Exploring the Yoga Sutras

Tutor: Dr Nicholas Sutton
Start date: 17 January 2021

£145

We consider Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras – the authoritative text on Yoga doctrine and practice – chapter by chapter, sūtra by sūtra. We follow a structure that exactly reflects that designed by Patañjali as the best means of conveying his ideas. We use Dr Sutton’s full modern translation and for assistance and guidance we refer to the traditional commentators.

COURSE DETAILS

Patañjali’s Yoga-Sūtras

  1. Samādhi-pāda: Perception
  2. Sādhana-pāda: Practice
  3. Vibhūti-pāda: Power
  4. Kaivalya-pāda: Liberation

Download Dr Sutton’s verse-by-verse translation of the Yoga Sutras

Session One: From Sāṁkhya to Yoga Sūtras

The Sāṁkhya system of Indian thought provides the philosophical basis for Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, and Patañjali himself makes extensive of Sāṁkhya teachings in his work. So we begin our course with an overview of the precepts of Sāṁkhya. This enables us to better identify and understand the ideas encountered within the Yoga Sūtras.

Session Two: Samādhi-pāda

In this session, we consider the first half of the Samādhipāda of the Yoga Sūtras, noting Patañjali’s definition of yoga. This is followed by his discussion of the conventional movements of the mind and the means by which such movements can be brought under control. We conclude with a discussion of the alternative path of devotion to the Deity, īśvara, which Patañjali introduces in sūtra 23.

Session Three: Transformation through Yoga

After his brief discussion of devotion to the Deity, Patañjali returns to his consideration of the ways in which the mind can be transformed by yoga practice. In this third session we will again follow his line of instruction as he reveals the importance of serenity of mind and two stages of samādhi (self-realisation): samādhi with an object on which the mind is focused and then the absolute absorption of pure seedless samādhi.

Session Four: Problems of Existence

The Yoga Sūtras were composed with the aim of revealing how the repetition of death and rebirth can be stopped. In this session, we consider the first half of the Sādhanapāda in which Patañjali explores the existential problems of this world and explains how these problems can be resolved through yoga.

When truthfulness is firmly established, the results of action become certain.
Yoga Sutras 2.36

Session Five: Introducing Aṣṭāṅga

Turning to the second half of the Sādhanapāda, this fifth session looks at how Patañjali delineates the forms of practice that can resolve the problems of life we looked at in Session 4. This practice consists of the yoga of eight limbs (aṣṭāṅga). In this session we review the first five of these as explained in the Sādhanapāda.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Eight Limbs (aṣṭāṅga) of Yoga

Session Six: Unwavering Concentration

In the sixth session, we begin our review of the third chapter of the Yoga Sūtras, the Vibhūtipāda. This begins with a discussion of the final three of the eight limbs (saṁyama). Patañjali reveals that the advanced practice of saṁyama, in the form of unwavering concentration, enables the practitioner to perform miraculous feats, a description of which forms the main part of the Vibhūtipāda.

Session Seven: The Eternal Entity

Here we consider the final passages of the Vibhūtipāda in which Patañjali shows that advanced saṁyama, including samādhi, brings with it not only supernatural abilities, but also the enlightened knowledge that brings liberation from rebirth. This discussion is then carried forward into the Kaivalyapāda, and in this session we review the opening passages of that chapter in which Patañjali begins to demonstrate the reality of the eternal spiritual entity, ātman or puruṣa, which is our true identity beyond the body and mind.

Session Eight: Liberation

In this final session of the course, we follow the progression of Patañjali’s ideas up to their final conclusion, which is the attainment of kaivalya: liberation from this world. First of all, we notice his refutation of Buddhist views in order to demonstrate the reality of the world and the individual self, and then follow his line of discussion as he reveals that liberation can be attained through knowledge of the spiritual identity of the true self.

Related courses

Philosophy of Yoga | Yoga of the Hatha Pradipika | History of Yoga: Medieval to Modern

HOW IT WORKS

Course delivery is 100% online

7–9 weekly sessions

Study in your own time

Your tutor is available by email and forums

Communicate online with your fellow students

All course materials are delivered via the web

Student forums with tutor participation

Recorded lectures available in video and mp3 format

All required lecture notes included

Audio interviews with specialists in Hindu Studies

Supplementary materials taken from the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies teaching and research programme

Assessment is optional and is on the basis of successful completion of a single essay of 2000 words, with the exception of our Sanskrit courses which are assessed on weekly course work.

Courses can be completed in as little as seven weeks. There is a final deadline for essays or course work of twelve weeks from the beginning of the course.

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