If you’re involved with yoga, sooner or later (depending on what method you’re doing) you’ll encounter the Yoga Sutra (YS).
Written by the mysterious Patanjali way back around 250 B.C.E., this cryptic collection of 195 short statements (“sutras” or aphorisms), is by far the closest thing to a common sacred text that we’ve got in the yoga community today.
On one level, I love this. In a culture where knowledge of what happened two months ago regularly gets thrown in the trash bin of forgotten history, it’s exciting to discover that so many people care about a truly ancient text.
More often than not, I find myself irritated by the way that the YS’s treated by American yogis.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert. But I think that it’s safe to assume that the YS was not written as a feel-good text for more-or-less-normal 21st century Americans like me.
Which is why it gets my goat when I keep running across smarmy paeans to “how-the-Yoga-Sutra-can-help-you-be-the-best-healthy-and-happy-you!” (Perhaps accompanied by “five easy poses for everlasting bliss” you can do in 15 minutes or less . . . )
OK, I’m being snarky. But consider how articles such as the tellingly entitled “Paths to Happiness” (published in Yoga Journal) seek to assure us that the YS fits oh-so-comfortably into our contemporary culture:
Centuries ago, the great sage Patanjali laid out a kind of map—one that suggests not just asana and meditation but also attitudes and behaviors—to help you chart your own course to contentment.
At first glance, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra . . . may seem esoteric and impenetrable. But the ancient manual is worth a closer look, because it contains essential advice for daily living. ‘Patanjali has offered us guidelines that will allow us to have enhanced emotional and mental well-being and a more fulfilling and meaningful life . . . The Yoga Sutra is specifically designed to lead to greater happiness and spiritual fulfillment for you and everyone around you.’
Um, really? That’s funny, because I thought that the YS was about realizing Samadhi, or “assimilation with pure Being.”
But wait, you may say – what’s the difference? Isn’t Samadhi just another term for “happiness”? Like that blissful feeling I get seeing an amazing sunset or playing with my cute puppy in the garden?
Not to be a party pooper, but . . . really, I don’t think so.