Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas by Govindan

Govindan, Marshall. Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas: Translation, Commentary and Practice. S t. Etienne de Bolton, Canada: Babaji’s Kriya Yoga and Publications, 2d ed. 2005. Paperback, xxxi + 283 pp.

From the Foreword by Georg Feuerstein:

Today tens of millions of people around the world practice Yoga of one kind or another. Often what they practice barely resembles traditional Yoga, as it has been pursued over five millennia in India. Therefore there is a real need for sincere voices like that of Marshall Govindan, who stands for authentic Yoga, which is always concerned with the great ideal of profound personal transformation and liberation. Govindan, as he prefers to be called, represents the tradition of Kriya Yoga (Skt. kriyâ-yoga), which was first taught by the Himàlayan adept known as Babaji and has been handed down through several teaching lineages. Govindan was initiated into Kriya Yoga by Yogi S. A. A. Ramaiah and since 1988 has himself initiated thousands of students.

S. A. A. Ramaiah is a South Indian master who claims to have been initiated directly by Babaji, best known from Paramahamsa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, as one of the immortal adepts of Siddha Yoga. According to Govindan’s Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition, Yogi Ramaiah has provided some biographical details about that great adept, including his birthdate of November 30, 203 A.D. Apparently, Babaji was a disciple of Pokanâthar (Tam. pronounced Boganâthar), who presided over the temple of Katirgama (Skt. Karttikeyagrâma) to be found in a forest at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. At a certain point, Pokanâthar sent his disciple to the great adept: Agastyar under whose guidance Babaji achieved liberation and immortality.

Another great master of South Indian Siddha Yoga was Tirumûlar, the author of the well-known Tamil Tirumantiram (Tam. pronounced Tirumandiram). In this work, Tirumûlar speaks of himself as a disciple of Nandi, who apparently also taught a certain Patanjali. Few Western students of Yoga have heard of Tirumûlar, but they know Patanjali, the compiler of the famous Yoga-Sûtra. This aphoristic work masterfully maps out the yogic path from a philosophical and psychological perspective.

The Yoga-Sûtras are generally assigned to the period between 200 B.C and 200 A.D. The former date is generally favored by those who identify the compiler of the Sûtra with the famous grammarian Patanjali. More and more scholars, however, opt for the latter date, which takes into account that the Yoga-Sûtra reflect the language and conceptual universe of Mahayana Buddhism.

Tradition knows of several other individuals by the name of Patanjali, a Sâmkhya authority and a composer of a Sûtric work on ritual. Virtually nothing is known about them or their dates. Tirumûlar’s mention of a fellow disciple called Patanjali further muddies the historical waters.

Most scholars place Tirumûlar between the first and seventh century A.D. The ideas and practices found in the Tirumantiram,however, represent a stage of development of Hindu Tantra that suggests a date between the fifth and tenth century A.D. If correct, this would make Tirumûlar’s fellow disciple Patanjali someone other than the compiler of the Yoga-Sûtra. But regardless of such scholarly considerations, a comparison between the Yoga-Sûtra and the Tirumantiram is important and long overdue.

For the past 35 years, my research into Yoga has been focused on the Sanskrit sources. I first encountered the Tirumantiram, which is written in Tamil, in 1998 in the edition (Thirumandiram: A Classic of Yoga and Tantra) arranged and published by Govindan five years earlier. I had of course known of the Tirumantiram many years earlier, having myself republished in 1993 The Poets of the Powers by the renowned scholar of Tamil Kamil V. Zvelebil, who described Tirumûlar as “the foremost exponent of Yoga in Tamil” (p. 38). Zvelebil’s short quotations from Tirumûlar’s work intrigued me greatly, and thus B. Natarajan’s English rendering of the Tirumantiram, published by Govindan, was an incredible find for me. I readily appreciated the enormous depth of Tirumûlar’s treatment of Yoga and in the meantime have come to believe that all students of Yoga should carefully study the Tirumantiram alongside the Yoga-Sûtra and the Bhagavad-Gîtâ.

The present book examines Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras in the light of the Siddha Yoga of Tamilnadu. Govindan has spared no effort to make the aphorisms accessible to those interested in yogicpractice. In particular, the growing number of students of Kriya Yoga throughout the world will find his treatment indispensable, but others too will benefit from it.

It is most curious that while Patanjali’s teaching has become virtually equated with eight-limbed Yoga (ashtânga-yoga), he himself called his path that of action Yoga (kriyâ-yoga) in pâda 2.1. As I tried to show in my monograph The Yoga-Sutra: An Exercise in the Methodology of Textual Analysis, the aphorisms in the Yoga-Sûtra dealing specifically with the eight limbs appear to have been quoted by Patanjali or subsequently added to his text. There is no real satisfactory explanation for why Patanjali used the label kriyâ-yoga for his teachings. However, if we assume with Govindan that the compiler of the Yoga-Sûtra was a fellow disciple of Tirumûlar, we have a direct link to the Tantric heritage of South India, which knows the term kriyâ-yoga in the sense of ritual activity.

Study (svâdhyâya) has always been an integral aspect of Yoga. Western students, in my opinion, need to take this yogic practice more seriously. Because of its succinctness and focus on essentials, the Yoga-Sûtra are ideally suited for in-depth study. Its approach is rational, systematic, and philosophical. In contrast, the Tirumantiram is ecstatic and poetic and filled with precious nuggets of yogic experience and wisdom. Both texts complement each other beautifully, and their combined study will be found illuminating and elevating. Govindan’s book provides an excellent platform for such a study. He writes from his own long experience of Kriya Yoga and a deep love and respect for the heritage of Yoga.

I have known Govindan only for a couple of years but have become impressed with his sincerity as a Yoga practitioner and teacher. He is indefatigable in his commitment to the teachings of hisguru, Babaji, and his many students around the world. His energy, modesty, and kindness are a clear indication of the efficacy of the teachings he is embodying and passing on to others.

Marshall Govindan’s Kriya Yoga Sûtra of Patanjali is a valuable addition to the study of Yoga in general and the Yoga-Sûtra in particular. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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