It’s been over four months since I started this Sutra a Day project….
Perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s not easy at all times for me to map my everyday existence onto to the three thousand year old aphorisms of Patanjali (or vice versa). But then it wasn’t easy for blogger Julia Powell of Julie and Julia fame to cook all of Ms. Child’s recipes while writing about how the task was wreaking havoc on her personal life; not easy is the very definition of a challenge. As a yogini, I think I’m supposed to exude calm and relaxation while accomplishing this challenge, aren’t I?
In my favour, I have some heavy hitting Sutra commentators by my side. Patanjali is such a pithy writer that when his aphorisms are unpacked, they end up being described quite differently by the various translators I consult with.
This is in itself interesting because so much of what Patanjali is describing has to do with our very perceptions, how what we see is not necessarily what we get, and how we can live our entire lives climbing a ladder that’s leaning against the wrong building.
My favourite commentator is Vyn Bailey, now many years deceased. I don’t even know if he is the most accurate or scholarly, but he is home grown, a Catholic priest and quite accessible to a beginner like me. Here’s a little taste of Father Bailey speaking on non-violence (ahimsa): “As a practical rule of life, the formula that most appeals to me is simple: let no one, no creature be afraid of me.” Beautiful.
At the opposite end of the translation spectrum is Georg Feuerstein. Here’s how he translates today’s Sutra: “The seen [i.e. Nature] has the characteristics of brightness, activity, and inertia; it is embodied in elements and sense-organs [and it serves] the [dual] purpose of enjoyment and emancipation.” Actually, that one isn’t even too dense, as his translations go. Feuerstein may be the foremost authority on yoga in the Western world at this time, but I can’t quite broach the heights of his scholarly intellect, as yet.
I like the Parisian yoga teacher Bernard Bouanchaud for his way of throwing the aphorisms back at us students so we can tease out the knots through our own personal reflections. For instance, as regards today’s Sutra, Bouanchaud asks: “Does clarity, movement or inertia predominate in my temperament? How can I develop or diminish clarity, movement or inertia when necessary?” Probing questions are Bouanchaud’s speciality.
B.K.S. Iyengar is, as you’d expect, interested in integrating the Sutra with yoga practice. In Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, for instance, in speaking of mastery of asana, he says that it cannot happen merely by surrendering to God. Perfection in asana practice must happen, according to the Pune Acharya, “by perseverance, alertness and insight.” And then, “Perfection in asana brings unalloyed happiness, blessedness and beatitude.”
T.K.V. Desikachar has the slimmest book, Patanjali’s Yogasutras, with the fewest words in his commentary. He relies on western terminology and steers away from esoteric conceptualising. With the brevity of his explanation, it seems to me that he departs from his colleagues’ strict interpretations, at times. Or perhaps, he just sees things differently, dusting off the Old Sage, and giving him modern dress.
I love Satyananda’s commentary, Four Chapters on Freedom, for its fine mixture of plainspeak, anecdotes, and purity.
Then, there’s Chip Hartranft who writes his translation, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, so that it could be read from beginning to end, in a manner not quite novelistic, but a page-turner, nevertheless. His gift is a book that is fresh, lucid, and moves the reader in the direction of realising what this thing called yoga is really all about.
Challenged as I am, I do feel honoured that everyday I as I grapple with my self-imposed task, I get to hang out in very fine company indeed.
Do you have a favourite translator/commentator?
Prakasakriyasthitisilam bhutendriyatmakam bhogapavargartham drsyam
What is perceived has clarity, movement, and inertia and is made up of the elements and the eleven senses. It can lead to sensory experience and to deliverance.*
*The Essence of Yoga, Bernard Bouanchaud.