Patanjali the Legend of Yoga

Considering the potential origins of yoga through existing records such as Samkhya and the clear reference in the Yoga Yajnavalkya, Patanjalis Yoga Sutras are by no means the origin of yoga as we know it.

Attempting to date the sutras and Patanjali depends on the source and dates vary somewhere between 200 and 400 CE. We are sometimes told yoga as we know it in the West is not very old, but I disagree and there is possible evidence to support this.  Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is said to have been discovered by Krishnamachryra and his then young student Patabi Jois on a manuscript called the Yoga Kurunta. This manuscript was said to have been lost, leaving no real evidence of its authenticity. I have never doubted the existence of the text, but I think this may not have be the case universally. Vamana Rishi is recognised as the author of the Kurunta, which describes this system of Asana Practice. Vamana Rishi is said to lived three to four thousand years ago. You may ask what this has to do with Patanjali. The Korunta was believed to have been written on banana leaves, and the leaves were bound with an ancient edition of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. According to Gregor Maehle the two systems were therefore intended to be practiced and studied together. Hence the name Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Patanjali is linked to several myths and scholars. One version tells us that Patanjali fell from heaven into the upturned hands (Anjali mudra) of the virgin yogi Gonika, who was a powerful yogi. Gonika was praying for an heir to pass on her teachings for the good of humanity.

The name Patanjali is also linked to major works on Sanskrit and Ayurveda. Depending on sources, some scholars will date the works on Sanskrit grammar and traditional Indian medicine to a different time based on comparable documents. Patanjali would have been something of a renaissance man if he was responsible for all the works some attribute to him, and this may well fit in with the time he may have lived in.

The Sutras are a record of an already established system of yoga, and Patanjali was a compiler rather than an inventor of yoga. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya it mentions Hiranyagarbha as the originator of yoga, but It is believed there is no written evidence by Hiranyagarbha, although literature before Patanjalis Sutras cites Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshan as the origin of yoga. It is said that Samkhya was taught by Kapila and yoga was taught by Hiranyagarbha

The Samkhya school, one of the six major philosophies of India predates Patanjalis Sutras, and laid the foundations for Patanjalis eight limbs of yoga. Concepts included in Samkhya are Purusha (unchanging and eternal) Prakriti (everything that is changeable and mortal) and Prakriti being made up of the three qualities: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic.

Considering the potential origins of yoga through existing records such as Samkhya and the clear reference in the Yoga Yajnavalkya, Patanjalis Yoga Sutras are by no means the origin of yoga as we know it.

Martin Thompson