Beyond the Yoga of Patanjali

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras describes the eightfold path of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The yoga of Patanjali relates to the individual efforts, or purusharthas, that each person has to perform in order to change and understand their own personality and mentality.

When you practise the yamas and niyamas, you confront your own nature, your own limitations and negativities and try to understand and channel them. When you practise asana and pranayama, you become aware of the limitations of your body. You try to improve the condition of the body, attain health, flexibility, energization of pranamaya kosha and activation of the pranas.

When you practise pratyahara and dharana, again you are dealing with your own mind, trying to channel and harness the forces of the thoughts, aspirations, distractions, all the different vrittis of the mind. When you practise dhyana and samadhi then you are experiencing unity within yourself. So Patanjali's yoga relates to the harmonization and development of the individual.

However, there has to be another dimension which comes after Patanjali's ashtanga yoga. Once you have gained something, what do you do next? How do you improve the environment around you? How do you make yourself feel and become part of humanity? How can you help humanity to become better? This is where the ashtanga yoga of Swami Sivanandas come in. His eight limbs are: serve, love, give, purify, be good, do good, meditate, realize. These are the eight aspects of yoga which unite the individual with humanity and which begin after one has completed Patanjali's yoga.

In order to serve you need to have a pure or unselfish mentality. Unselfish qualities can only be developed when you have perfected the yamas (truthfulness, honesty etc.). When you follow the path of yama at a personal level then the transformation that happens in your own mentality and personality gives you the ability to move out of the selfish nature. The moment you are out of it, service and identification with others is spontaneous. The niyamas (purification, contentment etc.) become the basis for the expression of a love which is unconditional rather than conditional.

We know that the purpose of asanas is to provide a steady, comfortable condition in the body and mind. When you are comfortable physically and mentally then the natural outcome is to give. When there are no dissipations in the body and mind, when both are steady, when you are content and contained in yourself then the aspect of giving comes in.

My intention is not to compare the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali with that of Swami Sivananda; rather it is to explain that in Patanjali's yoga the effort is to understand the individual being, the individual personality, the individual nature. In the ashtanga yoga of Sivananda the effort is to make oneself a part of humanity by expressing one's best qualities. That leads to realization, to the dissolution of the dualistic mentality, 'me' and 'you'.

In the life of Paramahamsaji we can see a natural progression from the yoga of Patanjali to the yoga of Sivananda. A combination of the two makes life richer, more beautiful, more inspiring and more encouraging.

Ganga Darshan, November 1997