Get to Know Patanjali: A Founding Father of Yoga
When we speak well-nigh yoga practice, the foundation we unchangingly come when to is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a compilation of 196 unclear verses that outline the eight limbs of yoga.
The sutras provide yogis with guidance toward leading a yogic lifestyle and cultivating mindfulness. But just who was this mystery sage?
No one knows exactly when Patanjali lived.
Rumor has it that the sutras were written some 1,700 years ago, but this has been widely debated by practitioners, scholars and teachers alike. Some believe that Patanjali lived in the second or third century CE; others requirement it was the 4th century CE; still, others posit that it was well-nigh 50 CE. While some believe that the sage wrote the sutras virtually 400 BCE—which is the most widely wonted date, others still insist that they were written 5,000 years ago. Most of the speculations are made in correspondence with other texts of these periods, as well as the notion that Patanjali himself had written other works on Ayurveda and Sanskrit over the undertow of many centuries. There is really no way to know which time period is accurate, so we can all stipulate to disagree.
Patanjali was most likely not just one person.
It is widely disputed whether Patanjali was one man, or if the sutras attributed to him are unquestionably a compilation of ideas from many sages and practitioners. (Think: the Vedic Shakespeare.) A man named Patanjali has been credited with two other texts as well, one on Sanskrit grammar (Mahabhashya) and one on medicine (Charakapratisanskrita). Because of the widely debated time frame of Patanjali’s life, it is posited that the surname Patanjali refers to a lineage of many sages, teachers, and students, and we refer to him as one man for convenience’s sake.
There are many myths in diffusion well-nigh Patanjali’s life, one of which depicts the sage as a snake falling from heaven.
Being a icon of unconfined mystery, there are numerous myths well-nigh how Patanjali came into being. As one story goes, Lord Vishnu was once sitting atop Lord Adisesa, the Lord of Serpents, watching the flit of Lord Shiva when his soul began to vibrate in rhythm with Shiva’s. This passing of vibrations and grace enchanted Lord Adisesa, who decided that he would devote himself to the art of dance. Lord Adisesa meditated in the hopes of determining who would be his mother and had a vision of Gonika, a virgin yogini who was praying for a son onto whom she could pass her knowledge. She prayed to the Sun, and when she opened her palms she saw a small snake that soon transformed into a small male form. Hence he was named Patanjali, for Pata ways falling and Anjali refers to the prayer mudra.
Patanjali’s sutras were not written for intellectual speculation and debate but as practical methods of raising awareness.
Before Patanjali wrote the sutras, it was customary for practitioners to memorize them in their entirety. The sutras act as guidelines that can only be understood through personal wits and practice. They are a path by which we may unzip liberation of the mind.
The sutras are short and sweet for a reason.
As per Sanskrit grammar rules, a sutra should follow the pursuit conditions:
- Alpaaksharam – small in size
- Asandgdham – well-spoken and self-ruling from doubts
- Saaravat – deep in meaning
- Viswatomukham – universal applicability
- Astobham – practicability
- Anavadwayam – the subject must be a reality
The mysteries surrounding the cadre text of yoga will remain forever unknown. We can learn from the uncertainty of the Yoga Sutras’ attribution, realizing that we are a small part of a greater and ever-evolving fabric. We symbol our understanding of yoga to our teachers, and to their teachers, dating when to the origin of this practice, in as much as we learn from our own wits of it. Perhaps Patanjali was a man who wrote lanugo teachings that had been passed lanugo to him. Perhaps he is a conceptual founder who is part of a greater fabric of thought that was ripened over centuries. The transcendence of the individual, bodily form of Patanjali seems fitting, as through practice of yogic traditions we are worldly-wise to transcend the limitations of the individual self.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and voracious wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often unprotected irreflective of sprawling untried fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her throne veiled in a book, doused in lavender.