Without a background in yoga philosophy, yoga may seem like simple exercise, but it’s so much more. These two sacred texts are a must-read if you are interested in deepening your practice.
BOOK 1: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Maharishi Patanjali traveled throughout India sometime between 100 B.C.E. and 500 C.E. to study the Holy Science of Yoga as it was being practiced and taught during his lifetime. The repository of his experiences and unique insights form the text that is known as the Yoga Sutras. Consisting of four sections or Padas of the 195 Sutras (a Sutra is a thread or string) in total, the Yoga Sutras is the earliest document outlining the philosophy, goals and techniques of Yoga. The Sutras are laid out as barebones teaching points to be rendered and expanded by a teacher to his/her students.
The Sutras guide us to understand the root of consciousness, the nature of human suffering, the gifts gained through the practice of Yoga and the way to balance consciousness and soul to achieve higher wisdom, integration and liberation.
Each Sutra contains a wealth of ideas and wisdom to guide the aspirant toward full knowledge of his or her true nature. Patanjali describes how through yoga practice, the aspirant can transform themselves, gain mastery over the mind and emotions, overcome obstacles to spiritual evolution and attain the goal of Yoga, which is liberation from the mind.
One basic assumption of the Sutras is that body and mind are part of the continuum of existence with the mind being more subtle than the body. (The intersection of body and mind is the central point of focus for the entire science.)
BOOK 2: The Bhagavad Gita
The Mahabharata is one of the longest epic poems in history and is generally attributed to the Vedic Sage Vyasa. It tells the story of a civil war in ancient India between the sons of Kuru (the Kauravas) and the sons of Pandu (the Pandavas). The Pandavas, upright and virtuous, were cheated of their kingdom, Indraprastha, through a series of unscrupulous games of dice devised by the cunning uncle of Kauravas, Shakuni. The Pandavas obeyed the conditions imposed on them as losers and, after a period of banishment, returned to re-claim their land from their wicked cousins. The Kauravas refused to relinquish their false claim and the Pandavas were forced to wage war to regain their kingdom.
The best-known part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita or Song of the God. It contains 18 chapters and some 700 stanzas in verse. The Bhagavad-Gita is primarily a dialogue between Prince Arjuna (the 3rd Pandavas brother and their most skilled warrior) and Lord Krishna, his uncle, charioteer, teacher and avatar of God. Remaining neutral, Krishna allowed one side to use his vassals in battle while the other side could have him as a charioteer (though he would not fight in battle personally). On the eve of the battle of Kurukshetera, Arjuna sees his near and dear ones arrayed against him and falters, feeling that it is not worth waging a war if the outcome means killing family members, teachers and friends for the sake of the Pandavas’righteous claim. At this point in the narrative, Lord Krishna steps forward to unfurl the Bhagavad-Gita. He encourages Arjuna to take-up arms and fight since the battle to be waged is for a just cause. Prince Arjuna must discharge his duty as a warrior and live out his Dharma. Lord Krishna offers Arjuna the teachings of Yoga (how to achieve Divine Union) and answers his many questions. These discourses and answers form the text of the Gita.
On the level of metaphor, the Kauravas and their supporters represent our evil impulses and the Pandavas represent that which impels us to do good. Our body is the battlefield and Sri Krishna is the portion of God in our spiritual heart that compels us to discharge our duty and do that which is right. The over-arching metaphor is of God and man, face-to-face, and fully engaged in man’s process of discovery and realization of that which lies hidden in the innermost part of our hearts. It is said that when one understands the real message of the Bhagavad-Gita. Lord Krishna reveals himself to that person and embraces them.
The Bhagavad Gita is the central text of the Hindu faith and one of the most crucial texts for those who wish to attain Yoga. It reflects the received wisdom of all Vedic knowledge, simplified so as to be understood by all. The Bhagavad-Gita’s central tenet is that one must endeavor to discharge one’s duties sincerely, without regard for the outcome. “Make every action an act of adoration to the Supreme Self or God.”
The Bhagavad Gita can be a challenging read. You may want to preface it with the Gita Wisdom by Joshua Greene, a modern interpretation of the sacred text.
Happy and soulful reading 🙂