Yoga Sutra 1.20: Patanjali’s 5 Keys to Knowledge

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are a 2000 year old text that is revered by many practitioners and teachers as the definitive guide to yoga philosophy and practice. The sutras consist of 196 short aphorisms that describe the nature of reality and the means to achieve inner peace and happiness. In one of these sutras, the sage Patanjali offers five keys to attaining wisdom: Faith, Strength, Mindfulness, Insight, and Tranquility of the Mind. When practiced passionately, these five qualities can lead to a better understanding of life, true knowledge, and inner freedom. When you master these five qualities, you can open the door of liberation – the realization of your true nature.

Yoga tomorrow 1.20

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras defines the eight limbs of yoga practice, the common obstacles on the yogi’s path and the states of consciousness that can be reached. In Sutra 1.20, Patanjali illuminates the path of advanced yoga practices. This sutra contains five qualities or virtues that lead to samadhi. Samadhi is a state of mental stillness, absorption, or enlightenment. It is the last link of the 8 links in yoga.

Sutra 1.20: Sraddha-Virya-Smrti-Samadhi-Prajna-Purvakah Itaresam

Translation: Others (with no innate abilities) may follow a systematic practice based on faith, confidence, and mindfulness to ignite the energy and willpower required to maintain a steady focus and evenness of mind leading to insight, knowledge, and willpower Wisdom leads.

Word for word translation:

  • Sraddha: unconditional belief, belief, courage
  • Virya: Energy, strong will, strength
  • death: Memory, mindfulness, memory
  • Samadhi: deep immersion in meditation
  • Prajna: Wisdom, discernment, intelligence
  • Purvakah: preceded, requirement
  • Itaresam; from other people

Patanjali’s 5 inner qualities

  1. Faith (sraddha): This is not the blind leap of faith that religion requires of us, but an inner sense of direction based on the experience and evidence we gain in developing and building our yoga practice. As we practice Sraddha, we feel more and more drawn to something bigger, although each of us can describe this “something bigger” in different ways – as truth, peace, bliss, unity, self-realization or, as Patanjali described it, samadhi.
  2. Strength (Virya): The Sanskrit word for strength comes from vira – the root of Supta Virasana (supine position of the hero) and Virabhadrasana (the poses of the warrior). Vira is also the root of our English words masculine and virtuous. In yoga, the strength of a spiritual “warrior” is based on commitment and unrestrained effort. Your power comes from a sense of rightness and purpose.
  3. Mindfulness (smriti): Although Smriti is often translated as memory, Swami Prabhavananda aptly described it as memory. When we regain or collect our scattered thoughts and half-forgotten experiences and direct them with a unique focus, we can develop a continuous state of consciousness known as mindfulness.
  4. Insight (Prajna): The higher wisdom of Prajna does not come from thinking, 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 consciousness and becomes part of our nature.
  5. Mental silence (samadhi): While samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga, it is also a process and continuous practice of mental focus, deep absorption, and contemplation. This journey begins with a few conscious breaths in a stable and comfortably seated asana. Moments of silence and deep immersion arise initially briefly and arbitrarily. The more we practice turning our awareness inward, the more voluminous these fleeting experiences become and can last for minutes and eventually hours.


Patanjali believed that students needed these four qualities or virtues in order to attain the ultimate goal of yoga, samadhi. Two thousand years later, we can see faith, strength, mindfulness, and insight work together to intensify and advance any yoga practice, from a single asana to meditative absorption. In addition, we can see that this five step approach is also the key to a more complete life.

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