Review by Justin C. Maaia, 2002
Feuerstein, Georg (ed. and trans.). The Yoga-sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation and Commentary. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1989. 179 pp.
Feuerstein’s translation and commentary on this notoriously difficult text provides us with an inside look at the theory and practice of classical yoga. Feuerstein approaches the text as a practitioner and a scholar, and he receives good reviews both from spiritual practioners such as Ken Wilbur and renowned scholars such as Mircea Eliade. In this way, the book serves not just as an account of Patanjali’s mystical experiences, but also those of a current practitioner.
The two prefaces and the introduction help to put the text into many different perspectives. Feuerstein tries to place the text within its historical and cultural context. He discusses the many different schools of Yoga and the philosophical nuances that characterize each. In addition, he does not ignore its role as a “living” text. This leads him into a brief discussion of the place that the text holds in the study of psychology, both West and East.
In the actual translation of the sutra, Feuerstein is meticulous in his effort to accurately translate each word. This may actually be a downfall of the book, as there arise so many possibilities for translating certain passages. However, the talented translator guides the reader through the process of choosing the best translation while leaving open other possibilities. This is quite stimulating for anyone who is interested in the process of translation. It is also satisfying for anyone who has studied some Sanskrit or who is suspicious of translations that take too much for granted.
The only other problem with the book is the massive amount of new vocabulary and concepts that the book introduces to the reader who is unacquainted with this subject. The translator is very thorough in his definition of these terms. He is also knowledgeable of the history of these terms as they have been understood in the West. He explains mistakes that have been made by previous translators, philosophers, and psychologists. Consequently, we are left with as good an understanding of these terms as one may have without experiencing that to which they refer. This experience, of course, can only be accomplished by engaging oneself in the practice of classical yoga.
Overall, the book is both scholarly and accessible. It provides the great service of making an ancient and complex text available to the inexperienced student. Considering the care and attention given to every detail by the translator, I do not see how there could be a more reliable translation of this text.