Yoga was compiled by Patanjali. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the verbal root ‘yuj’, meaning to yoke or harness, and represents the union of the individual self, jivatma, with the Universal Self, Paramatma.
Yoga itself existed long before Patanjali. It was well known in Vedic and even pre-Vedic times. Patanjali did not create yoga, he brilliantly compiled and formally sustematised its essence in a text often referred to Patanjali Yoga Darshana, meaning ‘View of Yoga acording to Patanjali.’ Thus the Patanjali yoga tradition is a later expression of older teachings based on the source texts of India known as the Vedas, which date earlier than 1500BCE. Yoga is considered one of the six views or perspectives, on the same basic Vedic philosophy.
The Yoga Sutras came to be accepted as the primary text on yoga philosophy, not yoga postures (asanas). Patanjali focuses on yoga as a method of transforming the way we think, communicate and act by directing our attention inward and cultivating inner contentment. Less than 2 percent of the sutras discuss the physical practice of asana. In fact, according to what those few sutras say, we could interpret asana as simply how to sit for meditation.
Sutras are threads, and sometimes but strands of threads, that require a guide, coach or teacher to help unravel them because of the terse, minimalist style, in which they are rendered. However, they are not intentionally cryptic or out of reach in the way that koans are in the Chinese and Japanese traditions. There has been an unbroken oral transmission of information in India for thousands of years. To facilitate the memorisation of information, the sutra, or thread format was employed, in which a large amount of knowledge is encoded in a shirt, often incomplete phrase or sentence,
In keeping with the greater sutra tradition, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras invite commentary. They are written in Sanskrit and contain 196 short, concise aphorisms, in four sections, which are wide in scope and include an array of different means to the direct experience of yoga. The teaching within each sutra connects to the ‘field of the other sutras. The journey is profoundly an inward one. Patanjali guides the aspirant on a pilgrimage through the jungles of distraction and confusion in the heart-mind to the inner sanctum of the seer or witness.
The text provides a theoretical structure of human consciousness, with directions on how to navigate our way through life’s ups and downs. Learning about the core of who your are, and how that core affects your everyday relationships, perceptions and actions, together with the principles and practices on turning the attention inward to more fully understand what our true nature is all about. Who are we now? How can we become more happy and fulfilled human beings? It’s masterful design, universality and emphasis on personal growth espouse ideas in the text, such as nonviolence, truthfulness, honesty, non exploitation, generosity, self-observtion, and diligent practice to name a few are truly independent of time, place, culture and religion.
Thus we see that Yoga has a wide range of applications, and integrating its teachings implies experiencing them both externally and within ourselves. The unique tools for inner development and outer poise include living a kind, civil life, caring for, developing, stabilising and refining the body, breath, sense organs and mind, and turning our attention inward to understand the true nature of the inner Self through self observation, quiet contemplation and deep meditation all contribute to the clarification of yoga, and early on it came to be applied to ‘spiritual endeavour’, specifically in the control of the mind, ‘manas’ and senses, ‘indriya’. This usage is found in Taittiriya-Upanishad II.4.1, which dates back to the sixth or seventh century BC.
By the time of the composition of The Bhagavad-Gita, which can be assigned to the third or fourth century BC, the word Yoga was widely used to denote the Hindu tradition of spiritual discipline, comprising different approaches to Self-realisation or enlightenment. If the schools of pre-classical Yoga as recorded in the Bhagavad Gita and Moksha-Dharma, and other didactic portions of the Mahabharata epic espoused a pantheistic philosophy, Patanjali introduced a dualistic metaphysics. He appears to have rejected the idea of the world as an aspect of the Divine, and made a radical distinction between nature, prakruti, and the transcendental Self, purusha, recognising the Creator. Whilst Patanjali’s system came to be regarded as one of the six classical schools of Hinduism, its duality prevented it from assuming greater cultural significance, as the dominant philosophical orientation has always been non-dualistic, advaita.