The Yoga Sutras of Pata Vijjali is a compilation of Sanskrit texts on the science and discipline of yoga arguably the oldest and best of all the Eastern systems of thought about yoga. The Yoga Sutras is the preeminent set of Sanskrit scriptures on yoga, with nearly twice the number of verses of any other source. It is also very dense, and most scholars agree that it contains much more literary value than other works of comparable size. Most modern practitioners are familiar with at least some of the contents of the Yoga Sutras. What most people know about the Yoga Sutras is not relevant to understanding the deeper meaning.
What we do know is that Patanjali’s teachings stress the need to learn and master certain yoga aspects, such as the correct posture and bodily postures. Also that yoga is concerned with the psychological and spiritual wellbeing of the student, the sutras exhort practitioners to think positively, and to develop positive thinking in their minds. Practitioners are told to develop energy and concentration by meditating, and to make positive thoughts (pranayam) become a strong reality (dhamma). They are also told to overcome the “avijja” or “diyasa” problems that are known to cause many a modern day yogi to slack off: greed (or covetousness), hatred (or envy), enmity (resentment), and ignorance (ignorance). For Yoga practitioners, these problems must be transcended, and they must learn to let go of them and accept the reality of God, nature, and their individual souls.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is commentaries on the original texts. He speaks in his commentaries and explanations, sometimes in the form of aphorisms, regarding the original meaning of the original texts. His comments are an intrinsic part of the Yoga Sutras. The word Patanjali means, ‘the Yoga practitioner who desires to attain the union with God,’ is an indication of the respect with which he regards his teachings.
In his treatises, Patanjali includes a commentary on verses in the yoga sutras, sometimes with a separate commentary, and sometimes he devotes one verse to each of the portions of the treatise. He has given the commentaries to show how he interpret the topics written within the treatise. Most scholars concur with Patanjali’s comments on some of the yoga sutras, but decry other comments, such as those on verses from the Gita, on non-devoted people, on women and menstruation, on the physical senses, on the ‘stage’ or ‘root’ of existence, on animals, on death, on birth, on heaven and hell and on the philosophy of right and wrong. Some scholars hold that all these notions are wrong. However, most of the commentaries, such as the ones on the Gita and the Mahabaratha, treat all these topics with great respect and allow for multiple interpretations. Since Patanjali wrote the treatises many years before his death, most of his teachings are still valid today.
Scholars who criticize Patanjali do so on the basis that the commentaries do not properly convey the meaning of the text. They fail to understand that the meaning of the commentaries is not the exact expression used by Patanjali. Rather, the commentaries reveal the way Patanjali understood the subject, not necessarily the exact words he used. Therefore, while criticizing the commentaries, the scholars fail to realize that the commentaries merely reveal the way Patanjali interpreted the original texts. This is not to say that the authors of the commentaries are actualized, since they were students of Yoga when they wrote their commentaries and had undergone intense training on Yoga postures and as well as meditation.
The second group of critics who attack yoga and the Patanjali Yogas are those who edit Patanjali’s works without his permission. Although this is not considered an ethical violation, this can result in censorship since most of these authors edit the texts after they received the manuscript. The most notable example of such an author is Rashahnama, a famous commentator of Patanjali who edited the latter’s commentary on yoga. After publishing his work, he was barred from practicing yoga because the government felt that his comments infringed on the copyright of the original text. The case was eventually lost.
Editing of Patanjali’s works was common during the early days of Yoga. However, when it became popular in the late 19th century, it became less controversial since many people edited their works after receiving them. Many modern writers and editors edit Patanjali’s yoga philosophy or commentaries, although the positions they represent are not the same. Many modern authors defend yoga according to its word in the Kama Sutra and commentaries. While some authors question whether the original work has any influence on today’s practice, most yoga scholars accept that Patanjali’s commentaries have affected the present day practices.