From the introduction to "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," translated by Alistair Shearer.
The Yoga Sutras are the most lucid and authoritative of all the texts that serve as maps for the inner journey. The result of many hundreds of years' experience, the sutras are not necessarily the work of one author. They were compiled by Patanjali, about whom we know nothing except that he lived in India, probably in the third century before Christ. Whatever their origin, the sutras are the purest distillation of the knowledge of yoga. In just under two hundred crystalline verses, Patanjali codified a teaching of such translucence that he created one of the most remarkable works of spiritual literature in the world.
Texts like the Yoga Sutras are views from the mountaintop. Their purpose is to encourage and guide us, the climbers, to share their panoramic view. But the climb can only be accomplished in stages. Realizing this, teachers have often clothed their wisdom in parable, analogy, and provisional truth. Patanjali's style, however, displays neither the charming blend of courtly and naturalistic imagery that characterizes the writings of the Taoists in China, nor the imaginative richness of Sufi poetry and fable. It is altogether more austere. Like some pure crystal, his message reveals its facets one by one. The whole picture is unfolded stage by stage and the teaching emerges gradually. In this way what is a complex and unfamiliar subject, the mechanics of consciousness, is broken down into easily manageable sections. Each section is self-sufficient, yet part of a greater whole.
It is particularly important that the truth be unfolded gradually when what is being conveyed is not knowledge in the normal sense but the transformation of consciousness itself. The teacher must apply upâya--"the skillful method"--he must teach on the level of the student's ability to understand. Otherwise his words may be recognized intellectually but their real meaning will not be grasped. Yoga confirms Blake's observations: "The fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees."