“If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga.”
I read Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation and commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and would like to share my brief notes in case it is helpful. For me, The Sutras are extremely interesting because they are ancient and have been highly influential. The translation and notes are very practical and insightful, so hopefully an even more condensed version here captures some of that.
While the original Sutras may seem inaccessible, Satchidananda’s notes quickly point out that almost all of them are written only to elaborate on the first few, summarized in the quote above. I found that to be quite striking, and also very encouraging. Yoga teachers will say things like this, but still most people think that yoga is about poses, instead of controlling the mind.
Another key takeaway for me relates to meditation. Again, meditation guides will tell you to integrate your practice. While you may only meditate for 5-10 minutes in a day, the aim is to incorporate that into your life. The Sutras make this clear, by saying that it is more of a practice than a philosophy, and you need to practice all of the time for a long time.
Please take my notes with a grain of salt. These are my notes based on another persons translations and notes. Notes on notes on notes! The notes here below are not the original Sutras, but a distillation or key takeaway based on the original Sutra of Patanjali and commentary from Satchidananda’s translation.
Book 1 - Contemplation
Sutra #1 This is about how to practice yoga. Mere philosophy is not enough.
Sutra #2 The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga. Three parts of the mind: Ego, discriminative facility, and senses. These modifications of the mind-stuff can disturb your inner peace. Yoga is using restraint to maintain your inner peace.
Sutra #3 The Seer (Self) abides in it’s own nature. You are not the body or mind. The Seer, or self, reflects in the mind which is your mirror. When the mind ceases to create thought forms, you see your true Self.
Sutra #5 The five mental modifications can be painful or painless. Basically the selfish thoughts bring pain.
Sutra #6 They are right knowledge, misconception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory.
Sutra #12 The mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment.
Sutra #13/#14 you have to stick with this and do it all the time for a long time.
Sutra #15 If you are unattached, won’t you be dull? No. Avoid personal desires and be greedy in serving others.
Sutra #20 You must be strong and have a good memory of mistakes made / lessons learned to not fall back into your worldly rut again.
Sutra #26 You’ve gotta transcend the mind and nature to achieve eternal peace. This is union with God.
Sutra #32 The practice of concentration on a single subject or the use of one technique is the best way to prevent obstacles.
Sutra #33 By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. Don’t try to advise the wicked, because they won’t take your advice. If you try to advise them, you will lose your peace.
Sutra #34 If you regulate the breath, you regulate the mind automatically also.
Sutra #41 As a crystal assumes shapes and colors of objects near it, so is the yogi’s mind. True of both the body and mind. If you develop one idea through constant meditation, all other thoughts and desires will gradually die away.
Book 2 - Practice
Sutra #1 Accepting pain as purification, study of spiritual books and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute yoga in practice. Speech should bring tranquility and be truthful, pleasant, and beneficial.
Sutra #2 The five obstacles are ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life.
Sutra #14 The karmas bear fruits of pleasure and pain caused by our own actions.
Sutra #15/18 Avoid attachment or resistance to things like stock prices rising and falling, pleasure and pain. Learn to swim in these fluctuations like water.
Sutra #20 Today’s sinner is tomorrow’s saint. We will never criticize a sinner if we realize that we were once in the same boat.
Sutra #22 We can think of the world as a factory where raw materials come in and products come out. Understanding this illusion leads to liberation.
Sutra #24/25 The author laughs at the previous idea, which can be seen as ignorant, because we can take it to another level and rise above the illusion, not trying to understand it.
Sutra #25 As the mind, so is the person. If we think we are bound, we are bound. If we think we are liberated, we are liberated. We can transcend all of this if we get out of our heads and thoughts.
Sutra #26 Discernment is the way to avoid ignorance.
Sutra #27 One’s wisdom in the final stage is sevenfold. One experiences the end 1) The desire to know anything more 2) The desire to stay away from anything 3) The desire to gain anything new 4) The desire to do anything 5) Sorrow 6) Fear 7) Delusion. We are not going to get it from outside. Look inside.
Sutra #28 The eight limbs of yoga are 1) Abstinence 2) Observance 3) Posture practice 4) Breath control 5) Sense withdrawal 6) Concentration 7) Meditation 8) Contemplation, absorption, superconscious state. Worth reading a longer explanation on each, if you are still reading these notes and curious.
Sutra #33 When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. We can create a positive atmosphere by looking at a holy picture, reading an inspiring book, by meeting with a special person, or simply by leaving the disturbing environment.
Sutra #40 An Ayurvedic practice called kaya-kapla is mentioned here to make the point that all scriptures purposefully have esoteric meanings to make sure that people are prepared to use them selflessly rather than in a selfish way.
Sutra #43 The mind must be washed, squeezed, tossed, tried, and ironed like a cloth to become pure.
Sutra #45 There should be a gentle yogic touch with everything—even our spoons, forks, and plates.
Sutra #47 Meditate on infinite things to gain control of the mind. Sometimes simply big things can be helpful. Anything great, huge, well-settled, and well-established. Think mountains, rocks, ancient buildings, rivers, oceans, etc.
Sutra #50 Control and discipline are very necessary in our lives. Without discipline, nothing can be achieved. It isn’t the ratio of the breath that is important though, it is the amount or duration of breaths in a row.
Sutra #51 Wherever the mind goes, the breath follows. First though, learn to control the physical body, breath, and senses. It is easier to control the mind through controlling the breath, rather than attempting to control the mind directly.
Sutra #52 The mind is a veil woven of thoughts. It has no substance by itself.
Sutra #54 In the Bhagavad Gita the battle with the senses is explained using a battlefield analogy. The senses try to pull the mind in many different directions.
Sutra #55 You can use the breath to control the senses.
Book 4 - Absoluteness
Sutra #19 At the end of a yoga class, in savasana (the Hatha Yoga Corpse Pose) you may say “I am not the body, the body is just laying here.” But when you get up, if somebody disrespects or offends you in anyway, we immediately become disturbed. Spiritual practice is bringing this awareness back again and again even after we inevitably slip up.
Sutra #31 What is impurity? It is like the sensitive coating on a photographic film. The “I” and “mine” coat our mental film and want to catch everything they see. The point of yoga is to avoid recording or fixating on anything in this way.
Sutra #34 We can achieve Independence and rest in our own true nature if we allow our body and mind to function without fixation. All of this yoga is actually needed by the ego and done with the mind and body. You can let the ego, mind, and body rest in peace though, reflecting your true higher Self. Learn to lead a dedicated life serving others.