Translator’s Note

Kanya Kanchana

Samadhi Pada: The Chapter of Being It is an excerpt from my experimental translation of a Sanskrit text called Patanjala Yoga Sutrani (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). Estimated to be around 2,400 years old and attributed to the eponymous Indian sage, it is a braid that weaves together 196 sutras or aphoristic verses on yoga. It has four chapters: Samadhi Pada (51 verses), Sadhana Pada (55 verses), Vibhuti Pada (56 verses), and Kaivalya Pada (34 verses). Each verse is subsequent and consequent to the one before.

This text is also called Yoga Darshana. Darshana means vision, a higher non-ordinary form of seeing. The first chapter here defines yoga, outlines its process and prerequisites, and introduces samadhi, the self-realized state of perfect awareness.

The original text is small, only a few pages long. Its translations and commentaries, however useful as textbooks, are prosaic and verbose. In a quest to be more “authentic” and “objective,” each scholarly volume runs into several hundred pages. Against this background, my work, which is not a literal-minded translation or exegesis, may be considered flippant or even transgressive. What I have done is come back full circle to the spirit of the original, not to create an isomorph, but to regain some of the terse, textured quality of the multilayered sutras in a contemporary idiom.

These verses are spare, tightly-coded information capsules. In Sanskrit, one word can have many layers of meaning, yet convey a precise idea in context. In the absence of an equivalent technical vocabulary in English, I have had to choose my words carefully — simple, strong, capable of deeper meaning. In addition, the style is so syntactically minimalistic that to render it in English, I have had to use a fragment format, cutting everything superfluous.

For example, in the first verse:

              अथ योगानुशासनम्

              atha yogānuśāsanam


              atha = now, therefore, thereupon

              yoga = yoga

              anuśāsanam = anu-, complete, sequential, methodical + śāsanam, instructions

Not an exposition, not commentary, not illustration, but simply instructions, just as much as necessary, laid out in order. The text is meant to be practical. More interesting is atha, holding a whole world of meaning. Now means something has gone before, that is, it begins with the assumption that you have already done everything necessary to practice yoga. The instructions are, therefore, meant for an adept. I have translated it as:

              Now: Yoga.

As part of the oral tradition, the original was meant to be memorized, examined at length by retrieving it at will, and chanted. This meant that it had a certain sonic integrity. I have paid attention to the sound in English.

Over the years, this taut, vital text has had its lovers and its dissenters. Cryptic yet bright, exacting yet liberal, it endures as a technical manual for the mind. There is no expiry date on knowing oneself.

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