Why do Yoga?


How to do the cessation “thing”?When to do that?Why to do that?

Been busy with work recently, but I wanted to add to this question asked in another thread, which is actually a damn good question. Understanding the ‘Why’ to do Yoga is actually a very crucial prerequisite, and makes the difference between a successful practice and a non-successful one. Most people begin their practice of Yoga with a very vague notion of why they are doing Yoga, the most common goals being: Improving flexibility; destressing; fighting disease; increasing intelligence; weight loss and toning up. A few are interested in the spiritual dimension to become more spiritual, to find peace and calm.

However, what is the actual ‘why’ in the Yoga tradition. In other words why was Yoga developed in the first place at all? In order to answer this we need to look at the first four opening sutras of the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras is the defining text of the Yoga school, and Patanjali is considered the first major Yoga scientist. This is because he is the first to scientifically describe the entire Yoga practice, covering especially the what, how and when.

Note: I will cite several translations so we can get a wider grasp of the meaning. Not all translations are equal, but reading several will bring one to a more approximate understanding of the actual meaning. In addition, it also helps to read the entire Yoga sutras itself and intertextual references, to get a contextual understanding. This will make the meaning even clearer.

Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.4

Now, instruction in Union.
Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.
Then the seer dwells in his own nature.
Otherwise he is of the same form as the thought-streams.

Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga
When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.
For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature.
Lacking that, misconceptions (vritti) skew our perceptions.

Here follows Instruction in Union.
Union, spiritual consciousness, is gained through control of the versatile psychic nature.
Then the Seer comes to consciousness in his proper nature.
Heretofore the Seer has been enmeshed in the activities of the psychic nature.

Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.
At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.

NOW begins the teaching of yoga.
Yoga occurs when the field of consciousness is liberated from its patterned and restrictive various instabilities and spinning. Then the mind abides in the domain of innate clear essentiality – in clarified spaciousness devoid of any conditioned bias, tilt, or spin.
Then the seer abides in the unbiased primordial all pervading clear light consciousness, which is our true nature.
At other times the mind identifies with discrete and fragmented objects.

The important verse here is the first verse itself, “NOW, begins the teaching Yoga” The word ‘NOW’ is telling us that after some preparation we are now ready to begin practice. The best analogy to explain this sutra is like studying a theory in say chemistry class. Then when you have studied the theory, the teacher shows you the experiment to show the theory at work. The same is true with Patanjali, except Patanjali barely covers the theory at all. It is already assumed you already know the theory of Yoga. Patanjali gets directly into the experimental and practical side of things itself.

It is very clear what the Yoga Sutras is a treatise on: Meditation. Every translation above brings this point out that Yoga is to do with stilling/restraining/controlling the activities of the mind. It is thus a Manuel for a mediator. A practical psychology a meditator can use to assist their personal practice. Thus we can surmise another definition of what Yoga is: Yoga is the science of meditation. The aim of the science is to still the activities of the mind, so that after they have been stilled, only a pure awareness remains. Otherwise, awareness is identified with the activities. Everybody of us who have meditated know exactly what this means: The single most hardest pursuit in meditation is keeping the mind focused on its object of meditation, for often we find we become identified with the myriad of sensations taking place within us and around us, absorbed in thoughts, memories, speculations, start daydreaming or completely lose consciousness and fall asleep. Even keeping the mind focused for a single min is a herculean task.

Patanjali, a master meditator himself is aware of how difficult this is, hence why he has written the Yoga Sutras for us, and prescribed us many techniques that will help us still the mind. He also delineates exactly what stages of meditation we will go through if we are able to keep the mind still for an extended period of time. He identifies all the common obstacles that we will encounter in our practice of meditation and remedies for them. He identifies the mechanisms by which the mind works, so we know exactly how to spot the minds activities.

But we still have not answered the why - why still the mind? The answer to this question is not explicit in the Yogasutras, because it is already assumed you know the theory behind Yoga. The theory behind Yoga is Samkhya, and thus a clear grasp of Samkhya is assumed. It is highly recommended that all yogis/yoginis read and understand the Samkhya philosophy. The best way to do this is simply read the primary and definitive text of the school itself: The Samkhya Karika. Then, it will become clear, why exactly you need to still the mind and what benefits you will attain. This is made clear in the Karika opening sutra:

  1. A permenant solution to curing the three kinds of pain is inquiry. Other means only offer temporal relief.

It is a cure for pain - all kinds of pain: physical pain, emotional and mental pain, and spiritual pain. Inquiry in terms of Yoga is meditation. The promise then is that when one is able to successfully still their mind they will become liberated from every kind of pain and suffering. In other words they will become full of joy/happiness/bliss which is the actual true nature of pure awareness when it is no longer occluded by the minds activities.

The Karika further clarifies much later:

  1. Thus consciousness is never actually really entangled, is never liberated and never transmigrates. It is matter(includes mind) which is entangled, liberated and transmigrates. Consciousness merely becomes misidentified, but when discriminative knowledge appears the misidentication is reversed.

In Samkhya matter basically means everything other than consciousness, thus mind and its various parts like intellect, ego, sense organs, motor organs is also matter, and so are atoms, quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, molecules, rocks, plants, animals, humans, planets, suns etc. It is all just matter. Thus what Samkhya is making clear to the Yoga mediator that the myriad of activities they witness during meditation taking place inside and outside the body or inside the mind is just material activity(guna activity), and has nothing to do with oneself - or rather awareness.

The misfortune is despite the fact that our awareness is not at all conjoined either with the world, body, or mind, it acts as if it is because it is misidentified with them. This is according to Samkhya the real cause of pain and suffering. The antidote is to come to awakening or knowledge that we are not that, which Yoga gives the practical solution of meditation for. As we systematically witness the world, the sensations inside and outside the body, our thoughts, emotions and desires, or cognitions, we begin to weaken the identification and eventually remove it altogether.

The Karika continues:

  1. Matter binds itself through the 7 forms(virtue, vice and the rest) and releases itself with 1 form of truth.
  1. Thus from the practice of truth the wisdom is produced, “I am not”, “Nothing is mine” and “not I” which pure, free of error and doubt and absolute.
  1. By means of this knowledge consciousness realises itself as the pure witness(not agent) and beholds the true reality of matter, which now ceases from evolving forms, giving consciousness a pure and clear vision of reality.
  1. The consciousness acts as if, “I have now seen it” and the matter acts as if “I have now been seen”
  1. When perfect knowledge dawns, all conditioning is lost and one becomes pure, but continues to inhabit the body to release the remaining karmas, like the potters wheel continues to spin under the momentum even after the potter stops spinning it
  1. When then the consciousness finally departs from the body it attains full and final liberation and freedom
  1. This difficult and subtle knowledge via which one can attain full liberation through discriminative knowledge between consciousness and matter was first described by the Sage Kapila.

Thus the why is fully answered, leaving no scope for doubt. The goal of Yoga is total and final liberation and freedom of ones consciousness(moksha) through systematic dissociation of consciousness with every vritti, not a single one spared. Note that the Samkhya considers not just vice, but even virtue as binding. Thus even virtue is considered a vritti in Yoga - ultimately we must become completely liberated from any kind of patterning or activity of the mind, even those that seem benign.

Now what can seem more benign than watching a beautiful sunset, with a feeling of calmness and beauty and a smile on your face? Surely this is not a vritti(disturbance) or a vritti like this needs to be preserved rather than extinguished? Patanjali answers this in this 5 broad categories of vrittis. The vritti of correct perception. This is the most principal and insidious vritti, because we do not recognize it as a mental activity, but as something right, or natural, or objective. However, it is a mental activity, because the mind has to work to cognize the sense impressions coming from the sunset and coordinate them into the coherent image we receive, this is turn is personalized according to our personal likes and dislikes by the ego-filters and then signals are sent to the body that produces pleasant sensations and smile on your face. In other words there is tons of activity going on behind the scenes as we watch that beautiful sunset. The mind may seem still consciously, but unconsciously it is in violent activity.

Today, we understand the actual physical side of what happens when a sense perception takes place a lot better, in terms of how signals are received by the senses, the processing in the brain and how it is outputted. Sense perceptions are definitely not natural, but constructed by the brain and this puts a huge strain on our nervous system. Hence, why there is such thing as “overloading” your senses. Any kind of sense activity uses up our energy. To remedy this Patanjali prescribes Pratyhara(sensory-withdrawal) as part of his Ashtanga yoga practice.

To summarize: Why do we need to still the activities of our mind? It is because without doing this we cannot liberate our consciousness. If we do not liberate our consciousness then we will continue to be subject to pain, suffering and transmigration. Thus, one who fully understands the WHY and becomes full of doubtless conviction and steadfastness of the necessity to still the mind(sharadda) and with great zeal begins their practice and quickly attains success in Yoga.

The real starting point of Yoga is beginning with that intellectual conviction. So as long as we are unclear about the WHY our practice will not be successful, due to conscious and unconscious doubt. Until that intellectual realization - Eureka - does not happen, ones practice is doomed to failure. Hence I reiterate again, a clear grasp of Samkhya is essential for every yogi/yogini.


Understanding the WHY of Yoga(i.e, understanding Samkhya) will really completely give the game away on how to practice Yoga, and why exactly Patanjali has given the practices that he has.

Yoga is not an active practice, but a PASSIVE practice. Patanjali does indeed say this himself, the moment he finishes defining the 5 types of vrittis:

1.12 These thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered (nirodhah, regulated, coordinated, controlled, stilled, quieted) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).
(abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah)

1.13 Practice (abhyasa) means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state (sthitau).
(tatra sthitau yatnah abhyasa)

1.14 When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation.
(sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih)

1.15 When the mind loses desire even for objects seen or described in a tradition or in scriptures, it acquires a state of utter (vashikara) desirelessness that is called non-attachment (vairagya).
(drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam)


Thus what is really meant here is that practice is basically sustained Vairagya, or sustained non-attachment, letting go. Gradually, we must let of of every vrtti(starting with the ones which are afflicted/coloured with emotion) This can be done in one mega-effort of meditation for a very long time like the Buddha for 40 days, witnessing absolutely everything, but very few are capable of doing this, especially in modern times and besides Buddha has already done more than a decade of training prior to this; or it can be done using Patanjali systematic progressive means of Ashtanga Yoga, consisting of the 8 limbs:

  1. Yamas
  2. Niyamas
  3. Asanas
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyhara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

These are in turn divided into two sets - Set 1: External limbs(1, 2, 3 and 4) and Set 2: Internal limbs(5, 6, 7, and 8) Every limb has one thing in common, it is passive, encourages introversion, silence and inwardsness. The exact opposite of modern lifestyle!
The Yamas and Niyamas encourage the least effort in our social interactions so that we can remain stress free and without enemies, and keep our body clean healthy. The Asanas encourages the least effort in our body posture so that we can ease into a posture that keeps us relaxed and stable. The Pranayama practice encourages the least effort in our breathing, so that our breath becomes natural, slow and rhythmic. The internal practices encourage the least effort in thinking and concentrating, so that our mind becomes empty.

Thus Yoga is a practice which encourages one to attain a state of least effort(sattvic) but the paradox is that before one can attain a state of least effort, they need to put LOADS of effort in to realize that state. No effort put in during the practice of yamas and niyamas will just leave you in a social vegetative state, for everybody to push and shove you around as they want. No effort put in during the practice of asana will just perpetuate your existing bad posture and bodily habits. Likewise, no effort to stabalize and lower the breath, will just perpetuate existing breathing habits.

More importantly, and I am separating this point out to emphasize it more - if we make no effort to concentrate on an object during meditation practice(yoga proper) we will just fall asleep or drift off. Hence why having an object is absolutely essential at the early stages of meditation practice.

Thus one simply cannot go wrong with Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It is the best practice to ultimately achieve the goal of Yoga.


To refer to Patanjali as a scientist marks Surya Deva not as a reasonable person or a scholar seeking objective truth, but as someone with an agenda. In Surya Deva’s case his agenda is he would like to convert westerners to hinduism. We need to recognize that what he is doing is in fact proselytizing.

The promise then is that when one is able to successfully still their mind they will become liberated from every kind of pain and suffering. In other words they will become full of joy/happiness/bliss which is the actual true nature of pure awareness when it is no longer occluded by the minds activities.

This has to be characterized as “pie in the sky”, a lure to be swallowed by the naive and the unwary. It is wrong on a couple of levels. First, Patanjali does not say that simply stilling the mind results in liberation from all pain and suffering. At best, it is merely the first stage of concentration, after which much work remains to be done. Second, nowhere does Samkhya-Yoga describe the nature of the self or pure consciousness as bliss.

At best this is sloppy work, which is actually typical of Surya Deva. His shoot-from-the-hip style tends to produce lots of words, but is often inaccurate. Here he has confused Samkhya-Yoga with advaita vedanta, the dominant philosophy of hinduism. This confusion may be unconscious or it may be deliberate. Either way, people need to know what they are being fed.

I could continue with this criticism, but I’ll spare everyone. Instead I would like to offer my personal view of the Samkhya-Yoga doctrine of liberation, which is based on the truth that all life entails suffering. Have you ever seen seagulls standing on a shoreline? They always face into the wind. We know that the strength of our character is determined to a great degree by how we handle pain, suffering, and adversity. Shrinking from it causes us to become weak. Facing and overcoming it makes us strong. Someone who is seeking liberation as an escape from pain and suffering would have to be characterized as weak.

In any event, final liberation is regarded as an ultimate goal that takes many lifetimes to achieve. In their heart of hearts, few people want that, and it is a rare individual indeed who is even close to achieving it. In the meantime, improving flexibility; destressing; fighting disease; increasing intelligence; weight loss; toning up, or exploring your spiritual side are good enough reasons to do yoga.


Before reading Asuri post’s on the topic of Samkhya, Yoga or Vedanta, it is helpful to know that Asuri is a Christian loyalist and has his own peculiar Christianized understanding of these philosophies which unfortunately is not shared by either modern or traditional scholars of these philosophies. This has been made clear in the several Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta threads in this forum where his ignorance of basic tenets of these philosophies has been exposed.

Patanjali is actually considered by many in the scholarly community like an ancient psychologist. For example, in the area of transpersonal psychology his work is widely referenced and many psychologists have been directly influenced by his theories of psychology, such as famous psychologists like Carl Jung and Freud. It is easy to see why Patanjali is considered to be like a psychologist, because he takes a very scientific approach to analyzing the mind giving many unique theories of the mind that foreshadow similar theories in modern times. This includes

A phenomenological description of the types of thoughts we have. Patanjali gives a category of 5 broad types: Correct cognitions, Incorrect cognitions, imaginative thinking, altered states of consciousness and memories . This makes Patanjali the first practical psychologist to attempt to analyse types of thought.

Patanjali is the first one to give a learning theory of the mind with the theory of samkaras. Patanjali explains how we learn our behaviour from the stimuli in the outside world by creating certain associations e.g., we learn to fear say clowns because of our mental associations with the object clown. These mental associations are triggered every time one encounters the object clown. After Patanjali, the first one to suggest similar theories was the behaviourist Skinner in his work on conditioning in animals.

Patanjali is the first one give an information processing model of the mind. His model consists of intellect, ego, mind and sense organs. The senses are the input for sensory data, the mind is the processor of the sensory data and the ego is what personalizes it by adding personal filter. Patanjali also shows that this happens on both a conscious and unconscious level, similar to theories later propounded by Freud and Jung(who were actually influenced by Patanjali in the first place)

Patanjali is also the first to give psychotherapies to treat psychological issues. His most important one, is what is now used in CBT therapy, to replace any negative thinking habit with the exact opposite. He also gives the first fully systematic method of training the mind with his Ashtanga Yoga.

It is thus safe to consider Patanjali as a scientist. This is of course very clear for anybody who has read the Yoga sutras and reads the technical, precise and psychological language it uses e.g., afflicted or non-afflicted thought patterns(klesha and aklesha) stages of concentration, subtle and gross thoughts. Patanjali’s approach is thoroughly scientific.

If Patanjali cannot be considered a scientist, then we should not consider any psychologist a scientist.


This has to be characterized as “pie in the sky”, a lure to be swallowed by the naive and the unwary. It is wrong on a couple of levels. First, Patanjali does not say that simply stilling the mind results in liberation from all pain and suffering. At best, it is merely the first stage of concentration, after which much work remains to be done. Second, nowhere does Samkhya-Yoga describe the nature of the self or pure consciousness as bliss.

It is a well known fact to all scholars of Indian philosophy that Indian philosophy is based on the goal of liberation. All Indian philosophies treatises begin with a promise that their philosophy will end pain and bring liberation, as we saw with the first sutra of the Samkhya text cited in the OP. This is what makes Indian philosophy spiritual or even religious, because it’s main aim is liberation from pain and not philosophy for its own sake.

Now Yoga Sutras does not directly use the word pain and suffering in its opening sutras, because it is already assumed that one knows the Samkhya theory and hence the WHY they are doing it. So Patanjali just goes directly into the practical part. However, it is implied many times in the Yoga sutras that the aim is complete liberation of consciousness. In 1.2-3 we can see Patanjali says explicitly that the goal of Yoga is total liberation of consciousness from the activities of the mind(chit-vrittis) Now, although he does not say explicitly than one will become full of bliss, it is implied in the very positive language he uses to describe this final goal state of Yoga throughout the sutras. He describes this state as a state of total freedom, illumination, purity and self-mastery. Intertexually, we know that all yogis have described this state as bliss and peace. The reason Patanjali is not using such subjective terms as “blissful and peaceful” is because he is writing a scientific treatise, and is thus being as unemotional as he can.

It is also already implied in the Samkhya text itself that absolute freedom from pain and suffering can only mean something positive and joyful. If one were to be feed from all pain and suffering, then the opposite of that must become true. Hence again why all yogis describe this final state of liberation as being full of bliss, unending peace - ananda/nirvana etc


Actually I find the psychology of yoga quite appealing, but let’s see…

A learning theory of the mind…an information processing model of the mind…psychotherapies…

I don’t think so. That’s more like wishful thinking and propaganda than actual fact.

Clearly you are trying to sugarcoat the issue of liberation. Liberation is cessation of experience, so there can be neither pain nor pleasure. If you take your head out of the books and look around you a little bit, maybe you will realize that trying to escape the suffering that is part of life is selfish and weak. The Buddhists got it right. They forsake liberation and remain in the world to work for the benefit of others, until all can be released.


Yes I am loyal to the people who raised and educated me. It’s interesting that you would try to construe this as a negative. I have an in-depth knowledge of samkhya-yoga philosophy, so it’s also interesting that you would try to label me as ignorant, simply because I have criticized your post. Or is it because I am not hindu?

I caution you against any further personal attacks of this nature.


I read Surya Deva’s perspective and Asuri’s rebuttal, and what I can offer is that no matter the method of yoga chosen, there will always be those in your life who will witness your practice or the results of your practice. I’ve written a blog post that pertains very closely to the question of “why” with the emphasis on the results of one’s practice.


Yoga is not psychology, regardless of the influence patanjali has had on Freud and Jung. Only critics of yoga and neo-spiritual apologists would call yoga a psychology. The yoga sutras are a religious work and deal with a religious subject. Yoga is also not scientific, a quick look at the much neglected vibhuti pada of the yoga sutras will clear any doubts about that. Surya Deva is confusing “systematic” with “scientific.” I have been trying to explain this to Amir Mourad in the past to no avail.

If Patanjali cannot be considered a scientist, then we should not consider any psychologist a scientist.

Modern scientific psychology is constantly developing based on scientific research in the field which has no consquence on any theory of yoga, so what you are saying is nonsense. The question you should ask is, if yoga is psychology, then the psychological healthiest people are the closest to liberation. This is of course not true according any school of Indian thought.


[QUOTE=Asuri;71941] If you take your head out of the books and look around you a little bit, maybe you will realize that trying to escape the suffering that is part of life is selfish and weak. The Buddhists got it right. They forsake liberation and remain in the world to work for the benefit of others, until all can be released.[/QUOTE]

Not all Buddhists agree on this, this idea only appears in Mahayana Buddhism. The same idea is also present in the Hindu religious text, especially in the devotional literature.


I want to clarify because I’m sure that my statements here will be used as ammunition against me at some point in the future. Even though I do admire the concept of bodhicitta, I don’t believe that liberation in itself is selfish or weak. It only follows after attainment of the highest levels, and you can’t get to the top of the ladder in a single step. Seeking liberation as a means of escaping the suffering that is inherent in life is a wrong motivation.


In samkhya philosophy, the superior method of eliminating suffering is discriminative knowledge of the manifest, the unmanifest, and the knowing one (Karika II). So what we should be seeking is this discriminative knowledge. In my view our modern world validates this, since our knowledge of the manifest (science and technology) has dramatically reduced the toil, drudgery, and hardship of daily life. This is a purely materialist interpretation.

Of course in this world we can never completely and permanently eliminate suffering. Samkhya teaches that even in higher worlds there is suffering. So the only way to permanently eliminate it is through freedom from material nature which comes about through discriminative knowledge of manifest, unmanifest (prakriti), and the knowing one (purusa). Yoga clarifies the process further through the descriptions of the various stages of samadhi that one must pass through before he/she reaches the highest levels of discriminative knowledge.

Some might see a contradiction between what I’ve said here and what I said earlier, but there is a difference between seeking to escape suffering and seeking to eliminate it through knowledge. The former is a weakness, the latter is a lofty goal. An even higher goal is to eliminate suffering not just for yourself, but for the sake of humanity. A good example is medical science, but there are many examples of people who live their lives this way every day in all kinds of endeavors.


Patanjali’s Yoga sutras is definitely a text on psychology. It is certainly not a text on religion. Most psychologists agree that Yoga sutras is a practical text on psychology, and this is why it has been widely influential with many psychologists.

A learning theory of the mind…an information processing model of the mind…psychotherapies…

I don’t think so. That’s more like wishful thinking and propaganda than actual fact.

You are only saying this because you associate with these terms modern science, and thus you are finding it hard to reconcile how an ancient text like the Yoga sutras could be saying the same thing. If you actually knew what these terms meant, you would be find it much easier to reconcile.

Those are technical terms in psychology to describe particular approaches in psychology. I have studied psychology in college and studied philosophy of psychology in my degree, so I am familiar with psychology on an academic level to an extent.

Learning approach is based on the key assumption that all behavior is learned. A key theory comes from classical conditioning and more recently cognitive behavioral theories that we associate with certain objects in the real world certain mental states like pain and pleasure, thus we learn our behaviour through associations. This is used in classical conditioning(SR model) to train animals and humans using positive and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is when we place a subject in a painful/unpleasant situation and also a stimuls that will end the painful situation. The subject soon learns that the stimuli is associated with no-pain, so learn that behaviour.
Positive reinforcement is when we place the subject in a neutral situation with a stimulus that leads to a pleasurable feeling. The subject soon learns that the stimuli is associated with pleasure, so learns that behaviour.

Cognitive behavoural model is a more advanced learning theory. In CBT all behaviours are also learned from the outside world through making certain associations with objects, but an internal representation is also produced inside the mind i.e., a mental one. In other words the entire world of objects we encounter in the world, is internally represented within the mind in the form of a thought. These thoughts then influence our behaviour which in turn influence our feelings, which loops back to thought.

Based on this model in CBT therapy negative behaviours are treated by replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. The assumption is at some point the subject has experienced a situation where they have internalized a negative representation of that mental object. Whenever they encounter the same situation again it triggers those negative thoughts again, and leads to negative behaviour. A common one is experiencing rejection many times in dating, which leads to negative thoughts like, “I am not desirable” “I will always be rejected” and then negative behaviours like avoiding dating or always interpreting dates negatively.

Information processing model is based on the computational theory of the mind(the mind is like a computer) According to this model all the mind does is process information using different strategies(analogous to programs) All we learn are different strategies to process information. The mind contains many different parts that process information we receive from our senses, processed by our brain, and then processed through our own strategies of processing that information.

Psychotherapy is basically any kind of therapeutic modality that treats psychological problems like anxiety, fear, depression etc. In the modality there are specific practical techniques which are used to treat the issue. For example in Psychoanalyical model psychodynamic counselling is used where the subject is often made to talk about their experiences in order to release subconscious emotions. In CBT counselling the subject is encouraged to analyse their own thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Although not already mentioned there is also the humanistic approach to psychology, and humanistic approach in particular is more strongly based on Patanjali. Humanistic psychology looks more at motivations, why we do what we do. A key psychologist is Abraham Maslow who, heavily borrowing from Patanjali, bases the prime motivation to do things as a desire for self-actualization. This motivation is basically the desire to realize ones highest potential and it associated with certain kinds of ideal mental states and behaviours.

There is yet another branch of psychology called transpersonal psychology. This area in particular heavily references Patanjali, because it is more focussed on what we today call the ‘spiritual’ It looks at the transpersonal dimension of spirituality, the areas of our mind that are capable of transcendent experiences like mystical experiences, religious experiences and psychic experiences. The entire sub-set known as parapsychology which studies difficult areas like psychic abilities, OBES and NDES, reincarnation comes under transpersonal psychology.

So now that I have defined some of the key approaches in psychology I can show where exactly in the Samkhya-Yoga system we see similar theories.


What is psychology? Psychology is the science which studies or treats of the subject of mind and behaviour. Now, psychology is considered a soft science(except until recently with neuro-psychology we have been able to study what mental states and behaviours are associated with different areas of the brain) There is also the new approach of mental phenomenology, which is based on actually directly witnessing the mind and behaviour works in the same way we witness in meditation.

Yoga is not psychology, regardless of the influence patanjali has had on Freud and Jung. Only critics of yoga and neo-spiritual apologists would call yoga a psychology. The yoga sutras are a religious work and deal with a religious subject.

I caution readers on this forum to not take such viewpoints seriously. This is clearly a very religious, highly emotional viewpoint, and is not at all supported by the facts. Let us look at the facts in the Yoga sutras itself:

1.2 Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
(yogash chitta vritti nirodhah)

Here it is very explicitly said that Yoga is about the mind’s activities. There is nothing ambiguous in this definition(except the forced ambiguity by religious interpreters) Here chitta-vritti means means minds activities. Psychology is a broad definition about any study or field of science that relates to mind and/or behaviour. Therefore Yoga would actually qualify as psychology under that definition.

It does not at all say that Yoga is the study of god, or Yoga is the study of scriptures. Therefore Sarva’s assertion that Patanjali’s Yoga is religious is blatantly incorrect. It is very obviously stated what Yoga is a study of: mental activities.

Now will be answered as to why it is scientific. For something to qualify as a science it must be based on an actual empirical means of knowledge and it must have a theory made up of definitions and predictions. In this case the means of knowledge Patanjali uses is mental phenomenology, he watches the mind activities, analyses them, classifies them and and gives definitions, like any scientist is trained to do:

1.5: Those gross and subtle thought patterns (vrittis) fall into five varieties, of which some are colored (klishta) and others are uncolored (aklishta).
(vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta)

1.6: The five varieties of thought patterns to witness are: 1) knowing correctly (pramana), 2) incorrect knowing (viparyaya), 3) fantasy or imagination (vikalpa), 4) the object of void-ness that is deep sleep (nidra), and 5) recollection or memory (smriti).

Here Patanjali classifies five types of mental activities that take place. He also describes that thoughts can either be associated with emotions(kleshas) or not associated. This is similar to the learning theory approach. That our internal mental representations can be either have positive or negative associations with them. However, Patanjali is more thorough in defining the kind of emotional afflictions that take place. He also suggests a practical method of removing these afflictions, which by modern definitions in psychology would qualify as a psychotherapy:

2.2 That Yoga of action (kriya yoga) is practiced to bring about samadhi and to minimize the colored thought patterns (kleshas).
(samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha)

2.3 There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas): 1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya), 2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita), 3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga), 4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha), and 5) love of these as being life itself, as well as fear of their loss as being death.

Here Patanjali is describing exactly how our thoughts patterns can become variously afflicted. Unlike many modern psychologies theories which would look a bit simplistic to Patanjali, we can associate more than just pain and pleasure with a thought. We can develop ignorance about a thought, i.e., covering up its true nature e.g., taking what is painful to be pleasurable; we can develop identification with thoughts e.g., making it personal to us; we can develop attachment or addiction to a thought; we can develop the habits of preserving thoughts e.g., not wanting to change.

Like with any kind of psychotherapy modality such emotional afflictions are seen as undesirable in Yoga and a set of techniques are given to remove them.

Next Patanjali shows exactly how these afflictions affect our thoughts

2.4 The root forgetting or ignorance of the nature of things (avidya) is the breeding ground for the other of the five colorings (kleshas), and each of these is in one of four states: 1) dormant or inactive, 2) attenuated or weakened, 3) interrupted or separated from temporarily, or 4) active and producing thoughts or actions to varying degrees.
(avidya kshetram uttaresham prasupta tanu vicchinna udaranam)

In modern psychological language we would call this unconscious, subconscious and conscious thought patterns. Here Patanjali shows how the afflictions that colour our thoughts can be either be completely unconscious to us(dormant or inactive) or they can be subconscious to us(interrupted or separated from temporarily) as in we sometimes become conscious of them, but they are taking place in the unconscious or we can be completely conscious of them. He also shows that they can also exist in a weakened or strong state.

An unconscious affliction such as fear could be have an aversion to somebody you know for no clear reason, but unconsciously the reason is because that person reminds you of you somebody you had an unpleasent trauma with.

Patanjali gives even more precise definitions of what the various afflictions are, but we will not go into that. Next we will look at Patanjali’s theories on how to attenuate these afflictions:

2.10 When the five types of colorings (kleshas) are in their subtle, merely potential form, they are then destroyed by their disappearance or cessation into and of the field of mind itself.

2.11 When the modifications still have some potency of coloring (klishta), they are brought to the state of mere potential by meditation (dhyana).
(dhyana heyah tat vrittayah)

Here Patanjali is saying that when we can witness the unconscious afflictions then we can resolve them. This strongly what psychodynamic therapy is based on, if we can consciously become aware of our unconscious thoughts, we can then dissolve those issues. e.g., you are having problems with your spouse. You go to a marriage counsellor who practices psychodynamic therapy, in the course of therapy you discover unconsciously your problems with your spouse was because you had an unresolved issue with your mother. Now that the issue has been dissolved, you no longer have a problem with your spouse anymore.

The other technique Patanjali recommends is meditation. In meditation we can directly witness all our thoughts, and thus eventually we will also witness our unconscious thoughts to. Thus meditation is like a self-psychodynamic therapy.

Next Patanjali explains a theory on how these unconscious afflictions take place:

2.12 Latent impressions that are colored (karmashaya) result from other actions (karmas) that were brought about by colorings (kleshas), and become active and experienced in a current life or a future life.
(klesha-mula karma-ashaya drishta adrishta janma vedaniyah)[/quote]

2.13 As long as those colorings (kleshas) remains at the root, three consequences are produced: 1) birth, 2) span of life, and 3) experiences in that life.
(sati mule tat vipakah jati ayus bhogah)

Patanjali is saying, like all modern psychodyanmic theories suggest the cause of these unconscious afflictions is a previous afflictive experience(in most Fruedian psychoanalysis that is often a childhood experience) As long as these unconscious afflictions remain one continues to experience their effects in their life. Patanjali goes much further than most psychoanalysts however, and suggests that these experiences can also come from other lifetimes and it is these experiences that can lead to birth again in order to resolve them.

Patanjali solution however is not experience every single unconscious desire one has, but to realize that all experiences, even pleasurable ones are actually ultimately pain, riddled with anxiety. The real solution to ending this pain is to remove the root ignorance by systematically misidentifying with the world. This is similar to Lacan’s mirror theory in the psychoanalytical tradition, that the first original consciousness of our self is eclipsed by a false later consciousness of our self. Thus the Lacanian approach is to return back to the original self by misidentifying with all the false notions of self.

In the last chapter Patanjali describes more clearly the relationship between action(behaviour) and thought patterns:

4.7 The actions of yogis are neither white nor black, while they are threefold for others.
(karma ashukla akrisnam yoginah trividham itaresam)

4.8 Those threefold actions result in latent impressions (vasanas) that will later arise to fruition only corresponding to those impressions.
(tatah tad vipaka anugunanam eva abhivyaktih vasananam)

Again consistent with modern psychologies theories it is actually stimuli in the world that leads to the thought patterns/habits we develop. The actions that we do now generate thought patterns and the thought patterns in turn affect our future actions. This is pretty much exactly the same theory of the thought-behaviour loop in CBT.

4.9 Since memory (smriti) and the deep habit patterns (samskaras) are the same in appearance, there is an unbroken continuity in the playing out of those traits, even though there might be a gap in location, time, or state of life.
(jati desha kala vyavahitanam api anantaryam smriti samskarayoh eka rupatvat)

Patanjali here is saying exactly what modern psychodynamic theories say: the unconscious is constantly producing all our conscious behaviours. Conscious behaviour is basically the final result of germinating unconscious impressions stored in our memory. Some of them appear soon, and some of them appear later.


Finally, as regards the information-processing model. Patanjali does not directly mention in the Yoga Sutras, but it is described in Samkhya, which is the theoretical meta-paradigm that Patanjali is working in. In Samkhya the mind is seen as a material instrument which has a function to process, identify, filter and assemble data which is received by the senses. In other words it is what we would today call a computational theory of the mind.

Thus altogether we can find Samkhya-Yoga is a theory and practice of psychology. Definitely Not religion and not exclusively what we call ‘spirituality’ today(spirituality is a fuzzy word that can mean anything) It is the first scientific and practical system of psychology in history, long before similar kind of systems started to develop in the West in modern times. Yoga, more specifically, is what in modern language we would call a psychotherapy. It is designed to still the activities of the mind and remove the afflictions from mental activities(thought patterns) in order to treat a mental disease we are all suffering from: ignorance. The king of all psychological diseases. According to Yoga that disease is our misidentification with the world. The cure is to reverse the identification process through the the practice of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Kriya Yoga.

Therefore, Yoga is through and through a psychological science. It is definitely not religion because it is not based on god, and the only mention of god is as one possible object of meditation among several other. Moreover, this concept of god is completely unlike the theistic concept of god, this god is identical with pure consciousness or pure self, and is an inner-teacher within all of us. When we realize ourselves as pure consciousness we realize ourselves as this pure eternal one. Patanjali prescribes surrender to this pure and eternal self that is the being of our being as being as a central part of his practice. In modern psychology we have similar theories of there being a pure actualized self that is always there within us in the background, we simply need to realize it and affirm its reality.

Arguably, Yoga is what we could spiritual because its purpose is not treatment of some psychological issue like depression, it is the treatment of the life condition itself. However, spirituality and psychology are not mutually exclusive either. There is, as I pointed out earlier, transpersonal psychology that looks at the psychology of spirituality as well. So simply because Yoga mentions spiritual things like the existence of subtle bodies, reincarnation, psychic powers that does not exclude it from being psychology. Otherwise we would have to exclude transpersonal psychology from being psychology as well.


First of all, thank you for such detailed information.

To me, Patanjali’s Yoga sutras are much more advanced than the modern psychology. The issue for me is little understanding about them and lack of time.
The way, things like Yoga sutras/ Bhasyas are written is that they normally are de-linked from religion/branding/marketing/bias.

In fact, most of so called “self-help” best sellers and things like CBT/NLP are modifications/rehashing of works done by sages. (Yeah, there were no copyrights and patents in those days…!!) :stuck_out_tongue:

Arguably, Yoga is what we could spiritual because its purpose is not treatment of some psychological issue like depression, it is the treatment of the life condition itself.

For the people who are suffering from depression, yes…Yoga can be a cure. Yoga’s purpose can be some high-level liberation, but it also deals with low-level problems.

I have a question: Is it really necessary to understand Yoga Sutras/ Samkhya philosophy to really practice Yoga? To me, it looks like they are necessary if one wants to become a “guru” or want to structure a course on Yoga. Something like, does one need to know the details of mechanical engineering and car design to drive a car???


This is a complete reductionist view of yoga, but you have been reading too much nonsensical neo spiritual bullcrap and pop psychology that it would be a hopeless task to try and explain this to you.


Thanks Yaram. I am going to make just another brief post on technical psychological parts in the Yoga Sutras, before responding to your and earlier posts.

The goal of Yoga is achieving the highest samadhi and thereby total and absolute liberation. Now a samadhi is basically a state of the mind when it is highly coherent(like a laser, which basically is the state of light when it is highly coherent) There are many degrees of samadhi, i.e., there are many stages of coherence the mind can achieve that are identified by Patanjali. The difference between these difference states of coherence is the degree of concentration achieved.

1.17 The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds, 1) gross (vitarka), 2) subtle (vichara), 3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and 4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.
(vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah)

1.18 The other kind of samadhi is asamprajnata samadhi, and has no object in which attention is absorbed, wherein only latent impressions remain; attainment of this state is preceded by the constant practice of allowing all of the gross and subtle fluctuations of mind to recede back into the field from which they arose.
(virama pratyaya abhyasa purvah samskara shesha anyah)

Gross concentration is basically normal everyday concentration; like concentrating when reading something, concentrating on studying; concentrating on driving. When this concentration becomes even stronger it becomes subtle, in that you start to notice subtle things in your object of concentration e.g., concentrating on a poem you might start to notice naturally things like meter, rhythm, the use of devices, themes. In terms of the mind, you will stat to notice subconscious thoughts that precede the more gross thoughts. This practice only starts when one has bypassed the gross stage. In like manner the the other two stages of concentration are achieved by bypassing the others.

Some really important practical information is given by Patanjali to the meditator here. It will become clear what level of mind you are at(conscious, subconscious, unconscious, superconscious, pure consciousness) because each one is distinct and proceeds from the last one. Those who meditate will know that during meditation one shifts from one state of consciousness to another, and it is unmistakable when the shift takes place, marked by the higher coherence achieved. Here Patanjali has identified 4 major distinct states of consciousness(similar to the Upanishadic waking, dream, causal and absolute)

Types of Samadhi is actually a very advanced study of psychology, which modern psychology is only just starting to explore. In modern language we call them states of trance. However, modern work on this subject is nowhere as detailed as is Patanjali, this is why one could say Patanjali is the greatest psychologist that ever lived. Patanjali also later describes the very specific stages of samadhi and what exactly happens to the mind due to reaching them:

1.40 When, through such practices (as previously described in 1.33-1.39), the mind develops the power of becoming stable on the smallest size object as well as on the largest, then the mind truly comes under control.
(parma-anu parama-mahattva antah asya vashikarah)

1.41 When the modifications of mind have become weakened, the mind becomes like a transparent crystal, and thus can easily take on the qualities of whatever object observed, whether that object be the observer, the means of observing, or an object observed, in a process of engrossment called samapattih.
(kshinna-vritti abhijatasya iva maneh grahitri grahana grahyeshu tat-stha tat-anjanata samapattih)

1.42 One type of such an engrossment (samapattih) is one in which there is a mixture of three things, a word or name going with the object, the meaning or identity of that object, and the knowledge associated with that object; this engrossment is known as savitarka samapattih (associated with gross objects).
(tatra shabda artha jnana vikalpah sankirna savitarka samapattih)

1.43 When the memory or storehouse of modifications of mind is purified, then the mind appears to be devoid of its own nature and only the object on which it is contemplating appears to shine forward; this type of engrossment is known as nirvitarka samapattih.
(smriti pari-shuddhau svarupa-shunya iva artha-matra nirbhasa nirvitarka)

Patanjali’s description goes up all the way to unmanifest prakriti. I will spare those details here. The first level of concentration is gross, and at this level whatever object we concentrate on we only have verbal knowledge of that object and related knowledge e.g. the word “sun” refers to a celestial object, which is actually a special kind of star, it produced heat and light through nuclear fusion, it holds in place through its force of gravitation all other celestial objects, including planets in their respective orbits. The sun is worshipped by many cultures around the world, the Japanese consider the sun to be a goddess and see their rulers as descendants from the sun. The Aryans were also sun worshiped the sun, and variously called it Surya, Savitur.

This type of knowledge is thus only purely verbal and based on associations. This is obviously considered in Yoga the lowest grade of knowledge. Higher than this kind of knowledge is intuitive knowledge, but knowledge only starts to dawn when all our verbal knowledge of a respective object recedes, otherwise intuitive knowledge cannot happen if we simply content ourselves with verbal knowledge. This knowledge is purely objective, revealed by nature itself.

1.47 As one gains proficiency in the undisturbed flow in nirvichara, a purity and luminosity of the inner instrument of mind is developed.
(nirvichara vaisharadye adhyatma prasadah)

1.48 The experiential knowledge that is gained in that state is one of essential wisdom and is filled with truth.
(ritambhara tatra prajna)

1.49 That knowledge is different from the knowledge that is commingled with testimony or through inference, because it relates directly to the specifics of the object, rather than to those words or other concepts.
(shruta anumana prajnabhyam anya-vishaya vishesha-arthatvat)

The knowledge we receive about any object through our normal sensory channels of data is conditioned knowledge, including basic perceptions like, “Here is a chair” The knowledge that we receive through the intuition(prajnana) is unconditioned, pure, actual knowledge of the object. In the third chapter Patanjali mentions the various objects one can meditate on and the kind of knowledge and powers they can produce at these higher levels of samadhi.

There is still yet an even deeper level of samadhi and that is when even the object itself disappears leaving only the reality of pure consciousness itself. This is the goal of Yoga:

1.51 When even these latent impressions from truth filled knowledge recede along with the other impressions, then there is objectless concentration.
(tasya api nirodhe sarva nirodhat nirbijah samadhih)

Here ends the chapter on Samadhi. Patanjali describes what exactly happens at the causal level in the final chapter on Liberation(Kaivalya) As I said earlier, it is clear that the vrittis of the mind are identical to the gunas of Samkhya, and Patanjali identifies them as the same in the last chapter:

4.13 Whether these ever-present characteristics or forms are manifest or subtle, they are composed of the primary elements called the three gunas.
(te vyakta suksmah guna atmanah)

Here Asuri’s interpretation that the vrittis merely have to be controlled or regulated is thoroughly defeated. Patanjali directly identifies that the vrittis are composed of guna activity and Samkhya is very clear that until guna activity is not halted consciousness cannot be liberated.

Do the logic yourself:

So if vrittis are actually really guna activity, and guna activity is what is obstructing consciousness and preventing its liberation, and it is only after the guna activity ceases that consciousnness can be liberated THEN it is clear that Patanjali does indeed mean in 1.2 that ALL vriti activity needs to be ceased.

Later, Patanjali even more clearly says that after all guna activity has stopped, only then does liberation take place:

4.32 Also resulting from that dharma-meghah samadhi (4.29), the three primary elements or gunas (4.13-4.14) will have fulfilled their purpose, cease to transform into further transformations, and recede back into their essence.
(tatah kritarthanam parinama krama samaptih gunanam)

4.33 The sequencing process of moments and impressions corresponds to the moments of time, and is apprehended at the end point of the sequence.
(ksana pratiyogi parinama aparanta nigrahyah kramah)

.34 When those primary elements(gunas) involve, or resolve themselves back into that out of which they emerged, there comes liberation, wherein the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its true nature.
(purusha artha sunyanam gunanam pratiprasavah kaivalyam svarupa pratistha va chiti shaktih iti)

And there we have it, Asuri’s interpretation that Patanjali did not mean in 1.2 the total cessation of all vrittis no longer has any leg to stand on. Here Patanjali is saying very explicitly until it is not until the the guna activity ends and is resolved back to its original unactive state that pure consciousness is revealed in its own nature. Now compare to 1.2-3 again:

Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.

It becomes very clear now what Nirodha actually means with the context Patanjali has provided. This is why I said that we must read something within the wider context to interpret correctly. Nirodha here undoubtably means cessation or stoppage of vritti activity and Patanjali makes this clear by now defining that vrittis are actually made up of guna activity and it is only when guna activity is stopped that pure consciousness can be revealed.

There is no doubt about it, despite how conclusive the above arguments are, Asuri will continue to latch onto his wrong Christianized interpretation, as long as others are more sensible and realize that Patanjali definitely is calling for total cessation of vritti activity.


First of all, my interpretation of the yoga sutras has nothing to do with Christianity. This is pure bigotry on the part of Surya.


[QUOTE=Sarvamaṅgalamaṅgalā;71986]This is a complete reductionist view of yoga, but you have been reading too much nonsensical neo spiritual bullcrap and pop psychology that it would be a hopeless task to try and explain this to you.[/QUOTE]

Again Sarva the dogmatic and irrational statements you express here is why i no longer identify as a Hindu. Hindus trivialize the great wisdom tradition we have inherited from the Vedas where our ancient scientists Risis made did a lot of work in exploring mind, consciousness and behaviour, the direct result of which was the scientific Samkhya-Yoga system as a practical method to purify our mind and character and attain self-realization. You trivialize this this by trying to force this great scientific-spiritual Vedic culture into a religion worshiping Indian gods and goddesses and performing outdated rituals.

For you Sarva being Hindu is nothing more than a badge of national pride so you can differentiate yourself from other religions. The irony is Hinduism has never ever existed as a religion in India. There was no Hinduism in India prior to the 18th century. No such religion ever existed. So it is you who are reducing your great scientific heritage into an exclusive India-only religion - ironically the nation state of India did not exist either.

The thing is because Samkhya-Yoga is scientific, its truths are universal and are being rediscovered by modern scientists, sometimes without having any direction knowledge of the Vedas. This seems to really piss you off.