The Yogasutras are the foundational text on Yoga, Vedic mind science, written by Sage Patanjali. It is placed around 4th century CE. Tradition has it that, Sage Patanjali also has contributed to refinement of speech through a work on Grammar (Mahabhasya), a work on Ayurveda (not identified with certainty) to refine and heal the body.
The text is in the form of Sutras or short insightful statements that have various shades of meanings but convey thoughts in a very organized and compact manner. There are 195 Sutras in this text. (The number of Sutras may slightly vary depending upon splitting of certain Sutras)
The definition of Yoga in this text appears in the second Sutra of the text – yogah cittavrttinirodhah – Yoga is the restraint of activities of the mind. According to this Sutra, to be established in one’s true conscious nature it is essential that the activities of the mind are regulated/restrained initially and gradually completely made to cease. All the practices of Yoga in this text are prescribed towards this end.
There are four chapters which are called as Padas (one fourth). The four Padas are – Samadhi-pada , Sadhana-pada , Vibhuti-pada and Kaivalya-pada.
This chapter has 51 Sutras. As the very nomenclature suggests, the major content of the chapter is about the States of Samadhi. The content of the chapter can be seen in seven parts
- Commencement of the text, definition of Yoga (citta-vrtti-nirodha/Samadhi) – Sutras 1-4
- 5 Citta-Vrttis (activities of the mind) & Abhyasa (effort) and Vairagya (detachment) for citta-vrtti-nirodha – Sutras 5-16
- Samprajnata & Asamprajnata divisions of Samadhi (vritti-nirodha) – Sutras 17-22
- Isvarapranidhana (devotion to divinity), 9 obstacles in the path of Yoga, Ekatattvabhyasa (single pointed effort) – Sutras 23-32
- 7 Methods for ekagrata (one-pointedness) for samprajnata-samadhi – Sutras 33-40
- Sabija-samadhi (includes the states of manifestation of world based on Gunas) – Sutras 41-46
- Nirbija-samadhi - Sutras 47-51
The second chapter has 55 Sutras. As the very name suggests – this chapter predominantly describes about the Sadhanas – the methods to realize the goal of Yoga – Citta-vritti-nirodha. The content of this chapter can be seen in six units –
- Kriya-yoga and its outcome (weakening of Klesas/afflictions) – Sutras 1-2
- Five Klesas and methods to overcome them – Sutras 3-11
- Concepts connected to Klesas – Karmasaya (store of Karmic effects), Vipaka (manifestation of effects of Karma), duhkha (suffering) – Sutras 12-15
- Caturvyuha to overcome duhkha (four fold arrangement – Heya (suffering), Heyahetu (cause of suffering), Hana (state of freedom from suffering) and Upaya(methods to overcome suffering) – also discussed are drasta (consciousness), drsya (matter) – Sutras 16 -26
- Vivekakhyati (clarity of distinctness of Matter and consciousness -hanopaya) and Astangayoga for Vivekakhyati – Sutras 27-28
- The first Five limbs (bahiranga – external/preparatory steps to attain goal of Yoga) – Yama, Niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara (definition, technique of practice and intermediate outcomes) – Sutras 29-55
This chapter contains 55 Sutras. Vibhuti or Siddhis refers to powers. This chapter details about the attainment of attainment of extrasensory powers and knowledge resulting out of practice of Yoga. The chapter can be seen in six units
- Definition of last three limbs of Astangayoga – dharana, dhyana and samadhi - Sutras 1-3
- Template for Siddhis – Samyama, Clarity and Application - Sutras 4-6,
- Relative position of the Eight limbs - Sutras 7-8
- 3 citta-parinama-s (changes in the citta) and 3 bhutendriyaparinama-s (Changes in the five elements and the Senses) - Sutras 9 –13
- Abiding substratum-Dharmi (among the changing entities), process (Krama) - 14-15
- Siddhis - 16 –48 - Warning about siddhis (37)
- Jnana-sakti –Supra-mental-sensory /knowledge powers – Sutras [16 -20], , [25-29] [32 -36], 
- Kriya-sakti –Supra-physiological/action powers (body) – Sutras ,[23,24], [30-31], [38 -40], [42-48]
- Kaivalya (Liberation) and associated Siddhis – Sutras [49-55]
This chapter contains 34 Sutras. Kaivalya is the ultimate state described in the Yoga system of philosophy. This is an eternal state where the Purusa (pure consciousness) is alone – free from the influences Prakrti (matter). This chapter can be seen in four divisions -
- Five ways to attain Powers-siddhi-pancakam –1-7 (certain clarifications)
- About -vasanas –8 -11
- Refutation of Buddhist views on Mind, Consciousness and world, clarification on Nature of citta and purusa 12 -24
- Description of a Mind heading towards kaivalya and attainment of Kaivalya, Dharmamegha Samadhi (highest state of Samadhi), Pratiprasava (rolling back of the material world and the citta into Prakrti) –25-34
The commentaries of Yogasutras
The commentary literature lore of Yogasutras is very rich. There is an unbroken succession of commentaries till date since it is composition of Yogasutras. About 28 Samskrta commentaries have thus far been documented. The commentary literature of Yogasutras can be seen in two divisions
1) Vyasa-bhasya , its sub-commentaries
2) Independent/Direct commentaries
Vyasa-bhasya , its sub commentaries & glosses
Vyasa’s commentary is considered the closest to the period of Yogasutras (3rd or 4th Century CE) and hence it is respected as primary commentary. There are four known sub-commentaries to Vyasa’s commentary to Yogasutra.
- Tattvavaisaradi of Vacaspati Misra (9th or 10th century)
- Vivarana of Sankara (13th Century – not settled with finality)
- Varttika of Vijnanabhiksu (15th Century)
- Bhasvati of Hariharananda Aranya (19th century) (Apart from this work (Hariharananda Aranya also has written a text called Yoga Karika – which is a versified presentation of Patanjali Yogasutras)
Apart from this, two commentaries to the Tattvavaisaradi exist –
- Patanjalarahasya by Raghavananda sarasvati (1550-1600 CE) and
- A vritti by Balarama Udasina (1890).
The second category of Commentaries to Yogasutras in Samskrta is direct commentaries on Yogasutras. They are as follows -
- Rajamartanda by Bhojadeva (1000 CE)
- Maniprabha by Ramananda yati (1550-1600 CE)
- Pradipika by Bhavaganesa (1600 – 1700 CE)
- Yogasiddhantacandrika and Sutrarthabodhini by Narayanatirtha (1700-1750 CE) (2)
- Brhad Vrtti and Laghu Vritti by Nagojibhatta (1700 – 1750 CE) (2)
- Yogasudhakara by sadasivendra sarasvati (1700-1800 CE)
- Yogacandrika anantadevapandita (1800 – 1900 CE)
In the 20th Century alone many Samskrta commentaries were written. They include -
- Vaidika Vritti of Swamin Hariprasada
- Yoga Pradipika of Baladeva Mishra
- Kirana of Vallabhacharya (this largely follows Bhojas Rajamartanda)
- Jnanananda Bhashya of Jnanananda
- Yogavalli by Sri T Krishnamacharya
Apart from these Samskrta commentaries that span nearly two millennia, commentaries and translations of Yogasutras and a few of these Samskrta commentaries in various other Indian languages and languages of the world have emerged. The oldest foreign language translation of Yogasutras is the Persian translation of Yogasutras of Patanjali: Kitab Patanjali, by Alberuini, 10th Century.
This indicates the popularity of the text and also the foundational nature of contribution of this text to the field of Yoga. A study of the text with one or more of the Samskrta commentaries will give a very good footing in the philosophy and practice of Yoga.
Select Bibliography (for further reading and referencing):
- Larson, Gerald James & Bhattacharya, Ramshankar, Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume XII, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, Reprint 2016.
- Karnataka, Vimala, vyakhyakarom ke drsti se patanjala-yogasutra ka samiksatmaka adhyayana Varanasi: The Benares Hindu University Samskrta Series, 1974
- Sastri GD, editor. Samga Yogadarsana or Yoga Darsana of Patanjali, with the Scholium of Vyasa and the Commentaries Tattvavaisaradi, Patanjalarahasya, Yogavartika and Bhasvati of Vacaspati Misra, Raghavananda Sarasvati, Vijnanabhiksu and Hariharananda Aranya Varanasi: Chaukhamba Samskrta Bhavan; 2007
- Sastri, pandita dhundhiraja (Edited with Notes by), Yogasutram by Maharsi patanjali, with Six commentaries, Raja-martanda of Bhoja, pradipika of Bhava-ganesa, vrttih of Nagoji-bhatta, mani-prabha of Ramananda-yati, candrika of Ananta-deva-pandita, yoga-sudhakarah of Sadasivendra-sarasvati, Varanasi: Chaukhamba Samskrta Sansthan, Reprint 2009.
- Rukmani, T S, English Translation and Critical Notes, Yogavarttika Vijnanabhiksu, Vol.1 to 4, Munshiram New Delhi: Manoharlal Publishers Private Limited, 2001.
- Yogavaisharadi: A searchable web-repository of classical Yoga literature: https://kymyogavaisharadi.org/