The Yoga Sutras are THE classic text on yoga, explaining the whole of the practical philosophy and psychology that yoga students at differing stages of their development need to progress along their path towards peace, love and happiness.
They were written by Lord Patanjali, the Hindu God serving Lord Vishnu, teaching in about 500 BC, and consist of four chapters. The first gives the mental disciplines and the second gives the physical disciplines required for yoga. The third chapter discusses the effects of practice and the fourth considers the result, liberation.
This, the first of 6 articles, comments on the first 13 verses of the first chapter.
Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the consciousness. When there are no fluctuations of the mind, instead of you being disturbed by the energy of Prakriti (Mother Nature), you bask in the light of the Soul or of God.
Fluctuations of the consciousness involve suffering or not. The experience of not suffering is either one of happiness or one of peace, or of both combined. Fluctuations which involve suffering are the cause of the five afflictions of mankind referred to in II.3. For the yogi, however, all fluctuations are undesirable, because he wants to be in a state of permanent union with his love: the Soul or God ("liberation").
Fluctuations of consciousness create tendencies towards good or evil which in turn lead to happiness or misery. Good or evil result from compliance with or breaches of the codes of Yama and Niyama (ethics and religious discipline).
There are five states of consciousness: experienced knowledge, misconception, imagination, deep or dreamless sleep and memory.
The purpose of the world around us (prakriti) is for us to experience and draw correct conclusions, and for liberation. These experiences include what we hear, see, touch, feel and taste. In particular, it includes the written word of the Hindu scriptures and texts, the voice and wisdom communicated by one's Guru, the love given by one's spouse, the love given by one's mother, and the food one eats. Such experience can most directly help one on a path to liberation.
Experiences are real, but one can draw false conclusions, e.g. by thinking that the scriptures are false. However, even false conclusions are useful, because if we believed in all our experiences we would be overwhelmed. Imagination too has positive and negative aspects - positive when used for artistic purposes, negative when used to give a false sense of security for example. Deep sleep is necessary, but too much deep sleep prevents one from doing one's duty and makes one sluggish.
Experienced right knowledge comes from three sources: sensory experiences, inference and reliable testimony. Your senses do not lie, if you are physically well. Your ability to correctly infer (i.e. use logic) is infallible, if you are (perfectly mentally) sane. Reliable testimony is one that comes from God. Since Lord Patanjali is an aspect of God, the Yoga Sutra is reliable testimony and everything contained in it is true.
There are three types of yoga practitioner: searchers after material wealth and happiness (Guru is Mother Nature), after one's Soul (usually this is a feminine principle, because most ascetics are male), or after God. A person who is in search of His/Her Self is not qualified for yoga practice, because yoga is not intended for selfish purposes. Seeking material wealth and happiness is a legitimate aim of life and therefore is not classed as a selfish activity.
The five states of fluctuation of consciousness are restrained by practice and by non-attachment to results.
Practice involves steadfast effort to still or maintain stillness in the fluctuations of the consciousness. It involves consistent persistent dedicated effort to still the mind, since the mind is well known as being exceedingly difficult to tame. It does not mean practice of postures. The first four limbs of Yoga are a support for the practice of stilling the mind. The precise practices to be followed depend on one's stage of development in yoga and are specified throughout all four chapters of the yoga sutras.
Such practice is required in all aspects of your life, constantly, day in day out. Every thought needs to be analysed for usefulness (since they are all given by God). Practice needs to be undertaken with all one's faculties engaged - with energy and commitment and joy. This steadfast effort is required for all the practices referred to in the Yoga Sutras.
For non-attachment, one's sexual energy field needs to be perfected, i.e. satisfied. Once satisfied there is an absence of passion, i.e. dispassion, in all matters, not just sexual. Dispassion in turn leads to desirelessness, which automatically generates non-attachment to results. Sexual satisfaction is mostly obtained through marriage, but occasionally someone is born with a perfected sexual energy field and is then ready to lead the life of an ascetic or hermit (monk or nun in the Christian tradition). Marriage then is the most important pre-requisite and helpful factor for most people in fulfilling the condition of non-attachment to results. In addition, the yoga practitioner needs to want and strive for non-attachment to results.
Practice leads towards happiness, non-attachment leads towards peace, and practice combined with non-attachment lead towards happiness and peace. A person who is seeking material things, pleasure, happiness or health will need to focus on practice rather than non-attachment. A spiritual seeker will need to focus on non-attachment whilst a seeker after God will develop both practice and non-attachment.
Usually, the desire for stilling the mind comes mainly from the experience of deep sorrow or pain, with the attendant turbulence that results to one's emotional and love energy fields, and perhaps also to one's physical and mental or other energy fields. Human birth is therefore necessary for developing an appetite for yoga. Most often one does not know what one's true goals are. For this reason it is safest to use and develop both practice and non-attachment.
These two, practice and non-attachment to results, are the core of yoga and are required in order to achieve a still aware mind. This still but aware state of consciousness is one of the yogic states of Samadhi, the eighth and last stage of yoga.