Sutras 1.1-1.7

As some of you are aware, the YSP SG has been conducting its meetings for over a year now. The objective of the group is to develop a deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy of yoga as propounded by sage Patajali in the Yoga Sutras. In the first go-round, we discussed the English translation of each sutra by various commentators and tried to understand the sutra by ourselves without referring to the detailed commentary by any of the authors. We completed that round about two months ago. At that point we decided to continue with the discussion sessions and start from the beginning by studying the commentary by two authors in detail. We decided to pick one commentator from the classical school, based on the commentary by Vyasa and one with a more modern approach. For the former, we picked the commentary by Hariharananda Aranya and for the latter we picked Taimni.

Through these posts, I will try to present a summary of the discussion in each of the sessions. In our last few sessions, we have found that we are able to follow the commentary by Taimni quite easily. However, we have been struggling to understand fully the language used by Aranya. In these columns I will present my best understanding of each sutra. I think the blog will provide much more value if each of the participants of the SG also adds their own comments to the blog post.

Invocation to Sage Patanjali

योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां । मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन ॥

योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां । पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ॥

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yogena chittasya padena vAchAM | malaM sharIrasya cha vaidyakena ||yo.apAkarottaM pravaraM munInAM | pata~njaliM prA~njalirAnato.asmi ||

"I respectfully bow down with folded hands and offer my salutations to Sage Patanjali, the highest among the Munis (sages), who has presented the remedies for removing the impurities of the body through his treatise on Ayurveda, of language through his treatise on grammar (Patanjala Mahabhashya) and the impurities of the Chitta (mind field) through his treatise on Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)".

Sutras 1.1 – 1.4

In sutras 1.1 through 1.4, Patanjali provides the basic definition of yoga. In that sense, these are some of the most important sutras in the text. With the basic understanding of what yoga is all about, it will become easier to grasp some of the other concepts presented in the yoga sutras.

Sutra 1.1

अथ योगानुशासनम्॥१॥

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Atha yogAnushAsanaM

Atha=now; yoga=what is yoga; anushAsanaM=discipline, exposition

Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.

With this first sutra, Patanjali introduces the subject of yoga to his students who perhaps had already been undergoing training in other disciplines of learning. The word "atha" is usually translated as "here now", "now" etc. It has been used by other authors to introduce various texts. For example, the first sutra in Brahma Sutra is "atha brahma jijnasa" (now we explore an understanding of Brahma). The word is supposed to express these three features – authority and competence of the teacher to impart the knowledge, qualification of the student as being a deserving student to receive this knowledge, and an auspicious commencement of the subject.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word "yuj" (युज्) which, depending upon the context, can mean "to yoke or join" or "to be in a state of deep meditation called samadhi". As will be seen in the subsequent sutras, the definition of yoga is to make the mind totally calm, devoid of the usual fluctuations that normally go on in the mind. That state of the mind is called "samadhi". So, from the context of yoga, we use the meaning "in samadhi" for the root word "yuj". The word "anushasanam", depending upon the context, can mean to discipline, to teach, to rule or govern etc. In the context of the current sutra it is taken to mean "to instruct". Hence with this sutra Patanjali begins to instruct his students in the discipline of yoga.

In his commentary on the sutra, Vyasa mentions that as the mind at any time can be in one of the five states:

  • kshipta (scattered)
  • mudha (dull, confused)
  • vikshipta (partially focussed)
  • ekagra (one-pointed focus)
  • niruddha (fully absorbed or restrained)

As one goes through the process of meditation, the mind can go back and forth between the states mentioned above. Even during day-to-day life, we go through these states. Fluctuations of the mind are caused by an imbalance of the three gunas – sattva (purity), rajas (action) and tamas (dullness). The objective of the practice of yoga is to guide the mind to stay in the last two stages mentioned above for longer periods of time.

Sutra 1.2


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yogah=yoga; chitta=mind-field; vritti=fluctuations; nirodhaH=restraint

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

This can be considered as one of the most important sutras as it provides a basic definition of yoga. As per this definition, the mind needs to be brought to a state wherein there are no more perturbations going on in the mind. In order to understand the mind and how it functions, it is a good idea to think of the mind as a composite of four functions:

  • Manas (cognitive)
  • Buddhi (intellect)
  • Ahamkara (ego)
  • Chitta (storehouse of memories and impressions)

In our current state, for the most part, our thoughts and actions are driven by the ego. What is needed is to transfer this control over to the intellect. When the intellect can function independent of the influence of the ego and the past impressions, only then can the mind become free of the constant chatter that it is engaged in. In the entire text of the sutras, the emphasis is on diminishing the influence of the ego. At the same time, we want to make the intellect, as guided by our pure intuitive wisdom (not by the ego) as the controlling function of the mind-field. Only then can we get into the state of samadhi wherein all the fluctuations in the mind have been stilled.

Sutra 1.3

तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम्॥३॥

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tadA drashtuH svarUpe&vasthAnaM

Then the Seer [Self] abides in His own nature.

In this sutra Patanjali points to the basic concept from the Samkhya philosophy, that of the existence of two independent entities – Purusha (pure consciousness or soul) and Prakriti (matter). Purusha, as per this concept, is nothing but an observer of all the action happening at the Prakriti level. In this sutra, the Sanskrit word for an observer – drashTA – is used to denote Purusha. So, the sutra states that when the fluctuations of the mind have been subdued then the observer (or the seer) gets established in its own nature. As per this philosophy, it is the apparent entanglement of Purusha with the ego (Prakriti) that is the cause of all suffering (klesha). When the Purusha is free from any identification with the ego, it can abide in its true nature and we can stay free of any pain or suffering.

Sutra 1.4


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vritti=fluctuation of the mind; sArUpyam=assumes the form of; itaratra=otherwise

At other times [the Self appears to] assume the forms of mental modifications.

The previous two sutras emphasized the need for the mind to become totally still before the pure consciousness (Purusha) can get established in its pure nature. In the current sutra, Patanjali offers almost a warning that if you do not make the effort to still the mind’s fluctuations, then the vrittis (fluctuations caused by the ego and the past impressions) take control of the mind. That, as we mentioned earlier, is the main cause of all human suffering (kleshas).

Sutra 1.5

वृत्तयः पञ्चतय्यः क्लिष्टाऽक्लिष्टाः ॥

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vRuttayaH pa~jchatayyaH klishTA&klishTAH

vRuttayaH=vrittis (fluctuations of the mind); panchatayyaH=five-fold; klishTA=painfull; aklishTAH=not painful


The modifications of the mind are five-fold and are painful or not-painful

Taimni defines not-painful as those impressions that do not cause any pleasure or pain; e.g., observing a tree while driving. All other impressions whether they give pleasure or pain are classified as ‘painful’. He has done that in view of the statement later on in the text (Sutra 2.15) that for a wise man, everything is painful.

In my opinion, this is stretching the argument a littel too far. While we are not yet enlightened, I would like to classify smelling a rose as ‘not-painful’ while watching a horrible accident as ‘painful’.


They (modifications) fall into five varieties, of which some are ‘Klista’ and the rest ‘Aklista’.

The vrittis which are classified as ‘painful’ are based on the five kleshas (discussed in chapter 2) – ignorance, egoism, likes, dislikes and fear of death. Those that are classified as ‘not-painful’ concern final discriminative enlightenment (khyati) and represent freedom from the effect of the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas). All fluctuations whether ‘painful’ or ‘not-painful’ result in impressions (samskaras) which result in further vrittis and so on. Aranya at this point goes into a discussion of the five types of vrittis and how each one can be paiful or not. To me it seems like putting the cart before the horse, confusing the issue since we haven’t been exposed to the five vrittis yet.

Sutra 1.6

प्रमाणविपर्ययविकल्पनिद्रास्मृतयः ॥

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pramANa viparyaya vikalpa nidra smRutayaH

pramANa=right knowledge; viparyaya=wrong/confused knowledge; vikalpa=fancy/imaginary knowledge; nidra=deep sleep; smRutayaH=memories


Right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fancy/imagination, sleep and memory (are the five vrittis)

Right knowledge and wrong knowledge are impressions formed by direct contact with the five senses; fancy and memory are modifications formed without direct contact with the senses (even though they are based on previous sense impressions). Memory represents a faithful reproduction of previously stored impressions while in ‘fancy’ they can be reproduced in any random order. In deep sleep, there are no mental images at all even though the mind continues to be active.


(They are) Pramana, Viparyaya, Vikalpa, (dreamless) sleep and recollection.

Q: if dreamless sleep is a fluctuation of the mind, why not consider waking and dream states as well?

A: The other four types of vrittis can account for all the experiences in the waking and dream states. Feelings like happiness and sorrow cannot be controlled by themselves but can be controlled by shutting out valid cognition etc which give rise to them.

A distinction is made between cognitive fluctuations called ‘pratyaya’ and the latent impressions called ‘samskaras’. Mind or ‘chitta’ has three functions – cognition (knowing), willing and retention (memory and samskaras). It is these cognitive fluctuations that need to be controlled as ‘chitta vritti nirodhah’. It is not clear how we deal with the ‘samskaras’ here.

Sutra 1.7

प्रत्यक्षानुमानागमाः प्रमाणानि ॥

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pratyakShAnumAnAgamAH pramANAni

pratyakSh=direct perception; AnumAna=inference; AgamAH=testimony of a reliable source; pramANAni=sources of right knowledge


Right knowledge is based on direct perception, inference or testimony.

Direct perception is information received by the mind through direct contact with the five senses. Inference involves partial knowledge through the five senses and the rest inferred based on prior sense perceptions. For example, when you hear footsteps, you can infer, based on prior knowledge, that this sound is from human footsteps, not from an animal. Testimony is information received through a reliable, trustworthy source – a person or a scripture.


(Of these) Perception, inference and testimony (verbal communication) constitutethe Pramanas.

We ran into a lot of problems while trying to understand the commentary. Part of the problem, which is common throughout the text, is that Aranya brings up concepts which are supposed to be discussed later on in the book. Also, the translator for the English volume, most likely in an effort to remain faithful to the original Bengali text, has used a language which seems highly convoluted and difficult to follow. I am presenting below the best understanding that I have so far of each of the numbered points in the text:

  1. Prama is uncontradicted knowledge about a real object. Pramana is the means of getting that knowledge. It relates to knowledge about things which are perceived directly by the senses externally. In contrast, ‘experience’ relates to what happens inside the bounds of the senses, i.e., the cognitive mind – memories, emotions etc.
  2. Mind, as the sixth sense, needs to work in conjunction with the five external senses to make ‘sense’ out of the objects perceived. For example when we hear the sound of a crow, the ear only presents a sound; it is the mind, based on previous knowledge, that determines that it is the voice of a crow.
  3. Here we have a discussion of the ‘special’ and ‘general’ features of the external objects. For exeample, if we look at a person, based on prior knowledge, we know that this is ‘John’. We recognize special characteristics associated with John – his being tall, handsome, etc. In addition, we also perceive some general characteristics – he is a ‘man’ as opposed to being a ‘woman’ etc.
  4. I don’t understand this point fully – however, I believe what is being pointed out here is that unless full ‘self-realization’ is acheived, we tend to identify the ‘purusha’ with the vritti appearing in the mind as a result of direct perception. This happens because of ‘ahamkara’ or the I-sense which prevents the ‘purusha’ from remaining as the pure observer.
  5. Here again, I don’t quite understand the use of the word ‘reflector’ as a reference to ‘purusha’. Naresh can possibly clarify if ‘reflector’ is an accurate translation for ‘pratisamvedi’ (in Vyasa’s text). Normally I understand the purusha as the illuminator of buddhi. If we take it as the reflector, then buddhi becomes the source of light – which is against our current understanding.
  6. The example of inference given here states that if there is change in physical position, it represents motion. This is observed from the fact that when Chaitra (name of a person) moves, there is change in his position. So, looking at moon and the stars, we infer that they move since they change their position. A mountain does not move since there is no change in its position. So, to make an inference, a prior knowledge of similar relationship is necessary.
  7. People whose statements can be accepted without question are called ‘aptas’, or reliable source. When an Apta’s word creates a sure knowledge in your mind, it is called an Agama or testimony. Agama can be a result of verbal or a written transmission (scriptures can be considered knowledge provided by seers who are ‘aptas’).

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