Rethinking Pātañjala Yoga Through the Concepts of Abhyāsa and Vairāgya

Daniel Raveh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper offers a close reading of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra through the concepts of abhyāsa and vairāgya, “repetitive practice” and “dispassion,” drawing on Patañjali’s classical commentators and on Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya’s “Studies in Yoga Philosophy,” an (almost) forgotten chapter of his corpus. I open with a critical examination of Patañjali’s citta-vṛtti scheme, his attempt of “mapping” the contents of consciousness. Thereafter, I discuss the “procedure of yoga,” based on the mutual operation of abhyāsa and vairāgya for the sake of nirodha, cessation of the vṛttis, or “movements” of consciousness. A close analysis of Patañjali and his commentators indicates that both abhyāsa and vairāgya are depicted as consisting of a strong reflective dimension. This is to say that the radical meditative act of “emptying” the consciousness of its objective content is in fact a rational conclusion of the mind, as it reflects upon itself. This reflection is both sensitive to the “limitedness” of the objective world and “receptive” to the silent presence of the “unlimited” selfhood beyond, which Patañjali, following the Sāṃkhya tradition, refers to as puruṣa. It is implied here that the yogic act of disengagement from the worldly and objective (conveyed by the notions of pratyāhāra, vairāgya, and kaivalya) is as much an act of will (emphasized and “taken forward” by Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya), as it is an act of self-sacrifice. Finally, the analysis offered here reveals substantial “philosophical threads” in the Yogasūtra, a text which is usually considered as too “practical,” or “therapeutic,” or “spiritual,” to be “really” philosophical.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-333
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Abhyāsa
  • Consciousness
  • Freedom
  • Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya
  • Pātañjala Yoga
  • Vairāgya


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