Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali, A translation from Sanskrit, with commentary, introduction, and glossary by Barbara Stoler Miller

ISBN: 0520201906
ISBN 13: 9780520201903
By: Barbara Stoler Miller

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About this book

The Yoga Sutra, dating from about the third century A.D., distills the essentials of a complex system of physical and spiritual discipline into 200 brief aphorisms. Yoga is at the heart of all meditative practice in Asia, yet until now there has been no first-rate English version of this primary text. Barbara Stoler Miller's translation admirably fills that gap--her clear, strong style and sensitive phrasing convey every nuance of Patanjali's words, and her commentary offers invaluable guidance to anyone seeking to understand Indian philosophy or the practice of yoga.The Yoga Sutra does not propose to offer new knowledge but rather a new perspective on the nature of knowing. As a method of achieving insight, the discipline of yoga is far from mystical ecstasy or ritual trance. Its goal is a contemplative intensity that can unbind the constraints of everyday experience, and that goal helps explain Americans' growing interest in yoga in recent years.This interest has been most widely expressed in the physical dimension of yoga--the postures known as hatha-yoga--but attention is increasingly being directed at the philosophy and psychology that define the discipline. Here the Yoga Sutra shines most brightly; in a world of bewildering complexity and seductive material culture, this centuries-old text offers powerful techniques for countering private mental chaos and moral confusion. The Yoga Sutra has great relevance today, and thanks to Barbara Stoler Miller it is now truly accessible.

Reader's Thoughts

Dennis Littrell

Miller, Barbara Stoler. Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali (1995) ****Excellent for a first readingThe main strength of this book is in the late Professor Miller's Introduction which is lucid and insightful in identifying and placing Patanjali's Yoga Sutras for the general reader. The weakness is in Miller's use of certain non-yogic and sometimes misleading terms in her translation, usage which stems from her position as an academic of yoga and not a practitioner. Sometimes she translates words that probably should not be translated since there are no real English equivalents--for example, "samadhi" itself. And sometimes she uses what I would consider not the most agreeable English equivalent.Her use of the word "spirit" in the third aphorism is an example: "When thought ceases, the spirit stands in its true identity as observer to the world." The Sanskrit word she is translating is "drashtri" which is usually "seer" although it can also mean "soul," according to B.K.S. Iyengar. When one reads the next aphorism, "Otherwise, the observer [seer:] identifies with the turnings of thought" it becomes clear that the seer is not spirit; indeed "spirit" is a confusing word in this context since it has no clear cognate in the dualistic yoga philosophy. The closest equivalent would be "purusha" but that would be inappropriate since that refers to the entire non-material consciousness (as opposed to "prakriti," which is what is manifested). Perhaps I should simply say that "soul" in yogic philosophy is not the same thing as "spirit."Another example would be her translation of vairagya in I.15 as "dispassion" which is technically correct but misses the larger meaning of the non-attachment that comes from renunciation, which is the point of the aphorism. I could also quibble with her use of the word "contemplation" as the equivalent of the Sanskrit "samadhi." But it is really impossible to translate the last three limbs of yoga: dharana, dhyana, and samadhi into English, and the contemporary practice is to simply use the Sanskrit terms themselves. And, at any rate, there is considerable controversy about the experience of these states. Miller follows the established practice of rendering them respectively as concentration, meditation, and contemplation. Yet it is clear that samadhi, especially "nirbija samadhi" or seedless samadhi, is beyond contemplation. Georg Feuerstein actually defines samadhi as "ecstasy."Another strength of the book is the translation itself--once one puts aside the quibbles about some of the terms and looks at the forest, as it were, of the entire expression. Miller has worked hard to make the text readily accessible to the general reader by using familiar terms in familiar sentence structures. She also groups several related aphorisms together and comments on them as a whole, giving each group a title. For example, aphorisms I.17 - I.22 are labeled, "Ways of Stopping Thought." This organization works well in helping the reader to a good overall understanding of Patanjali with only a first reading. Miller has not simplified the text or dumbed it down in any sense. What she has done is to give the pithy statements a sort of liquidity that makes for easy reading.Her subtitle: "Discipline of Freedom" is an apt description of Patanjali's yoga in the sense that this yoga employs technique and practice to reach liberation whereas other yogas might employ faith and devotion, selfless service, or knowledge as ways to transcend this earthly existence.I would recommend that this text be studied in conjunction with Iyengar's Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (1993) since that book contains a more detailed exposition of Patanjali's text and has more extensive commentaries. --a review by Dennis Littrell

Stacy Lynn

I enjoyed reading the concepts introduced, and I learned a lot in the process. Great book!

Jess Moss

I think I would have enjoyed this more if I practiced yoga. As it is, I basically speed-read the book so I could count it as "read" before selling it back to the bookstore. I would have probably gotten more out of it had I taken my time.


excellent translation and very useful notes on each line. plus some great stories about the powers of adept yogis. there is one mention of the word "atom" which i really wish had been explained in some footnote - i can't imagine there was a word for the basic molecular building block in sanscrit. but patanjali does seem to know everything, so maybe i'm wrong there. nice commentary on yoga's similarities and variations on ancient buddhist doctrine that was being developed at the same time. it's short and beautiful enough to be read over and over.


Miller's introduction and commentary are very helpful - although I obviously can't comment on the quality of the translation, her explanation of the nuances and polyvalence of particular terms and their possible translations is very thorough and interesting. A great way into understanding Patanjali's text.


I enjoyed the introduction and commentary given by Miller. A great book that has a lot to offer those who study it.


I've read Patanjali's Yoga Sutras two times cover to cover. The first time I read it I had been doing yoga for five years and I stopped after reading the book and did not pick up my practice again for two and a half years. The second time I read it I was practicing again and I did not stop my practice. "Yoga" comes from the Sanskrit verb "Yuj." Sanskrit being the Mama of Indo-European/Indo-Iranian languages gives us a cognate of the word in our own language "yoke." Indeed, that is what the practice of Yoga as understood by its originators and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are dealing with, the practice of yoking oneself. To what? Well, that's where for most of us it gets complicated. You have to read the book to find out. But if you spend time on the mat, you should spend time with this book too.


I struggled with this short summary of the Sutras. I think Miller did little to identify Classical Yoga's philosophy and method in the context of the greater conversation of yoga (about this particular text). My opinion is that the recitation of this Sutra is most useful for inspiring faith within the practitioner, and considering the brevity of Disciplineand emphasis on Miller's translation (rather than commentary) this text could be used for just that. -1 for no original Sanskrit.

Jennifer Christensen

This translation is so much more accessible than some of the myriad of translations out there. I browsed several different copies in the used bookstore and no two translations were the same. Each translator puts their own spin on Patanjali's spartan sanskrit. This one resonated with me.

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