Perhaps more than any other reference in the annals of Sacred-Texts on the Inner-Journey, the Yogasūtras of Patañjali provides the authoritative Key that links them all. Many diverse spiritual traditions turn to this manual time and time again in illustrating what key elements need to be met in order to successfully navigate the “arcane channels within” that orchestrate the Contemplative-Arcs of Samādhi itself. It is here alone that the full thrust of the Yogayana is thoroughly and succinctly disclosed.
As to the historicity of Patañjali there is no decisive consensus. There are those who link him with Patañjali the Grammarian, who lived in the second century B.C. Others link him with Patañjali the Yogin who lived between 300 and 500 A.D. (pg x and xi in The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on Concentration of Mind; Fernando Tola and Carmen Dragonetti) Whatever the actual source, Patañjali lived in India give or take two centuries B.C., or three to five centuries A.D. Moreover, he was not the author in the traditional sense. He was THE compiler and editor of ancient yogic teachings that perhaps span across centuries; the original teachers are no longer known, and Patañjali has emerged as the authoritarian on the subject matter. Like an aesthetic weaver, Patañjali has sewn together these respective teachings—peppered with his own distinct style—in Sutra (thread-like) fashion, thus the Yogasūtras with his own particular flavor came into being.
I can attest to Patañjali’s technique. My own Dhammapada in Light of the Unborn, written in aphoristic fashion back in 2002, is essentially a cultivated compilation and editing of the principles found within Tozen’s Zen School of the Unborn Mind, the great Dhammapada itself, and sundry mythological motifs. This exegesis of Patañjai’s manual will be written in the same spirit. There are literally hundreds of such attempts in the vast translations of these teachings. This will be another effort written in Light of the Unborn. Each thread, following Patañjali’s lead, will be composed in numerical aphoristic style. Tozen followed this course in his Dharmakaya Sutra: 1.2; 2.1;3.1, ect. The best of the translations out there have also pursued this original outline of Patañjali.
The Yogasūtras are broken down into Four Sections. Many have been inspired with different titles. This particular effort will be broken down as follows:
Book I: Samādhi
Book II: The Hard Won Path
Book III: Siddhis
Book IV: Self-Completion
Alistair Shearer has written elegantly concerning the breakdown of these yogic teachings:
As the nodes of what was, and still is, essentially an oral teaching, the sūtras are almost like lecture notes, mnemonics. Each sūtra resembles a knot of the finest thread that must be teased out and unraveled, so that every inch of its meaning is displayed. Only then can the whole fabric of the teaching be woven together. [The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sacred Teachings) Alistair Shearer; 229-231 Kindle Edition]
And so in like fashion we will be exploring the Yogasūtras of Patañjali. This will be an ongoing work for some time to come, but I believe that the effort will be worthwhile in further unraveling these enigmatic Yogic-Codes.