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Gloria Arieira's Yoga sutras of Patañjali

Ricky Toledano

January 2021

Seating herself at her podium, our beloved teacher stated with uncharacteristic dryness, “Yoga Sutras. Ok. Fine. Let’s go.” Without the ceremonious preliminaries, the singing the traditional invocations, the class had already started jarringly enough, even before Gloria Arieira abruptly opened her book and added, “But you have to know that this is not Vedanta”. She was unable to disguise her irritation in the way she flipped a page impatiently with an index finger.


My chuckle was much more effectively disguised amid the room full of people as I had never seen it at Vidya Mandir, the institute Gloria Arieira created in 1984 after returning from her studies in India under Swami Dayananda Saraswati between 1974 and 1978. The floor of the classroom on that Saturday morning in 2005 had been completely occupied. Those who arrived later had no choice but to adjust with the occasional chair or stand for the all-morning course on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.

She must have been livid. For although her classes had grown in size over the years, I had completed the course of the Bhagavadgita and attended classes on selected Upanishads where there might have been but ten people sitting spaciously, crossed-legged, around her. But succumbing to the pressure from the burgeoning, global fashion of yoga at the request from some of her closer students—yoga teachers who joined the growing chorus of many aspiring yogis to understand the hermetic manual from the obscure “father” of yoga—Gloria decided to give a class on the ancient text, one relegated outside the canon of Vedanta. Then, suddenly, the room was magically filled beyond capacity. Where had all those students been to hear the real explanations? The dialogue between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna? Between Nachiketas and Death? The greatest of songs that answer not only what is the meaning of life but how to live a meaningful life? No! They wanted the Yoga Sutras.


I confess I was one of them, but I had already studied enough under Gloria-ji to know that Patañjali was hardly the creator of yoga. Even at 2,000 years ago, he was the product of a great and ancient tradition, one that Patañjali must have also studied because—as you’ll discover in the pages of Gloria’s signature commentary that is meticulously dedicated to the original language—his usage of Sanskrit terms indicates exactly where he had reached such conclusions on how a life of discipline must be constructed to attain the highest of human endeavors, the self-knowledge that is plenitude. That means that Patañjali had not only left a legacy for his children and future generations on the secret to human fulfillment, but he had left a trail to the past, like the drops of ghee on the floor left by a naughty baby Kṛṣṇa, leading right back to the source from where he had pilfered it.


My amusement at my teacher’s irritation was in witnessing her unedited emotion. I chuckled in the solidarity of knowing that we all suffer disappointments when the results of our actions, our work, are not necessarily the ones desired, the ones we had intended. However, as I’ve learned in Gloria’s classes, there is the vision behind how one is to receive the fruits of our actions. It is the entire vision of Yoga I had discovered in another text, one in which the greatest of warriors collapses on the battlefield in the self-doubt and uncertainty as to what will be the result of his action. That story is called the Bhagavadgita, the Song of the Lord, and it was where I collapsed, surrendering forever to the body of knowledge I had been learning under the careful instruction of Gloria-ji, right there in Vidya Mandir, where I found myself once again on a Saturday morning, but uninspired by the Yoga Sutras: why would anyone study this text when there is the Bhagavadgita?


But as we also learn in the Bhagavadgita, our disappointments are part of a larger story we cannot see. It follows that although I had never returned to even one class on the Yoga Sutras, others had not shared my opinion—and Gloria-ji had obviously changed hers. What had been planned as no more than the occasional intensive class on a text, became a regular course and one of the most successful at Vidya Mandir. In our conversations arising when editing my manuscript, the translation of her Bhagavadgita, Gloria-ji revealed her delight in teaching the Yoga Sutras. I was aghast, and had to confess what I had never told her: “Gloria-ji, with all due respect, I was there, years ago, on that first class of Yoga Sutra…you were so irritated!” I chuckled again, remembering her face and that index finger pointing in uncharacteristic anger. “The Yoga Sutras?” I continued uncandidly, “It is so dry! It’s like reading a user’s manual. You read it and understand nothing! It doesn’t make sense. Besides, why read the Yoga Sutras when there is the Gita?”


Gloria laughed—at both my candor and my opinion, I think. “The text has grown on me,” she started, unfolding her reflections on the Yoga Sutras. “It dawned on me that what Sri Patañjali wanted to tell us was the importance of having clarity regarding our objective in life as well as patience, steadfastness and perseverance—especially if, in fact, the goal is to reach final liberation, moksha. Daily life requires routine, an understanding of emotions and self-control, clarity and perseverance. Patañjali is offering us the secret of discipline, how to go about a life of Yoga for the liberation from suffering. He focuses on a life of Yoga so that the knowledge that is Vedanta can be understood. This became clear for me”.


My curiosity had been ignited and I read her translation and commentary, published by Sextante in Brazil. I had to look no further than the preface to see how much Patañjali’s message inspired her to reflect on what a life of discipline meant for her life as a mother, as a grandmother, and as a teacher in the context of the Vedic tradition. I also fell for the Yoga Sutras: where I had always found the form of sutras simplistic, I then identified the simplicity, a perfect succinctness that resonated, dispelling the cacophony that can often be encountered when dealing with a sea of words like the Vedic tradition. To me, the Yoga Sutras is like Patañjali’s notebook, rendering what he had learned from a life navigating that sea to its most essential terms.


And it is in those terms that Gloria-ji’s signature dedication to Sanskrit has done the unprecedented. Unpacking Patañjali’s personal notebook, she fills in the Vedic context from which it came. The reader can see from where the great master of yoga had gotten and what he meant by terms such as Ishwara, abhyasa and moksha—as well as what they mean for the yogi.

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When her initial irritation immediately subsided on that occasion of the very first class on the Yoga Sutras years ago, Gloria-ji explained that – in spite of the text – she would be going over the verses exactly as she had always done, according to her unwavering commitment to the Tradition. That meant that the Yoga Sutras would be explained “through the light of Vedanta”. With her permission, I chose to exclude this part from the English-language title, finding the predicate a little lengthy and more distracting than helpful for the English-language book title. Nevertheless, her Yoga Sutra unfolds exactly as her classes: each verse is presented in its original Sanskrit form, followed by its transliteration, then its translation and finally her commentary, so that the line—the sutra—of knowledge that has been passed down from master to disciple since time immemorial remains unbroken.


I never imagined I would leap at the opportunity to translate the Yoga Sutras in exactly the same way I had done for the Bhagavadgita, published by Motilal Banarsidas (MLBD). It was a great honor for me, just as it was an honor to have the Foreward of Mr. Arvind Pare, a teacher, who just like Gloria, has an unwavering commitment to teaching the Tradition, as well as a deep understanding of the intimate connection between Yoga and Vedanta—the disciplines of action and knowledge—for human fulfillment.

Therefore, I am very happy to present my two translations from the Padma Shri award-winning author and teacher, Gloria Arieira.

Please find below all the links to purchase our publications, and feel free to visit the English language website of Vidya Mandir, Gloria Arieira’s institute.

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