Patanjali is a great name in India's scriptural lore. He was a mighty sage.
"Yoga" is a much misunderstood and abused term these days. Yoga, let it be understood, is a sacred word. It signifies both the means and the end. It is the aim of human existence. It is to live Yoga that one is born. By a stroke of mysterious misfortune, man has fallen from heaven, is separated from God. The "why" of this is a divine secret. Yoga, rightly practised, promises to restore the lost Kingdom to man, assures him to re-unite him with the Ultimate Reality, once again.
It will be clear how Yoga is not just bending and stretching the limbs in various postures. Yoga is not ringing the bell or beating cymbals, not staring at a candle or looking at a dot on the wall. Not that these processes are without significance, but they are preliminary, all too preliminary aids, rather starting points in the long, long march of the student of Yoga in his quest of Reality.
Yoga is not merely a practice, or a set of practices, but the whole science of life itself. We are living muted lives. Yoga offers the whole life. Yoga promises to cure all our diseases – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – all of them. Yoga promises perfection. Yoga promises perennial bliss shorn of all misery.
The worldly enjoyments of the human being are tainted with two major defects. Firstly, all earthly joys are fleeting, temporary in nature. Secondly, every enjoyment is mixed simultaneously with a measure of misery. Now, Yoga guarantees, at the end of the journey, perpetual bliss totally unmixed with sorrow. Is it not worthwhile? In fact, all human striving, knowingly or unknowingly, is directed only towards the state of perpetual and unending bliss. The basic aim of all human endeavour is the same, though the effort is often directed along mistaken channels resulting in wrong results.
We need not search here and there for Gurus and God-men to give us right guidance in the matter of the meaning of the word Yoga. The Lord Krishna, other than whom it is difficult to imagine a greater authority, gives a number of definitions in His loveable spiritual classic, "The Bhagavad-Gita". The whole of the Gita is God's teaching to man, telling him the means to regain the lost Kingdom, expounding all the intricacies of the spiritual journey, the return journey to the Universal Being. In this sacred book, the word Yoga is defined in a number of places from different angles. There are some unambiguous and straight definitions such as "Yogah karmasu kausalam – Yoga is skill in action" (II, 50) and "Samatvam yoga uchyate – Evenness of mind is called Yoga" (II, 48). Patanjali himself defines Yoga as "Chitta-vritti-nirodhah", or control of the modifications of the mind-stuff. These definitions of Sri Krishna and Patanjali are various guidelines to the means for attaining the ultimate end of Yoga which is the eternal establishment in lasting perfection. But there is one classic definition of Yoga in the Gita which is perhaps the most comprehensive of all definitions, because it defines Yoga by the end sought to be achieved through practice. The means may be different, but the end is the same. And this end, this universal goal of human aspiration, is to attain perennial bliss, to secure release from the pain of empirical entanglement. So, Sri Krishna gives us this remarkable definition in Chapter VI, Verse 23, where He says that Yoga is "Duhkhasamyoga-viyogam" or "severance from union with pain". That is the last word on the subject. What is Yoga? Yoga is that which relieves the individual of all his misery, for all time. Yoga is that which separates man from pain and installs him in his own Infinitude.
For the sake of convenience and clarity of understanding, we generally speak of different methods of the Yoga approach to life's problems. The better known methods are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. While the emphasis is laid on different aspects of Yoga in these methods, Yoga is basically the same, viz., inner purification and progressive elimination of the ego clouding the Truth shining within. In the working out of this Yoga process, there is much common ground as between the different teachings of Yoga. Physical health, ethical discipline, concentration, selflessness, development of a universal outlook – these are common to all the systems of Yoga. While Patanjali's system lays stress on control of the mind as the kingpin of the dynamics of spiritual evolution, it encompasses not merely mind control, but the entire gamut of the spiritual ascent. Patanjali's Yoga is not a secret system for exclusive practice by recluses living in mountain caves. If that were so, its value would become minimal. No. The Yoga of Patanjali is meant for everyone, in much the same way as the Bhagavad Gita. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the Gita are universal scriptures, dealing with the Science of Life, the Science of Reality, and no one is outside its purview. It is an all-inclusive science, meant for everyone's practical living. As such, the Yoga Sutras is a priceless scripture. It is not merely the Culture of India, but the entire human race, which is indebted to Patanjali for his generous gift of this remarkable science designed to restore to man his Divine Heritage, his forgotten identity.
In the pages that follow, Swami Krishnananda expounds Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with a refreshingly new approach. The reference to the Sanskrit language and to the Sutras is kept to the minimum. This is to avoid inconvenience to the readers, to most of whom the original Sutras will just be so much Greek and Latin. The result is that the student is led uninterruptedly, step by step, from the most basic enunciation of man's present predicament to the ultimate stage of the highest attainment. We do not know if there is any other free-flowing elucidation of Patanjali's Yoga similar to the one contained in the following chapters. This apart, what distinguishes the present work is the deeply philosophical approach to the whole subject. Swami Krishnananda, whose first love is metaphysical philosophy, keeps discussion on this theme to the minimum, expounds and elucidates philosophical questions only to the extent necessary for the practitioner. The stress from beginning to end is on spiritual practice, spiritual discipline, on the culturing of the individual, on solid spiritual evolution towards the achievement of integral perfection. After going through this book, the reader is quite naturally made to feel that all the finer distinctions between Yoga and Vedanta and the other systems of philosophy are peripheral and that the core of spirituality lies in its actual living in one's own life. The great Master, Swami Sivananda, always emphasised spirituality as a matter of direct and practical experience. "An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory" is a maxim which went well with Swami Sivananda, and which now goes equally well with Swami Krishnananda, his illustrious disciple.
In fact, the present volume is the outcome of a series of extempore lectures given by the Swamiji to the Fourth Batch of trainees under the three-month' Yoga Course run by the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of the Divine Life Society. The verbatim transcription of Swamiji's taped lectures has been subjected to minimum, essential editing so as to leave the free flow of Swamiji's discourses unimpaired.
The series of discourses given by Swami Krishnananda to the First Batch and Second Batch of trainees have already been published by the society under the titles, "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga", and "The Philosophy of the Bhagavadgita". The present volume, it is hoped, will be received by the world of spiritual seekers with the same enthusiasm with which the earlier volumes were welcomed.
The Divine Life Society is deeply grateful to Sri N. Ananthanarayanan, a learned and silent soul on the path of Yoga himself, who has taken immense care in editing the manuscript of this book, and without whose labour of love this publication would have perhaps not seen the light of day.
—THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY