The basic idea of the Yogasutras is quite simple. In localising as the intelligence of the human organism Consciousness loses touch with its nature. This invites a deep existential suffering in human beings that can not be resolved by any cultural activity. Patanjali describes how this problem resolves naturally within the deep internalisation of awareness.
If human intelligence becomes aware of the subtleties of its conditioned functioning, its source in unconditional consciousness becomes clear. The key to this is meditation. Not meditation as a means to an end, but meditation as a letting go of all effort and intention into the natural activity of intelligence.
Intimacy with the unconstrained activity of internalised intelligence reveals its subtleties, roots, source and nature. In doing so the unconscious habits and assumptions that sustained the sense of separate self and its disturbing implications lose their power. Then the fundamental properties of Consciousness are free to express themselves unhindered into the flow of daily life.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a remarkable document. Probably over 2,000 years old and written in a language that has not been a native tongue for centuries, it has been interpreted and translated countless times. Yet still it remains shrouded in mystery. No-one seems to be sure quite what it means, nor exactly what relevance it may have.
In fact many interpretations are little but speculation awash with palpable nonsense. Part of the problem is that people only too easily confuse intellectual and academic knowledge with direct and experiential knowledge. Most interpretations of the Yoga Sutras are not direct interpretations of Patanjali but interpretations of interpretations of interpretations. No wonder there is so much confusion about its meaning and relevance.
To make matters worse very few people actually have direct knowledge of the subject matter of the Yoga Sutras. To understand what Patanjali has to say, and so to be able to translate him, requires a deep familiarity with Consciousness, awareness, cognition and perception: their limitations, possibilities and inter-relationships. This familiarity can only come from intimacy with their subtle and elusive functioning in the roots of human experience. That intimacy is perhaps only provided by meditation, where meditation is undertaken as self-enquiry rather than any attempt to control, refine or purify the mind.
The Yoga Sutras are not a how-to manual. They do not provide instruction in yoga practices and techniques. They provide a map of what can happen when intelligence internalises within the lens of self enquiry. At the same time they provide a clear understanding of what yoga is, what its practice must involve, and what supports and hinders that practice.
My rendering and interpretation of Patanjali are based on over forty years exploring the ground of human experience. This exploration has been most fruitful in and as the practice of meditation and yoga. It is not designed to give a literal rendering of Patanjali’s sutras, as the result in a modern language would be more or less meaningless. Rather than offering a word by word translation it presents their psychological and spiritual implications in the light of what i have found in my own exploration of human intelligence as practitioner and teacher.
Therefor mine is not an academic treatment of The Yoga Sutras but, more usefully, a guide to its implications for anyone interested in human intelligence: especially those that pursue that interest on a meditation cushion or yoga mat. Instead of following the exact etymology of the Sanskrit, I have tried to render its experiential and practical implications in terminology that anyone who has looked deeply enough within will be able to make sense of. The footnotes provide the Sanskrit word on which my translation is based and the sutra numbers from the original text.
The Yoga Sutras is not a scientific, nor religious text. It is not designed to explain anything. As a guide to the interior dimensions of human experience it simply points to its key elements. It is concerned not with the absolute nature of reality, but with the subtleties of human intelligence. At the heart of which is the conundrum of the self, which is not only the centre of our experience, but the chain with which we are bound to our suffering.
Human consciousness is deeply paradoxical. There is nothing with which we are more familiar, and yet little that we understand so poorly. It seems to be far more complicated than it actually is mainly because our vocabulary is inadequate to it, having developed in response to external experience.
This being the case Patanjali’s text flows in tightening arcs around the core dynamics of consciousness. In doing so it offers glimpses and insights from a number of different angles. In order to make sense of the text it is better to flow with it as a single whole, allowing the subtle cadences of its repetitions and re-statements to build up a sense of its deepening meaning.
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