Yoga: A Spiritual Practice – Part II

There are many different schools of yoga, and the schools have a different emphasis on certain disciplines, practices, devotions or theories. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are essentially statements of facts that are seen to have existential authenticity on the philosophy of yoga and are the common source and authority for all schools of yoga.  Little is known about Patanjali as well as the date of his writings (scholars estimate anywhere between the fourth century BCE and fifth century CE) and it is agreed among historians that Patanjali systematised the concepts and practices of yoga that were present in those early times.  The term sutras literally means “stitches” in the sense that these ideas on yoga philosophy are stitched together to create the fabric of knowledge.  The format of the Yoga Sutras, like much of Indian knowledge, was verbally passed down from teacher to student as a chant in order to etch the concepts into the student’s memory for life.  The Sutras are now in written format and have become the universal authoritative text on yoga philosophy.

The term yoga is the English ancestor of the term “yoke” and it basically means “union.” Hence, yoga is a method of spiritual union whereby one may unite their transitory self with the divine, which for many is referred to as, God.  The Hindu concept of God would be the infinite Brahman, a spiritual substance that is one with nature and the cosmos.  In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali uses the term Isvara (literally interpreted ‘Lord’) in reference to the divine, or God. Isvara is not a conventional or specific deity or God, but rather Patanjali speaks more to a universal, attributeless Brahman, an impersonal, unknowable, infinite force that is omnipotent and transcends all.  To achieve union with Isvara, the divine, which underlies this apparent, ephemeral universe, according to Patanjali, one must reach a state of perfect yoga, or union.

 He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being, wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all beings as equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga.
(BG 6.29-32)

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