Patanjali was an Indian teacher traditionally thought of as
the person who gathered and systematized the teachings of
meditation and yoga. He is believed to have lived between 200
B.C.E. and 450 C.E. However, he is credited with composing the
small Sanskrit volume of Yoga Sutras from which the modern
practice of yoga is derived.
The Sutras laid out a system of practice by which one can attain
a pure state free of illusion. The practice begins with the
adoption of a fivefold ethic (call yama), very similar to that
taught by Mahavida and the Jains—nonviolence, truthfulness,
non-stealing, sexual restraint, and non-attachment. It is followed
by the adoption of five virtues (niyama)—purity, contentment,
austerity, study, and dedication. These practices inhibit
the negative influences of being in the world. After adopting a
lifestyle centered on yama and niyama, one begins the step-bystep
adoption of the asanas (postures), breath control, control
over the sense, concentration, and meditation, each of which
should lead to the goal of samadhi (variously described as absorption
or liberation).
According to Patanjali, the practice of yoga has a number of
side effects. For example, the practice of nonviolence will lead
to the cessation of violence in one’s presence. Some of these
side effects involve distinctly paranormal activity. For example,
truthfulness in one’s life leads to the ability to speak the future.
The practice of concentration and meditation grants a number
of siddhas, unusual powers, such as the ability to remain hidden
or to greatly increase one’s strength. It also leads to an understanding
of the subtle anatomy of the body, including an awareness
of the mysterious psychicspiritual centers generally referred
to as chakras. The practice of yoga then leads to the
valuing of the siddhas and those who practice them throughout
Indian society.
The practice of yoga (especially that part of Patanjali’s system
that included the asanas,) reached a low point in the nineteenth
century, but was reborn early in the twentieth century.
Simultaneously, hatha yoga, that aspect of the teachings devoted
to the postures, was exported to the West as a discipline centered
upon the improvement of bodily health. Hatha yoga has
actually enjoyed a greater response in non-Indian cultures than
in the land of its birth.
Majumdar, Sachindra Kumar. Introduction to Yoga Principles
and Practice. Secaucus, N.J. Citadel Press, 1976.
Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali A New Translation and
Commentary. Edited by Georg Feuerstein. Folkstoone, UK
Dawson, 1979.

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