One of the more unfortunate but widespread phenomena today with regard to Hinduism is that we now need to produce elaborate evidence for things accepted as evident truths just thirty or forty years ago. In other words, writing defenses instead of doing original, constructive work. Yet the devil must be given its due lest it unleash more mischief upon us.
I admit I was surprised by some of the responses I received for my piece about what I called the Yoga Disease. A common refrain in my comment space and elsewhere on the Internet is that Yoga is almost always equated to Asana, Pranayama, and meditation (Dhyana) and never as a separate system of philosophy. The glittering empires of most of the 5-star Yoga gurus today would instantly come crashing down if they acknowledged this because it would mean admitting that Yoga forms one of the Six Darshanas (or revelations or systems) of Hindu philosophical thought.
Yoga is Rooted in the Vedas
Like everything in Hinduism, Yoga has its roots in the Vedas. A cursory reading of the Vedas and the principal Upanishads shows the widespread usage of the word Yoga therein. It is used in different philosophical contexts, and conveys different meanings and it’s not as a one-size-fits-all theory as these Yoga gurus claim it is. In no particular order, the word Yoga is used liberally throughout the Rg, Yajur and Atharva Vedas, and the Aitareya, Katha, Mundaka, Mandukya, Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, and the Mahanarayana Upanishads. These apart, there are about 50 Yogopanishads–Upanishads specifically dedicated to various aspects of Yoga like the Amritananda, Amritabindu, Yogatattva, Yogasikha, Pasupatabrahma, Hamsa, and Varaha Yogopanishads.
In the Vedas, Yoga is used in the sense of tapas (literally, “to burn” but it usually means intense penance). The Mahanarayana Upanishad, which has a separate section dedicated to Tapah Prashamsa (Glory of Penance) terms Tapas variously as rta (the Cosmic Order), truth, and self-restraint and upholds the importance and glory of Sanyasa Yoga or the Yoga of renunciation. Other principal Upanishads refer to Yoga in terms of Shravana (concentrated listening), Manana (revision, reflection), and Nidhidhyasana (intense contemplation on that which is learnt), all essential qualities that an aspirant of Vedanta should possess. The Katha Upanishad carries this celebrated verse, expounding the nature and aim of Yoga:
AtmAnam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathameva tu |
Buddhim to saarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha ||
The soul/Self is the charioteer, the body the chariot, the intellect the driver,
the mind the reins, and the senses are the horses||
The Mandukya, a short and terse Upanishad of just twelve verses, expounds on the meaning and nature of OM. It describes the states of Jagrat (wakeful), Swapna (dream), Sushupti (deep sleep), and Turiya (the Fourth state beyond deep sleep, the state of pure consciousness where only non-duality exists). The focus of this Upanishad on meditating upon OM in a way, forms some of the roots of Yoga Darshana. Similarly, we find a reference to Nadis in the Chandogya Upanishad, which says:
A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal. (8.6.6)
The “crown of the head” mentioned here is the precursor of the widely ill-understood Kundalini Yoga. The whole of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is indeed, the exposition of the Moksha Yoga or the Yoga of Liberation. The Aitareya Brahmana mentions the Brahmarandhra, or the Gateway of Bliss located at the center of the skull, which again has a parallel with the Sahasrara Chakra found in Kundalini Yoga.
Yoga in Hindu Lore
Another definitive source that help us trace the foundations of Yoga is the mammoth Yoga Vasishta (The Yoga of Sage Vasishta) attributed to Sage Valmiki, author of the Ramayana. The Yoga Vasishta, dated earlier than Ramayana, is a conversation between Rama and Sage Vasishta and forms one of the main pillars of Hindu philosophy.
We don’t need a text other than the Bhagavad Gita to look for ample references to Yoga. Celebrated verses about Yoga include
Yogastah kuru karmani sangam tyaktva Dhananjaya… (Perform your duty/actions being steadfast in Yoga without getting attached to your actions, Arjuna)
Yogah karmasu kaushalam…(Yoga is doing things right)
Samatwam yoga uchyate… (Being balanced in both success and failure is Yoga)
These apart, the chapter on Dhyana Yoga (Yoga of Meditation) is a veritable guide on the aims, method, and goals of Yoga. In a way, the entire Bhagavad Gita is a treatise on Yoga.
The tedious, and cataloging kind of exercise so far was necessary to underscore a crucial point: that this vast range of literature of meditations on Yoga in a few thousand verses spread over several centuries occured before Patanjali systematized Yoga as an independent school of Hindu philosophy.
A distinctive mark of anything that can be called Hindu is its origins in the Vedas. The discussion so far proves beyond doubt that Yoga does possess this mark. More importantly, Patanjala Yoga doesn’t really deal with what modern day Yoga salesmen say it does–Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras do not have instructions to perform various Asanas and Pranayamas. More on that in a while.
There’s even more direct evidence as to the undeniable Hindu roots of Yoga as it is (mis)understood today. Sage Patanjali is worshipped as an avatar of Adishesha, the thousand-headed serpent upon whom Lord Vishnu reclines. Representations of Patanjali in pictures and sculptures show his lower body coiled like a snake. See an example below.
Now, if you argue that Adishesha is not connected with Hinduism….
Later day scholars, philosophers and saints of Hinduism interpreted Yoga Sutras in the light of Vedanta. Bhoja, Vignanabhikshu, Adi Shankara, Sadashiva Brahmendra and Ramana Maharshi are prominent examples.
Today’s Yoga Enterpreneurs, instead of being grateful to the religion, culture and land that enabled them to earn their mega bucks actually revel in dissociating with it and in denigrating it. As I’ve repeatedly said, they are gym and/or fitness instructors, not Yoga teachers. If they really taught Yoga, they wouldn’t have paid lipservice to the basic requirements imposed upon a practioner of Yoga: Yamas and Niyamas. Aside, I’m not sure how many of these snakeoil salesmen even tell their students about Yamas and Niyamas. It’s all about “meditation,” “vibrations,” “cosmic energy,” “quantum” nonsense, and “super consciousness.”
Yoga is deeper and learning it properly takes an entirely different spirit. Actually, you don’t really “learn” Yoga. You realize it. Like most other disciplines in Sanatana Dharma, Yoga needs to be learnt traditionally. Under a Guru who is himself a Yogi in the truest sense of the word. Most philosophical traditions including Yoga forbids a person to declare himself/herself a Guru. One of the basic qualities such a Guru possesses is Aparigraha (non-possession), one of the five Yamas (Abstinences) identified by Patanjali. Additionally, every Guru always recites the name of God, his parents, the ancient Rishis (Seers/Sages) and his own Guru at all times as a way of showing deep reverence and gratitude to the tradition and people that enabled him to become a Yogi. In a way, it is his way of repaying a debt, which you can never really repay. This in short is how Yoga (in the fullest sense of the word) is taught and learnt traditionally.
Now we need to take a count of the number of Yoga Peddlers who practice Aparigraha. Their Gurudom, and what they hawk as Yoga violates every known precept, tenet, and principle laid down by Patanjali and other sages. And the vilest yet is what Deepak Chopra did recently–spitting on the very religion that enabled him to build his swanky empire. People like him, Bikram-whatever, and the rest of the patent mongers are deserving candidates for this Sanskrit saying:
||KrthaGHnasya na Nishkrutih||
There is no atonement for the ungrateful
Tags: Commentary, Deepak Chopra, False Yoga Gurus, Hindu, Hindu Philosophy, Hinduism, India, Indian Philosophy, Meditation, Patanjali Yoga, Patenting Yoga, Pranayama, Hindu Roots of Yoga, Yoga, Yoga Disease in the US, Yoga can’t be divorced from Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma, History