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…!!)
Yes, I absolutely agree. Patanjali’s Yoga sutras is definitely the most advanced text we have on psychology because it combines many modern approaches like CBT and Psychodynamic theory and practices, and gives a far more comprehensive and exhaustive description of the science of mind and behaviour. Patanjali’s scientific method is also more superior to these approaches, because while they rely on hypothetical reasoning, Patanjali relies on mental phenomenology. I mean what can be a better way of trying to find out how the mind works than simply just watching it? By the practice of meditation all levels of mind can be watched, so we can see what is really happening, than just theorizing about it.
Single-handedly, Patanjali is the greatest psychologist that has ever lived. He is not just a master scientist of psychology, but also a master meditator, and has reached the highest stages of meditation. All psychologists should definitely read Patanjali for inspiration and answers. All aspiring mediators/yogis should definitely read Patanjali for coaching, tips, advice and his wisdom.
I also agree with you a lot of modern psychology is just rehashed work done by Patanjali and other major yogic psychologists(especially Buddhists) All pioneering modern psychologists were well-read in Yoga, and some very clearly mention Yoga as their inspiration(Jung etc) However, nobody can stop them from doing that, because Yoga cannot be copyrighted as it is public knowledge.
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???
Yes, Yoga can definitely be used as a main psychotherapy tool or in conjunction with other psychotherapies to treat depression. It can definitely deal with lower level problems as well, in fact all kinds of disease. These are simply benefits of Yoga practice, but the final aim of Yoga is indeed liberation. If one loses sight of liberation when practicing Yoga and satisfies themselves with short term benefits, then they can set themselves up for remission of previous problems. Here is a list of obstacles Patanjali gives that one encounters in their Yoga practice:
1.30 Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
1.31 From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.
(duhkha daurmanasya angam-ejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuva)
In other words these many obstacles can hamper ones Yoga practice. In the long term this can lead to regression rather than progression. If ones Yoga practice weakens for any other reason any gains made can be lost. In fact it is said in Yoga that if ones practice breaks at the higher levels, ones fall will be even harder. Thus the solution Patanjali gives to this is to keep a single, focused and dedicated practice:
1.32 To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object.
(tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah)
Essentially, Yoga is basically mental training to help the mind achieve higher concentration power. As concentration power enables us to reach the states of samadhi. A successful yogis mind is only different from an ordinary mind because it is capable of higher concentration(one pointedness) Thus the yogis mind is highly coherent, composed, still and calm, less prone to afflictions like fear, anger, lust, pride etc. This in turn reflects in their high character. A mind like this is capable of doing any task with expert proficiency, learn anything or master any craft.
Patanjali’s Asthanga Kriya Yoga is simply the best type of lifestyle practice that trains the mind to achieve the highest level of concentration. Other practices Patanjali gives like opposite-thinking(pratipaksha bhavana) to counteract negative thoughts(like CBT) detachment(vairgaya) are also very useful practices to facilitate this.
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???
It is necessary to have clearly defined goals in any practice you start. If that practice is driving then the final goal of that practice is to be able to drive competently. There will be also smaller middle goals like clutch control, steering, passing your theory exam. Anything short of being able to drive competently is obviously not satisfactory and will lead to a failed practice. If we content ourselves with only mastering clutch control, but do not master steering, our driving practice will fail.
In Yoga the goal is the highest goal of life and that is achieving the highest samadhi where consciousness is completely liberated and one becomes a fully realized and enlightened being. There are smaller middle goals like internalizing the yamas and niyamas; achieving correct posture and breathing; achieving pratyhara, achieving the lower samadhis. Anything short of achieving the final goal in Yoga will result in a failed practice. In Yogic terms that means more birth and death. Previous gains can easily be lost on his path and regression is also possible. If we only content ourselves with mastering posture, after we have done so, posture problems may return again.
Thus knowing WHY exactly you are doing Yoga is definitely important. As I said in the OP it makes the difference between a successful and failed practice. The mechanism of Yoga is basically to have a one-pointed mind, thus by constantly practicing we develop a momentum that perpetuates itself and finally takes us to the final goal. If we have any breaks in our practice it will simply contradict our practice. Many people who do not understand the WHY will indeed have regular breaks in their practice, and this is why their practices will invariably fail, it may even lead to complications like Patanjali suggests: instability, anxiety, breathing problems.
The other reason understanding the theory of Samkhya is important is because of DOUBT. Patanjali mentions this as one the first few out of the 9 obstacles that can seriously contravene your practice. If one actually has any doubt that they cannot achieve liberation/the highest samadhi for whatever reason, this will prevent progress in Yoga. If there is doubt about the validity of any of the theories in Samkhya of the existence of a pure consciousness or self, that misidentification needs to take place to liberate consciousness from the world, that the body, mind, intellect etc are not the self, and that all sensory experiences are ultimately full of pain, then ones practice will fail.
Patanjali actually says that Shradda is very important in Yoga, it is like the fuel the car needs before its engines can run. It is often translated as ‘faith’ but it actually means having total conviction and being completely resolute and steadfast. Unshakable. If that is not there when starting Yoga, doubt will remain and it will sabotage our practice.
If we begin Yoga by believing that its theory Samkhya is just another philosophy, a belief system or nonsense, our practice is doomed to failure. We must accept all the conclusions of Samkhya, before we can begin Yoga practice. Prior to that intellectual realization taking place, it is futile starting Yoga practice.