Understanding the science of Patanjali Yoga Sutras

It seems a little strange that Sage Patanjali who was the first to enunciate the yoga principles of thought control and mind enhancement would not have included the important science of Kundalini Yoga in it. One can speculate that probably that section could have been extracted by some commentators from his sutras and made into a separate science of Tantric Yoga.

Anil K. Rajvanshi Apr 17, 2023
Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Sage Patanjali has been my teacher. Whatever little I have written in the last 20 years on spirituality or thought about the interaction of mind-matter and higher things has been inspired by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and I have always felt that his spirit has guided me in this journey. 

To me, Patanjali was a true scientist who gave the first knowledge about the control of thought and mind and about universal laws governing time and space. Unfortunately, none of the commentaries on Yoga Sutras have explored them through the lens of science. I feel this essay will help overcome that lacuna.

His writings are like an infinite ocean.  The more you read them the deeper the knowledge. Consequently, I have made a small attempt in trying to understand their science through the publications of my two books; Nature of Human Thought and Exploring the Mind of God and this article is an attempt to explore it further.

My teacher Sage Patanjali

Obviously, I never met or knew Patanjali but know him through his Yoga Sutras. Just like Eklavya who learnt his archery by practicing in front of the statue of Dronacharya, I have learned about the science of Yoga by imagining that the spirit of Patanjali is guiding me.

A great teacher is one who allows his disciple to go through the rough and tumble of the learning process, but his guiding hand is always available to show the correct path. So many times when I have been in doubt, I have repeatedly gone to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and discovered the hidden gems.                

I came to know Patanjali at the age of 14 when I read his Yoga Sutras in a book ( I. K. Taimni, Science of Yoga) borrowed from a public library in Lucknow. Yoga Sutras is a very difficult book to read and more so since most of the commentators have explained the great science of thought and mind control in an extremely confusing way. Most of them had no knowledge of the science of mind control and hence their explanations were all clothed in mythology.         

A great teacher sometimes has the maximum impact when the student is very sharp. A disciple elicits information from the teacher depending on his/her intelligence. A great teacher is like an ocean of knowledge, but you can only take the amount of knowledge depending upon the size of your container (brain power).

At age 14 when I was first introduced to my teacher, I could hardly understand what he meant but understood that by following his teachings one could get superhuman powers like flying, omniscience, mind reading, and energy of a thunderbolt for one’s body, among others. Which 14-year-old does not want such powers?

I then got sidetracked by my technology education in IIT Kanpur, but his teachings must have remained at the back of my mind, and they exerted an invisible pull so when the time was ripe, I again went back to him for knowledge.

Since then every time I have doubts about some aspects of the science of mind I have gone to Patanjali’s Sutras and discovered new gems. With time my container has also expanded a little bit and thus I can absorb more of his knowledge!

Too often we only remember our teachers on Teacher’s Day. I feel they should be remembered every day because getting knowledge is a continuous process and the teacher should always be available whenever you want him/her. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are like that.

Who was Sage Patanjali?

We do not know who Patanjali was, or when he wrote the Sutras, or even what we have today are really his Sutras; but reading between the lines or extracting knowledge from them shows the great understanding and sparkling wisdom of his science. 

Though we will never know the truth of his existence but his science-based teachings (Sutras) which were written more than 2000-3000 years ago meant it must have come from a person not of this world!  I, therefore, feel that he may have been an astronaut from an advanced civilization who came to this world to impart great scientific knowledge. This speculation is explored in a later section.     

Thus whether it is the definition of time; or how thought can be controlled; or how a powerful mind can be used to discover the secrets of nature; all can be gleaned from his writings and by reading between the lines.

Yoga Sutras are not an easy read. They are precise and crisp. India has had a long tradition of passing knowledge from guru to disciple through oral transmission. It can be conjectured that the initial exposition by Patanjali must have been very detailed since the subject matter was difficult. With time the subsequent commentators made them crisp since it helped in memorizing the sutras. In this process, it is quite possible that some important information may have been lost.

Another possibility is that when people did not understand the science behind these sutras some important sutras may have been omitted. Thus, one needs to read between the lines with deep knowledge of modern science to fully appreciate their message. I will try to explain this in detail in sections below.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The book is divided into four sections with a total of 195 sutras. The sections are Samadhi Pada (Section I containing 51 sutras); Sadhana Pada (Section II having 55 sutras); Vibhuti Pada; (Section III having 56 sutras) and the last section called Kaivalya Pada; (Section IV has 33 sutras).

The first two sections (Samadhi and Sadhana) talk about how to make the mind and body powerful enough so that one can focus on a single thought for a long time. This focus on a single thought leads to Sanyam (Patanjali defines it as combination of focus, contemplation, and Samadhi). The state of Samadhi is reached when the object of focus vanishes, and one gets immersed in its essence.

The third section (Vibhuti Pada) is the main section of Yoga Sutras where the Science of Yoga is fully developed.  In this section, Patanjali talks of using Sanyam on various parts of the body and on different subjects, to get supernatural powers and also to understand the laws of nature and the Universe.

I feel Vibhuti Pada is the real essence of his teachings on the conquest of nature via technology. This section has also inspired me to go on the journey of discovering the interplay of spirituality and technology.

Since this section is the meat of sutras, I have a feeling that through time it has been tinkered with by various commentators. Commentators who did not understand the science, either changed some sutras or may have even omitted some of the deep ones and quite a number of distinguished commentators like Swami Vivekananda simply glossed over them.   

An In-depth, reading of Vibhuti Pada also reveals that some sutras are missing in this section since there is an abrupt change in the subject matter from one sutra to another.

And the last or the fourth section of the book (Kaivalya Pada) talks about how using these supernatural powers and understanding the universal laws,  a yogi gains liberation from the cycle of birth and death. One of the most important tenets of the Indian philosophical system is the liberation of a soul, atman, etc. from the cycle of birth and death and Patanjali shows very clearly how to achieve it.

It is also interesting to note that there is no reference to God in the Yoga Sutras but only to Universal Consciousness (7 out of 195 sutras). Patanjali defines this Universal Consciousness as an entity called Ishvara (section I. 23) which is beyond time.  Interestingly Patanjali identifies this Ishvara (section I.27) with the original sound. Modern theories of Big Bang suggest that the first signal after the birth of the universe was sound which was like a deep hum.

Strangely, reading these Sutras somehow is mandatory for practitioners of Hath Yoga (Yoga exercises).  However, I feel the study of Yoga Sutras has nothing to do with practicing physical yoga exercises or Hath Yoga. Patanjali only talks about physical exercise and pranayama in about 5-6 sutras out of 195.

Thus Yoga Sutras should be a recommended reading for students of psychology and all physical sciences. It is a remarkable document on how to live a good and emotionally satisfying life and therefore should be a recommended reading in any humanities course.

Science of Yoga Sutras

I will now attempt to show the science embedded in some of the sutras.  This is based upon my limited understanding of them and is speculative in nature.  However, it shows that if we approach each sutra from a scientific point of view then its gem becomes evident.

In sections III. 53-55 of Vibhuti Pada Patanjali says, “By making Sanyam on a single moment and on the sequence of moments, a yogi gets Vivek (exalted knowledge) so that he/she can comprehend all objects in the universe simultaneously irrespective of their location and sequence of change”. Or in other words, the Mind of God!

And according to John A Wheeler – One of the world’s foremost expert on relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravitation can be simply stated as “Events and the interval between events build space-time”.  The geometric nature of space-time gives rise to gravity, tells the mass how to move, and is the basis of the Universe and the movement of all heavenly bodies.

Again, in Vibhuti Pada (Section III. 31) Patanjali says that by doing Sanyam on the hollow of throat, one conquers hunger and thirst. Recently scientists have discovered that by stimulating of the vagus nerve, hunger pangs can be suppressed.  The vagus nerve is concentrated near the esophagus tube – close to the hollow of the throat. A few years ago U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) approved a device, which can electrically stimulate the vagus nerve so that the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full.

Similarly in Section III. 43 Patanjali says that by doing Sanyam on the relationship of body and space a body could be transported from one place to another and results in the conquest of space. The abductees’ experience of getting their bodies transported from their home to the spacecraft via tunneling and cellular transfer mirrors this sutra.

In another sutra (Section III. 21) Patanjali says that by doing Sanyam on body shape and its changes so that the reflected light does not reach the eyes of the beholder one can make the body invisible. This process is used in stealth aircraft where sharp angles and absorption of the visible spectrum by the aircraft body make it invisible.

And in Sutra III. 35 of Vibhuti Pada Patanjali talks about how doing Sanyam on the heart gives complete knowledge of consciousness. Recent scientific discoveries have shown a close connection between the heart and mind.

Similarly, he talks about how a yogi can read the other person’s mind by doing Sanyam on his thought structure and also control it (Section III. 19).  This is being slowly perfected through various processes of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and hypnosis.

And in another sutra, in Kaivalya Pada (Section IV. 1) Patanjali talks about how all the supernatural powers can come to a Yogi by taking drugs!  Recent studies on the effect of recreational and mind-altering drugs like LSD etc. have shown enhanced spiritual experiences for drug takers and for some the experience of entity visitations. To my mind this discussion on mind-altering drugs in yoga sutras is the first such anywhere in any ancient spiritual text.

Also in Kaivalya Pada (sections IV-2,3 and 9) Patanjali talks about rebirth happening by chance and not because of past karma. This is a major departure from the accepted notion that your birth is dictated by past karma.

Even some sutras in Samadhi and Sadhana Pada (Sections I and II respectively), where Patanjali details the mechanism of thought control and Sanyam, are examined through the lens of modern-day neuroscience and brain research then the gems of his teachings become even brighter.

Thus his sutras on memory formation and removal (Patanjali calls memory as Sanskaras) and the nature of human thought tallies closely with what we know today about the production and nature of human thought.

Similarly, there are other sutras whose knowledge seems to be vindicated by modern science. I think a whole book can be written about their relevance to modern science and technology.  So there is a need to study Vibhuti pada more thoroughly since many secrets in it still need to be rediscovered.

The comparison of Patanjali sutras with modern science is neither to belittle the latter nor to glorify our ancient tradition – both are important in their own way; but to show that all great knowledge originates from the same knowledge space irrespective of the person and the time of its discovery.

Also this comparison establishes the value and authenticity of the scientific aspect of sutras and gives credence to the fact that other sutras may hold secrets which could be revealed if studied thoroughly.  This revelation may show the path to new understanding of natural laws and novel inventions and is the main reason why we are trying to read between the lines in these ancient texts.

Major omission in Yoga Sutras

One of the glaring omission in Yoga Sutras is that there is no mention about Kundalini Yoga.

Kundalini yoga is an important part of Tantric yoga system where yogis believe that through the extremely small central canal (called Shushma Nadi) of spinal cord, sexual chemicals from its base can be raised to reach the brain where they enhance the communication of neural pathways so that all the parts of brain work in unison and one can attain Samadhi.  This is similar to what takes place in the brain during the LSD episode, though the user taking the drug has no control over his/her experience.

Yogis also believe that sexual energy is coiled at the base of the spine hence the name Kundalini (coiled energy, snake etc.).  They believe it can be raised in the central canal – also called Shushma Nadi, by will.       

It seems little strange that Sage Patanjali who was the first to enunciate the Yoga principles of thought control and mind enhancement would not have included the important science of Kundalini Yoga in it. One can speculate that probably that section could have been extracted by some commentators from his sutras and made into a separate Science of Tantric Yoga.   After all whole of Vibhuti Pada is Tantra (technique) of getting supernatural powers and description of Kundalini Yoga would have been very appropriate in it.

Was Sage Patanjali an Extra-terrestrial Astronaut?

All the supernatural powers described in Vibhuti Pada have uncanny resemblance with those exhibited by aliens and hence one can speculate that probably Patanjali was also an alien!

In the seminal book on extraterrestrial abductions of humans by UFO inhabitants, John Mack a former Professor of Harvard University had shown that all the persons abducted and taken inside the spaceships (abductees) talked about extraterrestrials floating in the air, could interact telepathically with them, could read their minds and modify them, become invisible and exhibited almost all the powers written in Vibhuti Pada of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Similar reporting was also done by Coral and Jim Lorenzen in their “Encounters with UFO occupants”.

This similarity between powers written in Yoga Sutras and exhibited by extraterrestrials is so uncanny that I sometimes think that Sage Patanjali could have been an extraterrestrial being who came to earth almost 2500-3000 years ago to give us this knowledge!

Thus if we understand how a Yogi can get these supernatural powers then it may show us a way to understand mind-matter interaction and probably pave the way for developing galactic travel technologies.

Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) are real. There have been innumerable sightings and visitations by extraterrestrials throughout the history of mankind.  And recently US government has officially released video clippings of a few of these sightings.  Similarly, a recent series of Netflix documentaries has further shown the possibilities of these visitations and mankind’s quest for understanding the technologies of UFO propulsion.

Propulsion technology used by UFOs effortlessly overcomes Earth’s gravitational pull and understanding it may help us produce unlimited renewable energies on this planet for our needs and benefits. Hence it is very necessary that we invest money and resources in discovering and understanding them.

In the early 1960s I was exposed to the book “Flying Saucers have Landed”, written by the American author George Adamski. This book, bought by my father, was about the fascinating account of UFOs and Adamski’s contact with extraterrestrials.  Reading this book opened me to a whole vista of space travel and the possibility of life outside our world and created a lifelong interest in UFOs and extraterrestrials. Though later on George Adamski was proven to be a fraud and hoax but his book was a great read and fired my imagination about these issues.

Since then I have tried to read as much as possible about UFOs both in print media and on the internet; and as an engineer have always been curious about the possibilities of their propulsion mechanism. At one time because of deep interest, I had vivid dreams about space journey in one of the UFOs and also visitations of strange life forms in some of them.  It seemed through dreams I was connected to the world of UFOs!

Later on, when I started writing on spirituality, the images of Gods and deities got transformed from mythical figures to astronauts!  I have written about these issues in my latest book “Exploring the Mind of God”. Others like Erich von Daniken, a German UFO enthusiast, have written about Gods as nothing else but aliens visiting us from different planets in their dazzling machines. In Indian scriptures, like Ramayana and Mahabharat there are quite a few descriptions of various gods visiting Earth in their flying machines.

I firmly believe that the future of mankind is to become a galactic traveling civilization and mastering the technology to do so can only come when we develop the wisdom through spirituality to use it wisely.

Galactic and Intergalactic travel is an evolutionary process and as we expand our horizons technologically, we have an inherent desire to conquer space and experience the journey.  It is probably in our DNA and points to our probable extra-terrestrial origins. This is also the claim in the recent Netflix documentary Series on UFOs.  

Getting information on UFO technology can either be done by direct contact with UFO astronauts (usually through abductees) or by a great scientist or inventor who is connected to extraterrestrial knowledge space (KS).

This is how all great discoveries and inventions of this world are made. Thus our knowledge of great spiritual and scientific laws by people like Patanjali,  Buddha, Christ, Ramakrishna, Einstein, Newton, Nikola Tesla, etc., was probably produced as a part of the seeding of the earth by memories from outer space KS who were born in the form of human beings.

Thus, what I have shown in this article is the tip of iceberg as regards the wisdom and genius of Sage Patanjali. What is needed further is to trace the history and origins of his sutras so that a comprehensive system of it is established and to study in depth his available sutras through the lens of modern science and technology.    

(The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Phaltan, India. Views are personal. They can be reached at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com/www.nariphaltan.org)


Suggested Readings:

1.     B. K. S. Iyengar. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Hamper Collins, Indie. 1993.

2.     I. K. Taimni. The Science of Yoga : The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras. 1961.

3.     David Gordon White.  The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali – A Biography.  Princeton University Press, N. J. 2014.

4.     Swami Sivananda.  Kundalini Yoga. Divine Life Society, India. 1994.

5.     Swami Vivekananda. Raja Yoga (Part I and II).  Celephaïs Press, U.K. 2003.

6.     Anil K. Rajvanshi. Exploring the Mind of God – How Technology Guided by Spirituality can lead to Happiness.  Story Mirror, Mumbai. 2022.

7.     John E. Mach. Abduction : Human Encounters with Aliens.  Scribner. 2007.

8.     Carol and Jim Lorenzen. Encounters with UFO Occupants. Berkley Publishing Corporation. 1976.

9.     George Adamski and Desmond Leslie. Flying Saucers Have Landed.            T. Werner Laurie Ltd., U.K. 1953.

10.  John E. Mach. Passport to Cosmos : Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. White Crow Books. 2010.

11.  Anil K. Rajvanshi. Nature of Human Thought (Second edition). Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute. 2010.

12.  John A. Wheeler. A Journey into Gravity and Space-Time. Scientific American Library. 1990.

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