Sunday, June 12, 2016

Astika Darshanas –Part 3 – Yoga Darshana (Guest post by R.Ramanathan)

Astika Darshanas (Vedanta)  Part - 1

Astika Darshanas (Sankhya) Part - 2


There is no system that is as popular as yoga all around the world. It is more popular than Advaita Vedanta in the west. But Yoga as a Darshana as envisioned in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra and what is being practiced now is totally different. Surely the original yoga system did not postulate Advaitic self realization or attainment of moksha of any other Vedantic school. Yoga shares Sankhya metaphysics. But differs from Sankhya with respect to the acceptance of god. We will go over this later quoting the relevant sutras. But first now a history of the yoga Darshana.


The oldest references to yoga can be found in the Veda itself. The Taittriya Samhita  in Kanda 4 Prashna 1 says

"युञ्जते मन उत युञ्जते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः"

“The Rishis unite(The word Yunjatee, the verb derived from the root Yuj “To unite”, again Yoga is the verb derived from the same verb root yuj) the mind and intellect.”

Thus the concept of Yoga has existed since time immemorial though not in the present form. In the Taittriya Upanishad there is a reference to the word, the statement being “Yoga Atma| Mahafpucham pratishta”. “Yoga is the self and Mahat is the tail of the bird that is vijnana” Note the use of the Sankhya Tattva Mahat in the Upanishad. Various other Upanishads like the Katha, Brihadaranyaka Shvetashvatara etc have discussions about it. Especially the last one has very detailed one and discusses  yoga in tandem with sankhya philosophy.

Apart from this we can see references to Yoga in other darshanas. Kanata in his Vaisheshika sutra 5.2.15-5.2.16 states that

“Pleasure and pain results from contact of soul, sense, mind and object. Non-origination of that follows when the mind becomes steady in the soul. After it, there is non-existence of pain in the embodied soul. This is that Yoga.”

In the Nyaya sutras of Akshapada  in chapter 4 sutra 2 we see the following discussions.

“We are instructed to practice meditation in such places as a forest, a cave or a sand-bank. Such possibilities [the opponent claims] may occur even in release. It is, we reply, not so, because knowledge must spring up only in a body already in the state of formation. And there is absence of a body in our release. For that purpose, there should be a purifying of our soul by abstinence from evil, and observance of certain virtues, as well as by following the spiritual injunctions gleaned from Yoga. To secure release [moksha], it is necessary to study and follow this treatise on knowledge [Yoga], as well as to hold discussions with those learned in that treatise.”

Both the above translations are taken from Wikipedia. Thus we see that other schools also recognize Yoga as a practical path to their metaphysics and theory.

Finally coming to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, even Vyasa is supposed to have authored a Bhashya on it.  There are other books and commentaries like those of Bhojha, Hemachandra etc.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras

I would be taking up one sutra with Vyasas Bhashya on it. It is also not know whether the Vyasa who wrote the Brahmasutras is the same Vyasa who wrote commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Traditionally Patanjali who wrote the Patanjali yoga sutras (PYS) is considered to be an avatara of Shesha the 1000 headed snake. He is supposed to have taught at Chidambaram behind a curtain, to avoid pupils being burnt by the poison from his head. As is known, a Patanjali has written a commentary on Ashta Adhyayi of Panini. But there is no way to certainly ascertain both Patanjali's are the same.

Sage Patanjali in a temple in South Arcot.

Tenets of the Yoga system

  1. Patanjali defines Yoga as “Yogashcitta vritti nirodaha”,  i.e. “Negation of changes of the mind”

  1. Vaisheshika sutras define yoga as “ Manasi Athmasthaha”  i.e. “The establishment of mind in the Atman”

  1. The Yoga system takes Sankhya for its metaphysics.

  1. It differs from Sankhya in positing a god.

  1. This god is defined as a special Purusha, who is untouched by normal human defects.

  1. He is supposed to be the most ancient teacher.

  1. “OM” is his word.

  1. The sutras pertaining to Ishvara are found in PYS 1.23-1.29

  1. The PYS postulates  Ashtanga yoga(Having eight steps) are Yama, Niyama, Aasana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyani and Samadhi. Not going to elaborate on some of the stages at they have to be learnt from the guru.

  1. Yama and Niyamas are the initial preparatory steps that involve purification, sense control, non-stealing, ahimsa, truthfulness, non-covetousness, self-study, living in solitude, devotion to Ishvara and so on.

  1. Though a god is mentioned and surrendering to him is mentioned, he is not responsible for breaking the ultimate bond of prakriti thus leading to moksha. The individual purusha has to work his way to it.

  1. The Yoga darshana accepts three realities Prakriti, purusha and Ishvara, though his role is limited to being an efficient cause.

  1. As in Sankhya, the 3 gunas Satva, Rajas and Tamo gunas, play an important role in creation.

  1. The gunas are actually physical entities and not just representing Peace and contentment (Satva), Activity (Rajas) and Sloth (Tamas). They are actually linked to Bhuta tanmatras and paramanus. More on this later.

PYS and the Vyasa Bhashya

One of the most ancient commentaries on the PYS, available to us is the Vyasa Bhashya. A more ancient system of Yoga can be found in Mahabharata. Patanjali's system is a successor to this system in the Mahabharata. Is this Vyaasa the same as the author of the Mahabharata and the Brahma sutras? The Vyaasa Bhashya of the PYS shows strong Sankhyan leanings. The Brahma sutras of Badarayana condemn Sankhya on the other hand, so it is possible that these 2 vyaasa's are not the same.

For example consider the below sutra. This suffices to show its Sankhyan leanings

Sthula svarupa sukshma anvaya arthavattva samyamad bhuta jayaha || PYS 3.44

This is the sutra which says that the yogi can conquer matter on meditating (Samyama).

As per the Vyasa Bhashya (VB) Shtula is bulk matter, made of atoms.
The atom is the smallest indivisible thing, which bears the properties of the gross substance.
This is actually denoted by the word Svarupa or we may take it here to mean a gross structure. 
The most interesting thing here is that he also discusses about sub-atomic particles.
This is denoted by the term Sukshma.
The Vyasa bhashya proceeds to ask (I omit the Sanskrit text and attempt a translation to best of my knowledge)

“What are then these Subatomic structure (Sukshma rupam)?
These are the bhuta tanmatras
(For example for Akasha has only hearing, air has touch and hearing and so on).
These bhuta tanmatras cannot exists on their own, but combine to form the atoms.
This is what is meant by the term sukshma.”

Also he says that the 3 gunas are
Kyati (Information),
Kriya (Potential energy),
Stitishila (The actual mass).

Note that these three terms seem to be more tangible than just Satva, rajas and tamo gunas. These 3 are essential to form any kind of matter. As per the VB the term word anvaya in the sutra mean this. The next term artavattva is explained as consciousness. This means that the gunas are linked to the tanmatras which combine to form elementary atoms, which form all matter. Thus you can see how gunas are linked into consciousness.

May be this is the way Sankhya explains creation without a need for an efficient cause or upadhana karana, because of the way consciousness is postulated. I am speculating here and this need not be true. But it can be seen how scientific, Indian thought was. Of course this cannot be equated to the modern atomic theory.
 Modern atomic theory does not take into account consciousness into its explanation.
But Sankhya has attempted to synthesize it into its atomism.

A note on Yoga today and other discussions

Yoga as is known today concentrates mainly on
the physical part,
the Asanas and
may be some introduction to pranayama.
This is true in both the West and in India.

I read somewhere that there are some 1500 asanas or poses as they are known in the West today.

But the PYS just defines Asana as

“Sthira sukham asanam-

Asana is the position which gives maximum comfort but firmness”. 

Other texts like Hata Yoga pradeepaka, Jaranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita describe may be all put together around 40-50 poses.

The rest of them have supposed to have come from British military calisthenics and gymnastics.
I am not sure here. Just read some article on the net.

The modern Yoga form has been pioneered by T.Krishnamachary, who was an exponent on the Shad-darshanas. He was invited by the then Mysore king Krishna Raja woodiyar IV to teach Yoga in Mysore to the royal family.

His disciple Patabi Jois was the first person to teach Ashtanga yoga to Europeans.  Later Americans and the rest of the word also followed suit.

One feature I have seen with Yoga in the west is that it is more physical and more distant from the Yoga darshana.
Also one more worrisome issue especially in the west is that Yoga is slowly being delinked from Sanatana dharma saying that there are pre-vedic yogic traditions.
They take evidence from a seal in the Indus Valley Civilization that has a Yogi seated in lotus pose. Since it is assumed that the IVC is not Vedic by Westerners, they conclude Yoga is pre-Vedic and the Vedas just appropriated it and incorporated it into Sanatana dharma.

This brings us to the end of the Yoga.

To be continued……

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