“The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by Alistair Shearer

alistair

Stats at a glance
Sanskrit text: No
Transliterated text: No
Translation of individual Sanskrit words: No
Translation of Sutras: Yes
Ability to read all the Sutras back-to-back: Yes

Shearer reviews the history of the Vedas, the similarities between yoga and Buddhism (he concludes that they both stem from the same philosophy, rather than one proceeded from another). It is part sociological treatise, part grammar, part explanation of key terms, and a weird attempt at comparing the yogic experience to the breakdown of classical physics.

Shearer postulates the text has “an inner unity that has to be approached on its own terms.” Unfortunately the evidence of this is never elucidated. Though Shearer does a great job in defining the terms in the Sutras, the cohesion of the four padas (chapters) is never made clear.

And for the translation: I’ve never read a more lyrical translation that still adheres to the sanskrit text. Shearer’s words are accurate, simple and descriptive without being the least bit flowery. I recommend this book highly for this feature.

A Yoga Geek Note: Shearer makes a baffling decision to combine sutras III.21 and III.22, and not account for the combination when numbering the Sutras. Translating the two sutras as one statement makes sense from a translation perspective, but now his 22nd sentence is the 23rd sutra in pada three. The mislabelling isn’t obvious either, and the confusion makes comparing translations in book three frustrating. To his credit, some versions of the sutras omit III.22 altogether. But since he used the text, he could have helped readers by maintaining the numbering. In any case, I suggest renumbering the Sutras to avoid a headache.

“Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali” by Swami Hariharananda Aranya

swami

Stats at a glance
Sanskrit text: Yes
Transliterated text: No
Translation of individual Sanskrit words: No
Translation of Sutras: Yes
Ability to read all the Sutras back-to-back: Yes

Perhaps the most ambitious of any Sutra translation and commentary is, the “Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali”. Swami Hariharananda Aranya (SHA) is not only translating the Sutras, but also translating the famous commentary of Vyasa and adding his own copious annotations to it. It’s a scholarly, erudite, and dense work, and best exemplifies yoga’s foundation on and growth from the Samkhya philosophy.

The arguments in the book are generally sensible, although SHA does rely on the shastras (sacred texts) as proof on occasion. It’s the equivalent of saying “it’s true because it’s in the Bible”, which is not a persuasive tactic when building an argument. According to the Yoga Sutras, one of the wayspramana (correct knowledge) is found is through sacred texts, so SHA is applying this technique in the tradition of the Sutras. The problem lies in the circular reasoning that results.

Aside from that small complaint, I couldn’t be more satisfied with this book, which includes a glossary of Sanskrit terms, a short summary of the definition of yoga, and much longer treatises on jnana yoga and karma. At almost 500 pages it is a project to read. If you’re not particularly interested in the workings of the Samkhya and yoga philosophy and want a briefer experience with the sutras, this isn’t your book. But anybody interested in the nuts and bolts of this system’s mechanics cannot do better.

“The Path of the Sutras” by Nicolai Bachman

bachman

Stats at a glance
Sanskrit text: No
Transliterated text: No
Translation of individual Sanskrit words: No
Translation of Sutras: No
Ability to read all the Sutras back-to-back: No

The route most sutra translations and commentaries take is the scholarly route, in which the text and philsophy are explained in hopes to present a deeper understanding of Patañjali’s logic. But once that is done, how to apply the concepts to your practice?

Nicolai Bachman’s “The Path of the Sutras” is a unique and invaluable book. Rather than translate and comment on the actual text, Bachman has extracted the sutras’ key elements and offers suggestions on how to incorporate them into a thoughtful yoga and meditation practice. Each element gets its own chapter. Bachman examines how we can apply these concepts in our lives with exercises and examples of the concept at work.

That it’s so practical doesn’t diminish its value as a scholarly work. But what Bachman has succeeded in doing is to point directly to yoga as a process and not merely texts to understand.

“Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali” by BKS Iyengar

iyengar

Stats at a glance
Sanskrit text: Yes
Transliterated text: Yes
Translation of individual Sanskrit words: Yes
Translation of Sutras: Yes
Ability to read all the Sutras back-to-back: No

From one of the world’s most famous yoga teachers comes a great reference book, and the only one I know where you can see the translations of the individual Sanskrit words immediately following the sutra. I’m fond of being able to tell what is Patañjali’s voice and what is the translator’s. Iyengar’s book allows you to study the actual words in the text, rather than translation of the entire sutra.

Iyengar’s commentary is helpful, though the readability is not spectacular. Unlike Swami Hariharananda Aranya’s book, “Light on the Yoga Sutras” fails to cohere the text linearly. The Sutras weren’t meant to be strictly linear, so perhaps Iyengar is keeping with the interwovenness that something called a sutra implies. But Aranya’s explanations work better as a book to read from cover to cover.

The upside to Iyengar’s interwoven rendering is the ability to skip around to related sutras. Iyengar has an Appendix in the book called ‘Interconnection of Sutras’ that makes it easy to do just that. Whenever I need to reference a specific concept in the Sutras, this is my go-to book to get started.