The Essence of the Yoga philosophy According to Patanjali (or: analysis of sutras 1.2 to 1.4)

Sutras I.2 to I.4 of Patanjali describe the essence of yoga philosophy and the source of troubles affecting human existence. Below are these sutras (originally written in Sanskrit, translated into English):

  1.  Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.     

    Complete mastery over the fluctuations of the mind is called yoga.

  1.  Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.

     Then the Seer becomes established in its true nature.

  1.  Vritti sarupyam itaratra

Elsewhere [the Seer] conforms to the fluctuations of the mind.

The definition of yoga is given in sutra I.2: yoga is the quieting, restraining or complete cessation (translating the word nirodhah) of mental activities. But why should we stop mental activity?

The answer is given in sutra I.3 – because the Seer (drastr) is placed in its “natural state” (svarupe). The Seer is essentially the soul, or Atman, the eternal essence, the unchanging core of our being that according to yoga is located at the core of our being and is an uninvolved witness, observing everything but nor affecting neither affected by anything.

But what happens to this Seer when mental activity takes place? Sutra I.4 notes that in such cases, the Seer identifies with that activity or mental fluctuation (vritti).

In the nonstop chase that is our everyday life, and in our immersion in impressions and shapes, we forget to see the source; we identify with a variety of phenomena and forget the Self. We forget that we are the ocean and identify with one little wave that forms from the ocean for a while just to return back to it.

The epitome of our body, the structure of body-mind-ego generates energy, just like a wave that spreads in space. The problem starts when we identify with this wave, with its ups and downs, with its hardships and joys, which change quickly, and are not aware that all this is only a temporal manifestation. This is illusory not in the sense that it does not exist, the world exists and is real. What this illusory is the significance and weight we place on these transient phenomena and feelings. It is only when we perceive that we are the ocean, suddenly things fall back into perspective.

We can compare it to a child playing with a toy: sometimes the game is enjoyable and the child is happy, a moment later something goes wrong and the child gets upset and angry. The game is real – the toy exists. However, when we observe the child’s point of view, what we perceive as skewed is the significance the child attaches to it all: we know that it is just a game, but the child identifies with his game and think this is the Ultimate Reality. He is not aware that this is just a game – sometimes  pleasurable sometimes not.  The Ultimate Reality does not change. The issue is the identification, or rather, the fact that we are not aware of this identification.

Life goes on, and we play different roles we have an age, a gender, a socio-economic class, a status…we can be a husband, a manager, an employee, and so on… In order to function in life we have to identify with our roles. But if you forget that this is not the essence and think this identification is everything, the ups and downs become frightening. The realm of phenomena seems real and threatening and we forget that the one who sees is the eternal true Self or Seer.

The wave is afraid of its looming end, because it believes that when it will crash against the shore it will cease to exist; The wave is not aware of the fact that once it crashes onto the shore, it will be united back with the ocean, and the ocean is eternal and infinite, it has no boundaries and has no features, so there is no way to describe it in words. One can only try to silence all the words and vibrations and immerse in the endless waters of universal consciousness.


This, I think, is the meaning of these three sutras.