“In the East they say suffering is avoidable and not necessary. Life is bliss! You know why? This is because wisdom, yoga and meditation are ways to avoid suffering which has not yet come.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Sutra (in Sanskrit) literally means a thread or string that holds things together and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 sūtras by Maharishi Patanjali that succinctly outline the art and science of Yoga and meditation for Self-Realization.
Guided by a single thread, a kite can glide and soar to amazing heights. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are life’s threads, each one rich with knowledge, tools and techniques. These sutras guide not only the mind, but also one’s very being to its full potential, amidst a 21st century lifestyle.
We will begin by narrating the story with which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar begins his commentary on the yoga sutras: (Find the full commentary by Sri Sri here http://www.artofliving.org/patanjali-yogasutra)
“Once upon a time, long ago, all the munis and rishis approached Lord Vishnu to tell him that even though He (incarnated as Lord Dhanvanthari) had given them the means to cure illnesses through Ayurveda, people still fell ill. They also wanted to know what to do when people got sick.
Sometimes it is not just physical illness, but mental and emotional illness too that needs to be dealt with- Anger, lust, greed, jealousy etc. How does one get rid of all these impurities? What is the formula?
Vishnu was lying on the bed of snakes — the serpent Adishésha with a 1,000 heads. When the Rishis approached Him, he gave them Adishésha, the symbol of awareness, who took birth in the world as Maharishi Patanjali.
So Patanjali came to this earth to give this knowledge of yoga which came to be known as the yoga sutras. Patanjali said he was not going to discuss the yoga sutras unless 1,000 people got together. So 1,000 people gathered to the south of Vindhya Mountains to listen to him.
Patanjali had another condition — he would put a screen between him and his students and told them that nobody was to lift the screen or leave. Everybody had to stay in the hall till he finished. So Patanjali stayed behind the curtain and he transmitted his knowledge to the 1,000 gathered. Each of them absorbed this knowledge. It was an amazing phenomenon and even amongst the students, they could not believe how they were getting this knowledge, how the master was making each of them understand without uttering words from behind the curtain.
Everybody was amazed. Each one of them experienced such a blast of energy, such a blast of enthusiasm, that they could not even contain it. But they still had to maintain the discipline.
But one little boy had to go out to attend nature’s call. So he left the room. He thought to himself that he would go quietly and return quietly. Another person became curious. “What is the Master doing behind the curtain? I want to see.”
Does the boy lift the curtain? Find out in the next Wednesday in the next Patanjali Yoga knowledge sheet.
What meaning have you unlocked from this story?
In this story, there is a lot of depth. The puranas do not give any explanation. They just give a story and it is for us to unlock the meaning. So what is that you all have to find out?
How did the master convey the knowledge to everybody without uttering a word?
What was the significance of the veil?
Another person became curious. “What is the Master doing behind the curtain? I want to see.” He got so curious that he lifted the curtain to see the Master. Just as he did so, all 999 disciples were burnt to ashes. Now, Patanjali became very sad. There he was ready to impart knowledge to the whole world and all of his disciples were burnt.
At this moment, that one little boy returned. Patanjali asked him where he had gone. The boy explained and asked his forgiveness. Patanjali was compassionate and felt that at least one of his disciples was saved.
So he gave him the rest of the yoga sutras, the rest of the knowledge. But, the student had violated the law and Patanjali was not willing to forget that. He said, “Since you have violated the law, you will become a Brahmarakshasa, a ghost and hang on the tree.” And the only way he could liberate himself from the curse is to teach one student. Saying this, Patanjali disappeared.
Now Brahmarakshasa, hanging on a tree, would ask everyone who passed by a question and when they could not give an answer, he would eat them. He had no choice. For a few thousand years, this was the story. He could not find a single person to whom he could teach the yoga sutras. So, he remained in the tree as a Brahmarakshasa. (The lesson here is that when one who has great knowledge does something wrong, the state of Brahmarakshasa will come. An intelligent person becoming a criminal is more dangerous than an innocent person becoming a criminal. If a person, who knows all knowledge and then turns a criminal, it is much more dangerous). Brahmarakshasa was hanging there and waiting for relief.
Then out of compassion, Patanjali himself becomes a disciple and comes as a student to Brahmarakshasa who told him all the yoga sutras, which Patanjali wrote on palm leaves. The story goes that to redeem one disciple, the Master became the disciple of a disciple.
Patanjali wrote the yoga sutras sitting on the top of the tree as that was where Brahmarakshasa sat. Brahmarakshasa worked only in the night. So, he dictated the sutras at night and Patanjali wrote them on leaves. He plucked all the leaves and made a small scratch, drew blood and wrote. This went on for seven days. At the end of it, Patanjali was tired. He put everything he had written into a piece of cloth, set it down and went to bathe. When he returned, he found that a goat had eaten most of the leaves. Patanjali then took the cloth bag and the rest of the leaves and walked away.
In this story, there is a lot of depth. The puranas do not give an explanation. They just give a story and it is for us to unlock the meaning. So, what do we have to find out?
(1) When the veil was lifted why did everybody burn down?
(2) Why was one boy forgiven?
(3) What is the significance of the goat?
(4) What is the significance of this story?
Think about this and share your answers here.
Click on the links below to read the verses: