How To Know God     – The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
By Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Please see book for detail and commentary. This is a fairly simple to undersatnd translation.

Chapter I        Yoga and Its Aims

1.      This is the beginning of instruction in yoga.

2.      Yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind.

3.      Then people abide in their true nature.

4.      At other times, when he is not in the state of yoga, man remains identified with the vrittis in the mind.

5.      There are 5 kinds of thought waves – some painful, others not painful.

6.      These 5 kinds o thought waves are:  right knowledge, wrong knowledge, verbal delusion, sleep and memory.

7.      The right kinds of knowledge are: direct perception, inference and scriptural testimony.

8.      Wrong knowledge is knowledge which is false and not based upon the true nature of its object.

9.      Verbal delusion arises when words do not correspond to reality.

10.  Sleep is a wave of thought about nothingness.

11.  Memory is when perceived objects are not forgotten but come back to consciousness.

12.  They are controlled by means of practice and non attachment.

13.  Practice is the repeated effort to follow the disciplines which give permanent control of the vrittis of the mind.

14.  Practice becomes firmly grounded when it has cultivated a long time, uninterruptedly, with earnest devotion.

15.  Non-attachment is self mastery; it is freedom from desire for what is seen or heard.

16.  When, through knowledge of the Atman, one ceases to desire any manifestation of Nature, then that is the highest kind of non attachment.

17.  Concentration upon a single object may reach four stages: examination, discrimination, joyful peace and simple awareness of individuality.

18.  The other kind of concentration is that in which the consciousness contains no object, only subconscious impressions, which are like burnt seeds.  It is attained by constantly checking the vrittis through the practice of non-attachment.

19.  When such concentration is not accompanied by non-attachment, and ignorance therefore remains, the aspirant will reach the state of the disincarnate gods or become merged in the forces of Nature.

20.  The concentration of the true spiritual aspirant is attained through faith, energy, recollectedness, absorption and illumination.

21.  Success in yoga comes quickly to those who are intensely energetic.

22.  Success varies according to the means adopted to obtain it – mild, medium or intense.

23.  Concentration may also be attained through devotion to Ishwara.

24.  Ishwara is a special kind of Being, untouched by ignorance and the products of ignorance, not subject to karmas or samskaras or the results of actions.

25.  In Him, knowledge is infinite; in others it is only a germ.

26.  He was the teacher even of the earliest teachers, since He is not limited by time.

27.  The word which expresses Him is OM.

28.  This word must be repeated with meditation upon its meaning.

29.  Hence comes knowledge of the Atman and destruction of the obstacles to that knowledge.

30.  Sickness, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, sloth, craving for sense pleasure, false perception, despair caused by failure to concentrate and unsteadiness in concentration: these distractions are obstacles to knowledge.

31.  These distractions are accompanied by grief, despondency, trembling of the body and irregular breathing.

32.  They can be removed by the practice of concentration upon a single truth.

33.  Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and indifference towards the wicked.

34.  The mind may also be calmed by expulsion and retention of the breath.

35.  Those forms of concentration which result in extraordinary perceptions encourage perseverance of the mind

36.  Concentration may also be attained by fixing the mind upon the Inner Light, which is beyond sorrow.

37.  Or by meditating on the heart of an illumined soul, that is free from passion.

38.  Or by fixing the mind upon a dream experience, or the experience of deep sleep.

39.  Or by fixing the mind upon any divine form or symbol that appeals to one as good.

40.  The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.

41.  Just as the pure crystal takes color from the object which is nearest to it, so the mind, when it is cleared of vrittis, achieves sameness or identity with the object of its concentration.  This may be either a gross object, or the organ of perception, or the sense of ego.  This achievement of sameness or identity with the object of concentration is known as samadhi.

42.  When the mind achieves identity with a gross object of concentration, mixed with awareness of name, quality and knowledge, this is called savitarka samadhi.

43.  When the mind achieves identity with a gross object of concentration, unmixed with awareness of name, quality and knowledge, so that the object alone remains, this is called nirvitarka samadhi.

44.  When the object of concentration is a subtle object, 2 kinds of samadhi called savichara and nirvichara may be distinguished in the same manner.

45.  Behind all subtle objects is Prakriti, the primal cause.

46.  These kinds of samadhi are said to be “with seed”.

47.  In reaching nirvichara samadhi the mind becomes pure.

48.  In that samadhi, knowledge is said to be “filled with truth”.

49.  The knowledge which is gained from inference and the study of scriptures is knowledge of one kind.  But the knowledge which is gained from samadhi is of a much higher order.  It goes beyond inference and scriptures..

50.  The impression which is made upon the mind by that samadhi wipes out all other past impressions.

51.  When the impression made by that samadhi is also wiped out, so that there are no more thought-waves at all in the mind, then one enters the samadhi which is called ‘seedless’.

 Chapter 2 Yoga and Its Practice

1.      Austerity, study and the dedication of the fruits of one’s work to God: these are the preliminary steps toward yoga

2.      Thus we may cultivate the power of concentration and remove the obstacles to enlightenment which cause all our sufferings.

3.      These obstacles – the causes of a man’s sufferings – are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life

4.      Ignorance creates all the other obstacles.  They may exist either in a potential or vestigial form, or they may have been temporarily overcome or fully developed.

5.      To regard the noneternal as eternal, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant and the non-Atman as Atman -this is ignorance

6.      To identify consciousness with that which merely reflects consciousness – this is egoism.

7.      Attachment is that which dwells upon pleasure.

8.      Aversion is that which dwells upon pain.

9.      The desire to cling to life is inherent both in the ignorant and the learned.  This is because the mind retains impressions of the death experience from many previous incarnations.

10.  When these obstacles have been reduced to a vestigial form, they can be destroyed by resolving the mind back into its primal cause.

11.  In their fully developed form, they can be overcome through meditation.

12.  A man’s latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions.

13.  So long as the cause exits, it will bear fruits

14.  Experiences of pleasure and of pain are the fruits of merit and demerit, respectively.

15.  But the man of spiritual discrimination regards all these experiences as painful.  For even the enjoyment of present pleasure is painful, since we already fear its loss.

16.  The pain which is yet to come may be avoided.

17.  This pain is caused by false identification of the experiencer with the object of the experience.  It may be avoided.

18.  The object of experience is composed of the 3 gunas – the principles of illumination (sattva), activity (rajas) and inertia (tamas).  From these, the whole universe has evolved, together with the instruments of knowledge – such as the mind, senses, etc – and the objects perceived – such as the physical elements.  The universe exists in order that the experiencer may experience it, and thus become liberated.

19.  The 3 gunas pass through 4 states – gross, subtle, primal and unevolved.

20.  The Atman – the experiencer, is pure consciousness.  It appears to take on the changing colors of the mind.  In reality, it is unchangeable.

21.  The object of experience exists only to serve the purpose of the Atman.

22.  Though the object of experience becomes unreal to him who has reached the state of liberation, it remains real to all other beings.

23.  The Atman – the experiencer- is identified with Prakriti – the object of experience – in order that the true nature of both Prakriti and Atman may be known.

24.  This identification is caused by ignorance.

25.  When ignorance has been destroyed, this identification ceases.  Then bondage is at an end and the experiencer is independent and free.

26.  Ignorance is destroyed by awakening to knowledge of the Atman, until no trace of illusion remains.

27.  The experiencer gains this knowledge in seven stages, advancing towards the highest.

28.  As soon as all impurities have been removed by the practice of spiritual disciplines – the ‘limbs’ of yoga – a man’s spiritual vision opens to the light giving knowledge of the Atman.

29.  The eight limbs of yoga are: the various forms of abstention from evil-doing (yamas), the various observances (niyamas), posture (asana), control of prana (pranayama), withdrawal of the mind from sense objects (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption in the Atman (samadhi).

30.  Yama is abstention from harming others, from falsehood, from theft, from incontinence and from greed.

31.  These forms of abstention are basic rules of conduct.  They must be practiced without any reservations as to time, place, purpose or caste rules.

32.  The niyamas (observances) are purity, contentment, mortification, study and devotion to God.

33.  To be free from thoughts that distract one from yoga, thoughts of an opposite kind must be cultivated.

34.  The obstacles to yoga – such as acts of violence and untruth – may be directly created or indirectly caused or approved, they may be motivated by greed, anger or self-interest, they may be small or moderate or great, but they never cease to result in pain and ignorance.  One should overcome distracting thoughts by remembering this.

35.  When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from harming others, then all living creatures will cease to feel enmity in his presence

36.  When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from falsehood, he gets the power of obtaining for himself and others the fruits of good deeds, without having to perform the deeds themselves.

37.  When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from theft, all wealth comes to him.

38.  When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from incontinence, he acquires spiritual energy.

39.  When a man becomes steadfast in his abstention from greed, he gains knowledge of his past, present and future existences.

40.  As a result of purity, there arises indifference towards the body and disgust for physical intercourse with others.

41.  Moreover, one achieves purification of the heart, cheerfulness of mind, the power of concentration, control of the passions and fitness for vision of the Atman.

42.  As a result of contentment, one gains supreme happiness.

43.  As a result of tapas, impurities are removed.  Then special powers come to the body and the sense organs.

44.  As a result of study, one obtains the vision of that aspect of God which one has chosen to worship.

45.  As a result of devotion to God, one achieves Samadhi

46.  Posture (asana) is to be seated in a position which is firm but relaxed.

47.  Posture becomes firm and relaxed through control of the natural tendencies of the body, and through meditation on the Infinite.

48.  Thereafter, one is no longer troubled by the dualities of sense experience.

49.  After mastering posture, one must practice the control of the prana (pranayama) by stopping the motions of inhalation and exhalation.

50.  The breath may be stopped externally, or internally, or checked in mid-motion and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the stoppage is either protracted or brief

51.  The fourth kind of pranayama is the stoppage of the breath which is caused by concentration upon external or internal objects.

52.  As a result of this, the covering of the Inner Light is removed.

53.  The mind gains the power of concentration (dharana).

54.  When the mind is withdrawn from sense-objects, the sense organs also withdraw themselves from their respective objects and thus are said to imitate the mind.  This is known as pratyahara.

55.  Then arises complete mastery over the senses.


Chapter Three – Powers

1.      Concentration (dharana) is holding the mind within a centre of spiritual consciousness in the body, or fixing it on some divine form, either within the body or outside it.

2.      Meditation(dhyana) is an unbroken flow of thought toward the object of concentration.

3.      When in meditation, the true nature of the object shines forth, not distorted by the mind of the perceiver, that is absorption (samadhi).

4.      When these three – concentration, meditation and absorption – are brought to bear upon one subject, they are called samyama.

5.      Through mastery of samyama comes the light of knowledge.

6.      It must be applied stage by stage.

7.      These 3 are more direct aids to experience than the five limbs previously described.

8.      But even these are not direct aids to the seedless samadhi.

9.      When the vision of the lower samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.

10.  When this suppression of thought-waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.

11.  When all mental distractions disappear and the mind becomes one-pointed, it enters the state called samadhi.

12.  The mind becomes one-pointed when similar thought-waves arise in succession without any gap between them.

13.  In this state, it passes beyond the 3 kinds of changes which take place in subtle or gross matter, and in the organs – change of form, change of time and change of condition.

14.  A compound object has attributes and is subject to change, either past, present or yet to be manifested.

15.  The succession of these changes is the cause of manifold evolution.

16.  By making samyama on the 3 kinds of changes, one obtains knowledge of the past and future.

17.  By making samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – 3 things which are ordinarily confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living beings.

18.  By making samyama on previous thought-waves, one obtains knowledge of one’s past lives.

19.  By making samyama on the distinguishing marks of another man’s body, one obtains knowledge of the nature of his mind.

20.  But not of its contents, because that is not the object of the samyama.

21.  If one makes samyama on the form of one’s body, obstruction its perceptibility and separating its power of manifestation from the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.

22.  Thus, also, its sounds cease to be heard.

23.  By making samyama on 2 kinds of karma – that which will soon bear fruit and that which will not bear fruit until later – or by recognizing the portents of death, a yogi may know the exact time of his separation from the body.

24.  By making samyama on friendliness, compassion etc one develops the power of these qualities.

25.  By making samyama on any kind of strength, such as that of the elephant, one obtains that strength.

26.  By making samyama on the Inner Light, one obtains knowledge of what is subtle, hidden or far distant.

27.  By making samyama on the sun, one gains knowledge of the cosmic spaces.

28.  By making samyama on the moon, one gains knowledge of the arrangement of the stars.

29.  By making samyama on the polestar, one gains knowledge of the motions of the stars.

30.  By making samyama on the navel, one gains knowledge of the constitution of the body.

31.  By making samyama on the hollow of the throat, one stills hunger and thirst.

32.  By making samyama on the tube within the chest, one acquires absolute stillness.

33.  By making samyama on the radiance within the back of the head, one becomes able to see the celestial beings.

34.  All these powers of knowledge may also come to one whose mind is spontaneously enlightened through purity.

35.  By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the contents of the mind.

36.  The power of enjoyment arises from a failure to discriminate between Atman and the sattva guna which are totally different.  The sattva guna is merely the agent of the Atman, which is independent, existing only for its own sake.  By making samyama on the independence of the Atman, one gains knowledge of the Atman.

37.  Hence, one gains knowledge due to spontaneous enlightenment, and obtains supernatural powers of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell.

38.  They are powers in the worldly state but are obstacles to samadhi.

39.  When the bonds of the mind caused by karma have been loosened, the yogi can enter into the body of another by knowledge of the operation of its nerve currents.

40.  By controlling the nerve currents that govern the lungs and the upper part of the body, the yogi can walk on water and swamps, or on thorns and similar objects and he can die at will.

41.  By controlling the force which governs the prana, he can surround himself with a blaze of light.

42.  By making samyama on the relation between the air and the ether, one obtains supernatural powers of hearing.

43.  By making samyama on the relation between the body and the ether, or by acquiring through meditation the lightness of cotton fiber, the yogi can fly through the air.

44.  By making samyama on the thought-waves of the mind when it is separated from the body – the state known as the Great Disincarnation – all coverings can be removed from the light of knowledge.

45.  By making samyama on the gross and subtle forms of the elements, on their essential characteristics and the inherence of the gunas in them, and on the experiences they provide for the individual, one gains mastery of the elements.

46.  Hence one gains the power of becoming as tiny as an atom and all similar powers; also perfection of the body, which is no longer subject to the obstructions of the elements.

47.  Perfection of the body includes beauty, grace, strength and the hardness of a thunderbolt.

48.  By making samyama on the transformation that the sense-organs undergo when they contact objects, on the power of illumination of the sense-organs, on the ego-sense, on the gunas which constitute the organs, and on the experiences they provide for the individual, one gains mastery of the organs.

49.  Hence the body gains the power of movement as rapid as that of the mind, the power of using the sense-organs outside the confines of the body, and the mastery of Prakriti.

50.  By making samyama on the discrimination between the sattva guna and the Atman, one gains omnipotence and omniscience.

51.  By giving up even these powers, the seed of evil is destroyed and liberation follows.

52.  When tempted by the invisible beings in high places, let the yogi feel neither allured nor flattered; for he is in danger of being caught once more by ignorance.

53.  By making samyama on single moments and their sequence in time, one gains discriminative knowledge.

54.  Thus one is able to distinguish between two exactly similar objects, which cannot be distinguished by their species, characteristic marks, or positions in space.

55.  This discriminative knowledge delivers a man from the bondage of ignorance.  It comprehends all objects simultaneously, at every moment of their existence and in all their modifications.

56.  Perfection is attained when the mind becomes as pure as the Atman itself.

Chapter Four                    Liberation

1.      The psychic powers may be obtained either by birth or by means of drugs, or by the power of words, or the practice of austerities or by concentration.

2.      The transformation of one species into another is caused by the inflowing of nature.

3.      Good or bad deeds are not the direct causes of the transformation.  They only act as breakers of the obstacles to natural evolution; just as a farmer breaks down the obstacles in a water course, so that water flows through by its own nature.

4.      The ego-sense alone can create minds.

5.      Though the activities of the different created minds are various, the one original mind controls them all.

6.      Of the various types of minds, only that which is purified by samadhi is freed from all latent impressions of karma and from all cravings.

7.      The karma of the yogi is neither white nor black.  The karma of others is of three kinds: white, black or mixed.

8.      Of the tendencies produced by these 3 kinds of karma, only those are manifested for which the conditions are favorable.

9.      Because of our memory of past tendencies, the chain of cause and effect is not broken by change of species, space or time

10.  Since the desire to exist has always been present, our tendencies cannot have had any beginning

11.  Our subconscious tendencies depend upon cause and effect.  They have their basis in the mind, and they are stimulated by the sense objects.  If all these are removed, the tendencies are destroyed.

12.  There is the form and expression we call ‘past’, and the form and expression we call ‘future’; both exist within the object, at all times.  Form and expression vary according to time – past, present and future.

13.  They are either manifest or subtle, according to the nature of mind.

14.  Since the gunas work together within every change of form and expression, there is a unity in all things.

15.  The same object is perceived in different ways by different minds.  Therefore, the mind must be other than the object.

16.  The object cannot be said to be dependent on the perception of a single mind.  For, if this were the case, the object could be said to be non-existent when that single mind was not perceiving it.

17.  An object is known or unknown, depending on the moods of the mind.

18.  Because the Atman, the Lord of the mind, is unchangeable, the mind’s fluctuations are always known to it.

19.  The mind is not self-luminous, since it an object of perception.

20.  And since it cannot perceive both subject and object simultaneously.

21.  If one postulates a second mind to perceive the first, then one would have to postulate an infinite number of minds; and this would cause confusion of memory.

22.  The pure consciousness of the Atman is unchangeable.  As the reflection of its consciousness falls upon the mind, the mind takes the form of the Atman and appears to be conscious.

23.  The mind is able to perceive because it reflects both the Atman and the objects of perception

24.  Though the mind has innumerable impressions and desires, it acts only to serve another, the Atman; for, being a compound substance, it cannot act independently, for its own sake.

25.  The man of discrimination ceases to regard the mind as Atman.

26.  When the mind is bent on the practice of discrimination, it moves towards liberation.

27.  Distractions due to past impressions may arise if the mind relaxes its discrimination, even a little.

28.  They may be overcome in the same manner as the obstacles to enlightenment.

29.  He who remains undistracted even when he is in possession of all the psychic powers, achieves, as the result of perfect discrimination, that samadhi which is called ‘the cloud of virtue’.

30.  Thence come cessation of ignorance, the cause of suffering, and freedom from the power of karma.

31.  Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.

32.  Then the sequence of mutations of the gunas comes to an end, for they have fulfilled their purpose.

33.  This is the sequence of the mutations which takes place at every moment, but which are only perceived at the end of a series.

34.  Since the gunas no longer have any purpose to serve for the Atman, they resolve themselves into  Prakriti.  This is liberation.  The Atman shines forth in its own pristine nature, as pure consciousness


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