Raja Yoga Sutras

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume III

I have a vision about the integration of yoga into our present life. Although yoga is said to have been practised in the mountains, in solitude, by recluses and sannyasins, I somehow feel that it must have been some time later, and not when yoga was discovered and organized by the wise people. Because by what yoga tells us and the way it shows us, it appears to be for those people who were greatly distracted, restless and emotionally imbalanced. Hence, I don’t think yoga was realized by a calm culture in a peaceful environment.

Doctors abound on the earth because there are many diseases. Had there been no diseases, there would be no doctors. The police force is there because there are so many thieves, bandits and criminals. Had there been no thieves, bandits and criminals, do you think there would be Scotland Yard and so many other police organizations? Similarly, the philosophy of yoga suggests a very distracted, restless, ambitious and broken culture.

Look at the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhakti Yoga Sutras of Narada and Shandilya, the Jnana Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Badarayana, or the Samkhya Sutras of the Bhagavad Gita depicting and talking about karma yoga. They clearly indicate that the people to whom yoga was addressed were not necessarily wise and saintly people. Therefore, to say that yoga is a culture of a monastic civilization, or that it is a culture of mountains and monasteries is utterly wrong. Why do monks need yoga? I don’t need it. I have no tensions, no stresses, no strains. I can move out anytime, anywhere. And even if something happens to me, nobody loses, because I am just one. I have no wife, no family, no children, no society, no religion, no culture.

However, in our society, if one person suffers from mental or physical problems, the whole society around him suffers too. So, the first conclusion that I have drawn is that yoga is for people who are living amidst agony and facing mental or physical breakdowns. This is exactly the theme of the Bhagavad Gita, whose first chapter is entitled ‘The Yoga of Nervous Depression’ or nervous breakdown.

Calming the disturbed mind

Yoga begins when the mind is unbalanced and when you lack total control over yourself, but when at the same time, you are trying to balance yourself. It is with this sense and with this background that I’ll be talking to you a little about the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Patanjali was a great scholar and rishi, who was contemporary with Lord Buddha about 2,500 years ago. There were other contemporaries of Buddha who were also very good, but we are not concerned with them at the moment. Patanjali codified raja yoga in the form of aphorisms called sutras. The word sutra in Sanskrit means ‘thread’, and just as one thread binds the 108 beads of a mala (rosary), in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is a central theme which binds all the various ideas together.

Before the advent of Patanjali, a philosophy was already in existence in India by which Buddha and Buddhist philosophy were greatly influenced. This philosophical branch, which is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy, is known as the Samkhya doctrine.

In Samkhya, they have explained what the mind is, what its components are, what consciousness and matter are, and the thing which is responsible for gathering of momentum of matter in the form of creation. Samkhya deals with consciousness and the different stages of consciousness, starting from the rudimentary state which is present in minerals, then vegetables, animals and man. This consciousness is called chitta.

Chitta seems to be manifesting through matter in various stages. At one stage, this chitta is only existence and there is no movement, whereas in us this chitta has patterns which are called vrittis. These vrittis are the patterns of consciousness and it is through the chitta, in combination with the vritti, that knowledge and experience take place. For instance, you are aware of my presence now and I am aware of your presence now, in one particular way. This is one of those patterns of your consciousness and it is called objective cognition. Similarly, you cognise a flower – smell, sight, touch, etc. These objective forms of cognition are one quality of the chitta.

In all, there are five of those patterns through which the mind acquires knowledge, and they are known in yoga as the five vrittis. Vritti means ‘pattern’, which comes from the word vritta, a circle. If you throw a pebble in a pond, ripples are formed in a concentric circular pattern and they go on moving outward. This is how the patterns move and take place within the mind. The five vrittis are: i) objective awareness, ii) subjective awareness, iii) illusory awareness, iv) past awareness and v) absence of awareness.


These five patterns are important because Patanjali has said, “Yoga is a process by which you block these patterns.” This means that the practices of yoga which we do, asanas, pranayama, meditation, etc., should eliminate the fivefold vrittis from the mind. Then when the objective awareness, subjective awareness, illusory awareness, past awareness and absence of awareness are removed, an experience takes place which is free from limitations, and that experience is known as kaivalya.

The word kaivalya is derived from the word kevala, which means ‘only’ or ‘absolute’, which is an indication of non-duality. When all the vrittis are removed, only I remain, the self, the purusha, the consciousness, the experiencer. I want to emphasize that the experiencer is not the mind. The experiencer is purusha. You may call it self; you can call it consciousness; you may call it inner being; you may call it by any name that you like. Because it has no name, that purusha experiences the duality, multiplicity, the variety of matter through the mind, and this mind is a reflector. The self, therefore, is experiencing matter through the reflector, which is called chitta vritti.

Therefore, at the very outset of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it says, Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah – Yoga is chitta vritti blocking. You remove the objective awareness, the subjective awareness, the illusory awareness, the past awareness and the unconsciousness, and when all these five are removed, then the self experiences itself. It does not experience anything else. That state is called kaivalya, and you can just imagine how difficult it is.

6 September 1982, Ojai Foundation, Ojai, California