Reading dates: 05 April 2015 — 13 April 2016
It is difficult to write a review of the Sutras without a disclaimer. What I gave three stars to is this particular edition and commentary, not Patanjali’s work, which probably deserves a whole galaxy for its conciseness, ambition, erudition, beauty and precision.
Chip Hartranft’s version of the Yoga-Sutras has been my first incursion into yoga philosophy and, for that, it has been invaluable, clear and has left me wanting more. It is a short book, providing context for the four sections of the Sutras. It is well structured, simple and articulated in such a way that I could read it for a whole year, just a few lines at a time, during my 6 minute subway journey to the shala. It gave me focus, intention, and food for thought for what I was about to do on my mat. The commentary is considered, deceptive in its simplicity, at times very beautiful and loving of this ancient text. I chose it because it is a Western approach, which I thought would be more understandable as a starting point, for me at least. I found a table online, with comparative translations of all the Sutras (they are so different) and Hartranft’s jumped out at me. I got three different translations, but I started with his.
Why 3 stars? When in November last year I spent a whole weekend looking at book 1 of the Sutras with James Boag, I realised the impossible task of Hartranft. I got a lot of the oral transmission and live translation James gave us and I wondered if oral commentary and satsang wasn’t simply the best way for this work to be transmitted (which might be why James has not written a book). With him, the Sutras took another dimension as a breathing text. The permanence of the written work was not so attractive. Then, there was the issue of Sankrit. Hartranft’s edition is fully in English, with online access to the Sanskrit text and sutras are grouped together for commentary. The long, punctilious work of my weekend paid off, leaving the groupings of the book as too cursory. I guess what I am trying to say is that, in my year of reading it, I outgrew the book, went through the door it provided, studied it and now I need to approach a different type of commentary. I still needed to be shown the door, though, and maybe for that, for being there and being perfect for what I needed at the time, it does deserve 5 stars.