Book Review: Demystifying Patanjali
The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda,
Presented by his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda
When I began my own study of Demystifying Patanjali: Kriyananda’s interpretation based on Yogananda’s teachings of the Yoga Sutras, I felt myself transported back to Paramhansa Yogananda’s years in the ashram of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda recounts in Autobiography of a Yogi, taught scripture study by the ancient Vedic method: intense, one-pointed meditation on the inner meaning of each verse.
Firmly in the Vedic tradition
Swami Kriyananda’s, Demystifying Patanjali stands firmly in the same Vedic tradition. Kriyananda’s purpose is to demystify, to bring these ancient teachings again into the crystal clarity of the original meaning.
Kriyananda’s true understanding of Patanjali came from years of personal time with Yogananda: time spent with the Master when he was writing his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita; as well as asking Yogananda directly about many key points in the Yoga Sutras.
From the early days of his discipleship, Kriyananda was singled out by Yogananda to take his teachings out into the world. The Master devoted many hours to helping Kriyananda understand the essence of his teachings on all the great scriptures — the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Rubaiyat, and the Yoga Sutras. By the time of Demystifying Patanjali, Kriyananda had been deepening his comprehension and actual experience of the inner meaning of the scriptures over the course of a lifetime of discipleship.
Kriyananda has commented on Patanjali throughout his long writing and lecturing career. The Art and Science of Raja Yoga contains his most detailed, closely reasoned exposition. In this earlier book Kriyananda has arranged his material on Patanjali in a way that communicates with the orderly, sequential mode of understanding inculcated by Western education. To my own Western-trained mind, this earlier exposition made perfect sense, and at the same time provided a starting point and profound encouragement to practice and experience the teachings in my own self.
Standing in the presence of Patanjali
Demystifying Patanjali has much more the intimate feeling of Autobiography of a Yogi—the Master guiding his disciples, teaching, yes, but teaching in a way that inspires the reader/student to take the words within, to meditate on them and make them his own. The dominant feeling was of listening to an inspired spiritual discourse, the energy flowing through the words — drawing the reader’s consciousness powerfully to the point between the eyebrows, and to the heart, where, Yogananda tells us, true understanding resides.
It is this heart’s awakening that the devotee experiences when he first steps onto the spiritual path — and that he seeks to keep alive and growing through meditation, satsang, spiritual reading, and attunement with the Guru. Reading Demystifying Patanjali brought into my being that same thrill experienced more than four decades ago, during my first reading of Autobiography of a Yogi. One feels Kriyananda standing in the presence of Patanjali, transmitting from that master’s spirit to ours, from his heart to ours, the pure essence of this messenger of God.
A wonderful lightheartedness
Bliss is the key to Demystifying Patanjali. Kriyananda radiates his own joy in God through all that he writes. And he does so always with kindness—he is our divine friend, sharing what he himself has learned and understood. The reader feels, “I can do this,” and “I can start here, and go forward, into the Light.” Every explanation, every suggestion comes with a solution, a step to take forward to freedom.
He writes also with a wonderful light heartedness — the path is no slogging uphill climb. It demands the utmost of us, yes, but the essence of the effort is in its increasing inner joyfulness.
Kriyananda writes also with absolute self-honesty. He never interprets a passage without inner certainty. At several points, he describes himself as “puzzled” at a verse. If he does not find the right understanding intuitively, he calls up remembered conversations with Yogananda. Of one particularly abstruse verse, Kriyananda remarks, “My Guru explained this truth. Without his explanation, I doubt that this sutra would have made any sense to me.” Writing his interpretation of Patanjali near the end of his life, Kriyananda held himself accountable to the same principles — strict truthfulness, humility and attunement with the Guru — that had guided his life of discipleship from the very beginning.
Demystifying Patanjali is a book to treasure, meditate on, take into seclusion, and hold close to the very end of the spiritual journey. The journey and the end of the journey are beautifully, clearly, and lovingly described by this great man of God, one who has made the journey and extends the hand of divine friendship to all who would follow in these anciently familiar footsteps.
To order Demystifying Patanjali by Swami Kriyananda go to Crystal Clarity Publishers.
Related reading: The Art and Science of Raja Yoga
Nayaswami Prakash is a long-time member of Ananda. He currently serves at Ananda Village doing forestry and landscaping work. Before moving to Ananda Village in 1974, he taught English and Literature at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.