Hey Yogis, have you ever wondered why there are so many different translations of the Yoga Sūtra?
This question drove me BONKERS last year.
I was so frustrated. This book is supposed to be a manual for liberation, and I had five copies, all giving me different instructions. Like WTAF.
This year I finally found the answer.
It turns out that 99.9% of the translations out there are interpretations.
Evaluation (aka interpretation) is the result of one choosing not to take responsible control for their mental content.
(This is incredibly ironic seeing as “Yoga is the control of the (moral) character of thought.” YS I.2)
When one evaluates, they hold their current lens of perception as enduring fact, rather than as based on current contextual underpinnings. From here, all experiences – such as reading the Yoga Sūtra – are filtered through and coloured by that lens.
The result? Thousands of different interpretations of Patañjali’s instructions, each one an example of what the INTERPRETER would say. Not what Patañjali said.
I have had an instructor invite me to ‘pick a version of the Sūtras that speaks to me.’ Whether it was conscious or not, in its essence this was an invitation to identify with my experience and seek a translation that keeps me comfortable.
This is not Yoga.
interested in learning more about what yoga really is? Click here!
And of course, Yoga offers us another choice!
Choosing to observe (aka explication) is choosing to take off one’s current lens of perception and engage in a practice of logic. Experiences – such as reading the Yoga Sūtra – are sorted responsibly by getting curious about the reasons for conclusions that are provided.
This is a practice of Yoga and also a practice of decolonization
Because it is the oppressor’s lens of perception that is ‘too important’ to take off.
Of course then, evaluation/interpretation is NOT restricted to the Yoga Sūtra.
Are you pissed off about how white washed your high school history textbook was? IT’S THE SAME THING.
Are you pissed off about how Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island continue to face genocide to this day? IT’S THE SAME THING.
The oppressor holds their current lens of perception as enduring fact, and tries to make sense out of everything from that vantage.
Without practicing yoga, the oppressor cannot understand anything that they don’t already know.
So obviously, this goes far beyond the Yoga Sūtra. And yet the Yoga Sūtra is an incredible metaphor for what the Western Tradition of thought does to everything it doesn’t understand: Option A: marginalize it and/or Option B: make it mystical.
Yoga isn’t some ‘spiritual’, ‘mystical’ practice. It is a radically procedural approach of – and a South Asian contribution to – moral philosophy.
But 99.9% of Sūtra translations won’t say that. Because if the translator was interpreting, and they didn’t already believe that, they would never have read it that way.
And thus we see Yoga as a School of Thought not just marginalized, but completely absent from the Western Tradition.
find out more about the western tradition of thought here
Where are places that you see evaluation/interpretation show up in your external environment? Where do you see it show up within you?
I will be forever unlearning this violent way of thinking, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to practice a different way of living life.
Want to practice with me?
Sending you love,
P.S. if you’re looking for an explication of the Yoga Sūtra as a philosophical text, I highly recommend Dr. Shyam Ranganathan’s translation. It’s the first and last translation you’ll need.
This post was influenced by the work of: