Do you know about Patanjali, the great Indian sage and author of one of the most beloved compilation of yoga verses?
I discovered Patanjali rather organically. The more I studied and practiced yoga, the more his name kept popping up. Finally, I began reading the Yoga Sutras, and came to love and cherish its 195 aphorisms. In this article, we’ll take a look at who Patanjali was, and what he aimed to teach us by writing the revered Yoga Sutras.
Who is Patanjali?
Patanjali is an Indian sage who lived a long, long time ago. His life, and the time frame within which he lived, remain a mystery. He’s most famous for being the author of the popular Yoga Sutras, often referred to as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yoga scholars believe he wrote the Yoga Sutras 1,700 years ago, although the yogic texts may be even more ancient than that.
Father of the Yoga Sutras
Have you heard of the famous Yoga Sutras Patanjali penned? Perhaps you’ve read about them or even dedicated yourself to a full-fledged dive into studying them. Maybe one of your yoga teachers takes quotes from the Yoga Sutras to theme her yoga classes from time to time. If you’ve been practicing yoga for awhile, you may have heard Patanjali’s name, and you might have heard of the Yoga Sutras, but beyond that, maybe you’d like to know more.
What do Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Teach us?
Getting to know Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on an intimate level will no doubt lead you down the path of self-realization. In his yoga sutras, Patanjali explains the eight limbs of yoga, while also laying out a route for becoming a self-realized person. (Learn more in A Journey Through the 8 Limbs of Yoga.)
Patanjali wanted us all to study the Yoga Sutras daily. He wanted us to put them into practice in our everyday lives. He hoped we’d follow the yamas and niyamas---the ethical means of living a good life.
Patanjali also wanted us to have a daily sadhana. According to Patanjali, through a daily practice of asana, pranayama, meditation, and study of the Yoga Sutras, we could all cultivate a true knowing of our infinite Selves, and live a fuller, deeper, and more self-aware life.
By evolving through each step of a daily practice, or sadhana, which includes cleansing the physical body through yoga and pranayama, turning our attention inward (through pratyahara), and possessing a deep inner focus and concentration by meditating (dharana), Patanjali believed we could all achieve the state of Samadhi, or absolute Oneness with the Divine.
While Patanjali clearly explained that reaching this state of Samadhi could take several reincarnations, his Yoga Sutras help us expedite the process. We can thank Patanjali for paving a clear path for those of us who wish to attain enlightenment.
The beauty of Patanjali’s great work is that it really speaks to anyone and everyone who seek a spiritual life. It’s not immersed within the Hindu religion, where deities and myths play starring roles.
His discourse is accessible and practical. It offers us actual steps and practices for spiritual growth. This is probably why it’s such a classic. It remains pertinent even (if not especially) today. The timeless teachings are filled with great wisdom, knowledge, and Spirit. (Learn more in Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha: Patanjali's Definition of Yoga, Explained.)
Who is the Real Patanjali?
Because little is known about the man Patanjali, and much more is known about his great work, it’s difficult to know who he really was. His birth is surrounded by mythical stories. One such story has him falling from the heavensin the form of a snake, a reincarnation of a mythical serpent king.
Other tales surrounding the figure say there was more than one Patanjali. This further confuses matters. What’s known is that, like most spiritual sages of his time, the true Patanjali need not take credit for his work, unlike the limelight-lovin’ yogis of today.
Patanjali knew it was his work, not his personality, that need be passed on and spread to the masses. For this reason, his life story remains rather anonymous, as is the case with many ancient sages.
They all understood their work was ultimately the work of many. No one person can take all the credit for an ancient lineage and thousands of years of wisdom embedded within yogic texts.
What we Know for Sure About Patanjali
What we know for sure about Patanjali is that he really wanted to make these wisdom teachings accessible to all. He wanted laypeople to know and understand what he believed to be the true teachings of yoga, and the path to enlightenment these teachings embody. Patanjali was a great spiritual teacher whose Spirit lives on today through the beloved Yoga Sutras.