Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali

translations with buddhist commentary

by Wim van den Dungen

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'The wise, by means of an inner concentration on the "ātman" ('adhyātmayoga'), thinking him who is placed in the cavity (in the heart), whose abode is impervious, who exists from times of old, leaves both grief and joy.'
Katha-Upanisad, II.12.

'Verily, there is no merit higher than Yoga, no good higher than Yoga, no subtlety higher than Yoga ; there is nothing that is higher than Yoga !'
Yogashikhā-Upanisad, I.67.

'With mindfulness of the body established, controlled over contact's sixfold base, a bhikkhu who is always concentrated can know Nirvāna for himself.'
The Udāna, 3:5.


available : March 2016


The completely revised edition includes :

Book I, II, III & IV
in English, French & Dutch

It will be available as


Table of Contents


Book I

Fundamental Principles
Five Fluctuations & Kriyā-Yoga
Union : Seedless & Seeded
Theist Presuppositions
Counteracting Hindrances
Alternative Paths to Union
From Seeded to Seedless Union

Book II

The Causes of Sorrow & their Mechanics
The Seer & the Seen
The Morality of the Yogic Path
The Outer Limbs Completed

Book III

The Powers
The Vision of Discernment

Book IV

Interpolated ?
Nature's Will & Conscious Action
Karma and the Yogi
Real Objectivity


English Translation


'When you forget yourself and put your wholehearted effort into facing every moment, you can do something, and simultaneously you can rest in the continuous flow of life energy. Then you really enjoy your life.’ – Katagiri, D. : Each Moment Is the Universe, Shambhala – London, 2008, p.25.

Derived from the root ‘yuj’, meaning ‘to bind together’, ‘yoke’, ‘hold fast’, as in the French ‘joug’ and the Latin ‘jungere’, yoga is a pan-Indian empirical approach of the mind in view of its transformation into something better, a station without woes, existing, having ended ignorance, in living wisdom.  

The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali consists of 195 Sanskrit aphorisms, forming the basic structure of a system codifying the royal or best (‘rāja’) yoga practices. Classical, Royal or Rāja Yoga became one of the Six Schools (‘darshana’) of orthodox (‘āstika’) Hindu philosophy (meaning tolerated by Brahmanism). The underlying soteriology of these schools seeks to liberate the soul (‘ātman’) from suffering and so from cyclic existence (‘samsāra’), the wheel of becoming (‘bhava-cakra’). In this way, the Divine in each of us may unite with the Absolute Being (‘Brahman’). As the entanglement of consciousness with Nature, this ever-changing continuum, is the cause of ignorance and so suffering, the yogi is required to altogether retire from it. 

Grosso modo, Indian spirituality as a whole advanced three paths towards this goal (liberation from suffering), namely ritual activity (as in the Vedic, Brahmanical tradition), mystical devotion (‘bhakti’) and magic, ‘calling upon nothing but the will and personal powers of the ascetic’ (Eliade, 1973, p.76). This last path is identical with yoga (a word first mentioned in the Rig Veda). While these strands promote different approaches, they did influence one another.

The oldest school, Sāmkhya, rejects any concept of God (‘Īshvara’), and deems Nature (‘prakriti’) to collaborate in man’s deliverance. The cosmic substance itself causes the world to exist and delivers the selves (‘purusa’), not God. A yoga based on such a view is atheistic and yogic (magical). It does not need a God to deliver us. Purely by way of the yogic will alone is liberation achieved (this reminds me of Aristotle’s ‘enkrateia’ or ‘to be in power over oneself’). Contrary to this, the mystical strand (found in popular devotion, but also in the upanishadic ascetics) calls to worships the omnipotent Creator-God with pathos, gaining deliverance thanks to Him. Brahmanism too entertains a strictly regulated ritual relationship with God, thus guaranteeing the order of the world and their ascent to heaven in the afterlife.       

Since it saw the light (in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization or Harappan culture of Northern India over 5,000 years ago ?), yoga is a method of training the mind, a practical science of mind aiming at deepening the direct experience of absolute reality, thereby ending suffering, rather than a way to describe or explain the latter (in a theology or a buddhology). Yoga designates any ascetic technique or method of meditation. Yoga always implies spiritual cultivation or meditation (‘bhāvana’). It is the living experience of personal deliverance accomplished by training the will. Individual experience is paramount. This forms the basis of practice and the long process of dispassion, calling either for the gradual restriction of the impact of Nature on consciousness (as in Hindu yoga), or for the arrest of the reification of all possible sensate and mental objects (as in Buddhist yoga). Each time the aim is to better one’s personal existence. And in principle this is attained by cultivating the will of the yogi, nothing more.     No God is necessary. Insofar as magic is defined as change according to will, yoga is a form of magic.     

In a practical sense, yoga is daily spiritual cultivation (‘bhāvana’). Salvation does not necessarily require God. Nevertheless, Patañjali, undertaking to collect and organize all yogic technology whose efficacy was confirmed by tradition, also integrates devotion to God. Both Eliade (1973) and Feuerstein (1979) think this happened because the Lord corresponds to an experiential datum. Yogins who appealed to Him gained liberation, although they could have realized this too without concentrating on Him. And so Patañjali integrated the mystical tradition. As will become clear, I think the devotional component is stronger in Patañjali’s own cherished practice (Action Yoga) than most authors care to admit. For Eliade,  Patañjali’s devotion to his Lord is rarified and intellectual, more like Spinoza’s ‘amor intellectualis Dei’. I suspect more is going on.         

When Hindu yoga, turning theist, as in Classical Yoga, integrated God, it did so in terms of an inherently existing Supreme Being. The latter is the ‘Creator of the Universe’ (‘sristikartā’) and given many names : ‘Īshvara’, ‘Ādi purusa’, ‘Ādi Daiva’, ‘Paramātman’, ‘Parama purusa’, ‘purusa Vishesa’, ‘Vishvacetana’, ‘Antaryāmin’, etc.  

Historically, the Yoga-Sūtra is the second of the two integral expositions of yoga preserved, the first being the yoga incorporated in the many live discourses of Buddha Shākyamuni  with his disciples, who did not refer to God. The Yoga-Sūtra is clearly more elaborate and systematic, summarizing the actual technology of yoga more academically than what is found in the Pāli Canon. Buddhist Yoga intends to awaken the mind to its ultimate potential : the irreversible cessation of suffering on the basis of emptiness (‘shūnyatā’), the radical absence of substantial existence (‘anātman’).   

The Yoga-Sūtra is short, condensed and impersonal, giving us no information about who Patañjali actually was. He is said not to be a founder, nor the leader of a new movement, but rather a codifier or redactor of the yoga lore of his time. If so, the text is a vade mecum of sorts.

‘They represent the strict, sober and sincere trend in Yoga as it was followed by generations of earnest truth-seekers over many centuries, a trend that had previously found expression only in the Buddha’s eightfold path, from with Patañjali obviously benefited.’ (Werner, 1980, p.134).  

Nothing of any degree of historical certainty is known about the author of the Yoga-Sūtra himself. Whether he is identical with Patañjali who wrote the Mahābhāshya, a commentary on the grammar of Pānini composed mid-second century BCE, is not established with certainty. Most Western scholars today do not think this is the case, nor do I. Estimates of the date of composition of the Yoga-Sūtra range between 400 BCE to the third century CE. This could indicate the range of the experiential database from which Patañjali collected and systematized. We know the ascetic movement started around 700 – 600 BCE. The text could be a millennarian storehouse.

Legends circulate about Patañjali. According to the most prominent one, Patañjali was the incarnation of the serpent-king Ananta, a serpent race associated with guarding esoteric lore (the ‘nāgā’-theme also reappears in Buddhist lore). It is said he was the initiator of a school, while others claim he was a solitary yogi. ‘Patañjali’ would be the name given to a string of authors, etc. Finally, more than one contemporary ‘svāmī’ claims to belong to a line of succession (‘paramparā’) going back to Patañjali, said to have established a line of Yoga gurus ... How to prove such claims ?        

Elements of the scheme advanced in the Yoga-Sūtra had been known before Patañjali. Especially parts of the techniques constituting the Eightfold path (‘asta-anga’) can be traced in earlier Upanisads like the Katha and the Shvetāshvatara. Katha refers to sense-withdrawal, breath, and ‘keeping the senses steady as yoga’ (II.iii.10). Shvetāshvatara has posture, breath, sense-withdrawal and concentration.

Patañjali, with his strict severance of ‘seer’ (‘purusa’) and ‘seen’ (‘prakriti’), is often associated with Sāmkhya, deemed the oldest of the six orthodox schools, especially associated with spiritual cultivation (‘bhāvana’). The term ‘sāmkhya’ means ‘discrimination’ (Eliade, 1973), pointing to the dissociation of spirit (‘purusa’) from matter (‘prakriti’), but ‘investigation’ has also been proposed (Garbe, 1894). Its earliest treatise is the Sāmkhya-kārikā of Īshvarakrisna (not later then the fifth century CE). The text (70) however refers to Kapila as the mythical founder of the system (6th century BCE).        

Feuerstein makes clear Patañjali’s own approach is ‘Kriyā Yoga’, or Action  Yoga, constituted by devotion to the Lord (‘Īshvara-pranidhāna’), self-study (‘svādhyāya’, exegesis of scripture) and ascesis (‘tapas’, effort, the application of yogic technology, practice). Note how devotion exceeds.    

In the Yoga-Sūtra the role of devotion (‘pranidhāna’) to Īshvara remains important. Although all forms of Hindu Yoga are present, Patañjali places devotion on high, for in his Action Yoga, ‘Īshvara-pranidhāna’ and the study of the sacred texts (speaking of Him) come first. The role of the Lord in ascesis (‘tapas’) itself is also considerable, for He is the role model of the yogi, without whom there would have been no yoga. And with ‘His grace’ (‘prasāda’), as experience testifies, the Lord brings forth union ... But also without the Lord union remains possible.

The Yoga-Sūtra is divided into four books : 

BOOK I : Samādhi-Pāda – path to union – 51 verses      
BOOK II : Sādhana-Pāda –path to realization –55 verses
BOOK III : Vibhūti-Pāda – path to power – 55 verses
BOOK IV : Kaivalya-Pāda – path to aloneness –34 verses

In Book I, the basic concepts of the text are advanced : the seer (‘purusa’), the seen (‘prakriti’), union (‘samādhi’) and the Lord (‘Īshvara’). In the auditorium, the teachers of yoga are seated. This book summarizes the ‘view’ of Classical Yoga, defining yoga as the radical separation of seen and seer, and pointing to the role of the Lord, who is the archetypal yogi, the ‘guru’ of all previous teachers. What can be gained without His example ? The view reveals an attempt at integration of knowledge (‘jñāna’), devotion (‘pranidhāna’) and ‘karma’ (‘kriyā’). I argue that in the mix, the devotional component outweighs the other two (although the Yoga-Sūtra does not mention ‘bhakti’). 

In Book II, the aspirant is targetted ; not directly, but in terms of what the teacher ought to teach. Starting with the fact of suffering, the causes of woe and their mechanics are identified, as well as the root cause : the association between the seer and seen, the presence of entanglements with Nature. It ends by introducing the outer limbs of the ‘asta-anga’ path, namely morality, posture, breathing and sense-wihdrawal. These are the foundation of practice. This exposition leaps over in Book III, addressing the inner limbs of concentration, contemplation and union, brought together under the heading of ‘constraint’ (‘samyama’). It closes by enumerating the many powers to be attained by the application of constraint on various coarse and subtle objects. Books II and III represent the ‘path’ of Classical Yoga, the means with which the goal (total liberation) can be achieved. Book II deals with the ‘lesser’ teachings, Book III with the ‘higher’.  

Book IV, by some wrongly considered as a kind of addendum or summary, is a study of the philosophy underpinning the path and its fulfilment, aloneness (‘kaivalya’). It studies the ‘fruit’ of the ‘royal path’, accomplishing the isolation of the seer from the seen. This book addresses the yogi, describing the various phenomenological, ontological, moral and spiritual tenets implied by the fruit, the aloneness of the seer.
No historical commentary on this authoritative aphoristic digest by a member of the school of Classical Yoga has yet been found. The two traditional commentators (Vyāsa in the 5th and Vācaspati Mishra in the 9th century) were outsiders. Vyāsa (‘collator’) belonged to the school of Sāmkhya. His commentary, the Yoga-Bhāsya, provides the key to all other exegetes (in the period before 1000 CE, many Sanskrit authors claimed Vyāsa and Patañjali to be the same person). Vācaspati Mishra was a 9th- or 10th-century philosopher of Advaita Vadānta. In the 11th century CE, Al-Bīrunī translated the Yoga-Sūtra into Arab. Via this way, it entered
In recent times, a flood of translations in a multitude of languages emerged. In his outstanding The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali (1979), Georg Feuerstein (1947 - 2012) presented, in tune with academic standards, an excellent close-to-the-text English translation. This, as well as his transliteration of the Sanskrit text, forms the basis of my own translations (in English, French and Dutch). The Sanskrit version can be found at :

Because of its brevity, the Sanskrit is tense and so the balance between accuracy and meaning is rather difficult to maintain, as the available variety of renderings evidences. This writer has been working on the text for a few decades, and found Feuerstein’s basic take to be the most rewarding, combining scientific insight and critical analysis, while stressing yogic experience.   

‘Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of mind-stuff.’ – Woods, 1977, p.8.        

‘Yoga is the suppresion of the modifications of the mind.’ – Āranya, 1981.

‘Yoga is the inhibition of the modifcations of the mind.’ – Taimni, 1991, p.6.

‘Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.’ – Feuerstein, 1979, p.26.    

In his Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali (1993), Iyengar (1918 – 2014), deemed ‘the world's  most respected yoga teacher’, translates II.22 as : ‘The relationship with nature ceases for emancipated beings, its purpose having been fulfilled, but its processes continue to affect others.’ (p.131).   
Compare this with Feuerstein's version :     

‘Although (the seen) has ceased (to exist) for (the yogin whose) purpose has been accomplished, it has nevertheless not ceased (to exist altogether), since it is common-experience (with respect to all) other (beings).’ (p.74).  

Feuerstein painstakingly follows the Sanskrit text. Loyal to the literal meaning, this allows one to understand the text with precision, but does reduce poetic impact.  

Let us compare four translation of the crucial I.41, defining the process of union (‘samādhi’) :  

‘The yogi realizes that the knower, the instrument of knowing and the known are one, himself, the seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, he reflects an unsullied purity.’ – Iyengar, 2002, p.93. 
‘Identification-in-samādhi is when the mental process has dwindled and the mind rests on either the knower or the knowing process or a known object, and like a crystal apparently takes on their respective qualities.’ – Leggett, 1990, p.152.

‘(In the case of a consciousness whose) fluctuations have dwindled (and which has become) like a transparent jewel, (there results) – (with reference to- the “grasper”, “grasping” and the “grasped” – (a state of) coincidence with that on which (consciousness) abides and by which (consciousness) is “anointed”’ – Feuerstein, 1979, p.52. 

‘And when fluctuations have dwindled, consciousness is like a transparent jewel ; there results with reference to the “grasper”, “grasping” and the “grasped” a coincidence with that on which consciousness abides and by which it is “anointed”.’ –
van den Dungen, 1997.      

This last translation is also in this book, followed by a shorter version (in

‘When flux halts, consciousness is like a transparent jewel. “Grasper”, “grasping” and the “grasped” coincide, anointing consciousness.’ 
Feuerstein’s work influenced my earlier translations of the Sūtra (in English, French and Dutch). They return here, except for a few minor changes introduced to further clarify the text. To the English translation a shorter one has been added. This aims to be succinct, less preoccupied with the Sanskrit and offering, when possilble, an alternative sense.

Feuerstein situates Patañjali in the third century CE, placing him outside the Sāmkhya and identifying his system as Kriyā-Yoga instead of the traditional ‘asta-anga’ Yoga. I can only agree. In the English commentary following the translation, the Yoga-Sūtra is confronted with the Buddhadharma. Patañjali’s notion of constraint and the Buddhist Jhānas (as described in the Pāli Canon) are compared. Patañjali's contribution to the understanding of concentration (‘dhāranā’), contemplation (‘dhyāna’) and union (‘samādhi’), together constituting ‘constraint’ (‘samyama’), is highlighted as a teaching to be integrated in the Buddhist view on meditation (‘bhāvana’). Buddhist authors translate ‘dhyāna’ as ‘meditation’, or as ‘concentration’, some even identify it with ‘samādhi’ ...  

The critical demarcation between the ontology advanced by Patañjali and the teachings of Buddha Shākyamuni (ca. 563 - 483 BCE), involves the difference between substance (‘svabhāva’) and its absence (‘nirsvabhāva’). While this may seem to merely point to a metaphysical or philosophical issue, it nevertheless has severe impact on practice, as will be pointed out.         

The outstanding soteriological difference between Classical Yoga and Buddhist Yoga is the absence of theism in the latter. Lord Buddha returns to the original, ‘magical’ sense of yoga, implying the empowerment or initiation of the individual to attain without any help from God. While he does not reject the existence of God (is not atheist), he does not refer to Him (non-theist) and proceeds to identify an alternative (transtheist). We know from the Samyutta-nikāya (II.106) the Tathāgata had ‘seen the ancient way and followed it’. His two teachers were advanced masters of Hindu Yoga. Arāda Kālāma taught a pre-classical Sāmkhya at Vaishālī, while Udraka Rāmaputra was an adept of Yoga. Buddha rejected the exaggerated ascetism of these upanisadic ascetics because it did not end suffering irreversibly. Shākyamuni also opposed Brahmanic ritualism. His way was beyond metaphysical formulas and mystical rules and regulations (deemed ‘idola mentis’). In his analyis of psychomental life, no ‘ātman’ or ‘purusa’ was found ... The self is a process, not a nature. As a process it is impermanent, as are all things, Buddhahood included. So ‘anātman’ moves Buddhist Yoga away from Hindu Yoga altogether, clearly one of the reasons it became non-orthodox (like Jainism). In Hinduism, the self is permanent, and self-existing.  

‘Having meditated on the ‘ātman’, as bodiless among bodies, as permanent among the impermanent, and as great and pervasive, the wise man grieves not.’ – Katha Upanisad, I.ii.22.        

There are those who say Shākyamuni was nothing more than a Hindu secterian. They are wrong. He introduced ‘anātman’ to indicate he rejected the self-existing, inherently existing, unchanging (‘avasthitam’) nature (‘svabhāva’) of what exists, selfhood included. Buddha is not a theologian, but an experientalist. The absence of an inherently existing self (be it universal, as in later Advaita Verdānta or merely phenomenological) is a revolutionary doctrine, making his view leave the Hindu fold, becoming unorthodox. Most of philosophy East and West is substance-driven, and so any process-driven view stand out and makes a huge difference, especially when they manifest as communities of Buddhist practitioners (‘sangha’).  

This absence of a permanent self is not a rejection of the self, nor linked with the impossibility of absolute truth and reality to exist conventionally, as a datum of yogic practice. The Buddhadharma embraces bliss as long as being continuous (nirvanic or ‘true’ peace), it is also impermanent.      

For the Buddha, salvation is the result of a personal effort to understand and at the same time experimentally know the truth. Understanding must exceed mere speculation and the experiential approach may never overwhelm the unconditional. One is ‘saved’ by attaining ‘nirvāna’, moving beyond the plane of profane experience, being reborn (possibly in this life, so the Mahāyāna will affirm) into the sacred life one cannot define or describe.

In the Buddhadharma, this principle of universal relativity (‘svabhāva-shūnyatā’) is carried through and so even applies to Buddhahood and absolute truth. The Lesser Vehicle, seeking salvation for oneself alone, focuses on the absence of an inherently existing self (an ‘ātman’ or  ‘purusa’). In Mahāyāna, realizing the awakening of all sentient beings, all phenomena are attended. For the highest conceptual tenet system, the Prasangika-Mādhyamaka or Middle Way School founded by Nāgārjuna  (c. 150 – c. 250 CE), all sensate and mental objects lack own-form or essential, substantial, inherent existence. The Middle Way school rejects both eternalism (substances, i.e. permanently existing essences) and nihilism (existence has no permanent foundation whatsoever). The Vedas, Brahmanism and Shaivism, i.e. what we now call ‘Hinduism’, is eternalist. Patañjali endorses the eternalist point of view. Buddha advocates to steer between both extremes. Everything exist as impermanent, but in that what changes the absolute exists.

What is at stake here ? If substance is out, then what makes the absolute ‘absolute’, in other words, what is the ‘absoluteness’ of the absolute ? If there is no self-powered entity, then how can anything peaceful, stable and blissful or supramundane be found ? If the Absolute Being, as ‘substance of substances’, no longer guarantees the existence of the world, then how is existence even possible ? Without God the world must surely end !? If the absolute is no longer defined by substantiality, or Beingness, then what makes the absolute stand out so it can still be identified as absolute ? How can there be anything in existence if no absolute being shared by all making this possible exists ? Buddha responds by saying all phenomena possess impermanent conventional and absolute properties, and that Insight Meditations allows the mind to experience this first hand.     
When substance-thinking has bewitched the mind for a long time, it seems as if the absence of substance is the affirmation of nihilism or annihilationism, the notion ongoing becoming has nothing permanent in it, the perspective all is indeed mere perspective, eclipsing the other possibility, namely absolute existence, the pivot necessary to let relativity stand.

The Middle Way avoids the charge of annihilationism because something remains after the false ideation superimposing substance on impermanent process has been removed from the mind. This something is the totality of all phenomena (‘dharmadhātu’), the network of dependent origination, the sea of processes constituting the togetherness of all actual occasions. Unsubstantiality (the absence of substantial existence, not of other-powered existence) does not imply absolute non-existence, the absence of ontological principal (nihilism). When substance is negated the dependent interconnectivity between all possible things remains. While designated by the conceptual mind in terms of concepts, phenomana exist as interconnected, relative wholes with their determinations and conditions. When the wise see emptiness, they see dependent origination and vice versa (Chandrakīrti).

How does this relate to the existence of the absolute ? In this highest tenet system of Buddhism, absolute truth (‘nirvāna’, ‘Dharmakāya’, ‘tathāgatagarbha’, ‘sugatagarbha’) exists conventionally, and is therefore not ontologically different or transcendent. It is a distinct property of each and every object. There is no Platonic separation or gap (‘chōrismós’) between two ontological planes, one relative (becoming) and one absolute (being). Relative and absolute truth are both impermanent and therefore other-powered dependent-arisings, not existing from their own side. The difference is merely one of substantiation. Relative, conventional reality reifies its objects and is therefore a contaminated dependent-arising. Absolute, ultimate reality thoroughly and with no exceptions, negates all possible reification (substantiation, essentialisation) and so is an uncontaminated dependent-arising. In ultimate logic, not a single substance is found.

In other words, independent (‘svatantra’) and substantial (‘svabhāva’) objects, be they sensate or mental, are not established and so non-existent. If objects nevertheless appear as such, then they are illusionary in the sense of dream-like, operational but deceptive. Ultimate logic analytically shows the hypothesis positing substances to lead to invalid consequences. All of existence, both relative and absolute, is found to lack substantiality (fixed essences or a ‘self’) and so is deemed ‘empty‘ (‘shūnyatā’) or ‘self-empty’. This emptiness is not nothingness or voidness, but merely the absence of substantial existence, nothing more or less. When lack of own-form (‘anātman’) or selflessness is attended, dependent origination is experienced. All phenomena are then ‘blissful’, for not deceptive. This unity of wisdom and bliss defines Buddhahood.

Study and reflection lead to understanding emptiness. This initiates Buddhist philosophy. Only meditation realizes and so ‘sees’  emptiness. The difference is central. In the former case, the best conceptual insight (‘prajñā’) is at work, while in the latter case, this can be completely stopped with direct, experiential prehension (‘jñāna’). The goal of Buddhist meditation is to actually exist in what appears, whatever that is. The ‘dharmadhātu’ or suchness of anything is the totality of dependent-arisings logically and functionally defining it (its ‘mahāmudrā’), of which the awakened mind (‘dharmakāya’) is the subjective prehension. So Buddhist philosophy (logic and ontology of how things actually exist), always walks hand in hand with Buddhist meditation (indirect, conceptual and direct, non-conceptual experience of interconnectedness).

Suppose, so the substantialist objects, the absence of substance is indeed the case. Then how can anything absolute stand ? If the absolute exists conventionally, how can it escape the transient nature of the latter ? How can the ever-changing nature of becoming be combined with the notion of something being complete and true in all situations, for all possible things ? How can the everlasting be found in the transitory ? At first sight this seems impossible, much like finding silence in a lot of noise. Buddha nevertheless consistently clarified this. And this is perhaps his greatest teaching. 

One way to ‘explain’ the absolute, without having recourse to the substantial definition of something being an ever-fixed measure or principle in itself, is by saying it cannot be explained conceptually, the absolute being ineffable. Although this is certainly the case, and part of Buddha's view, such an answer, avoiding the question, is philosophically (rationally) unsatisfactory. Another, logically more apt conventional solution, is to say the absolute is not permanent (in the enduring, immobile, fixed, substantial, inherently existing sense), but continuous. This means that while Buddhahood is a dependent-arising, and so impermanent, it has absolute characteristics relative truth totally lacks, for (a) absolute truth is an uncontaminated dependent-arising and (b) absolute truth is continuous.     

Uncontaminated means it is not defiled by the delusion of permanent own-form existing from its own side. This is the same as saying it is empty (lacking essential nature) or ‘pure’. Being unsubstantial, ultimate truth is not non-existing, but a interconnected, unbounded whole. The absolute is a dependent-arising, i.e. a process or state of becoming, but one without any trace of self-power, wholly other-powered. It differs from contaminated, samsaric dependent-arisings because the latter appear as fixed, independent and separate while they are not really so. They are illusions and so truth-concealing, while uncontaminated dependent-arisings are absolutely real and truth-revealing. Due to this illusion, these appearances cause suffering, while the absolute reality of the nirvanic property of each and every object, be it sensate or mental, is salvic, ceasing all possible woe. So in Buddha's view, Nature is not the cause of suffering, but our wrong conceptualization of it, our substance-obsession conjuring the ‘dream of Being’. Where the Hindu tradition presents an ontological view on ignorance, the Buddha is foremost epistemic.        

Furthermore, while being uncontaminated, i.e. impermanent and ‘pure’ (unmixed with ignorance), these extraordinary, nirvanic dependent-arisings are continuous, meaning they exhibit a well-defined perfect movement featuring a special and unique kinetography ‘sui generis’, one remaining, while always moving, constant over time and space. Indeed, the mind of a Buddha (or ‘dharmakāya’) is the union of nature and wisdom. While all Buddhas share the same nature (emptiness), each Buddha’s wisdom is unique insofar as the actual compassionate paths (of their mindstreams) differ.   

This original, continuous ‘holomovement’ (Guenther) is like a perfectly executed dance, bringing to bare the sublime, dynamic continuum of a constant change depending on factors outside itself. This holomovement is a perfect symmetry transformation ‘sui generis’, everlasting and enduring in terms of the style of its specific dynamical flow. This style is like a differential equation, covering all possible different movements of the (nirvanic) holomovement at hand, while remaining formally identical with itself (not changing insofar as the form of the equation itself are concerned).    

In the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, the root of consciousness is called Buddha-nature (‘tathāgatagarbha’) or ‘womb of Buddhahood’ (i.e. awakening-potentiality). This concept was not used by Buddha. But in the Pali Canon we find its equivalent, namely ‘luminous mind’. Later texts refer to ‘brightly shining mind’ (‘prakriti-prabhāsvara-citta’) or ‘radiant light’ (‘prabhāsvara’). These concepts point to the intrinsic purity of the mindstream (Tib. ‘sems-rgyud’) at its most fundamental level (the empty nature of Bodhi-mind).     
‘Luminous, bhikkhus, is this mind, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.’ – Anguttara Nikāya, I.10 (49/9).

In the Fourth Turning (or Tantrayāna), this nirvanic mind is called ‘very subtle mind’, or mind of ‘Clear Light’ (Tib. ‘'od gsal’). This mind is the luminous, spontaneous, aware (Tib. ‘rig pa’) aspect of the mind, always fresh, vast and beyond conceptualization. This mind is ultimate and so distinct from the rest of consciousness (the coarse and subtle minds still belong to ‘samsāra’).

But whereas the luminous mind, in the interpretation of the Middle Way, is not a substance, ‘purusa’ clearly is. Patañjali, and with him Hinduism, never relinquish substance, quite on the contrary. ‘Purusa’ (‘self’), ‘drastri’ (‘seer’), ‘citi-shakti’ (‘power of awareness’), ‘svāmin’ (‘owner’) and ‘Īshvara’ (‘Lord’) all refer to the ontologically transcendent and inherently existing root-consciousness.     

For Patañjali, root-consciousness is ‘aloneness’ (‘kaivalya’), whereas Buddha-nature is an uncontaminated and continuous dependent-arising, one fundamentally interconnected with all other dependent-arisings, be they uncontaminated (Buddhas) or not (sentient beings).  
Together with morality and insight into reality (wisdom), the Buddha viewed meditation (‘bhāvana’), or the practice of yoga, as a training no Buddhist could dispense with. Much later, Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) defined the discipline of the Buddhist by way of three modalities : study (listening and reading), reflection and meditation. The latter, as Calm Abiding and Insight Meditation, anchors the teaching and one's personal conceptual best wisdom insights (‘prajñā’), leading to realizations or prehensions (non-conceptual wisdom, intuition or ‘jñāna’). Without meditation, only superficial knowledge is gained. Without direct prehension, only an approximation of the absolute is possible. The wisdom realizing emptiness may be scholarly, subtle, refined and highly intellectual (‘prajñā’), but without direct yogic experience and integration (‘jñāna’) this remains quite useless for the set purpose of ceasing suffering irreversibly.

Yoga is a salvic technology transforming the mind of the practitioner. It calls for a direct, non-conceptual experience of the Divine, be it theist, non-theist or transtheist. For Buddha, realization means to recognize, know and fully rest in one's luminous, radiating, very subtle, original (primordial) mind or ‘mind-as-such’ (Tib. ‘sems nyid’). For Patañjali, enlightenment is the irreversibly end of the fluctuations of consciousness covering its root, ‘purusa’, the seer. For Shākyamuni, this root of consciousness is a pure and perfect continuous movement interconnected with all possible things, for Patañjali it is the substantial aloneness (‘kaivalya’) realized with the mind is totally calm and so able to recognize the power of awareness itself, and this totally devoid of any outer object, absolutely divided (divorced) from Nature, absolutely turned inward and only aware of objectless consciousness. For Buddha, duality itself poses no problem (only its reification does). For Patañjali, in my commentary at times reverently called ‘our teacher’, duality ends with final liberation (‘Dharma-megha-samādhi’).

English Translation


1.1 Now (begins) an exposition of yoga.

1.2 Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.

1.3 Then the seer stands in his own form.

1.4 At other times, there is conformity with this flux.

1.5 This flux is fivefold ; afflicted or non-afflicted.

1.6 They are : valid cognition, misconception, conceptualization, sleep and memory.

1.7 Valid cognition is based on perception, inference and testimony.

1.8 Misconception is false knowledge not based on the appearance of its object.

1.9 Conceptualization is without perceivable object, following verbal knowledge.

1.10 Sleep is a fluctuation resting on the thought of non-occurrence.

1.11 Remembering is not being deprived of the experienced object.

1.12 Restrict these through practice and dispassion.

1.13 Practice is the effort to gain stability in that restriction.

1.14 This is firmly grounded only when cultivated properly and for a long time uninterruptedly.

1.15 Dispassion is the smart volition of one without thirst for sensate and revealed objects.

1.16 Superior to that is non-thirsting for the strata of Nature resulting from the vision of purusa.

1.17 Union-with-seed (arising out of this restriction) is called ‘cognitive’ by being connected with cogitation, reflection, joy and I-am-ness.

1.18 The other (union-without-seed) has a residuum of reactors and follows the former when the thought of cessation is practiced.

1.19 The union of those who have merged with Nature and those who are bodiless is due to their focus on the thought of becoming.

1.20 Union-without-seed is preceded by faith, energy, mindfulness, union-with-seed and supra-cognition.

1.21 This is near to him who is extremely vehement in yoga.

1.22 Because this can be modest, medium or excessive, the result differs.

1.23 Or union through devotion to the Lord.

1.24 The Lord is a special purusa untouched by the causes of sorrow, karma and its fruition and the deposit in the depth-memory.

1.25 In Him the seed of all-knowing is unsurpassed.

1.26 He was also the mentor of the earlier ones by virtue of His temporal non-boundedness.

1.27 His word is OM.

1.28 Recite it to realize its meaning.

1.29 Hence the attainment of inwardmindedness and also the disappearance of the get betweens.

1.30 Sickness, languor, doubt, heedlessness, sloth, dissipation, false vision, non-attaining the stages of yoga and instability are the distractions of consciousness ; these are the obstacles.

1.31 Pain, depression, tremor of the limbs, wrong inhalation and exhalation jointly become with the distractions.

1.32 In order to counteract these, practice (concentration) on a single principle.

1.33 To show friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity -be they joyful, sorrowful, meritorious or demeritorious- pacifies consciousness.

1.34 Or through controlled expulsion and retention of breath.

1.35 Or it comes about when a heightened sensoric activity has arisen which holds the mind steady.

1.36 Or by the sorrowless and illuminating.

1.37 Or when consciousness is directed to those who conquered attachment.

1.38 Or when resting on knowledge arising from dream and sleep.

1.39 Or through contemplation as desired.

1.40 His mastery extends from the most minute to the greatest magnitude.

1.41 And when fluctuations have dwindled, consciousness is like a transparent jewel ; there results with reference to the ‘grasper’, ‘grasping’ and the ‘grasped’ a coincidence with that on which consciousness abides and by which it is ‘anointed’.

1.42 So long there is conceptual knowledge based on the meaning of words, the state is called ‘coincidence mixed with cogitation’, or conceptual union.

1.43 When the depth-memory is purified, as it were empty of its essence and the object alone is shining forth, the state is empty of cogitations, or non-conceptual union.

1.44 Thus by these forms the other two types of union, subtle and ultra-subtle are explained ; they use subtle objects.

1.45 And the subtle objects terminate in the undifferentiate.

1.46 These forms of coincidence (conceptual, non-conceptual, subtle and ultra-subtle) verily are with seed.

1.47 When there is a autumnal brightness in ultra-subtle union, the state is the clarity of the inner being.

1.48 In this state of lucidity, insight is truth-bearing.     

1.49 The scope of this differs from that gained from what one heard and inferred ; this owing to its particular purposiveness.

1.50 The reactor born from that binds all others.

1.51 When also this is restricted, owing to the restriction of all, union-without-seed ensues.     



2.1 Ascesis, self-study and devotion to Īshvara constitute the yoga of action.

2.2 This yoga aims at cultivating union and attenuating the causes of sorrow.

2.3 Nescience, I-am-ness, attachment, aversion, the will-to-live are the five causes of sorrow.

2.4 Nescience is the field of the other causes ; they can be dormant, thin, cut off or aroused.

2.5 Nescience is the seeing of the eternal, pure, joyful and the ātman in the ephemeral, impure, sorrowful and in what is not ātman.

2.6 I-am-ness is the identification as it were of the seer and the capacity of seeing.

2.7 Attachment is that which rests upon pleasant experiences.

2.8 Aversion rests on sorrowful experiences.

2.9 Thus the will-to-live, flowing along by its own inclination, is rooted even in the sages.

2.10 The subtle form of these (causes of affliction), namely the reactors and thoughts during union, has to be overcome by the process of (spiritual) counter-flow.

2.11 The crude form of these causes of sorrow are to be left behind by contemplation.

2.12 The causes of sorrow are the root of the action-deposit and this may be experienced in this or in a future incarnation.

2.13 So long as the root exist there is fruition from it in the form of birth, a span of life and enjoyment.

2.14 These have delight or distress as results, according to the meritorious or demeritorous causes.

2.15 Because of the sorrow present in the transformation of Nature, in its anguish, in its reactors and due to the conflict between the movements of Nature, to the discerner all is merely sorrow.

2.16 What is to be abandoned is the sorrow yet to come.

2.17 The correlation made between the seer and the seen is the cause of that which is to be overcome.

2.18 The seen has the character of brightness, activity and inertia ; is embodied in elements and sense-organs and serves the purpose of enjoyment and emancipation.

2.19 The strata of Nature are : the particularized, unparticularized, differentiate and undifferentiate.

2.20 The seer is sheer seeing, but though pure, sees through the mind (and its thoughts).

2.21 The essence of the seen is only for the sake of this seer.

2.22 Although the seen has ceased to exist for he who has accomplished his purpose, it has nevertheless not ceased to exist, since it is a common experience to all others.

2.23 The correlation causes the seer to apprehend the own form of the power of the owner and of the owned.

2.24 The cause of this is ignorance.

2.25 When this disappears the correlation ceases ; this is cessation, the aloneness of seeing.

2.26 The means of cessation is the unceasing vision of discernment.

2.27 For he who possesses this there arises, in the last stage, prajñā, which is sevenfold.

2.28 Through the performance of the members of yoga and with the dwindling of impurity, the radiance of true knowledge comes about, up to the vision of discernment.

2.29 Restraints, observances, posture, breath-control, sense-withdrawal, concentration, contemplation and union are the eight.

2.30 Non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity and greedlessness are the restraints.

2.31 Valid in all spheres, irrespective of birth, place, time and circumstance are these. They are the great vow.

2.32 Purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and devotion to the Lord are the observances.

2.33 For the repelling of unwholesome thoughts cultivate their opposites.

2.34 Thoughts such as harming etc., whether done, caused to be done or approved, whether arising from greed, anger or delusion, whether modest, medium or excessive - these find their unending fruition in nescience and sorrow ; so cultivate their opposites.

2.35 When grounded in non-harming, all enmity is abandoned in one's presence.

2.36 When grounded in truthfulness, one masters action and its fruition.

2.37 When grounded in non-stealing, all jewels appear.

2.38 When grounded in chastity, vitality is obtained.

2.39 When settled in greedlessness one secures knowledge of the wherefore of one's births.

2.40 Purity gives a distance towards one's limbs and the desire of non-defilement by others.

2.41 Furthermore, also purity of beingness, gladness, one-pointedness, mastery of the sense-organs and the capability of seeing one's ātman are achieved.

2.42 Through contentment unexcelled joy is gained.

2.43 Through austerity, as impurity dwindles, power over body and sense-organs.

2.44 Through self-study, contact with the chosen deity.

2.45 Through devotion to the Lord, union.

2.46 Posture is steady and comfortable.

2.47 This is accompanied by the relaxation of tension and the coinciding with the endless.

2.48 Hence, the pairs of opposites are unable to strike.

2.49 When this is achieved, breath-control (the cutting off of the flow of inhalation and exhalation) should be practised.

2.50 Breath-control is external, internal and fixed in its flux, it is regulated by place, time and number, it can be protracted or contracted.

2.51 Transcending the external and the internal sphere is called ‘the fourth’.

2.52 So the covering of the (inner) light disappears.

2.53 And the mind is fit for concentration.

2.54 Sense-withdrawal is the imitation as it were by the sense-organs of the own form of consciousness by disuniting from their objects.

2.55 Hence the supreme obedience of the sense-organs.



3.1 Concentration is the binding of consciousness to a single spot.

3.2 Here, the one-directionality of the thoughts related to the object of concentration is contemplation.

3.3 That, shining forth as the object of concentration -as it were empty of its own form- is union.

3.4 The three together are constraint.

3.5 Through mastery of that prajñā flashes forth.

3.6 Its progression is gradual.

3.7 Compared with the previous members these three are inner.

3.8 Yet in relation to union-without-seed they are outer members.

3.9 The restriction-transformation connected with consciousness in its moment of restriction is the subjugation of the reactors of emergence and the outgoing of that of restriction.

3.10 The calm flow of this is effected through reactors.

3.11 Union-transformation is the dwindling of all-objectness and the uprising of one-pointedness.

3.12 Then, when the quiescent and the uprisen thoughts are similar, the one-pointedness-transformation of consciousness occurs.

3.13 By this are explained the transformations of form, time-variation and condition with regard to the elements and the sense-organs.

3.14 The form-bearer is that which follows the quiescent, the uprisen or the indeterminable.

3.15 The cause of the difference in the transformations is the differences in the sequence.

3.16 Through constraint on the three forms of transformation comes knowledge of past and future.

3.17 The sound, the object and the thought are superimposed on one another in a confused way. Through constraint on the distinction of these, there arises knowledge of the sounds of all living beings.

3.18 Through a perception of the reactors, knowledge of previous births.

3.19 Through the thoughts of another, knowledge of his consciousness.

3.20 But not of that which supports this, for it is absent from it.

3.21 Through constraint on the form of the body, upon the suspension of the capacity to be perceived, meaning the disruption of the light travelling from that body to the eye, invisibility.

3.22 Karma is acute or deferred. Through constraint thereon, or from omens, knowledge of the time of death.

3.23 Through constraint on friendliness etc., the powers of that quality.

3.24 Through constraint on the power of the elephant etc., the strength of it.

3.25 By focusing the flashing-forth of mental activities on any object, knowledge of its subtle, concealed and distant aspects.

3.26 Through constraint on the Sun, knowledge of the world.

3.27 Through constraint on the Moon, knowledge of the arrangement of the stars.

3.28 Through constraint on the pole-star, knowledge of their movement.

3.29 Through constraint on the navel wheel, knowledge of the organization of the body.

3.30 Through constraint on the throat wheel, the cessation of hunger and thirst.

3.31 Through constraint on the tortoise duct, steadiness.

3.32 Through constraint on the light in the head, vision of the perfected ones.

3.33 Or in a flash-of-illumination all is known.

3.34 Through constraint on the heart, understanding of consciousness.

3.35 Experience is a thought based on the non-distinction between absolutely unblended purusa and beingness. Knowledge of purusa comes from constraint on the own-purpose of purusa, apart from the other-purposiveness of Nature.

3.36. Hence, a flash-of-illumination in hearing, sensing, sight, taste and smell.

3.37 These are obstacles to union, but attainments in the waking-state.

3.38 Consciousness can enter another's body on relaxation of the cause of attachment and through the experience of going forth.

3.39 Through mastery of the up-breath, one gains the power of non-adhesion to water, mud and thorns and levitation.

3.40 Through mastery of the mid-breath one acquires effulgence.

3.41 Through constraint on the relation between ear and ether, the Divine ear.

3.42 Through constraint on the relation between body and ether and through the coincidence with light objects such as cotton, the power of traversing the ether.

3.43 An external, non-imaginary fluctuation is the ‘great incorporeal’ from which comes the dwindling of the coverings of the (inner) light.

3.44 Through constraint on the coarse, the own-form, the subtle, the connectedness and the purposiveness of objects, mastery over the elements.

3.45 Hence the manifestation of powers such as atomisation etc., the perfection of the body and the indestructibility of its constituents.

3.46 Beauty, gracefulness and adamant robustness are the perfection of the body.

3.47 Through constraint on the process of perception, the own-form, I-am-ness, connectedness and purposiveness, mastery over the senses.

3.48 Hence fleetness of mind lacking sense-organs and mastery over the matrix of Nature.

3.49 For he who has merely the vision of discernment between purusa and beingness the supremacy over all states and omniscience ensues.

3.50 Through dispassion even to that, with the dwindling of the seed of the defects, aloneness.

3.51 The invitation of the high-placed gives no cause of attachment or pride, because of the renewed and undesired inclination.

3.52 Through constraint on the moment and its sequence, knowledge born of discernment.

3.53 Hence the awareness of the difference between similars which cannot normally be distinguished due to the continuity of the distinctions of class, appearance and position.

3.54 The knowledge born of discernment is the ‘deliverer’ and is omni-objective, omni-temporal and non-sequential.

3.55 Thus, with the equality in purity of the sattva and purusa, aloneness.  


4.1 The powers are the result of birth, herbs, mantra, ascesis or union.

4.2 The transformation into another category of existence is possible because Nature is superabundant.

4.3 The cause-without-measure does not initiate Nature but -as a farmer- singles-out possibilities.

4.4 Individualized consciousness proceeds from the primary I-am-ness.

4.5 These individualized consciousnesses are engaged in distinct activities, but the one consciousness is the originator of the others.

4.6 Of these individualized consciousnesses, that born out of contemplation is without subliminal deposit.

4.7 The karma of the yogi is neither black or white ; that of the others is threefold.

4.8 Thence follows the manifestation only of those subliminal traits corresponding to its fruition.

4.9 On account of the uniformity between the depth-memory and the subliminal activators there is a causal relation, even though separated in terms of place, time and birth.

4.10 These are without beginning because of the perpetuity of the primordial will.

4.11 Because of the connection (of subliminal traits) with cause, fruit, substratum and support, it follows that with the disappearance of these, the disappearance of those is brought about.

4.12 Past and future as such exist, because of the difference in the paths of the forms.

4.13 These are manifest or subtle and composed of the gunas.

4.14 The ‘that-ness’ of an object derives from the homogeneity in the transformation.

4.15 In view of the multiplicity of consciousness as opposed to the singleness of an object, both belong to separate levels.

4.16 And the object is not dependent on a single consciousness. This is unprovable. Besides, what could this possibly be ?

4.17 An object is known or not by reason of the required coloration of consciousness by it.

4.18 Because of the immutability of purusa, the fluctuations of consciousness are always known by its superior.

4.19 That fluctuating consciousness has no self-luminosity because of its seenness.

4.20 And so it is impossible to cognise both consciousness and its object simultaneously.

4.21 If consciousness were perceived by another this would lead to a regress from cognition to cognition, confusing memory.

4.22 When the unchanging awareness assumes the shape of that consciousness, experience of one's own cognitions becomes possible.

4.23 Provided consciousness is coloured by the seer and the seen, it can perceive any object.

4.24 That consciousness, though speckled with countless subliminal traits, has its own other-purpose due to (being limited to) its collaborate activity.

4.25 For him who sees the distinction, there comes about the discontinuation of the cultivation of the false self-sense.

4.26 Then consciousness -inclined towards discernment- is borne onwards towards aloneness.

4.27 In the intervals of that consciousness, other thoughts may arise from the reactors.

4.28 Their cessation is achieved in the same way as described for the causes of sorrow.

4.29 Always non-usurious even in that consciousness and through the vision of discernment, a union designated as ‘cloud of Dharma’ ensues.

4.30 Hence the discontinuation of the causes of sorrow and of karma.

4.31 Then, when all coverings of imperfection are removed, little remains to be known because of the infinity of knowledge.

4.32 Hence the termination of the sequences in the transformation of the gunas, whose purpose is fulfilled.

4.33 ‘Sequence’ means that which is correlative to the moment, apprehensible at the terminal point of a transformation.

4.34 The process-of-evolution of the gunas, devoid of the purpose for purusa, is aloneness, the establishment of the power of awareness in its own form. End.


Nick Evans in Viranchyāsana

With thanks to Yogi Nick Evans who was so kind and generous to share his chanting of the Yoga-Sūtra.

The chanting of the book is preceded by an invocation and ends with a short prayer.





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Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2016
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 20 I 2014 - last update : 29 I 2016 - version n°1