Patanjali

Patañjali

6th Century BCE
(See Biographies)

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Biographies

Biographical Sketch by Universal Theosophy

Patanjali

About Patanjali’s life very little, if anything, can be said.” 1

A biography of Patanjali could almost begin and end with this simple statement. As with other great teachers, such as Lao Tzu, for instance, what we know of Patanjali as an individual cannot be said to be anything more than tradition and legend. Yet there are important facets of his life that must be addressed at the outset of any biography.

Thus we may begin by addressing two related points of debate among modern scholars. The first is the date of Patanjali’s life and the second is the question of the sole authorship of both the Yoga Sutras and the Mahabhasya (the commentary on Panini’s grammar)—but as we’ll see, these two points are intimately related.

We find that there is a similar conflict in the dates assigned to Patanjali as seen with Sankaracharya. Conclusions as to Patanjali’s date vary wildly, each with their own manner of reasoning. 2 The majority of modern scholars, however, have tended to place Patanjali in the 2nd century BCE, but here we seem to have the case of two Patanjali’s being confounded as one. 3 In the Preface to his interpretation of the Aphorisms of Patanjali (the Yoga Sutras), William Quan Judge, after giving a brief biography of Patanjali, writes:

“But there is also another Patanjali mentioned in the Indian books. He was born in India at Gonarda … Prof. Goldstucker has concluded that this later Patanjali wrote about 140 B.C. His writings were commentaries upon the great grammarian Panini … He must not be confounded with our Patanjali; of the latter all that we have is the Philosophy set forth in the Aphorisms.” 1

It is this tendency to mix Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, with Patanjali, the author of the Mahabhasya (and of popular biographical accounts) 4 that has led the former to be dated at the time of the latter. Otherwise, there is no evidence to demonstrate that the author of the Yoga Sutras belongs in that century.

In the Theosophical Glossary of H.P. Blavatsky, we read:

“Patanjali (Sk.). The founder of the Yoga philosophy. The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 b.c.; and by the Occultists nearer to 700 than 600 b.c. At any rate he was a contemporary of Pânini.” 5

T. Subba Row, in his article on Sankaracharya 6 places the birth of that great Advaita teacher at 510 BCE, and equates Patanjali with Govinda Yogi, Sankara’s guru. Charles Johnston, in his translation of Gaudapada’s Karika notes a tradition of the Brahmans of Southern India “that Gaudapada is no other than Patanjali”. An alternative view to these, presented by T. S. Narayana Shastry 7, is that Patanjali was an early guru of Gaudapada, who became the guru of Govinda Yogi, who became the guru of Sankaracharya (who Shastry similarly places at 509 BCE). This latter view would seem to conform closer to the dates H. P. Blavatsky gives for Patanjali in her glossary. As there is ample evidence to place the original Sankaracharya at the turn of the 6th-5th century BCE 8, and as Patanjali was certainly prior to him, we see no issue with viewing the author of the Yoga Sutras as living as early as the 6th century BCE.

Two points we need also be aware of are:

1) that the Yoga Sutras may or may not have been recorded in writing during the time of Patanjali. With much Vedic literature, of various traditions, sutras were memorized and passed on orally for many generations prior to being set in writing. It is quite possible for centuries to have passed before his great work was ever physically recorded. And,

2) that Patanjali is also a surname and a name attached to a lineage of teachers. Additionally, in India, as elsewhere in ancient times (as with Hermes, for example), it was common for later writers to attribute their works to one original great teacher, and also for later writers to attempt to build up the grandure of their own teacher by combining multiple guru-stories into one.

With these ideas in mind, it becomes easily understandable that two or three Patanjalis could be merged into one by later commentators and followers, and the biographical legends both blended and exaggerated.

 

Apart from these considerations, what do these legends of Patanjali say of him?

William Quan Judge gives us a synopsis in his brief biography: 1

“In the Rudra Jamala, the Vrihannandikeśwara and the Padma-Purana are some meager statements, more or less legendary, relating to his birth. Ilavrita-Varsha is said to have been his birthplace, his mother being Sati the wife of Angiras. The tradition runs that upon his birth he made known things past, present and future, showing the intellect and penetration of a sage while yet an infant. He is said to have married one Lolupa, whom he found in the hollow of a tree on the north of Sumeru, and thereafter to have lived to a great age. On one occasion, being insulted by the inhabitants of Bhotabhandra while he was engaged in religious austerities, he reduced them to ashes by fire from his mouth.
That these accounts are legendary and symbolical can be easily seen.”

Various other legends appear in biographies of Patanjali, often interpreted and mixed with stories of the later Patanjali, and while we will gain little strictly historical insight from these, we will certainly gain a sense of the importance that has been placed on Patanjali as one of the great gurus of ancient India. 9 Ultimately we may simply echo Judge’s statement already given that of Patanjali “all that we have is the Philosophy set forth in the Aphorisms.” As we must recognize with all great sages of our distant past, the dry history of the sage is of no importance when placed beside the teachings he left behind. 10 Let us therefore turn to the philosophy of Yoga and seek greater context from which we may better understand the role of this great teacher.

 

While Patañjali is commonly referred to as the founder or father of the Yoga Darṣana (one of the six classical systems of hindu philosophy), the Yoga Philosophy itself is deeply rooted in earlier Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata (and thus the Bhagavad Gita), the Vedas and Upanishads. 11 But even these texts are not the beginning of Yoga teachings, 12 but rather themselves point back to great yogis such as Hiranyagarbha 13, or even to those of former Kalpas (great cycles) such as Rudra. 14 The yoga woven through these Vedic texts is of a broad definition, treating of several types/branches or applications of yoga, though always relating to the central themes of meditation, restraint of the senses, equal-mindedness, residing in one’s true nature, etc.. 15

What we have with Patanjali is a codifier of yoga (or what has come to be known as Raja Yoga, a term that distinguishes it from other forms such as Hatha Yoga). Patanjali presents a definite treatment of yoga philosophy and practice drawn from the ancient Vedic tradition and formalized through his Yoga Sutras; it is clear that he is not an inventor, but simply a transmitter, who is teaching something already known among the sages of prehistory. From Patanjali’s work the Vedic yoga philosophy became the Yoga Darṣana, which has evolved into the philosophical school we know today. His presentation of yoga, in one succinct volume, has become the central source of yoga teachings in Hindu philosophy, and now worldwide.

So what is this teaching?

 

We may start with Patanjali’s definition of Yoga, which he states at the opening of his sutras:

yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ 16

“Concentration, or Yoga, is the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle.” 17

This is followed shortly after with a statement of the twofold means by which this may be accomplished:

abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ 18

“The hindering of the modifications of the mind already referred to, is to be effected by means of Exercise and Dispassion.” 19

Exercise or practice, and dispassion or desirelessness, thus mark two pillars of yoga. For the latter, the Bhagavad Gita provides all we need in the way of philosophical explanation, which is then complimented by the practical instructions contained in the regulations (yama/niyama) of Patanjali’s sutras. For the former, we have these Yoga Sutras in their completeness, which examine every key facet of the practice required by the yogi.

From these two pillars and the preliminary lessons of the first chapter of the sutras, the yoga philosophy unfolds itself in greater degree throughout the remaining three chapters, centering on what has been called the Eight Limbs of Raj Yoga, namely:

yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni 20

We may translate this as:

The eight (ashtau) limbs (angani) are social-regulations (yama), self-regulations (niyama), posture (asana), pranic-regulations (pranayama), withdrawal from sensory input (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and true meditation (samadhi).

It is this eightfold system that comprises the core of Patanjali’s teachings. The first two constitute preliminary training, but in truth are principles of action that carry throughout the life of the Yogi—they are not progressive steps that one passes through in serial order but are the way of life the yogi must adopt if he is to be successful in yoga meditation, and this way of life must be maintained even after he has passed through those later steps. From this training Asana results, and from there a serial order of progression can be traced from Pranayama through to Samadhi.

A brief treatment of each term will lay out the basic foundation of the Yoga practice.

Yama:

Yama may be seen as those observances that relate to our interactions with others and with the world at large. Five key principles are provided, which, when understood in their true significance are applicable to our every interaction. These are given in the following verse:

ahiṁsā-satya-asteya brahmacarya-aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ 21

These may be translated as: non-violence (ahimsa), truth or truthfulness (satya), not stealing (asteya), continence or self-restraint (brahmacharya), and non-covetousness (aparigraha). Yet each of these words can hold a much wider, deeper meaning. 22
Niyama:

Niyama may be seen as those observances that relate to oneself, or the interactions of one’s inner life. Again, five key principles are given, which provide guidance in every internal struggle of the self. These are given in the following verse:

śauca saṁtoṣa tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ 23

These may be translated as: cleanliness or ‘purification of body and mind’ (shaucha), contentment (santosha), austerity or self-discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and ‘persevering devotion to the Supreme Soul’ or ‘love and surrender to the indwelling divinity’ (ishvara-pranidhana). Just as we find with the five principles of Yama, each of the principles of Niyama are likewise capable of much larger, more expansive meanings.

These two, Yama and Niyama, constitute the preparational training of the disciple. Just as athletes must prepare for their sport with proper diet, fitness and lifestyle, with preparatory stretching and mental focus, so too much the yogi be thoroughly prepared for the practice of Raj Yog meditation.

Asana:

Asana may be roughly translated as ‘posture’, but again this has an expanded meaning far beyond that of physical positioning. Posture may be thought of in the sense of one’s poise, one’s composite attitude or state—i.e. the harmonic alignment of one’s entire constitution, inward and outward. It is the ‘posture’ of the entirety of the yogi, the synchronization of the being from the very highest part of its nature down to the very lowest. Thus it can be seen that proper Asana naturally results from the practice of Yama and Niyama, and cannot be forced without them.

Pranayama:

While pranayama is often translated simply as ‘regulation of the breath’ or ‘breath control’, it’s meaning is far greater and extends into the very nature of mind. In our normal waking state, the mind is in constant flux, never at rest, never clear and calm; it’s not particularly regulated and has little sustained rhythm, because it is constantly operating through the senses. “Regulation of prana” is essentially the rhythmic regulation of the vital power (the pranas or ‘breaths’) underlying the bridge between mind and sense perception, which has been allowed to flow in haphazard fashion but in the yogi is re-harnessed and regulated by the will.

Pratyahara:

Once that vital power is well regulated, one can begin to calm the connection between mind and sense perception, and steadily withdraw the mind from sensory input, and this is Pratyahara. Only when this state of complete ‘withdrawal’ is reached is samyama possible, and this samyama constitutes the three remaining limbs: dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Dharana:

Dharana is introduced in the following verse:

deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā 24

This may be translated as: concentration (dharana) is the binding or holding (bandha) of the mind or consciousness (chittasya) to a singular point or place or object (desha).

In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky defines Dharana as: “the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses”. But as we all know, concentration can be quite fleeting (even intense and perfect concentration), and this leads to Dhyana.

Dhyana:

Dhyana is introduced in the following verse:

tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam 25

This may be translated as: maintaining continuous singular flow or attention (ekatanata) of the perceiving or knowing consciousness (pratyaya) in that place or point or with that object (tatra) is called true contemplation (dhyana).

Thus Dhyana may be said to be the ability to maintain Dharana (though, of course, it’s meaning goes much deeper). Maintaining this perfect concentration and thus penetrating through to the essence of that which is concentrated upon is what ultimately leads to the final limb, Samadhi.

Samadhi:

Samdhi is introduced in the following verse:

tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ 26

This may be translated as: when only (matra) that same (tadeva) object (artha) appears (nibhasam), even as though empty (shunyam) of its own form or nature (svarupa), this is called true meditation (samadhi).

In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky defined Samadhi as: “the state in which the ascetic loses the consciousness of every individuality including his own. He becomes—the ALL.”

Through this Eightfold path of Yoga one is said to progress from normal, haphazard and scattered human consciousness to the focused and uplifted consciousness that allows one to self-consciously realize the true nature of oneself and one’s ultimate unity with all that is. The goal is liberation, which is oneness with SELF, and the road to it is given in detail by Patanjali in his sutras.

From a study of the sutras we get a sense of the grandure of the state of the successful Yogi, and we find ourselves admiring the beauty of the message Patanjali brought—not only are we so much more than we think ourselves to be, but there is a path by which we can arrive at a truer sense of Self and re-become that divinity that rests at the core of our being.

What Patanjali does, perhaps better than any other, before or after him, is to simplify the path before us, to show that spirituality is not unscientific or vague, but is an exact science—the science of self-realization. 27 Furthermore, he teaches us that enlightenment is not something unattainable or solely for the elect—we can begin walking the path towards it now, step by step, through the application of a few simple (though profound) rules of conduct and a sincere attempt at yoga practice.

It may be said that we can learn much about a man through that which he advocates, and in this way we may glean a little more of the nature of this mighty sage, Patanjali.


^^^1. See the Preface to The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, An Interpretation by William Q. Judge.

^2. See, for instance, two such examples:

The Age of Patanjali, by N. Bhashyacharya (1915), which concludes: “that he lived without any doubt between the 9th and 10th centuries B.C.”

The Yoga-System of Patanjali by James Haughton Woods (1914), Introduction, which argues for the date of the composition of the Yoga Sutras as “between A.D. 300 and A.D. 500”.

^3. While there are traditions that maintain that both the Mahabhasya and the Yoga Sutras were authored by the same individual (see, for instance, Light on Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar.), the first available written record that (according to some interpretations) makes this claim is from Bhojadeva’s Rajamartanda, a 10th century CE commentary on the Yoga Sutras. Within the two works themselves there is no indication of single-authorship, and the difference in both literary style and content makes single-authorship very doubtful.

See The Yoga-System of Patanjali by James Haughton Woods (1914), Introduction, part 1. Authorship of the Yoga-sutras.—Identity of Patanjali, author of the sutras, and of Patanjali, author of the Mahabhasya, not yet proved.

See also Patanjali: Codifier of the Yoga Sutras, which states:

“While the scholars debate the actual dates of Patanjali, oral tradition accounts for the apparent time differences by explaining that the name Patanjali is a surname, and is the name of a lineage and school of teachers, students, and sages, rather than being only one person.” Etc.

^4. See Patanjali Charita (aka Patanjali-vijaya) by Ramabhadra Dikshita, composed in the 17th century CE, which amalgamates legends of Patanjali into a poetic story. The text does not appear to be a reliable historical source, as extensive poetic license seems to have been taken by the author (for example, see comments by Dr. Vidyasankar Sundaresan (a modern Advaitin scholar) here). Unfortunately, this work is not readily available in a complete English translation. (see footnote 9)

^5. Panini, the great Sanskrit grammarian, whose work, the Ashtadhyayi (of which the Mahabhasya of the later Patanjali is a commentary upon), is commonly dated to the 6th century BCE.

^6. See “Sankara’s Date and Doctrine”, by T. Subba Row, The Theosophist, September, 1883. Reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Works, Volume 5, Pages 176-197, and in Five Years of Theosophy, Pages 278-308. (for the portion regarding Patanjali see below)

^7. See The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, 1971 (reprint of 1916 original), p. 35, 42-60 etc.

However, it must be noted that while Sastry places Patanjali in the 6th century BCE, he also presents him as the author of both the Yoga Sutras and the Mahabhasya.

^8. See Biography of Sankaracharya.

^9. For several of these legends, see the following:

Light on Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar.

The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, 1971 (reprint of 1916 original), p. 35, 50-54.

Patanjali Unplugged, by Kausthub Desikachar.

^10. Paramahansa Yogananda observed: “Patanjali’s date is unknown, though a number of scholars place him in the second century B.C. The rishis gave forth treatises on all subjects with such insight that ages have been powerless to outmode them; yet, to the subsequent consternation of historians, the sages made no effort to attach their own dates and personalities to their literary works. They knew their lives were only temporarily important as flashes of the great infinite Life; and that truth is timeless, impossible to trademark, and no private possession of their own.”—Autobiography of a Yogi, Ch. 24, fn.4

^11. See: Bhagavad Gita; The Yoga Upanishads; Vedas & Upanishads; Mahabharata; etc.

In the Theosophical Glossary of H.P. Blavatsky, we read:

Yoga (Sk.). One of the six Darshanas or schools of India; a school of philosophy founded by Patânjali, though the real Yoga doctrine, the one that is said to have helped to prepare the world for the preaching of Buddha, is attributed with good reasons to the more ancient sage Yâjnawalkya, the writer of the Shatapatha Brâhmana, of Yajur Veda, the Brihad Âranyaka, and other famous works. …

See also: Introducing Yoga’s Great Literary Heritage, by Georg Feuerstein, Yoga Journal, Jan/Feb 1988

^12. See Bhagavad Gita, 4:1-3, where Krishna says:

(1) I proclaimed this imperishable yoga to Vivasvān; Vivasvān told it to Manu and Manu spoke it to Ikṣvāku.
(2) Thus handed down from one to another the royal sages knew it till that yoga was lost to the world through long lapse of time, O Oppressor of the foe (Arjuna).
(3) This same ancient yoga has been today declared to thee by Me; for thou art My devotee and My friend; and this is the supreme secret.
—tr. S. Radhakrishnan

^13. See “The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali back to Hiranyagarbha” by David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri), American Institute of Vedic Studies. This article helps place Patanjali’s Yoga in the larger context of the Vedic Yoga tradition.

^14. See Mahabharata, Book 12 (Santi Parva), Part III (Mokshadharma Parva), Section CCCXLIX:

“In the Krita age of that ancient Kalpa, Rudra, devoted to Yoga, O monarch, communicated it [i.e. the religion preached by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita] to all those Rishis that are known by the name of Valikhilyas.”—tr. Kisari Mohan Ganguli

^15. For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita we find treatments of what have become known as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga, while elsewhere in the Mahabharata we read of Nirodha Yoga. We find various, though related, definitions of Yoga, for instance:

Bhagavad Gita II:48

“Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga.”—tr. S. Radhakrishnan

Katha Upanishad, III:11

“This, the firm control of the senses, is what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both beneficial and injurious.”—tr. Nikhilananda

See also Mahabharata, Book 12 (Santi Parva), Part III (Mokshadharma Parva), specifically Section CXCV, for a detailed examination of yoga.

^16. Yoga Sutras, I:2.

^17. Translation is from William Quan Judge’s interpretation. His version can be compare with several other English translations, for example:

Union, spiritual consciousness, is gained through control of the versatile psychic nature.—Charles Johnston
Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).—Swami Vivekananda
[Yoga is] “the neutralization of the alternating waves in consciousness,” [or alternatively, the] “cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”—Paramahansa Yogananda (see Yogananda’s detailed examination here).

See also: detailed analysis of the verse.

^18. Yoga Sutras, I:12-16

^19. Translation from the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, interpretation by William Quan Judge.

^20. Yoga Sutras, II:29 ^21. Yoga Sutras, II:30

^22. For an expanded version of this exploration of the eightfold yoga system, see “The Eight Limbs of Raj Yoga”.

^23. Yoga Sutras, II:32 ^24. Yoga Sutras, III:1 ^25. Yoga Sutras, III:2 ^26. Yoga Sutras, III:3

^27. “[Patanjali’s] renowned Yoga Sutras presents, in a series of brief aphorisms, the condensed essence of the exceedingly vast and intricate science of God-union—setting forth the method of uniting the soul with the undifferentiated Spirit in such a beautiful, clear, and concise way that generations of scholars have acknowledged the Yoga Sutras as the foremost ancient work on yoga.”—Paramahansa Yogananda


Entries from the Theosophical Glossary

Patanjali (Sk.) The founder of the Yoga philosophy. The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 B.C.; and by the Occultists nearer to 700 than 600 B.C. At any rate he was a contemporary of Pânini.

Pâtanjala (Sk.) The Yoga philosophy; one of the six Darshanas or Schools of India.

Yoga (Sk.) (1) One of the six Darshanas or schools of India; a school of philosophy founded by Patanjali, though the real Yoga doctrine, the one that is said to have helped to prepare the world for the preaching of Buddha, is attributed with good reasons to the more ancient sage Yâjnawalkya, the writer of the Shatapatha Brâhmana, of Yajur Veda, the Brihad Âranyaka, and other famous works. (2) The practice of meditation as a means of leading to spiritual liberation. Psycho-spiritual powers are obtained thereby, and induced ecstatic states lead to the clear and correct perception of the eternal truths, in both the visible and invisible universe.

 

See also: Apâna, Âsana, Ashta Siddhis, Dhârana, Djnâna, Hatha Yoga, Indriya, Jagrata, Prânâyâma, Pratyâharana, Râga, Râja-Yoga,  Samâdhi, Samâpatti, Sushumnâ, Turîya Avasthâ, Upekshâ, Yogi, etc.

Theosophical Glossary

Biography by William Quan Judge

About Patanjali’s life very little, if anything, can be said. In the Rudra Jamala, the Vrihannandikeśwara and the Padma-Purana are some meager statements, more or less legendary, relating to his birth. Ilavrita-Varsha is said to have been his birthplace, his mother being Sati the wife of Angiras. The tradition runs that upon his birth he made known things past, present and future, showing the intellect and penetration of a sage while yet an infant. He is said to have married one Lolupa, whom he found in the hollow of a tree on the north of Sumeru, and thereafter to have lived to a great age. On one occasion, being insulted by the inhabitants of Bhotabhandra while he was engaged in religious austerities, he reduced them to ashes by fire from his mouth.

That these accounts are legendary and symbolical can be easily seen. Ilavrita-Varsha is no part of India, but is some celestial abode. The name of India proper is Bharata Varsha. “In it and nowhere else do the four ages or Yugas — Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali — exist. Here devotees perform austerities and priests sacrifice. In this respect Bharata is the most excellent division; for this is the land of works, while the others are places of enjoyment.” In the Bhagavat-Purana it is said: “Of the Varshas, Bharata alone is the land of works; the other eight (including Ilavrita-Varsha) are places where the celestials enjoy the remaining rewards of their works.” As Bharata-Varsha is a division of Jambudwipa, and known as India, and the other Varshas are for celestials, it follows that the account of Patanjali’s birthplace cannot be relied upon in a material sense. It may be the ancient method of showing how great sages now and then descend from other spheres to aid and benefit man. But there is also another Patanjali mentioned in the Indian books. He was born in India at Gonarda, in the east, and from there be went to reside temporarily in Kashmir. Prof. Goldstucker has concluded that this later Patanjali wrote about 140 B.C. His writings were commentaries upon the great grammarian Panini, and it is in respect to the Sanskrit language that he is regarded as an authority. He must not be confounded with our Patanjali; of the latter all that we have is the Philosophy set forth in the Aphorisms.

— from the Preface to the First Edition, of The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, An Interpretation by William Quan Judge

On the Date of Patanjali's Life

Selection from the Article “Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine”, The Theosophist, 1883

… It is generally believed that a person named Govinda Yogi was Sankara’s guru, but it is not generally known that this Yogi was in fact Patanjali—the great author of the Mahabhashya and the Yoga Sutras—under a new name. … it is quite clear from the 94th, 95th, 96th and 97th verses of the 5th chapter of Vidyaranya’s Sankara Vijaya that Govinda Yogi and Patanjali were identical. According to the immemorial custom observed amongst initiates Patanjali assumed the name of Govinda Yogi at the time of his initiation by Gaudapada. It cannot be contended that Vidyaranya represented Patanjali as Sankara’s Guru merely for the purpose of assigning some importance to Sankara and his teaching. Sankara is looked upon as a far greater man than Patanjali by the Adwaitees, and nothing can be added to Sankara’s reputation by Vidyaranya’s assertion. Moreover Patanjali’s views are not altogether identical with Sankara’s views; it may be seen from Sankara’s writings that he attached no importance whatever to the practises of Hatha Yoga regarding which Patanjali composed his Yoga Sutras. Under such circumstances if Vidyaranya had the option of selecting a Guru for Sankara he would no doubt have represented Vyasa himself (who is supposed to be still living) as his Guru. We see no reason therefore to doubt the correctness of the statement under examination. Therefore, as Sankara was Patanjali’s chela and as Gaudapada was his Guru, his date will enable us to fix the dates of Sankara and Gaudapada. We may here point out to our readers a mistake that appears in p. 148 of Mr. Sinnett’s book on Esoteric Buddhism as regards the latter personage. He is there represented as Sankara’s Guru; Mr. Sinnett was informed, we believe, that he was Sankara’s Paramaguru and not having properly understood the meaning of this expression Mr. Sinnett wrote that he was Sankara’s Guru.

It is generally admitted by Orientalists that Patanjali lived before the commencement of the Christian Era. Mr. Barth places him in the second century before the Christian Era, accepting Goldstücker’s opinion, and Monier Williams does the same thing. A. Weber who seems to have carefully examined the opinions of all the other Orientalists who have written upon the subject comes to the conclusion that “we must for the present rest satisfied, . . . with placing the date of the composition of the Bhashya between B.C.140 and A. D. 60,—a result which, considering the wretched state of the chronology of Indian literature generally, is, despite its indefiniteness, of no mean importance.” And yet even this date rests upon inferences drawn from one or two unimportant expressions contained in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya. It is always dangerous to draw such inferences and especially so when it is known that, according to the tradition current amongst Hindu grammarians, some portions of Mahabhashya were lost and the gaps were subsequently filled up by subsequent writers. Even supposing that we should consider the expressions quoted as written by Patanjali himself, there is nothing in those expressions which would enable us to fix the writer’s date. For instance, the connection between the expression “arunad Yavana? Sâketam” and the expedition of Menander against Ayodhya between B.C. 144 and 120 relied upon by Goldstücker is merely imaginary. There is nothing in the expression to show that the allusion contained therein points necessarily to Menander’s expedition. We believe that Patanjali is referring to the expedition of Yavanas against Ayodhya during the lifetime of Sagara’s father described in Harivamsa. This expedition occurred long before Rama’s time and there is nothing to connect it with Menander. Goldstücker’s inference is based upon the assumption that there was no other Yavana expedition against Ayodhya known to Patanjali, and it will be easily seen from Harivamsa (written by Vyasa) that the said assumption is unwarranted. Consequently the whole theory constructed by Goldstücker on this weak foundation falls to the ground.

No valid inferences can be drawn from the mere names of kings contained in Mahabhashya, even if they are traced to Patanjali himself, as there would be several kings in the same dynasty bearing the same name. From the foregoing remarks it will be clear that we cannot fix, as Weber has done, B. C. 140 as the maximum limit of antiquity that can be assigned to Patanjali. It is now necessary to see whether any other such limit has been ascertained by Orientalists. As Panini’s date still remains undetermined the limit cannot be fixed with reference to his date. But it is assumed by some Orientalists that Panini must have lived at some time subsequent to Alexander’s invasion from the fact that Panini explains in his grammar the formation of the word Yavanani. We are very sorry that European Orientalists have taken the pains to construct theories upon this basis without ascertaining the meaning assigned to the word Yavana and the time when the Hindus first became acquainted with the Greeks. It is unreasonable to assume without proof that this acquaintance commenced at the time of Alexander’s invasion. On the other hand there are very good reasons for believing that the Greeks were known to the Hindus long before this event. Pythagoras visited India according to the traditions current amongst Indian Initiates, and he is alluded to in Indian astrological works under the name of Yavanacharya. Moreover it is not quite certain that the word Yavana was strictly confined to the Greeks by the ancient Hindu writers. Probably it was first applied to the Egyptians and the Ethiopians; it was probably extended first to the Alexandrian Greeks and subsequently to the Greeks, Persians and Arabians. Besides the Yavana invasion of Ayodhya described in Harivamsa, there was another subsequent expedition to India by Kala Yavana (Black Yavana) during Krishna’s lifetime described in the same work. This expedition was probably undertaken by the Ethiopians. Anyhow, there are no reasons whatever, as far as we can see, for asserting that Hindu writers began to use the word Yavana after Alexander’s invasion. We can attach no importance whatever to any inferences that may be drawn regarding the dates of Panini and Katyayana (both of them lived before Patanjali) from the statements contained in Katha Sarit Sagara which is nothing more than a mere collection of fables. It is now seen by Orientalists that no proper conclusions can be drawn regarding the dates of Panini and Katyayana from the statements made by Hiuan Thsang, and we need not therefore say anything here regarding the said statements. Consequently the dates of Panini and Katyayana still remain undetermined by European Orientalists. Goldstücker is probably correct in his conclusion that Panini lived before Buddha and the Buddhists’ accounts agree with the traditions of the initiates in asserting that Katyayana was a contemporary of Buddha. From the fact that Patanjali must have composed his Mahabhashya after the composition of Panini’s Sutras and Katyayana’s Varttika we can only infer that it was written after Buddha’s birth.

But there are a few considerations which may help us in coming to the conclusion that Patanjali must have lived about the year 500 B.C. Max Müller fixed the Sutra period between 500 B. C. and 600 B. C. We agree with him in supposing that the period probably ended with B. C. 500, though it is uncertain how far it extended into the depths of Indian antiquity. Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, and this fact has not been doubted by any Hindu writer up to this time. Mr. Weber thinks, however, that the author of the Yoga Sutras might be a different man from the author of the Mahabhashya, though he does not venture to assign any reason for his supposition. We very much doubt if any European Orientalist can ever find out the connection between the first Anhika of the Mahabhashya and the real secrets of Hatha Yoga contained in the Yoga Sutras. No one but an initiate can understand the full significance of the said Anhika; and the “eternity of the Logos” or Sabda is one of the principal doctrines of the ancient Gymnosophists of India who were generally Hatha Yogis. In the opinion of Hindu writers and Pundits Patanjali was the author of three works, viz., Mahabhashya, Yoga Sutras and a book on Medicine and Anatomy; and there is not the slightest reason for questioning the correctness of this opinion. We must, therefore, place Patanjali in the Sutra period, and this conclusion is confirmed by the traditions of the Indian initiates.

As Sankaracharya was a contemporary of Patanjali (being his Chela) he must have lived about the same time. We have thus shown that there are no reasons for placing Sankara in 8th or 9th century after Christ as some of the European Orientalists have done. We have further shown that Sankara was Patanjali’s Chela and that his date should be ascertained with reference to Patanjali’s date. We have also shown that neither the year B. C. 140 nor the date of Alexander’s invasion can be accepted as the maximum limit of antiquity that can be assigned to him, and we have lastly pointed out a few circumstances which will justify us in expressing an opinion that Patanjali and his Chela Sankara belonged to the Sutra period.

We may perhaps now venture to place before the public the exact date assigned to Sankaracharya by Tibetan and Indian Initiates. According to the historical information in their possession he was born in the year B. C. 510 (51 years and 2 months after the date of Buddha’s nirvana), and we believe that satisfactory evidence in support of this date can be obtained in India if the inscriptions at Conjeeveram, Sringeri, Jagannâtha, Benares, Kashmir and various other places visited by Sankara are properly deciphered. Sankara built Conjeeveram which is considered as one of the most ancient towns in Southern India; and it may be possible to ascertain the time of its construction if proper enquiries are made. But even the evidence now brought before the public supports the opinion of the Initiates above indicated. As Gaudapada was Sankaracharya’s guru’s guru his date entirely depends on Sankara’s date; and there is every reason to suppose that he lived before Buddha. As this article has already become very lengthy we will now bring it to a close. Our remarks about Buddha’s date and Sankaracharya’s doctrine will appear in the next issue of The Theosophist.

— T. Subba Row, The Theosophist, September, 1883. Reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Works, Volume 5, Pages 176-197, and in Five Years of Theosophy, Pages 278-308



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Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali

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YOGA APHORISMS

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PATANJALI

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Selected Quotes from Patanjali

  1. On Finding Peace

    "By sympathy with the happy, compassion for the sorrowful, delight in the holy, disregard of the unholy, the psychic nature moves to gracious peace."—Yoga Sutras, I:33, tr. Charles Johnston
  2. On the Cause of Pain

    "From the fact that the soul is conjoined in the body with the organ of thought, and thus with the whole of nature, lack of discrimination follows, producing misconceptions of duties and responsibilities. This misconception leads to wrongful acts, which will inevitably bring about pain in the future."—Yoga Sutras, II:17, tr. W. Q. Judge
  3. On Harmlessness and Kindness

    "When harmlessness and kindness are fully developed in the Yogi [he who has attained to cultivated enlightenment of the soul], there is a complete absence of enmity, both in men and animals, among all that are near to him."—Yoga Sutras, II:35, tr. W. Q. Judge
  4. On the Difference between Mind and Soul

    "The mind, though assuming various forms by reason of innumerable mental deposits, exists for the purpose of the soul’s emancipation and operates in co-operation therewith. In him who knows the difference between the nature of soul and mind, the false notion regarding the soul comes to an end. Then the mind becomes deflected toward discrimination and bowed down before Isolation [emancipation]."—Yoga Sutras, IV:23-25, tr. W. Q. Judge


Selected Quotes on Patanjali

  1. On the Value of Patanjali's Aphorisms

    "Let us divide Meditation into two sorts. First is the meditation practiced at a set time, or an occasional one, whether by design or from physiological idiosyncrasy. Second is the meditation of an entire lifetime, that single thread of intention, intentness, and desire running through the years stretching between the cradle and the grave. For the first, in Patanjali's Aphorisms will be found all needful rules and particularity. If these are studied and not forgotten, then practice must give results. How many of those who reiterate the call for instruction on this head have read that book, only to turn it down and never again consider it? Far too many."—William Quan Judge, from the article "Meditation, Concentration, Will".
  2. The Foremost Ancient Work on Yoga

    "[Patanjali's] renowned Yoga Sutras presents, in a series of brief aphorisms, the condensed essence of the exceedingly vast and intricate science of God-union—setting forth the method of uniting the soul with the undifferentiated Spirit in such a beautiful, clear, and concise way that generations of scholars have acknowledged the Yoga Sutras as the foremost ancient work on yoga."—Paramahansa Yogananda

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