Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

The First Ancient Handbook on Yoga Meditation

A 21st-Century Translation

Contents            Ch. 1            Ch. 2-A            Endnotes            Appendix           Sources           PDF


India from Space (NASA)


by Richard Jewell




Titles & Sutras 1.01-1.03:
What is yoga's goal

Sutras 1.04-1.11:
What are whirlpoolings and wwirlings?

Sutras 1.12-1.16:
How do you handle old desires?

Sutras 1.17-1.22:
What is pure awareness or gnosis?

Sutras 1.23-1.29:
What is Presence and its sound?

Sutras 1.30-1.40:
How do you break through obstacles?

Sutras 1.41-1.45:
What are signs of success?

Sutras 1.46-1.51:
What is the perfect clear mind?



Title & Sutras 2.01-2.02:
What Is
Kriya "Action" Yoga?

Sutras 2.03-2.09:
What Are Major Personality Problems?

Sutras 2.10-2.16:
How Can You Handle These Problems?

Sutras 2.17-2.22:
Can You Go Beyond but Be Here and Now at Once?

Sutras 2.23-2.27:
What Are the Blessings of Yoga?










        Appendix Contents

       A. Who Was Patanjali?

       B. How Should His Sutras Be Interpreted?

       C. How Should You Breathe?

       D. What Is Nirvana?

       E. How Do You Meditate after Dharma Megha?

       F. What Is Ultimate Dharma Megha?

       G. Photograph Credits      

       H. About the Author


Brief Introduction (D-14, 5 Jan. 2023)

About two thousand years ago, a Hindu sage in India named Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, describing how you can yoga or “yoke” to a higher state of Being or True Self by clearing your mind. People now hail it as a masterpiece of concise instructions for meditating.

Its author left little historical trace. We only know with fair certainty that Patanjali lived sometime between 400 BCE - 400 CE.

Hindu tradition, however, does offer more: that Patanjali lived about 150 BCE in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu amidst rugged hills, winding rivers, and sandalwood forests. He first attained the pure state of samadhi (like Buddhist nirvana or Zen satori) in an ancient temple in Tirupattur, about a week’s hike west of the Bay of Bengal.

Legend says he wrote his sutras on padas or "palm leaves," commonly used as paper then.  Unfortunately, no ancient copy of the Yoga Sutras exists. The first printed version that history records was carefully handwritten c. 400 CE by a person named “Vyasa” (a word meaning “editor”), along with Vyasa’s own commentaries about the sutras. Scholars have argued for more than a thousand years about the dating of the Yoga Sutras and who actually wrote the book.

The standard Yoga Sutras contains 195 to 196 brief, pungent aphorisms in pure, clear, song-like Sanskrit chants. They are meant to help you develop your mind so it can become perfectly clear. The chanted sayings were written specifically so that their sung sound aided memorization  at a time when very few people could read or write.

A special brilliance of the book is its precision. Patanjali’s sutras manage to summarize much of the Hindu wisdom about meditation that previously had been scattered–often vaguely–in such places as the Bhagavad Gita and even older scriptures. In addition, while many of those earlier recommendations for a spiritual life demanded an almost harsh asceticism, Patanjali’s way is kinder and gentler.

Clearing the Mind

            The basic thrust of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is that you can achieve a perfectly clear mind, and that doing so will give you significantly increased peace, mental strength, and joy in life. What is a “clear mind’?  It is one that–when it wishes–can be free of thoughts, memories, emotions, and desires. By following Patanjali’s instructions, gradually you can clear away what he calls the negative or repetitive “whirlings” of the mind.

Patanjali offers a variety of methods for reaching clarity of mind. He lists dozens of techniques, some of them psychological and physical, and others like those mentioned by mystics throughout the world and time. He also details just as many problematic whirlings of your mind and emotions, and how to get rid of them.

How is this translation different from most others?

First, it thoroughly explains each sutra in steps:

·       The sutra: The brief chant in Anglicized Sanskrit

·       Literal translation: English words in the same order as the Sanskrit

·       Meaning: A clear restatement of the sutra in similar word order

·       New Chant: A songlike saying offering a simpler modern meaning

·       Extended definition: A factual description of what Patanjali likely meant

·       Comment: Explanation of the sutra using insights from Hinduism, Eastern
and Western spirituality, psychology, and science

Second, this translation offers a new advantage in word choice. Most interpreters tend to use medieval-Hindu definitions of the Sanskrit words. However, Patanjali seemed drawn much more, as he wrote, to referencing the ancient scriptures. Thus this new translation, here, uses root meanings of words from the ancient Rig Veda. Two new works by the University of Texas at Austin Linguistics Research Center--its "Base Form Dictionary" and "Master Glossary," (Ancient Sanskrit Online), have been of great help, as has the most recent American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. These guides allow Patanjali's words to ring truer with the authority of the Rig Veda meanings, Patanjali's natural metaphors, and, perhaps, his own ancient times.

Third, a close reading of Patanjali's text also reveals that he uses raw, direct, and practical phrases that often draw on nature or simple agricultural activities to describe different approaches to meditation. His writing style, in fact, suggests that he always keeps his audience firmly in mind: Patanjali not only develops a brilliant summary of meditation and crafts it into beautiful chants; he also names the steps to a clear mind using vivid metaphors that many seekers in his society would understand.  

An example of his preferences for both ancient words and natural metaphors occurs in one of the most important words in the sutras: the Sanskrit vrtti or vritti. The original root means “swirl.”  Patanjali uses it to describe how thoughts, memories, and images “swirl” in and around the mind like whirlpools in a river or whirlwinds in the air. These descriptions mirror how the eddies of thought actually appear in deep meditation. Many translators change vrtti to more abstract, philosophical terms such as “mental modifications,” “changing states of the mind,” and “fluctuations,” all of them only somewhat accurate. With emphasis on root-word meanings throughout the sutras, you can recognize Patanjali’s meanings more easily as you experience them in meditation.   

Another example of Patanjali’s powerful, natural-based root words is his use of the Sanskrit duhkha. It often is translated as “suffering.” It exists not only in the Yoga Sutras but also as a feature of the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths,” which start by announcing, “Suffering  (duhkha) exists.” However, if you look at the ancient root of duhkha, you discover that it means “bad axle hole.” In Patanjali’s (and Buddha’s) time, a bad axle hole on a wagon meant the wheel turned around a poor axle hole: a too-wide or uneven circular mounting space. This led to a rough, bumpy ride and/or a creaking, squealing axle as it turned.  As a result, Patanjali (and probably Buddha) meant duhkha as a continuum of annoyances in life both small and large, from petty to wrenching.  

A fourth way in which this translation is different occurs in how it accords, step by step, with inner meditation experience. Some interpreters tend to make of Patanjali's sutras a philosophy; however, almost every single sutra has a practical purpose in the unfolding inner life of a meditator. And each makes sense to inner life as you approach the stages Patanjali discusses and then explore them as a beginning, intermediate, and advanced meditator.

This practicality of the sutras especially becomes more evident if you look at how Patanjali organized them. Many commentators note that the order of his sutras appears jumbled. However, as is explained here at the beginning of each chapter, Patanjali likely wrote for several different audiences–from basic to advancedand possibly even at different times in his life. In fact, his writing performance is masterly in how he offers nineteen very different ways in which you can clear your mind in meditation, whether you are a devotee of any of several specific religions, a scientific agnostic, or somewhere between.

Patanjali also offers concrete explanations with humor, caring, and joy. His book the Yoga Sutras is one of the great classics of perennial-wisdom literature. His simplicity and joy are why the Sutras worked so well in ancient times, became highly successful in medieval and modern Eastern meditation, and why they are so  relevant to our contemporary lives right now.

Updated 5 Jan. 2023

Sanskrit Text: Patanjali, c. 400 BCE-400 CE

English Text © 2022 by Richard Jewell. 1st online edition

Photographs © 2021-22 by Richard Jewell (except as noted)

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See also Meditationary, a Meditation Dictionary.

About the Author