Patanjali and the gift of knowledge

We will begin with a story, the greatest and most effective way of conveying knowledge. Once upon a time, long ago, all the munis and rishis approached Lord Vishnu to tell him that even though He (incarnated as Lord Dhanvanthari) had given them the means to cure illnesses through Ayurveda, people still fell ill. They also wanted to know what to do when people got sick.


Sometimes it is not just physical illness, but mental and emotional illness too that needs to be dealt with. Anger, lust, greed, jealousy etc. How does one get rid of all these impurities? What is the formula?


Vishnu was lying on the bed of snakes — the serpent Adishésha with a 1,000 heads. When the Rishis approached Him, he gave them Adishésha, the symbol of awareness, who took birth in the world as Maharishi Patanjali.


So Patanjali came to this earth to give this knowledge of yoga which came to be known as the yogaSûtras. Patanjali said he was not going to discuss the yogaSûtras unless 1,000 people got together. So 1,000 people gathered south of VindhyaMountains to listen to him.


Patanjali had another condition — he would put a screen between him and his students and told them that nobody was to lift the screen or leave. Everybody had to stay in the hall till he finished. So Patanjali stayed behind the curtain and he transmitted his knowledge to the 1,000 gathered. Each of them absorbed this knowledge. It was an amazing phenomenon and even amongst the students, they could not believe how they were getting this knowledge, how the master was making each of them understand without uttering words from behind the curtain.


Everybody was amazed. Each one of them experienced such a blast of energy, such a blast of enthusiasm, that they could not even contain it. But they still had to maintain the discipline.


But one little boy had to go out to attend nature’s call. So he left the room. He thought to himself that he would go quietly and return quietly. Another person became curious. “What is the Master doing behind the curtain? I want to see.” He got so curious that he lifted the curtain to see the Master. But just as he did so, all 999 disciples were burnt to ashes. Now, Patanjali became very sad. There he was, ready to impart knowledge to the whole world and all of his disciples were burnt.


At this moment, that one little boy returned. Patanjali asked him where he had gone. The boy explained and asked his forgiveness. Patanjali was compassionate and felt that at least one of his disciples was saved.


So he gave him the rest of the Sûtras, the rest of the knowledge. But the student had violated the law and Patanjali was not willing to forget that. So he said, “Since you have violated the law, you will become a Brahmarakshasa , a ghost and hang on the tree.” And the only way he could liberate himself from the curse is to teach one student. Saying this Patanjali disappeared.


Now Brahmarakshasa, hanging on a tree, would ask everyone who passed by one question and when they could not answer he would eat them. He had no choice and for a few thousand years this was the story. He could not find a single person to whom he could teach the yogaSûtras. So he remained in the tree as a Brahmarakshasa (the lesson here being that for the one who has great knowledge, and who does something wrong, the state of Brahmarakshasa will come. An intelligent person becoming a criminal becomes more dangerous than an innocent person becoming a criminal. If a person, who knows all knowledge and then turns a criminal, it is much more dangerous). So the Brahmarakshasa was hanging there and waiting for relief.


Then out of compassion, Patanjali himself becomes a disciple and comes as a student to Brahmarakshasa who told him all the Sûtras, which Patanjali wrote on the palm leaf. The story goes that to redeem one disciple, the Master became the disciple of a disciple.


Patanjali wrote the Sûtras sitting on the top of the tree as that was where the Brahmarakshasa sat. Also, Brahmarakshasa worked only in the night. So he dictated the Sûtras at night and Patanjali wrote them on the leaves. He plucked all the leaves and made a small scratch, drew blood and wrote. This went on for seven days. At the end of it, Patanjali was tired and put everything he had written on a piece pf cloth and set it down and went to bathe. But when Patanjali returned, he found that a goat had eaten most of the leaves. Patanjali then took the cloth bag and the rest of the leaves and walked away.


In this story, there is a lot of depth. The puranas do not give any explanation. They just give a story and it is for us to unlock the meaning. So what is that you all have to find out? (1) How did the master convey the knowledge to everybody without uttering a word? (2) What was the significance of the veil and when it was lifted why did everybody burn down? (3) Why was the one boy forgiven? (4) What is the significance of the goat? (4) What is the significance of this story? You should think about all this and come up with your own answers.


This is the first in a series on yoga Sûtras