Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a 2,000-year-old text that is revered by many practitioners and teachers as the definitive guide to yogic philosophy and practice. The Sutras are composed of 196 short aphorisms that describe the nature of reality and the means to achieve inner-peace and happiness. In one of these sutras, sage Patanjali offers five keys to gaining wisdom: faith, strength, mindfulness, insight and stillness of mind. If practiced ardently, these five qualities can lead to a greater understanding of life, true knowledge and inner freedom. If you can master these five traits, you can unlock the door of liberation—the actualization of your true nature.
Yoga Sutra 1.20
The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras defines the eight limbs of yoga practice, the common obstacles in the yogi’s path, and the states of consciousness or awareness that can be attained. In Sutra 1.20, Patanjali illuminates the path of the advanced practices of yoga. This Sutra includes five traits or virtues that lead to samadhi. Samadhi is a state of mental stillness, absorption or enlightenment. It is the final limb of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Sutra 1.20: Sraddha-Virya-Smrti-Samadhi-Prajna-Purvakah Itaresam
Translation: Others (without innate abilities) can follow a systematic practice rooted on faith, confidence and mindfulness to ignite the energy and willpower required to maintain a steady focus and evenness of mind that leads to insight, knowledge and wisdom.
Word for word translation:
- Sraddha: unconditional faith, belief, courage
- Virya: energy, strong will, vigor
- Smrti: memory, mindfulness, remembrance
- Samadhi: deep absorption of meditation
- Prajna: wisdom, discernment, intelligence
- Purvakah: preceded by, prerequisite
- Itaresam: of other people
Patanjali’s 5 Inner Qualities
- Faith (sraddha): This is not the blind leap of belief that religion asks of us, but rather an inner sense of direction based on the experience and evidence we gain as our yoga practice develops and builds. When we practice with sraddha, we feel pulled deeper and deeper toward something greater, even though each of us may describe that “something greater” in different ways—as truth, peace, bliss, oneness, self-realization or, as Patanjali described it, Samadhi.
- Strength (virya): The Sanskrit word for strength comes from vira—the root of Supta Virasana (Supine Hero’s Pose) and Virabhadrasana (the Warrior poses). Vira is also the root of our English words virile and virtuous. In yoga, a spiritual “warrior’s” strength is based on commitment and whole-hearted effort. Her power arises from a sense of rightness and purpose.
- Mindfulness (smriti): Though smriti is often translated as memory, Swami Prabhavananda aptly described it as recollection. When we re-collect or gather our scattered thoughts and half-forgotten experiences, directing them with a singular focus, we can develop a continual state of awareness known as mindfulness.
- Insight (prajna): The higher wisdom of prajna arises not from thought, but from intuition or understanding. All of our yoga practices, from asana to meditation, help us build, refine and embody knowledge until it permeates every level of our awareness and becomes part of our nature.
- Stillness of mind (samadhi): While samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga it is also a process and a continuous practice of mental focus, deep absorption and contemplation. This journey begins with a few conscious breaths in a stable and comfortable seated asana. At first, moments of stillness and deep absorption arise briefly and haphazardly. The more we practice drawing our awareness inwards, the more these fleeting experiences become more substantial and can stretch into minutes and eventually hours.
Patanjali believed students needed these four traits or virtues to reach yoga’s ultimate goal, Samadhi. Two thousand years later, we can see how faith, strength, mindfulness and insight work together to help us intensify and advance any yoga practice, from a single asana to meditative absorption. What’s more, we can see that this four-pronged approach is also the key to living life more fully.