This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:
When I started studying Yogasutras with my Guru Sri T Krishnamacharya, at the first reading, he went through each word one by one in every sutra. He would explain each Sanskrit word giving the derivation of the words from possibly its root and then the description of the word in the context in which it was used. This way the student would be able to understand the sutra meaning without being unduly influenced by free commentaries written in other languages like Tamil or English or even Sanskrit. It took quite some time to go through the sutras but it would help the student to stay close to the text. It will also help the student to properly use the more detailed commentaries like Vyasa, Bhoja and contemporary writers later on.
The yogasutras start with the word atha (अथ) an avyaya (अव्यय), or indeclinable, word having six different meanings but here it would be “Now”. Then the important word Yoga. Yoga (योग) can be a derivative from two different roots ‘yujir’ meaning yoking or union– ‘yujir-yoge’ (युजिर् योगे)– a commonly known interpretation among modern yogis. The other root from which this word is derived is ‘yuja’ meaning Samadhi (yuja samadhou- युज समधौ ) which root Patanjali uses in his Yogasutras. Incidentally one finds that Vyasa says योगः समाधिः yogah samādhiḥ or yoga is samadhi. Sankara explains the term as –योगो युक्तिः समाधानम् yogo yuktiH samādhānam– meaning yoga has two meanings one yukti (युक्तिः) or union and the other samadhanam (समाधानम्) or absolute peace of mind. Yoga meaning union is also used by several other yoga systems like (भक्ति योग bhakti yoga), (हठ योग haTha yoga) or ( कुण्डलिनी kuṇḍalinī).
When yoga is used in the sense of union, then it should have two principles, compatible with each other and there should be movement between them, towards each other. Then my Guru went on to explain how systems coming under yoga as union act. Union of (जीवात्मा परमात्मा– jīvātmā and paramātmā) as in Bhakti yoga (भक्ति योग) and as defined by yājñavalkya (याज्ञवल्क्य) in his Yogayājñavalkya ( योगयाज्ञवल्क्य), then prana and apana (प्राणापान) union as in hatayoga ( हठ योग) or union between ( शिव-शक्ति) śiva-śakti as in kuṇḍalinī yoga (कुण्डलिनी योग). But in yoga sutra there is no union, it talks about transformations that take place in one tatva, the citta (चित्त), culminating in its complete cessation of activities or simply permanent peace of mind.
Anuśāsana (अनुशासन ) is the next word. It consists of a prefix ‘anu’ then the word śāsana (शासन ). Anu in this context would be ‘consistent with’. śāsana would be ‘to command or teach authoritatively’ — śāśu anuśiṣṭau (शाशु अनुशिष्टौ) . So the scriptures came to be known as śāsana (शासन) or śāstra (शास्त्र) . Here the word śāsana (शासन ) would mean the vedas on which the sutra draws its inspiration. Then, the prefix ‘anu’ would mean ‘consistent with the vedas’ or the scriptures. So Patanjali indicates that his work on yoga is consistent with the vedas, the authoritative text. He wanted to distinguish his work from several others at that time which used the word yoga but did not follow the scriptures/vedas. They were avaidika yogas.
The next word is citta चित्त . Citta is the brain, the complex organ that appears to have among other things, ‘consciousness’, even as it is just a piece of meat and has no consciousness. Cit is consciousness, the ultimate reality as per Vedanta. It is the independent entity, a non changing witness to the activities of the citta as per Samkhya and yoga. Citta is that which masquerades as pure consciousness or cit– cidiva bhāvayati iti cittam ( चिदिव भावयति इति चित्तम्), he would say.
Then the word vritti ( वृत्ति), it is activity. Vritti (वृत्ति) is associated with one’s avocation –vRtti jīvane वृत्ति जीवने, here the activities of citta or the brain. What are its activities? It is not just fluctuation of the mind but a whole set of activities. Patanjali himself would list them in a subsequent sutra. So cittavritti would be the activities of the citta (चित्त)
Then the word nirodha (निरोध) . It is rodha(रोध) with the prefix ‘ni’ here indicating ‘nitaram’ or always. Rodha is a derivative of the root ‘rudhir’ meaning to restrain all around. It is rudhir āvaraṇe (रुधिर् आवरणे) as per dhatu pata. So, Nirodha would mean restraining completely and permanently, the vrittis of citta. Yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ (योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः) is how Patanjali defines Yoga. Here he is dealing with cittavritti alone and there is no other principle with which the vriti is to be united. So even as per the definition of Patanjali, yoga is not union in this context. Further the phrase (samāsa समास)–vrittinirodha (वृत्तिनिरोधः)– when unzipped (vigraha विग्रह) would be vRttīnāṁ nirodhaḥ (वृत्तीनां निरोधः) or the cessation of the multitue of vrittis that one encounters all through life
TadA (तदा) means then,… consequently. The next word is draStuh ( द्रष्टुः). It is the singular possessive case of the noun dRStR ( द्रष्टृ). dRStR ( द्रष्टृ) means ‘seer’, the one that constantly observes or the one that is the subject, the objects being the cittavrittis. The word draStuh ( द्रष्टुः) comes from the root dRś (paśy) दृश् पश्य् meaning to see. draStuh ( द्रष्टुः) would then be ‘of the seer’. Svarūpa ( स्वरूप) is sva+ rupa. sva is one’s own and rupa is form, svarupa would be in one’s real self.
Avasthānam (अवस्थानम्) is ava+sthānam ava the prefix would be ‘down’ and sthānam would be ‘to get established’. Avasthana then would be ‘settling down in oneself –Svarūpa ( स्वरूप)’. The sutra would then mean that the drashta, the seer or subject is established in oneself. However the Self is always established in itself. So, it would indicate that this becomes known to the citta. Since sutras are devoid of verbs for the sake of brevity one has to add the appropriate verb here which would be ‘bhavati’ or ‘it happens’.
This is the state of yoga. What happens if this yoga state is not reached or rather what is the condition of the citta of non yogic mortals like us? The next word to take up will be sārūpyam (सारूप्यम्). This is derived from the word Sarūpa as opposed to Svarūpa ( स्वरूप)’ discussed in the previous paragraph. While svarupa would mean the real thing, sarupa would indicate an image, something that is unreal but capable of masquerading as the real one. Sārūpyam (सारूप्यम) would be a created image that could be mistaken for the real thing.
The next phase is इतरत्र . Itaratra (इतरत्र), itara+tra. Itaratra could be ‘here, on the other hand’, meaning when the citta is not in the yogic state of nirodha. In the non yogic state (itaratra) the vritti that the mind assumes, Sārūpya (सारूप्य) or an unreal image as the real self. The citta mistakes the physical person that is seen as the real self during waking state and the dream self as the real self in the dream state and both are false images or sārūpya (सारूप्य)
In the next sutra, Patanjali groups the cittavrittis into five categories. Let me stop here. My Guru in a similar vein completed all the sutras before returning to discuss the Vyasa commentary. Of course this write up is a brief and a pale representation of how he taught as I am writing this from the pleasant memory of my studies of the sutras with him that happened 40 to 50 years ago.
When I was young I had a few friends from the Sanskrit college in Madras working for their Sanskrit degree. One of the optional subjects for them was Yoga Sutras. They found it an extremely dry subject. But Krishnamacharya made the Sutras for us one of the most gripping subjects. In fact he made all the subjects he taught very interesting– the upanishads, the Gita , samkhya karika or whatever he taught. He was an outstanding Acharya, a master teacher of asanas .chanting and philosophy. He taught them all with equal facility.