YOGA SUTRA, translation by Shyam Ranganathan

Excerpts from Shyam Ranganathan’s excellent translation of the Yoga Sutra

What is Yoga. In contemporary meaning, yoga is now predominantly used to refer to physical disciplines of posture series. It is common to call the individual posture asana-s. Asana is a still, firm, seated position. What now go under the heading of yoga are difficult bodily exercises. Patanjali would have classified such exercises as tapas, heat or stress-causing exercises. For Patanjali, tapas in an integral part of yoga, but not coextensive with all of yoga [YS II.1]

II.1 tapah svādhyāya-īśvara-praņidhānāni kriyā-yogah
II.1 Ascesis, self-study and surrendering to the Lord [constitute] kriyā-yoga.
In Patanjali’s second chapter we learn about the means of accomplishing yoga, synoptically. If we take the II.1 sutra as a summary of the practice of yoga, it specifies that kriya-yoga consists of 3 general practices: 1. Tapas; 2. Svadhyaya, and 3. Isvara pranidhana.

Tapas comes from the root ‘tapa’, ‘to cause heat, pain, discomfort. Tapas is thus the practice of austerities. What is called yoga in the modern world, particularly in the west, is a ritualized version of tapas. This is incorrectly called asana—which traditionally covers the notion of being still or seated. As Patanjali mentions tapas here as the first of the practices, it seems arguably the best introduction to yoga.

Some who practise yoga, particularly in the West, come to yoga from a seemingly New Age perspective according to which everything under the sun is ok, fine, good and without need of criticism. “I’m ok, you’re ok,” has been revived by many practitioners of yoga. For them, yoga is an escape from self-criticism, stress and difficulty. This is NOT Patanjali’s view of yoga.
This phrase, so in vogue with the hip of the 90’s—It’s all good—would not sit well with Patanjali. To be a yogi is to hold oneself up to a very high standard. It is not to disassociate the self from the mind & body and to take no responsibility for one’s thoughts, desires and actions. To practise yoga, according to him, is to practise rigours of the body and mind. There is no room for rest or relaxation for the yogi.
How then are we to make sense of the peculiar phenomenon of fashion yoga: yogic practice that people take on for the clothes that one can buy from expensive yoga clothing boutiques, or yoga undertaken so that one can secure the body of one’s dreams or as a substitute to some other type of physical exercise that leads to a positive body image?
Patanjali is committed to the notion that tapas helps in the practice of yoga, because it purifies the body and thereby purifies the mind. However, success in yoga cannot be had by the mere practice of tapas or a weak subscription to watered-down ‘spirituality’ that attempts to infuse divinity in all things (including one’s own decisions and thoughts) in order to avoid the difficult project of self-criticism. (YS I.21-22) Yoga that is merely divorced from self-critical study and introspection is hardly yoga. His view is that tapas is merely one component of the practice of yoga. And as we see in the sutra II.1, it cannot be yoga without a concomitant introspection conspicuously absent in fashion yoga.

However, tapas can and often does have a transformative effect. Over the years that I have taught the Patanjali’s philosophy to students of tapas, I have been impressed that many students come to yoga initially for a challenging and fulfilling workout, and stick with it only to see their life change. A heightened commitment to self-reflexivity, increased ethical reflection, sensitivity and activism, along with a nascent spirituality and devotionalism seem to sprout in many who seriously commit themselves to “yoga”. It starts out as one thing and turns into something completely different. This is not the universal experience of practitioners of tapas, but few students of yoga seem to have the type of commitment that Patanjali seems to think is necessary for noticeable success in yoga, its transformative power. pp133-134

Throughout my life, I have been struck by how many people come to spiritual practices because they are scared to take responsibility for their own moral and soteriological destiny. Patanjali, promotes Ishvara as the sole teacher for the yogi, and later warns yogis not to keep the company of flatterers (YS III.52). The desire for a guru who will make all our decisions for us defeats the very point of yoga, according to Patanjali. pp159-160

What generally goes under the heading of yoga these days, particularly in the west, is what Patanjali would have called tapas. But this is not the only type of activity that counts as tapas. Tapas is not about competition. It is about challenging one’s own physical and sensory limits. p193

Asana, as Patanjali understood it, cannot be understood as what is called asana today. Today, asana is a posture that one learns in a ‘yoga’-class, such as downward dog. Patanjali would name the practice of these ‘postures’ tapas.

Towards the end of Chapter I, Patanjali had criticized pseudo-states of intellectual arousal as states of ‘absorption’ (YS I.17, 41-42). These stages are tinged with error. Yoga, for Patanjali, is not to be confused with spiritual spaciness so glorified in some New Age circles.

Comments: 1 | Quotes: 0 | Views: -
回复回复yogastef[2020-11-26 09:14 PM | del]
Absolutely appreciate these insights which resonate with my understanding.

I am currently grappling with interpretations between Christopher Wallis and Shyam Ranganathan's.

This post I came across while searching on Dr Shyam's book on the subject.
Wishing you great success in your practice and sincere thanks for writing this artcile and reaching me!

If you would like to stay in touch you can find me at
引用来自 administrator administrator 于 2020-12-26 09:11 PM 回复
thank you so much. I am sorry to only read now your comment on Ranganathan's translation.
Warm regards
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