Excerpted from the approximately 14 page discussion of the first four
sutras of the Yoga Sutras, the section we have entitled "What is
BEING PREPARED TO START: To sincerely begin the pursuit of Self-
realization is a most significant step in life, when the highest goal
of life is taken on as number one on your list of things to do. The
first word of the Yoga Sutras is atha, which means now (1.1). This
particular word for now implies a preparedness in arriving at this
auspicious stage of desire and commitment towards Self-realization,
the highest goal of Yoga.
DEFINITION OF YOGA: The first four sutras define Yoga, with that
definition being expanded upon in the other sutras. In a systematic
process of meditation, you gradually move your attention inward,
through all the levels of your being, gaining mastery along the way
(1.2). Eventually you come to rest in your true nature, which is
beyond all of those levels (1.3). This action and the realization of
this center of consciousness, is the meaning of Yoga.
THE TRUE SELF SHINES THROUGH: The true Self, which has been there all
along, naturally comes shining through (1.3). The rest of the time,
we are so entangled with our false identities that we literally do
not see that this misidentification has happened (1.4). It is the
reason that sometimes it is said that we are asleep, and that we need
to awaken. That awakening to the Self is the meaning of Yoga.
LIKE A MIRROR: Consciousness looks outward, through the intellect,
through the mind, and then through the senses and body. It sees a
reflection, like a mirror. It sees reality, a world, a self-identity,
which it falsely thinks to be "me" or "mine." Through the forgetting
power of avidya or ignorance (2.5), pure consciousness says, "I am
this or that!" This is not all bad, for it gives the opportunity for
the joy of awakening, through a journey called Yoga, returning to the
wholeness that was never really divided in the first place.
YOGA AND SANKHYA PHILOSOPHIES: The process of realization through
Yoga rests on the discovery of pure consciousness (purusha) as
separate from all the many false identities, which are considered to
be evolutes of primal matter (prakriti). These principles of purusha
and prakriti are part of the philosophical system known as Sankhya.
YOGA IS SAMADHI: Both ancient and modern sages, including Vyasa, the
most noteworthy commentator on the Yoga Sutra, flatly declare that
Yoga is samadhi, the high state of perfected concentration or
complete absorption of attention (3.3). Yoga means union, literally,
to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate. It
means to bring together the aspects of ourselves that were never
divided in the first place. It means to attain direct experience of
the core of that preexisting holistic being who we truly are at the
deepest level, and that is attained through samadhi.
YOGA IS NOT: Yoga is not merely physical fitness, stress management,
medical treatment, or a means of manifesting money, although
authentic Yoga is definitely beneficial to many aspects of life (See
Modern Yoga versus Ancient Yoga).
YOGA SUTRA 1.1 Now, after having done prior preparation through life
and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
(atha yoga anushasanam)
ATHA= now, at this auspicious moment; implying the transition to this
practice and pursuit, after prior preparation; implying a blessing at
this moment of transition
YOGA= of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which
means to join or to integrate; same as the absorption in samadhi
ANU= within, or following tradition; implies being subsequent to
something else, in this case, the prior preparation
SHASANAM = instruction, discipline, training, teaching, exposition,
explanation; Shas implies the imparting of teaching that happens
along with discipline
YOGA COMES AFTER PREPARATION: This introductory sutra suggests that
after our many actions in life, and whatever preparatory practices we
might have performed, now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths
of self-exploration, the journey directly to the center of
consciousness, Atman, or Self, our eternal and True identity.
DISCIPLINE AND LEARNING: To practice Yoga requires cultivating
discipline and following a systematic method of learning
(anushasanam). This has more to do with the quality or conviction in
one's practices than it has to do with the quantity. This is
described in greater detail in sutras 1.21 and 1.22.
For more information from the 14 pages on Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.4: