More on Patañjali

The whole idea about Sadhana is that the individual has to do a practice for forty consecutive days. I decided to do a 4o day yoga column and keep dropping off after day 2. Day 2! That’s how hard it is for me to do the same thing every day. So I keep having to start over. Here’s my column, entry number one. This is my third attempt to this column 4o days in a row. I hope this time I stick to it…

WITH YOU, I BREATHE: A forty day yoga column

#1, But really, Who is he?

In a previous post, I wrote about Patañjali and based my answers on two books Mark Stephen’s Teaching Yoga and Deskichar’s The Heart of Yoga. Last night I went to Robert Birnberg’s Yoga Sutras class that he teaches in his Silver Lake apartment. Robert is one of my teachers who has a unique personal experience that he brings to his yoga teachings. After we covered the first eleven Sutras in Chapter One, I asked, OK. But who is Patañjali?

He asked me what I really was asking, which I thought was a strange question because that was exactly what I was asking. I wanted to know about the man who wrote the Sutras. I thought it important to know. The Sutras are the foundational text to yoga. How can I not be curious about the man who wrote it. Or at least the stories about him.

A student in the room said, I heard he was six or seven guys. Later Robert’s wife Eleni said she heard the same thing and they seemed to believe it. But Robert believed he really could’ve one man, a man who was a sage and worked hard.

Robert explained that there were the Vedas, which were supposed to help people with suffering but people were still suffering. The Vedas were just this huge texts that included everything and anything, no theme just information and more information.

At some point, six sages decided to look at the Vedas and narrow it down to help people decrease their suffering. Because clearly, the Vedas were not working. One of these sages was Patañjali. He sifted through the Vedas and wrote the Sutras, which are concise and  four chapters long. They present various ways in which the reader can decrease their suffering. There is no one way, just a series of options that may or may not work for you.

Where it gets fantastical, Robert said, is that apparently he wrote two other foundational texts. A book on Ayurveda and Sanskrit grammar.  In other words, Patañjali wrote three texts: one that helps care for the mind (the Sutras), one that helps care for the body (Ayurveda), and one that helps with speech (Sanskrit grammar).

But, Robert said, we know nothing about his personal life.

My teacher also pointed out in India they tend to blur the lines between historical figure and god like figure. There are statues of him holding the world on top of his head and Shiva, depicted as a snake, lying in his lap. The idea is that he is strong enough to hold the world and gentle enough to hold Shiva in his lap. There are statues of Patañjali with several heads, facing every which way, because in the Sutras, he presents so many options.

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