If Patanjali had been a woman, he may have sounded a lot like Nischala Joy Devi. An internationally renowned yoga teacher, she is the author of The Secret Power of Yoga, a book in which she uncovers the “heart and spirit” of the Yoga Sutras. Devi’s translation of Patanjali’s most famous sutra—yogah citta vritti nirodha— is so sweet, Tantric and heart centered that it makes all previous translations of these Sanskrit words look as if written by male experts hell-bent on mind control. Indeed, when I read the Yoga Sutras, I sometimes feel as if Patanjali himself was hell-bent on mind control.

Devi’s warm, simple, and deeply personal translations are different from any I have read before. Ironically, they remind me of the liberal way Robert Bly—a very sweet but also a very manly man—translates Rumi, Kabir, or Mirabai. There’s a personal directness, liberty, and freshness in each line that other translations lack. She writes that the above sutra, in which Patanjali explains the meaning of yoga, should be interpreted as follows:

Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.”

Compare this to her male counterpart, Georg Feuerstein’s translation:

Yoga is the restrictions of the fluctuation of consciousness.”

Devi’s translation gives us a feeling of warmth, unity, and hope; that yoga is about opening ourselves into a state of being already known to our hearts. Feuerstein’s gives us a sense that yoga is a discipline to chastise the mind into submission. Feuerstein’s translation is indeed a lot closer to the literal meaning of Patanjali’s words than Devi’s. Citta means mind, or consciousness. Vritti means tendency or fluctuation. Nirodha means restriction or suspension.

There is really nothing about the heart or about unity in Patanjali’s original sutra. In the words of my guru, Anandamurti, who interprets this sutra much like Feuerstein, Patanjali meant that a yogi must suspend his or her “mental tendencies” (vrittis) in order to find peace, and thus to experience the goal of yoga. In fact, Anandamurti reminds us that yoga also means unity, that yoga also is a devotional concept, that yoga also is the path of the heart—and that this profound idea comes from Tantra, not from Patanjali.

In Tantra, it is said that yoga means the unity between the individual soul and the cosmic soul, the unity between your heart and the cosmic heart, the unity between you and the Beloved. And as mentioned before, the Sanskrit transliteration for that is: samyoga yoga ityukto jivatma paramatmanah.

In other words, Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 reads a lot like the way yoga is explained in Tantra: that yoga is the path of the heart; that our consciousness abides in the heart; that yoga means union. But for Patanjali, yoga seems to have meant something else: not union, but the “suspension of our mental tendencies” or “the restrictions of the fluctuations of consciousness.”

Here’s another angle. The word citta, which is integral to understanding this sutra, is often translated as “consciousness,” but it really means “mind.” Our vrittis, our desires, our wants, our endless mental tendencies, they reside in our mind, in our citta. And Patanjali wants us to control those vrittis in the citta, in the mind, in order to experience yoga.

But in Tantra the way toward yoga is not simply through control but through the way of union. In Tantra the path of yoga is the path of alchemical transmutation rather than through fierce control. And the way of transmutation goes through the heart, not through the mind, and through consciousness, not through the intellect.

Resembling this heartfelt spirit of Tantra, Nischala Joy Devi writes: “When this sutra is referencing only the mind, the emphasis is on control, restraint, or some form of restriction. It encourages students to be harsh with consciousness.”

Because of this harshness of language, of interpretation, of philosophy—for Patanjali was first and foremost a philosopher—the Yoga Sutras never became popular with the masses in India. Not in the same way Shiva and Krishna have touched the hearts of the Indian people. Because the Indian people, writes Gregory David Roberts in his bestselling book Shantaram, are all about the heart. They live and breathe first and foremost in the heart.

And so do women. And so do the Tantrics. And that is why I prefer the Tantric interpretation of yoga: that yoga is about uniting consciousness through the way of the heart, through the way of love for the Divine.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the official views, policy or position of Ananda Marga.


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