By Tom Hess
Many consider the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to be the most important chapter of the text for the practitioner of yoga because it describes the actual practices that one should do to follow the path of yoga.
Patanjali starts out in this chapter by defining Kriya Yoga, which is discipline, self-study, and orientation toward the ideal of pure awareness. These are also part of the eight limbs of yoga, which we will see later in the chapter.
Then he describes the kleshas, or obstacles toward the path of yoga. They are ignorance of who we really are, ego or attachment to the false self, attachment toward the things that are pleasant, aversion toward the things that are unpleasant, and clinging to the physical self that is finite. All of these things are obstacles to the path of yoga, according to Patanjali. These kleshas can be overcome by following the path of yoga. According to Patanjali, the wise see suffering in all experience, the good and the bad.
After the kleshas comes a description of karma, which is the accumulation of latent impressions or imprints, either positive or negative, that then have an effect on how one acts in the future. A person will have a pleasant or unpleasant life according to the latent impressions (karma) that he or she has acquired throughout his or her life. Good actions and thoughts lead to pleasant experiences. With the path of yoga we can overcome these habitual patterns so that our actions come from the true self rather than from the preexisting patterns of behavior.
Then comes a description of the gunas, or qualities of humans. They are tamas, or inertia, rajas, or activity, and sattva, or the illumined condition. These qualities we all have all the time and when we identify ourselves with these qualities rather than with the true self, this leads us to a state of ignorance or false identification. When we see beyond these qualities to the true self the ignorance is lifted. This is true freedom—when we can see the true self within ourselves rather than the image that the mind has created for ourselves.
Then Patanjali describes the eight limbs of yoga, or Ashtanga (eight-limb) Yoga. These are the main practices that the practitioner of Patanjali’s method of yoga is encouraged to follow. Another name for Patanjali’s yoga is Raja Yoga or Royal Yoga.
The first limb is yama, or moral observances; there are five of them—the first is ahimsa, or nonharming, the second is satya, or truthfulness, the third is asteya, or nonstealing, the fourth is brahmacarya, or celibacy, and the fifth is aparigraha, or freedom from greed for possessions.
The second limb is niyamas, or restraints; there are five of them—the first is sauca, which means cleanliness and purity, the second is svadyaya, or study of the self and of ancient texts, the third is tapas, or fervor for practice, the fourth is santosha, or contentment, and the fifth is isvara pranhidhana, or surrender to the idea of pure awareness.
The third limb of yoga is asana, or the physical postures practiced for nourishment and illumination of the body.
The fourth limb of yoga is pranayama, or the practice of managing the breath so that the breath encourages the prana of the body to circulate and percolate within.
The fifth limb of yoga is pratyahara, or the practice of removing and controlling the senses of perception to look within. This inner quest or vision is more clearly felt inside oneself when external distractions are minimized.
This is where the second chapter ends and we will pick up the last three limbs of yoga next issue when we look at the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.