Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Artwork
Season 9 - Episode 1

Invocation and Overview

60 min - Talk


After James shares the opening invocations, we review what the Sutras are, and how they offer us practical, reliable guidance still today. James then helps us unpack the meaning of the 3 invocational mantras we will hear through this Season together, which make it easier for us engage with this ancient text.

Please see the attached .PDFs to follow along with James.

What You'll Need: No props needed

About This Video

Aug 20, 2021
Jnana, Raja
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Chapter 1

OM and Invocation

Ngananam Dva Ganapatigama Vamahi Kavinkavinamupamashravastamam jishtarajam brahmanam brahmanaspate Anishinvanotebesirasaranam Om gam tadpurushaya vitmahi vakritandayatimahi Tannuranda Prachurayati Om gam ikaranthaya vitmahi vakritandayatimahi Tannuranda Prachurayati Om Ganga Gannapatigama, Om Ganga Gannapatigama, Anshrima Gannapatigama Om Andegurunam Sharanarvindi Sandarshetasvatmasokavabhote Nishriya sejangalika yamani Samsara lala moshanti ai Abahu Purushakaram Shankachakrasitaranam Sastrasirasamsvetam Pranamamipatanjalim Yogenachitasyaparinavachan Malamsharirasyachvaidyakina Yopakarottam pravramoninan Patanjarimpranjarirana tusmi Om shanti, shanti, shanti

Chapter 2

What are the Sutras and Who is Patanjali?

Namaskar. Hello. Welcome. My name is James and it is always a great honour and privilege to start diving into the rich, rich waters of Maharishi Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. This, in my opinion, is an absolute miracle mirror text. Every time we look into it, it can offer us something new. It can speak to us in fresh ways. A sutra in the Sanskrit tradition, the word sutra is very interesting.

It means at once stitch and thread. And a sutra text is woven with these stitches that are very, very small. A sutra is defined as being a concise statement that is also precise, that uses language appropriately and is not ambiguous and which is also a vishwato mukham. It's a wonderful Sanskrit word. A vishwato means all around.

Mukha means face or mouth. So facing all around. So a sutra is the idea it should shine its meaning out in every direction. In other words, we can consider the sutras of the Patanjali's Yoga Sutra as lighthouses. And wherever we are on the ocean crossing journey of life, these sutras can illumine our way relative to where we are right here, right now, today.

And every time we look into this miracle mirror text, it can give us practical guidance. Now, yoga is the practical school of Indian philosophy. And Maharishi Patanjali is considered one of the greatest rishis in the yoga tradition. And one of the reasons for this is because he bequeathed us this amazing text. So sutra means stitch or thread.

Yoga will speak more and will discover more and more what yoga means as we explore the text. But one way we can define yoga is as unity, as gathering together, as joining, as connecting. And my teacher, my first teacher of yoga philosophy, he would describe the yoga sutras as the stitches that weave together the fabric of unity. And the first time I heard it, I felt, I felt so beautiful. And I still think it's so beautiful, but not only do I think it's so beautiful, I think it's so true.

The yoga sutras are the stitches that weave together the fabric of unity. In other words, these are the practical teachings that can help us weave harmony into the fabric of our own lives, our human lives on this planet here today. The yoga sutra was set down in this form. Scholars debate the precise date, but let's say at least a couple of thousand years ago. This text has been offering practical support, useful insight, clear, reliable guidance for millennia.

Now, my first language is English. English didn't really exist 2000 years ago. We have some literature in English going back 400 years, some a bit longer than that. But what determines if a text stays alive for centuries and centuries? It only stays alive if it's relevant.

And the yoga sutra is perennially relevant. And there are lots of reasons for this. And one reason why the yoga sutra is so perennially valid, so perennially supportive, so perennially relevant is because when potentially set down the yoga sutra, he was not setting down any novel idea. Potentially was not, as is sometimes erroneously reported, the inventor or creator of the yoga method. Potentially was the sutra kara of the yoga tradition.

He made yoga into a shastra. This Sanskrit word shastra means a codified body of knowledge, a body of knowledge that is so thoroughly tested and distilled and proven that it can stand the test of time and it can withstand counter positions. So when potentially set down the yoga sutra, he was distilling an extant tradition. He was distilling an already thoroughly proven and time-tested method and school and perspective on reality or a school of philosophy. When potentially set down the yoga sutra, he was basically distilling encoding into a very, very concise, distilled, condensed form the foundations of a method that had already been, we might say, empirically peer review tested for multiple generations.

So the teachings that are distilled in the yoga sutra, they had already been proven over many, many centuries when they were condensed and rendered in this amazing form of the yoga sutra. Sutra is very condensed forms of expression. Sometimes people describe the yoga sutra with an English word aphorism or aphorism. But this is not strictly accurate, I would say. An aphorism is a standalone statement of pithy practical wisdom.

So is a sutra. However, remember the sutra? It means stitch and thread. And the influence of Sanskrit, we can see it through to the English now. People talk about sutras as stitches. Or for medical stitches they still use this term sutra.

So the sutra is not just a collection of pithy wise statements or proverbs. It is a collection of pithy statements full of practical wisdom that are woven with the same continuous thread. And so the whole text is very, very practical. And each sutra stands alone, but is also related to the rest of the body of the text. So in this course, we're going to be diving deep into the riches of chapter 2.

But in order to do that, we're going to take, as it were, a kind of, I'd call it a whistle-stop tour of chapter 1. Because we need to pick up the thread with at least some understanding or appreciation of what has already been woven in the 51 sutras of chapter 1. Now, the author of the yoga sutra is Patanjali. So the word rishi is a word that one can sometimes encounter in the yoga tradition. What does it mean?

A rishi is one who sees. You might think, well, okay, even me, you know, I can see my hand. Does this make me a rishi? The rishi is one who sees through to the essence of reality, one who sees the perennial truths of life and reality. So I could make a true statement, for example.

I am sitting here wearing a shirt that is held together by little sutras, by stitches. And these sutras were stitched by a tailor in India. I'm missing India at the moment. But anyway, that is a true statement. I'm missing India.

This shirt was made by a tailor in India, and I'm sitting here. These are all true statements. But these will not necessarily be true this time tomorrow. I may not be sitting here. I may be somewhere else. So the truths that the rishis are able to see, these are these perennial truths of existence, sometimes known in the Indian tradition as veda.

So veda, what does it mean? As I'm sure you may be able to guess, I am... Well, you're watching this on a screen. This was video recorded. So the English word video is related to the Sanskrit word vidya and veda.

Vid, that which can be seen. So veda, one way we can understand it, is revelation. So the idea is there was a rishi. Now, a rishi is one who sees, but the rishi, another way we can understand a rishi, is a rishi is someone who really looks into reality, like a research scientist. Scientist in the true sense of the word, who looks into reality, owning the current reality that I don't really know.

And so I have to look in a way that leaves space for me to see something I haven't yet understood, for me to see something I've not managed to grasp before. So I look with that sense of curiosity, of wonder, of openness, to perhaps perceive something that is vast or wide, a deeper subtler than previously I've been able to perceive. So the rishis of the yoga tradition, they looked at reality with this sense of wonder and openness. And sometimes then, they experienced revelations. And these revelations then became, set down in texts sometimes, that then became the Veda, which is an important source for yoga, and the Upanishads, the latter portion of the Veda, which again is an important source for yoga.

But a text like the Yoga Sutra can also be considered a type of Veda, because it supports our coming to the recognition of these deeper truths of ourselves and the broader reality and life and existence and everything. How did they come to these recognitions? Sometimes the Veda are described as un-authored texts. Now when I first heard this idea, un-authored text, this was a bit of a mind bender for me because I thought, wait a minute, it's a text? Doesn't that mean somebody had to write it?

I have written many things in my life. I always had to write it down or type it in for it to become a text. So how do you have an un-authored text? What does that mean? One of my Sanskrit teachers gave me a lovely illustration to help me grasp this. He said, James, it's just like one of your people.

What does he mean, your people? He's referring to the fact that I am, in his terms, a Britisher, somebody who was born in the British Isles. Just like one of your people, Isaac Newton. You know the story? There he was, sitting in his orchard. Apparently when Isaac Newton had this revelation in the orchard, it was a time of a plague and he was in quarantine.

Though back in those days, the quarantine was more accurate. It was quaranta means 40 days. It was in 40 days' isolation because of the plague. He's got plenty of time to contemplate reality. There he is, I think it was in Cambridge, and he's in this garden, and he's sitting under an apple tree, and according to the story, the apple comes down, hits him on his head, and then what happens?

He gets it. He sees. It is revealed to him. It comes to him. What is revealed? What comes to him? The laws of motion that he then, having recognised them, sets down in his laws, which became linguistic formulae that are then useful for many, many other human beings. But Isaac didn't create or invent the laws of motion.

He saw them. He recognised them, and then he set them down. So we could say, Isaac Newton in this sense was a rishi. He was a research scientist who saw a truth of existence, or truths that pertain within certain realms of existence, and then, having seen it, grasped it, understood it, recognised it, he set it down in a linguistic form which was useful for other human beings. Ah, OK. Right, that makes sense. Revealed texts. OK.

As well as Vedas, texts like this, or understandings like this, particularly in tantric lineages, they get called agama. Agama literally means that which has come. So same idea. Veda, he saw it. Ah, he got it. It was revealed to him. He had a flash of inspiration, and in that flash, it was illumined, and he came to see and understand it. He came to see. It came to him. Agama. He came to that recognition.

So the Yoga Sutra, we can consider it a distillation of these revealed truths, these truths that rishis had come to over many, many generations of research and investigation and a diligent practice. And then, potentially, what is his greatness? One of his greatnesses was that he had this amazing capacity to draw together and distill. So I'm speaking here today, 2021, the 21st year of the 21st century, according to how we've been mapping time in recent time. And I was born in 1970s.

When I was a boy, computers were rather bulky items, and the first computer that I ever worked on or did anything with had a total of 32K in its memory. And you could actually do quite a lot with 32K. These days, I imagine that maybe if you buy... Well, I was going to say a car, but I can imagine cars have superpower computers in them. But even somebody's car keys, for example, the key itself might have more than 32K in.

What has happened during this exponential growth of information technology, this rapid development of information technology, what's been one of the main things people have tried to do has been to condense lots and lots of information into a more and more condensed form, or a more and more condensed means to store lots of information. So when I studied at university last century, and one of the great things about going to the university was that the library had so many resources, so much information that was very hard to find anywhere else. Whereas now, only a couple of decades and a bit later, maybe on a tiny device, one is able to access so much information. But this is not new. This quest to condense information that can be useful for us into more and more concise forms that we can access easily, this is not a novel invention of modern human beings.

The ancients were onto this millennia ago. And in the Indian tradition, many techniques, many methods were used to condense information, to distill information, and to store information in reliable ways that we could then access easily. And one such way is the sutra form. So each of the sutras, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, we've mentioned it's like a lighthouse. It can shine its meaning out in lots of different directions all at once.

So two of us could approach the same sutra, read the same sutra, study the same sutra, and it can speak to us in slightly different or very different ways. Because what the sutra does is it's able to condense a whole body of teaching. So traditionally when we study the Yoga Sutra, we study them in application, in practice, because yoga is the practical school of Indian philosophy. So to study yoga means to practice yoga. To practice yoga means to study, as we will hear more about as we embark into chapter two, that attitude of studentship, apprenticeship in the arena of life is absolutely foundational to the yogic method, to have that attitude of a lifelong learner, being curious, having that inquisitive, inquiring attitude.

When we have that attitude, we can keep learning. But the idea is that the sutras, what they do is it's like each one is a key to a vast body of practical teaching. And Patanjali's jaw-dropping genius is that he was able to condense so much into, relatively speaking, so little. So sometimes, we will encounter this as we go deeper into chapter two. For example, sometimes people say that in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali doesn't say a lot about yoga asana, because there's only three sutras that deal specifically with asana.

And I think they total like 21 syllables, something like that. But with those syllables, Patanjali is able to say so, so much. The way he uses the Sanskrit language is just utterly jaw-droppingly majestic. The more that I study Patanjali, the more that I work with this text, the more I'm just floored by the depth of the beauty of the Sanskrit language and Patanjali's skill in using it to give us a really robust, adaptable, perennially valid practical support. So we've mentioned that Arishi is one who is able to look inquisitively with an attitude of openness and wonder at the broader reality and come to recognitions of the underlying truths.

Patanjali, though, he is not just Arishi. He is Maharishi, Patanjali, which means Mahat. Maha means great. So you're a great Rishi, but Maharishi has a specific connotation. And one of the specific connotations of being a Maharishi is that this Rishi did not just come to perceive these deeper, subtler, vaster truths of reality for him or herself, but this Rishi was able to then communicate it to, relatively speaking, a great body of people.

And this is one of the reasons why Patanjali is called a Maharishi. But before we go into the text, there's a few other things I'd like to mention about Patanjali. And at the beginning, I sang three mantras, specifically to the plurality of gurus in the old tradition, and then two mantras, two, potentially, himself. So I'd like to say a few words about these. Before that, I sang and invoked Ganesha, as is traditional at the beginning of any yogic practice or inquiry, because Ganesha symbolizes where we're aiming.

Yoga is very practical. Let's start as we mean to go on. Yoga recognizes practice is every step. We practice what we get good at. So let's orient from the beginning the direction we want to go.

And Ganesha, Gana, means group or member of the group. Isha, the energy that can unify, draw together. So when we invoke Ganesha, we're invoking our capacity and we're asking that all of nature support us to come together into that joined-up cohesive yogic state. And then I invoked, potentially, and the collective plurality of gurus. So I'd like to say a few words about those mantras.

Chapter 3

Meaning of Opening Mantras to Patanjali

So any time that I study or practice or share teachings on the yoga sutra, I always like to sing these three mantras to the plurality of gurus in the yoga tradition and to Marishi Patanjali. So I thought it'd be nice to just say a little bit more about what these mantras really signify and how they help us kind of appreciate the sage, potentially, whose work we're engaging with. Because these mantras also alert us or remind us what the sutras can really help us do. So the first one, I'll sing it again and then we'll go through it stage by stage, line by line and then we'll do this for each of the three mantras. So first, the mantra that begins with Vande Guru Naam.

So any time we look at a Sanskrit mantra, if we want to look into the meaning, first of all, one thing to say is that when we're working with Sanskrit mantra, just the sound quality is already its own richness. So if we practice the mantra, if we sing it, we will have already, even before we begin to try to intellectually grasp, oh, what is this signifying? If we allow ourselves to relax into hearing, feeling, sensing the mantra, we may notice and experience, this is having an effect in my physiology and this is one of the wonders of Sanskrit, is that sound, the rishis, the great sages of the old tradition, they recognize sound is very, very powerful. Sound penetrates, sound is pervasive. So when we work with sound, we're working with a technique that is able to reach the parts that other techniques are not always able to reach so easily.

As we will go on to mention potentially, there's also an absolute master of language. And so these mantras are working with this same gift of the Sanskrit language to invoke an energy that makes it easier for us to engage with the text in the way that helps us maybe receive more of the blessings and grace of that text. But when we begin to then start to think about what does it mean? How can I put my emotional and mental intent into this mantra more decidedly with greater focus? Let's look at the meaning.

And anytime we look at the meaning of a Sanskrit verse, the first thing we want to do is identify the verb. What is the action? What am I doing when I'm saying or pronouncing or singing this mantra? And in this mantra, the verb is the very first word, Vandi. Now, Vandi, the verb root is Vand.

And Vand, Vand is the first person singular, so it's I am Vanding. So what is Vand? Vand is like I am saluting. I am approaching with reverence. I am venerating, okay?

Who, what am I venerating? So now I'm looking for an object of the mantra, of the sentence. So Vande, then Gurunam. Now, Gurunam is in the genitive plural of Guru. So genitive plural means of the plurality of the many, of the more than two, of the three or more Gurus.

Okay, so I'm Vanding, I'm venerating, I'm saluting, I'm turning towards with reverence and a spirit of openness and gratitude, something of the Gurus. What might that be? But the ending is A, and this is a dual ending. Charana means foot. Aravinda means lotus.

And Aravinda is in the dual, so it's A. I am venerating, I am oriented towards with reverence, gratitude, dedication, openness, the lotus feet of the Gurus, of the Gurus in the plural. Okay, before we continue, next I'm just going to say why we might do that, how are those lotus feet? But before we do that, what about Guru? This is a word that most people have heard, even if they don't know it's from Sanskrit.

Now these days people talk about sales Gurus and tech Gurus, for example. But the Gurus that we are orienting towards with a spirit of gratitude and reverence, these are yoga Gurus. And this is a Sanskrit text, so they're using Guru in a more, let's say, closer to its original meaning sense. What does Guru actually literally mean? Its primary denotation is heavy, as opposed to laghu, which means light.

Heavy, I thought Guru was about a teacher or somebody who can move me from a state of ignorance or darkness to illumination and light and understanding. Yes, the Guru is a person, an influence, an experience that can move us from a relatively dark or ignorant space to one that is more enlightened, one that sees more clearly. But more basically, the Guru, we might say, this is how I think of it, is that Guru is any person, place or thing, the influence of which is heavy duty enough to shift us from one state of awareness to a state of awareness that is vaster, richer, more open, clearer. In the yoga tradition, strictly speaking, a real yogic Guru is the idea that that person is established in yoga, is a fully enlightened yogin, and from that perspective, from that level of understanding, they're able to then bless us, shower their grace upon us, and help us come to new insights. So we are venerating the lotus feet of the Gurus, okay?

Why would I want to venerate? Okay, the Gurus, they're helping me understand more clearly, but why would I want to venerate their lotus feet? What's that about? What's special about the lotus? So the lotus in the Indian system, in the yoga system, is a great symbol of the yogic journey, you might say.

Where does a lotus live? Just like us, it lives on the earth and also in the water. Like us, it depends on the water of life. Often lotuses grow in these places where we have a combination of earth and water, muddy swampy places, for example. So the lotus roots down to the earth and it is nourished by the water, and then what happens?

It is caressed and warmed by the fire and light of the sun. It is gently moved by the breeze. It is invigorated by the air and then it eventually blossoms into space as it grows towards the light of the sun, the light of the sun which is similar to the light of consciousness, and when the lotus grows like that, what happens? Now, I used to live in Thailand many years ago and sometimes I would go to the florist shop in Thailand. Now, Thailand is a country in which lots of people identify as Buddhist and there's lots of Buddhist practice woven into daily life.

And in certain Buddhist ceremonies, people take lotuses. And so if you go to a florist shop in Thailand, lotuses will be available. But in fertile tropical Thailand, when you go to the florist shop, there is all manner of dazzlingly beautiful flowers available to choose from. And I hold to the reality, it's rather unlikely that a person's eye is going to be caught by those rather grayish-green unopened lotus bonds when we have this array of brilliant colours of all these other gorgeous flowers because the unopened lotus isn't so striking. It's very modest looking compared to a lot of the other flowers.

There it is unopened, this bod. But when it does open, when it draws on the combined gifts, the integrated gifts of earth, water, fire, air, and it blossoms into space, what does it do when it opens? It reveals this jaw-dropping beauty, a beauty perhaps we might not have expected when we saw it's rather not so striking gray-green outer shell, but when the lotus opens, ah, so beautiful. And this is the idea. This is like us.

I don't know if you remember this, but when I was a boy, there was a cartoon on the television called The Transformers, and the theme tune said, Transformers, robots in disguise. And the thing about a transformer, these transformers, like one of my friends had some transformer toys, and it would be like a car, but then you could make a few little moves and then the car would transform into a robot. And then there's another one that was like a kind of high-rise building, and you make some moves and it's, oh, it's a robot. And the other one was an aeroplane and then it becomes a robot. So, Transformers, robots in disguise.

Human beings, yogis in disguise. This is the idea. In yoga, we don't have to become anything we are not. Rather, we work with what already is. So the lotus, it doesn't like give up being a lotus in order to become, when it's this unopened thing, we don't have to stop being what it was to reveal that inner beauty.

Same with us. There's the idea that these gurus whose lotus feet we are venerating, they gave us these teachings that help us do that. They help us work with the reality of the human condition to recognise our innate capacity to be a yogin, to be a person who, from the reality of a human life, in which we experience all this change in coming and going and experiencing these false senses of limited identification, that we can actually come to recognise the underlying unity of all life within the reality of a human birth. There's a lot more you can say about lotus feet, but carrying on. I am venerating the lotus feet.

How are these lotus feet? Why are these gurus, lotus feet, so worthy of being venerated? Sandarshita Svatma Sukhava Bodhi So Sukhava Bodhi, we've got the same dual ending, so this whole line is basically acting as an adjective to describe the lotus feet, these gurus whose lotus feet we are venerating. Sandarshita means who saw well. And there's also, this is another beauty of the Sanskrit here, there's a causative connotation of the way this is framed as well.

So they saw well and they also acted in ways that caused or facilitated others to see, well, what? Sandarshita Svatma Sva means self, atma, soul. So one's true essence, sukha, avabuddha. So bud, this is the root of the word buddha, the awakened one. So avabuddha means to come to the recognition, to come to the sensibility of, to recognize, to understand.

The sukham, so sukha, we'll encounter this word again. Sukha means easeful, agreeable, pleasant, but literally it means su, agreeable. Kam means space. We always exist in space. So these gurus, they saw, they came to a true understanding of the sustainable good vibration of inhabiting a space in which one has come to a full understanding of one's real soul, of one's essence.

So nishriyase means cannot be surpassed, unsurpassed. Jangalika Yamani, this is like the medicine man or the shaman who lives kind of out in the jungle. So these gurus who acted like this great shaman, this great medicine man who lives out in the jungle, in other words, who understands wild nature, who knows how to be in harmony with wild, unpredictable nature. And what did they do? So samsara means the whole realm of creation and existence.

Halahala means the deadly poison. Moha of delusion, shantiayi, they were able to pacify that. This is why we are venerating them. They had their understanding of nature. Nature can be so beautiful, but nature can also be very beguiling.

Nature is always changing. It's always offering us something to get distracted by, something that pulls in one way, something that pulls in another way. And so it's the idea that nature can be very, very beautiful, but it can also be poisonous. And so the rishis, these gurus of the yog tradition, they were able to act as physicians, as healers, and bring us out of that scattered, disparate, deluded state where the beguiling beauty of nature is, as it were, poisoning us and transform the realm of nature into a medicinal place. So we can work with life in a way to heal ourselves, in the sense of bringing ourselves back into wholeness.

So we can actualize our innate capacity for yoga, for togetherness, for wholeness, for balance and integration. And so they're very worth venerating, because the things that they're teaching us, they really work with the reality of the human condition. And so we venerate them, we salute them. We recognize the efforts that they took to see and understand more clearly, and so as we start to study, we invite ourselves into that attitude of greater openness, wonder and reverence. So we make ourselves more receptive to gain more from our exploration and study.

So the next mantra, This one is directly to Patanjali. What's the verb here? Pranamami. So nam is the verb to bow or to prostrate. Pranam, so I bow, and pranamami is first person singular, I bow towards, with a spirit of reverence and devotion, patanjalim, this is in the accusative or objective case, I'm bowing towards patanjali.

And if I'm going to bow towards, what does it mean to bow? To prostrate. Basically it means I'm dedicating myself to, I'm opening myself to, I'm orienting towards. And if I want to orient towards patanjali, I want to bow to him, I want to invite his grace, it could be really great to have an image of him, a visualization, a description that tells us what he looks like and also encodes some of his majestic inspiring qualities. And this is exactly what this mantra does.

So pranamami patanjali, I bow to patanjali, I offer myself to patanjali, how is he? So this basically means from the waist up, bahu means the shoulders, but basically from the upper part, purushakaram, he is made in a human form. Now patanjali is considered an incarnation of ananta, adhishya, the primordial serpent who is Vishnu's support, who is a support for the ultimate reality. And ananta is this huge serpent. So the idea is that patanjali's lower body is like these coils of a serpent, but from the waist up, he has a human form, he has arms.

Now, I'm a human, I've got two arms here, but he's not kind of your average human being because we can tell from the next part of the description, he has four arms. So abhahu purushakaram, shankha chakra asi dharinam. So dharinam, he is holding the shankha, which means the conch shell, the chakra, which means the chakra means wheel, but here it means the discus, and the asi, the asi is a sword. Okay, three items, how do I know we have four arms? The fourth arm we understand is in a mudra, like abhaya mudra, the mudra of have no fear.

So one hand saying have no fear, one hand holding a conch, one hand wielding a discus, and one hand wielding a sword. And this picture of Patan is pretty awesome, so he's got these massive coils of a serpent, then he's got this powerful upper body with these four arms, one have no fear, and then these three power items, the shankha, the conch. Now what is the conch? The conch symbolizes so many things and I could spend two hours talking about a conch, so I need to be careful here, but when you look at a conch shell, have you ever done it? You've put the conch, the shell to your ear, what do you hear? You can hear the ocean.

The conch is a symbol of the infinite, and in a conch shell we often also find these spiraling patterns, which encode the fractal nature of the universe and existence which yoga works with, because yoga recognizes we are a microcosmic representation of the macrocosm, so if we come to understand our self, we can come to understand the underlying unity of everything, so the conch represents that. And the conch also... I don't know if that was a good conch sound, but you get the idea. The conch represents resonant harmony. When we sound the conch shell, it makes this reverberating sound, and sound, as we mentioned already, penetrates, pervades.

Sound can heal. Sound can transform the field of our being, and potentially is a master of Sanskrit, and His sutras is the idea, if we can come to embody their vibration, we can come to embody a state of deep harmony. So the Shankara is all about dissipating discord and inviting accord, harmony, integration, oneness, so we can live in symphony. Then the chakra, this discus, which can sever our attachments to our false beliefs, to our limiting egoic, ahankaric, I am this, I'm not that, I'm only this, I cannot do this. The chakra, the discus, severs our false attachments.

A big part of the yoga practice, to sever the clinging to these beliefs and these ideas that are actually impeding us from experiencing what we deeply long to experience. And then, asi, the sword that can cleave into our divisive ideas. So this is in yoga because yoga is all about reconciliation. It's about reconciling the paradox of the one and the many. Here we are and we experience manyness, we experience differentiation, but yoga invites us to come to recognize the underlying unity.

And so there's the idea that the sword cleaves our ideas of duality. The sword splits into our divisive ideas and helps us come to that understanding of greater unity. Potentially guides us into how to do all of these things in the sutras. So to this mighty form we are bowing. And how else is the form?

So there he is, the massive serpentine lower body, the powerful shoulders and these four mighty arms wielding the three power instruments or weapons of positive mass destruction or reconstruction or transformation and have no fear. As Adi Shishya, he's a supporter of Vishnu, the sustainer. Sometimes people say that when Shiva, the transformer, the destroyer of positive destruction, when he's got the snake around his neck, sometimes people say that is Adi Shishya. He's very tightly connected or very closely associated with both Shiva and Vishnu, these great icons or two of the great icons of the yoga tradition. And how else is he?

ShankarasidhÄ쳌ram saá¹£aá¹£yam Å?rÄ«vatam saá¹£raṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣṣ. So Å?vÄ«ta means white like lightning bolts. Saá¹£aṣṣṣṣṣ means thousand or thousand is code in Sanskrit for a great, great many, a multitude. And Å?rÄ«rasa means heads or crowns. So he's like, he's hooded by these thousand, this great multitude of these lightning bolt white heads.

Heads? Sometimes people say, is this like lotuses, perhaps? But maybe you've seen those images of the Buddha meditating and he's got maybe seven or nine nÄ쳌ga heads sheltering him with an umbrella. This is like SÄ쳌patan, remember he's AdiÅ?iá¹£a, this primordial serpent. So he's got these thousand lightning bolt white serpentine heads giving him this amazing hood.

Now just pause for a moment and think, what type of image is that? Awesome in the true sense of the word, mighty. So I bow with reverence. So as I approach these teachings, I do so with a sense of awe, with a sense of wonder. Now if, for example, we out in nature and we see a truly awesome sight, what does it do to our awareness?

If we, for example, we're walking through the forest and we come out at the edge of the forest and we look out over the valley and there's an amazing sunset, what does it do to us? It stops us and invites us into the present moment, invites us to be more present, more receptive to the wonder and the possibility of this moment. So when we say this mantra, we are recognizing the power of the sutras and of Patanjali's guidance to help illumine our path, to help harmonize our field, to sever our needless limiting attachments and cut through our delusions and support us and sustain us through the sometimes intimidating journey of yoga practice. Pranamami Patanjali means to that potentially I bow with awe and reverence and gratitude and wonder. I have saluted the lotus feet of the plurality of gurus who have acted like great jungle healers to free me from the fetters of bondage and the confusions of worldly identifications.

And also I have bowed with reverence and attitude of openness and gratitude to awesome Maharishi Patanjali in that mighty form with the huge mighty serpent in the lower body, the human upper body with the forearms, wielding the conch, the discus, the sword and hooded by those lightning bolt white serpent hoods. And then the third mantra, Yoginachitasyaparinavacham malamsharirasyacavaidyakin yopakarotam pravaramuninam patanjalim pranjaliranatosmi So here, what is the verb? It's the last word, asmi. So pranatah asmi becomes pranatosmi. So asmi means I am. So pranatah, this means I am prostrate.

Two patanjalim, two patanjali, and pranjali with my hands joined in this gesture of yogic reverence. So as I join the two hands, I symbolize the joining of the two hemispheres of my brain, the different mutually complementary aspects of my human individuality. And as I bring myself together and orient towards patanjali with this openness and this gratitude, I remind myself why I am opening myself to this great master's grace. I'm saluting patanjali, I'm bowing to patanjali, because he is pravaramuninam, the most eminent of sages, the foremost of sages. Why is he the foremost of sages?

Because upakarata uttamam, he is the ultimate when it comes to dispelling, to sending away, to freeing us from, from what? What does he chase away? What does he help get rid of? Mala, these impurities, these impurities that get in the way of us experiencing yoga, they get in the way of us experiencing all of who we really are. And patanjali is recognized as the pravaramuninam, the most eminent and the uttama, the ultimate when it comes to removing and dispelling these things, because he was a real yogin, in the sense that he treated the whole human condition. Now, this mantra is not just recited by yoga students and yoga practitioners at the beginning of a period of study or practice.

This mantra is also recited by students of Ayurveda and students of Sanskrit grammar and linguistics and language, because this mantra reminds us that patanjali did not just treat the human psyche and awareness with the yoga sutra, his great treatise and teaching on yoga. He also left us a great practical work on health and Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the Indian system of health. Interesting thing to note, I feel it's much more accurate to describe it as health rather than just medicine, because the Indian system of Ayurveda is all about cultivating balance. It's not just about chasing away sickness, it's actually about promoting health and a vibrant, optimal, lengthy and vibrant lifespan.

So, he's the ultimate sage and we're saluting him and opening to him because he gave us these amazing works, this amazing guidance to remove the impurities of our bodies, our sharida, with his works on Ayurveda or vaidya, so vaidya is the Sanskrit word for an Indian physician, a doctor. He removed the malas of our speech, our communication with his great work on padana here, which was his mahabhasha, his great commentary on PÄ쳌á¹?á¹?Ä«'s astadyÄ쳌yÄ«. So, PÄ쳌á¹?á¹?Ä«'s astadyÄ쳌yÄ« is the great work that basically defines the Sanskrit language. There is another major commentary and then comes Patanjali's mahabhasha, the great commentary, which my Sanskrit teacher, well, his father, no, no, it's my main Sanskrit teacher actually said this, he said, this is the greatest work in all of Sanskrit literature, Patanjali's mahabhasha. And this is a man who was not prone to hyperbole.

So this really is a very powerful statement. There's so much amazing literature in Sanskrit, but my teacher says, Patanjali's mahabhasha is the greatest work in all of Sanskrit and it's also the last word on Sanskrit grammar. So if you want to understand anything in the scriptures, Patanjali's work is giving us a really helpful resource to ascertain meaning and help guide us through all these great offerings and things that are encoded in the Sanskrit literature to help us understand reality more clearly and also how we can use language to help clarify our awareness. Yoga recognises how powerful language is and how when we use it skilfully, it can actually be very, very helpful and helpful in terms of bringing ourselves into greater balance and cohesion. So to this great sage who with his works on yoga helped remove the impurities of our awareness, with his work on Ayurveda helped remove the impurities of our physicality and with his works on grammar and language helped remove the impediments to clear speech and clear communication.

As he has treated the human being in such a comprehensive way and given us guidance to help foster that robustness, that harmony, that clarity at the level of all parts of our body-based physical awareness, our realm of communication, the realm of our minds, he's really an amazing sage, we bow down with reverence. It's this potentially whose work that we are consulting. And when I do this, I also remind myself of how much is encoded in the sutra. That when I'm studying the sutra, there is a temptation that one can think, oh yeah, I've read the yoga sutra now, I've studied the sutra now in the past simple tense. But Maharishi Patanjali, he has been able to distill so much into this work.

And so the idea is that the yoga sutra is a companion for the whole journey of a lifetime. And when we look into it, can we look into it with that attitude of openness to receive the grace, the blessings and the insights of how Patanjali actually understood it? Because he understood it in such a way that he was able to distill it so the light and practical wisdom in every sutra can shine out and meet us wherever we are. So as we bow to Patanjali like this, we're asking that we might actually bring our awareness to the same depth of insight as him. So having invoked Patanjali and the plurality of gurus, let us now dive into this wonderfully rich supportive text of the second chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra.


Kate M
4 people like this.
So excellent to have this new content, James! I love the refresher/intro to the Patanjala Darshana, and really loved the translation and analysis of the Vande Gurunam. I really appreciate the pdf files. Just beautifully formatted - and so useful! Can't wait to use these with students when we are allowed to chant together once more!
Caroline S
4 people like this.
Thank you YogaAnytime and is really insightful to hear about the meaning of the opening invocations!  As a yoga student I have chanted the opening mantra countless times but have spent little time and thought on the so very powerful messages, that inspire awe.  And I havent' decided if they evoke a little bit of fear, or is that just wonder?  Looking foward to continuing, with gratitude !
James Boag
5 people like this.
Hi Caroline and Kate, great to know you are enjoying this new material.
Caroline S
Lighthouse - shows the way and protects a variety of ships, so the Sutra shows they way and protects the multitude and variety of audience...I like that a lot!!

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