Those who are familiar with Edwin Bryant know him to be both a scholar and a serious yoga practitioner. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (North Point Press 2009) is the product of both sides coming together in a wonderful way. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that the publication of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali should be greeted by widespread enthusiasm and gratitude by the community of persons who are interested in India’s yoga traditions. Professor Bryant has produced what may be the most simultaneously informative and readable discussion of the Yoga Sutras and the commentarial tradition in English to date. His method is to translate the sutras and provide his own commentary, which often draws upon relevant statements by the commentarial tradition (including Vyasa, Vacaspati, Vinjajnabhikshu, etc.). This consistent engagement with the tradition of classical Indian scholars and practitioners lends The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali a deep sense of authoritativeness. We are gaining insight into an important tradition by learning from the established masters. But Bryant is no mere recorder of established opinion. His engagement with the tradition is sensitive to unspoken issues, problems, and possible resolutions, and he often looks to contemporary scholarship as he teases out various strategies for interpretations and resolutions of such issues. This comes out throughout his commentary, and is specifically the focus of some concluding remarks where he focuses on subtle and challenging questions like question of free will for the purusha (self) and God’s role in the process of Yoga. Like his Beautiful Legend of God, he provides a lucid introduction to the topic at hand, accessible to intelligent non-specialists.
My only serious complaint would be that a work of this size (692 pages) would have been well served by a comprehensive index. My hunch is that many readers will remember reading something and may struggle to re-locate it the text. But in terms of content, the book is most useful, and, given the occasional abstruseness of the topic, easy to read. It is an extensively researched, clearly written, and deeply informative treatment of the Yoga Sutra and its principle commentaries.
Order The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali here.