a yogi who is also well-versed in the sciences. He studied physics and mathematics at college, biology and molecular biology on his own, fluid dynamics while working as a professional plumber and has always had a passion for in-depth psychology. Now he adds what he has learned from his spiritual master, Amma, and from his life as a professional astrologer to his writings in order to make discoveries that may inspire others.

Posted on January 22, 2016, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you for departing from the commonly used translation of pranava. Your introspection guided by Zambito’s dissection of pranava into the roots प्र and नु , have broadened the expression of this beautiful sutra.
    May all of our utterences exalt ‘His’ name.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: