Basic Principles of Patanjali’s Philosophy

The foundation of Patanjali's philosophy is found in the ideas of yoga, one of the six schools of Indian philosophy. The Yoga Sutras are credited to Patanjali text that lays out the fundamentals of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 brief aphorisms on various subjects, including the nature of reality, how people can reach liberation (or "moksha"), and the morals and practices required for spiritual growth.

Who is Patanjali?

The ancient Indian sage Patanjali is largely regarded as the creator of the yoga school of philosophy. The Yoga Sutras, a collection of 195 brief verses that offer a methodical framework for comprehending the nature of awareness and the ways to reach spiritual freedom, provide an overview of his teachings. The main subject of Patanjali's philosophy is the use of yoga to achieve spiritual emancipation. No one is entirely sure when he lived, although it is thought that it was in the fourth or fifth century C.E. based on an analysis of the Sutras.

What was Patanjali's Philosophy?

The foundation of Patanjali's philosophy is yoga, with the ultimate aim of liberation through practicing the eight limbs of spiritual growth. It emphasizes the value of moral behavior, self-control, and removing mental and emotional barriers to arrive at a condition of self-realization. Patanjali's teachings emphasize leading a disciplined life to accomplish the ultimate aim of liberation, or "moksha," or to grow spiritually.


It is a commentary on certain Sanskrit grammar principles taken from Pini's Ashtadhyayi treatise and Katyayana's Varttika, which expands Pini's grammar. It is from the second century BCE. In this, Patanjali clarifies many of Panini's sutras and Katyayana's varttika in response. The Mahabhashya has become a standard for exegetical writing since it is written in an engaging and captivating conversational style.

Principles of Patanjali’s Philosophy

Concept of Dukkha

The idea of "dukkha," which refers to the misery brought on by our attachment to the things of this world and the ignorance of our actual nature, is one of the foundational principles of Patanjali's philosophy. By Patanjali, overcoming dukkha and arriving at a condition of emancipation, or "kaivalya," is the ultimate purpose of human life. Similar to how medical science divides the therapeutic process into four parts (illness, cause of disease, health, and medicine), Yoga Shashtra also breaks down the treatment of Dukha into four steps: Heya (Dukha), Heyahetu, Hana, and Hanopaya.

According to Patanjali, a wise man can find nothing except Dukha in this world. Three things are constantly present with every action: change, misery, and impression. Patanjali outlines the mechanism that results in Dukha in human life in this sutra. Yoga Sutra presents a pessimistic outlook on life, but it is only one aspect of life, not the whole truth. Patanjali claims that the Dukha that has not yet arrived can be avoided in the following sutra. The Dukha that has already arrived must be experienced and completed. Due to the rule of karma, it is impossible to put off the current dukkha that has matured, but it is possible to prevent future dukkha. The Parinama Dukha, Tapa Dukha, Samskara Dukha, and Gunvritivirodha Dukha are the four Dukkhas mentioned in the Yoga Sutra.

  • Pariṇāma Duḥkha − For instance, life changes into death, milk becomes curd, and so on. All that is produced and manifested by the unavoidable rule of nature must end. Change is, therefore, a fundamental aspect of everything. As a result, Parinama is an inherent aetiological component in the development of Parinama.

  • Tāpa Duḥkha − Another etiological component that contributes to suffering is anguish. It just represents a different facet of Parinama Dukha. The fear of losing a precious person or thing results in extreme worry or agony. Attachment is created with objects that bring pleasure and enjoyment, and when challenges must be overcome to achieve a desire, aversion and hatred are created. These manifestations are also present when enjoying life and almost appear alone. Without a doubt, this is a painful and upsetting event in life. As a result, anguish (Tapa) is another factor in the creation of Dukha.

  • Saṁskāra Duḥkha − Every action or experience leaves a Samskara (Impression) on Citta, establishing a certain type of habit. Good deeds left a good impression, evil deeds left a terrible impression, and mixed deeds left Citta confused. It is kept in karmasaya, carried over from one life to the next, generating the birth-and-death vicissitudes cycle. Consequently, it also generates Dukha.

  • Guṇavṛttivirodha Duḥkh − Three fundamental characteristics of nature—light, motion, and inertia—were known in Sanskrit as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. These three Gunas have distinct functional characteristics, such as enjoyment, pain, ignorance, or dullness. These three are a result, and they are constantly at odds with one another. Rajas and Tamas Gunas also emerge and cause conflict if Sattva Guna is also predominant. It is an extremely internal and constant activity that occurs everywhere. Similar to how Sattva and Tamas Gunas similarly emerge concurrently and continuously when Rajas Guna is predominate. As a result, another component contributing to the pain is the conflict among the Gunas.

Concept of Klesha

The concept of "kleshah," which refers to the mental and emotional barriers that keep us from attaining nirvana, is another crucial element in Patanjali's philosophy. Five types of kleshah are distinguished: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. According to Patanjali, we must first conquer these barriers by cultivating the opposing virtues to reach nirvana.

Concept of Astanga Yoga

The idea of "ashtanga yoga," which refers to the eight "limbs" or stages of spiritual development, is one of the cornerstones of Patanjali's philosophy. They are as follows

  • Yama − The five moral precepts, sometimes the "do not," are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-possessiveness.

  • Niyama − The five individual practices of cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, and submission to a superior force.

  • Asana − The third step in advancing yoga is Asana or posture. It means a steady and comfortable posture, and Asana emphasizes the importance of correct and comfortable bodily posture before meditation.

  • Pranayama − It refers to the regulation of breathing and covers inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Controlling the breathing technique significantly aids in calming the mind. The yogi who consistently practices pranayama can regulate both the heart's and lungs' beats.

  • Pratyahara − It is the control of the senses and entails isolating the senses from their intended targets. The realities of Prakrti are seen by our senses, which naturally gravitate toward external objects. They may be compared to a mirror that is turned around such that everything save the person's reflection is reflected.

  • Dharana − It involves focusing the attention on the meditation's subject. Here, the mind is calmed by directing our thoughts into a single, uninterrupted stream. The mind is often quickly distracted. In a couple of seconds, it moves between objects. To make the mind stable and motionless, it must be bound to a certain object.

  • Dhyana − It refers to meditation and entails the uninterrupted flow of thinking around the meditation's focal point. It is continuous, unbroken contemplation, referred to as dhyana, when the process of contemplation is constant. There is always a subject in meditation, and something is fixed in mind through meditation.

  • Samadhi − This is the last action in yoga, and it denotes mental focus. Here, the meditation's focus has entirely consumed the mind. The act of meditation and the subject of the meditation are kept apart in dhyana. However, they unite here. It is the best way to achieve the aim, which is the termination of mental alterations. The euphoric condition must be passed through before release, in which the link with the outside world is severed. Here, the spirit is raised beyond the workings of the earth and brought back to its prime. Conscious or samaprajnata and supra-conscious or asmaprajnata are the two types of samadhi. In the former, awareness of the meditational object is still there; later, it has been transcended.


It is significant to note that Patanjali's philosophy strongly emphasizes the value of individual accountability and self-effort. According to Patanjali, no one else can travel the path to liberation for us; we must each do it for ourselves. The practitioner must constantly examine and modify their ideas, deeds, and behavior to advance on the spiritual path.

Updated on: 03-Feb-2023


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