The Yogasūtras are the foundational text on Yoga, Vedic mind science, written by Sage Patañjali. It is placed around 4th century CE. Tradition has it that, Sage Patañjali also has contributed to refinement of speech through a work on Grammar (Mahābhāṣya), a work on Āyurveda (not identified with certainty) to refine and heal the body.
The text is in the form of Sūtras or short insightful statements that have various shades of meanings but convey thoughts in a very organized and compact manner. There are 195 Sūtras in this text.(The number of Sūtras may slightly vary depending upon splitting of certain Sūtras)
The definition of Yoga in this text appears in the second Sūtra of the text – yogaḥ cittavṛttinirodhaḥ – Yoga is the restraint of activities of the mind. According to this Sūtra, to be established in one’s true conscious nature it is essential that the activities of the mind are regulated/restrained initially and gradually completely made to cease. All the practices of Yoga in this text are prescribed towards this end.
There are four chapters which are called as Padas (one fourth). The four Padas are – Samādhi-pāda , Sādhana-pāda , Vibhūti-pāda and Kaivalya-pāda.
This chapter has 51 Sūtras. As the very nomenclature suggests, the major content of the chapter is about the States of Samadhi. The content of the chapter can be seen in seven parts –
- Commencement of the text, definition of Yoga (citta-vrtti-nirodha/Samadhi) – Sūtras 1-4
- 5 Citta-Vṛttis (activities of the mind) & Abhyasa (effort) and Vairagya (detachment) for citta-vrtti-nirodha – Sūtras 5-16
- Samprajnata & Asamprajnata divisions of Samadhi (vritti-nirodha) – Sūtras 17-22
- īśvarapraṇidhāna (devotion to divinity), 9 obstacles in the path of Yoga, Ekatattvabhyasa (single pointed effort) – Sūtras 23-32
- 7 Methods for ekagrata (one-pointedness) for samprajñāta-sāmadhi – Sūtras 33-40
- Sabīja-samādhi(includes the states of manifestation of world based on Gunas) – Sūtras 41-46
- Nirbīja-samādhi – Sūtras 47-51
The second chapter has 55 Sūtras. As the very name suggests – this chapter predominantly describes about the Sadhanas – the methods to realize the goal of Yoga – Citta-vritti-nirodha. The content of this chapter can be seen in six units –
- Kriyā-yoga and its outcome (weakening of Kleśas/afflictions) – Sūtras 1-2
- Five Kleśas and methods to overcome them – Sūtras 3-11
- Concepts connected to Kleśas – Karmāśaya (store of Kārmic effects), Vipāka (manifestation of effects of Karma), duḥkha (suffering) – Sūtras 12-15
- Caturvyūha to overcome duḥkha (four fold arrangement – Heya (suffering), Heyahetu (cause of suffering), Hāna (state of freedom from suffering) and Upāya(methods to overcome suffering) – also discussed are draṣṭā (consciousness), dṛśya (matter) – Sūtras 16 -26
- Vivekakhyāti (clarity of distinctness of Matter and consciousness -hānopāya) and Aṣṭāṅgayoga for Vivekakhyāti – Sūtras 27-28
- The first Five limbs (bahiraṅga – external/preparatory steps to attain goal of Yoga) – Yama, Niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma and pratyāhāra (definition, technique of practice and intermediate outcomes) – Sūtras 29-55
This chapter contains 55 Sūtras. Vibhūti or Siddhis refers to powers. This chapter details about the attainment of attainment of extrasensory powers and knowledge resulting out of practice of Yoga. The chapter can be seen in six units
- Definition of last three limbs of Aṣṭāṅgayoga – dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi – Sūtras 1-3
- Template for Siddhis – Saṃyama, Clarity and Application – Sūtras 4-6,
- Relative position of the Eight limbs – Sūtras 7-8
- 3 citta-pariṇāma-s (changes in the citta) and 3 bhūtendriyapariṇāma-s (Changes in the five elements and the Senses) – Sūtras 9 –13
- Abiding substratum-Dharmī (among the changing entities), process (Krama) – 14-15
- Siddhis – 16 –48 – Warning about siddhis (37)
- Jñāna-śakti –Supra-mental-sensory /knowledge powers – Sūtras [16 -20], , [25-29] [32 -36], 
- Kriyā-śakti –Supra-physiological/action powers (body) – Sūtras ,[23,24], [30-31], [38 -40], [42-48]
- Kaivalya (Liberation) and associated Siddhis – Sūtras [49-55]
This chapter contains 34 Sūtras. Kaivalya is the ultimate state described in the Yoga system of philosophy. This is an eternal state where the Puruṣa (pure consciousness) is alone – free from the influences Prakṛti (matter). This chapter can be seen in four divisions –
- Five ways to attain Powers-siddhi-pañcakam –1-7 (certain clarifications)
- About -vāsanās –8 -11
- Refutation of Buddhist views on Mind, Consciousness and world, clarification on Nature of citta and puruṣa 12 -24
- Description of a Mind heading towards kaivalya and attainment of Kaivalya, Dharmamegha Samādhi (highest state of Samādhi), Pratiprasava (rolling back of the material world and the citta into Prakṛti) –25-34
The commentaries of Yogasūtras
The commentary literature lore of Yogasūtras is very rich. There is an unbroken succession of commentaries till date since it is composition of Yogasūtras. About 28 Saṃskṛta commentaries have thus far been documented. The commentary literature of Yogasūtras can be seen in two divisions
1) Vyāsa-bhāṣya , its sub-commentaries
2) independent/Direct commentaries
Vyāsa-bhāṣya , its sub commentaries & glosses
Vyāsa’s commentary is considered the closest to the period of Yogasūtras (3rd or 4th Century CE) and hence it is respected as primary commentary. There are four known sub-commentaries to Vyāsa’s commentary to Yogasūtra.
- Tattvavaiśāradī of Vācaspati Miśra (9th or 10th century)
- Vivaraṇa of Śaṅkara (13th Century – not settled with finality)
- Vārttika of Vijñānabhikṣu (15th Century)
- Bhāsvatī of Hariharānanda Āraṇya (19th century) (Apart from this work (Hariharānanda Araṇya also has written a text called Yoga Kārikā – which is a versified presentation of Patañjali Yogasūtras)
Apart from this, two commentaries to the Tattvavaiśāradī exist –
- Pātañjalarahasya by Rāghavānanda sarasvatī (1550-1600 CE) and
- A vritti by Balarāma Udāsīna (1890).
The second category of Commentaries to Yogasūtras in Saṃskṛta is direct commentaries on Yogasūtras. They are as follows –
- Rājamārtāṇḍa by Bhojadeva (1000 CE)
- Maṇiprabhā by Rāmānanda yati (1550-1600 CE)
- Pradīpikā by Bhāvagaṇeśa (1600 – 1700 CE)
- Yogasiddhāntacandrikā and Sutrārthabodhinī by Nārāyaṇatīrtha (1700-1750 CE) (2)
- Brhad Vṛtti and Laghu Vritti by Nāgojibhaṭṭa (1700 – 1750 CE) (2)
- Yogasudhākara by sadaśivendra sarasvatī (1700-1800 CE)
- Yogacandrikā anantadevapaṇḍita (1800 – 1900 CE)
In the 20th Century alone many Saṃskṛta commentaries were written. They include –
1. Vaidika Vritti of Swamin Hariprasada
2. Yoga Pradipika of Baladeva Mishra
3. Kirana of Vallabhacharya (this largely follows Bhojas Rajamartanda)
4. Jnanananda Bhashya of Jnanananda
5. Yogavallī by Sri T Krishnamacharya
Apart from these Saṃskṛta commentaries that span nearly two millennia, commentaries and translations of Yogasūtras and a few of these Saṃskṛta commentaries in various other Indian languages and languages of the world have emerged . The oldest foreign language translation of Yogasūtras is the Persian translation of Yogasūtras of Patañjali: Kitab Patañjali, by Alberuini, 10th Century.
This indicates the popularity of the text and also the foundational nature of contribution of this text to the field of Yoga. A study of the text with one or more of the Saṃskṛta commentaries will give a very good footing in the philosophy and practice of Yoga.
Select Bibliography (for further reading and referencing):
1. Larson, Gerald James & Bhattacharya, Ramshankar, Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume XII, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, Reprint 2016.
2. Karṇāṭaka, Vimalā, vyākhyākaroṃ ke dṛṣṭi se pātañjala-yogasūtra kā samīkṣātmaka adhyayana Varanasi: The Benares Hindu University Saṃskṛta Series, 1974
3. Śāṡtrī GD, editor. Sāṃga Yogadarśana or Yoga Darśana of Patañjali, with the Scholium of Vyāsa and the Commentaries Tattvavaiśāradī, Pātañjalarahasya, Yogavārṭīkā and Bhāsvatī of Vācaspati Miṡra, Rāghavānanda Sarasvatī, Vijñānabhikṡu and Hariharānanda Āraṇya Varanasi: Chaukhamba Saṃskṛta Bhavan; 2007
4. śāstrī, paṇḍita ḍhuṇḍhirāja (Edited with Notes by), Yogasūtram by Maharṣi patañjali, with Six commentaries, Rāja-mārtāṇḍa of Bhoja, pradīpikā of Bhāva-gaṇeśa, vṛttiḥ of Nāgojī-bhaṭṭa, maṇi-prabhā of Rāmānanda-yati, candrikā of Ananta-deva-paṇḍita, yoga-sudhākaraḥ of Sadāśivendra-sarasvatī, Varanasi: Chaukhamba Saṃskṛta Sansthan, Reprint 2009.
5. Rukmani, T S, English Translation and Critical Notes, Yogavārttika Vijñānabhikṣu , Vol.1-4, Munshiram New Delhi: Manoharlal Publishers Private Limited, 2001
6. Yogavaisharadi: A searchable web-repository of classical Yoga literature: https://kymyogavaisharadi.org/