Yoga

Yoga

Etymologically, the Sanskrit word yoga derives from the root yuj, meaning "to bind together," "hold fast," or "yoke," which also governs the Latin iungere and iugum, the French joug, and so on. In Indian religion the term yoga serves, in general, to designate any ascetic technique and any method of meditation. The "classical" form of yoga is a darśana ("view, doctrine"; usually, although improperly, translated as "system of philosophy") expounded by Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtra, and it is from this "system" that this article must set out if the reader is to understand the position of yoga in the history of Indian thought. But side by side with classical Yoga there are countless forms of sectarian, popular (magical), and non-Brahmanic yogas such as Buddhist and Jain forms.

Patañjali is not the creator of the Yoga darśana. As he himself admits, he has merely edited and integrated the doctrinal and technical traditions of yoga (Yoga Sūtra 1.1). Indeed, yogic practices were known in the esoteric circles of Indian ascetics and mystics long before Patañjali. Among these practices Patañjali retained those that the experiences of centuries had sufficiently tested. As to the theoretical framework and the metaphysical foundation that Patañjali provides for such techniques, his personal contribution is of the smallest. He merely rehandles the Sāṃkhya philosophy in its broad outlines, adapting it to a rather superficial theism and exalting the practical value of meditation. The Yoga and Sāṃkhya darśanas are so much alike that most of the assertions made by the one are valid for the other. The essential differences between them are two: (1) Whereas Sāṃkhya is atheistic, Yoga is theistic, since it postulates the existence of a "Lord" (Īśvara); (2) Whereas according to Sāṃkhya the only path to final deliverance is that of metaphysical knowledge, Yoga accords marked importance to techniques of purification and meditation.
 
Thanks to Patañjali, Yoga, which had been an archaic ascetic and mystical tradition, became an organized "system of philosophy." Nothing is known of the author of the Yoga Sūtra, not even whether he lived in the second or third century BCE or in the fifth century CE, although claims to both datings have been vigorously defended. The earliest commentary known is the Yogabhāṣya of Vyāsa (seventh to eighth century CE), annotated by Vācaspatimiśra (ninth century) in his Tattvavaiśāradī. These two works, indispensable for understanding the Yoga Sūtra, are complemented by two works of later centuries. At the beginning of the eleventh century King Bhoja wrote the commentary Rājamārtaṇḍa, which is very useful for its insights into certain yogic practices, and in the sixteenth century Vijñānabhikṣu annotated Vyāsa's text in his remarkable treatise the Yogavārttika.
 
Ignorance and Suffering
 
"All is suffering for the sage," writes Patañjali (Yoga Sūtra 2.15), repeating a leitmotif of all post-Upanṣadic Indian speculation. The discovery of pain as the law of existence has a positive, stimulating value. It perpetually reminds the sage and the ascetic that the only way to attain freedom and bliss is withdrawal from the world, radical isolation. To liberate the self from suffering is the goal of all Indian philosophies and magico-mystical techniques. In India, metaphysical knowledge always has a soteriological purpose, for it is by knowledge of ultimate reality that humanity, casting off the illusions of the world of phenomena, awakens and discovers the true nature of spirit (ātman, puruṣa). For Sāṃkhya and Yoga, suffering has its origin in ignorance of spirit, that is, in confusing spirit with psychomental states, which are the most refined products of nature (prakṛti). Consequently, liberation, absolute freedom, can be obtained only if this confusion is abolished. As the structure and unfolding of nature and the paradoxical mode of being of the self (puruṣa) are discussed elsewhere, here only the yogic practices themselves will be examined.
 
The point of departure of yogic meditation is concentration on a single object: a physical object (the space between the eyebrows, the tip of the nose, something luminous, etc.), a thought (a metaphysical truth), or God (Īśvara). This determined and continuous concentration, called ekāgratā ("on a single point"), is obtained by integrating the psychomental flux, sarvārthatā ("variously directed, discontinued, diffused attention"; Yoga Sūtra 3.11). This is the precise definition of yogic technique, and is called cittavṛtti-nirodha, "the suppression of psychomental states" (Yoga Sūtra 1.2). The practice of ekāgratā tends to control the two generators of psychomental life: sense activity (indriya) and the activity of the unconscious (saṃskāra). A yogin is able to concentrate his or her attention on a single point and become insensible to any other sensory or mnemonic stimulus. It goes without saying that ekāgratā can be obtained only through the practice of numerous exercises and techniques. One cannot obtain ekāgratā if, for example, the body is in a tiring or even uncomfortable posture, or if the respiration is disorganized, unrhythmical. This is why yogic technique implies several categories of physiological practices and spiritual exercises, called aṅgas, "members," or elements. The eight "members" of classical Yoga can be regarded both as forming a group of techniques and as being stages of the ascetic and spiritual itinerary whose end is final liberation. They are (1) restraints (yama), (2) disciplines (niyama), (3) bodily attitudes and postures (āsana), (4) rhythm of respiration (prāṇāyāma), (5) emancipation of sensory activity from the domination of exterior objects (pratyāhāra), (6) concentration (dhāraṇā), (7) yogic meditation (dhyāna), and (8) enstasis (samādhi;Yoga Sūtra 2.29).
 
In addition to this classical Yoga comprising eight aṅgas, there exist a number of ṣaḍaṅgayogas, that is, yogic regimens having only six members. Their main characteristic is the absence of the three first aṅgas (yama, niyama, āsana) and the introduction of a new "member," tarka ("reason, logic"). Attested already in the Maitrāyani Upaniṣad (second century BCE-second century CE), the ṣaḍaṅgayoga appears especially in certain sects of Hinduism and in the Buddhist Tantras (Grönbold, 1969, 1983).
 
Restraints and Disciplines
 
The first two groups of practices, yama and niyama, constitute the inevitable preliminaries for any asceticism. There are five "restraints," namely, ahiṃsā (restraint from violence), satya (restraint from falsehood), asteya (restraint from stealing), brahmacarya (restraint from sexual activity), and aparigraha (restraint from avarice). These restraints do not bring about a specifically yogic state but induce in the adept a purified state superior to that of the uninitiated. In conjunction with the yamas, the yogin must practice the niyama, that is, a series of bodily and psychic disciplines. "Cleanliness, serenity, asceticism [tapas], study of Yoga metaphysics, and an effort to make Īśvara [God] the motive of all his actions constitute the disciplines," writes Patañjali (Yoga Sūtra 2.32). Obviously, difficulties and obstacles arise during these exercises, most of them produced by the subconscious. The perplexity arising from doubt is the most dangerous. To overcome it, Patañjali recommends implanting the contrary thought (Yoga Sūtra 2.33). To vanquish a temptation is to realize a genuine, positive gain. Not only does the yogin succeed in dominating the objects that he or she had renounced, but also obtains a magic force infinitely more precious than all these objects. For example, he who successfully practices asteya "sees all jewels coming near to him" (Yoga Sūtra 2.37).
 
Āsana and Prānāyāma
 
The specifically yogic techniques begin with āsana, the well-known bodily posture of the Indian ascetics. Āsana gives a rigid stability to the body while at the same time reducing physical effort to a minimum and finally eliminating it altogether. Āsana is the first concrete step taken with a view to abolishing the modalities peculiar to the human condition. On the bodily plane, āsana is an ekāgratā; the body is "concentrated" in a single position. Thus, one arrives at a certain neutralization of the senses; consciousness is no longer troubled by the presence of the body. Furthermore, a tendency toward "unification" and "totalization" is typical of all yogic practices. Their goal is the transcendence (or the abolition) of the human condition, resulting from the refusal to obey one's natural inclinations.
 
The most important—and certainly the most specifically yogic—of these various "refusals" is the disciplining of respiration (prāṇāyāma), the refusal to breathe like the majority of humankind, that is, unrhythmically. Patañjali defines this refusal as follows: "Prāṇāyāma is the arrest [viccheda] of the movements of inhalation and exhalation and it is obtained after āsana has been realized" (Yoga Sūtra 2.49). He speaks of the "arrest," the suspension, of respiration; however, prāṇāyāma begins with making the respiratory rhythm as slow as possible; and this is its first objective.
 
A remark in Bhoja's commentary (on Yoga Sūtra 1.34) reveals the deeper meaning of prāṇāyāma: "All the functions of the organs being preceded by that of respiration—there being always a connection between respiration and conciousness in their respective functions—respiration, when all the functions of the organs are suspended, realizes concentration of consciousness on a single object." The special relation of the rhythm of respiration to particular states of consciousness, which has undoubtedly been observed and experienced by yogins from the earliest times, has served them as an instrument for "unifying" consciousness. By making respiration rhythmical and progressively slower the yogin can penetrate—that is experience in perfect lucidity—certain states of consciousness that are inaccessible in a waking condition, particularly the states of consciousness that are peculiar to sleep.
 
Indian psychology recognizes four modalities of consciousness (besides enstasis): diurnal consciousness, consciousness in sleep with dreams, consciousness in sleep without dreams, and "cataleptic consciousness." Through prāṇāyāma, that is, by increasingly prolonging inhalation and exhalation (since the purpose of this practice is to allow as long an interval as possible to elapse between the two phases of respiration) the yogin can experience all the modalities of consciousness. For the uninitiated, there is a discontinuity between these several modalities; one passes from the state of waking to the state of sleeping unconsciously. The yogin must preserve continuity of consciousness; that is, he must penetrate each of these states with determination and awareness.
 
But the immediate goal of prāṇāyāma is more modest; it induces the respiratory rhythm by harmonizing the three "moments" of breathing: inhalation (pūraka), retention (kumbhaka), and exhalation (recaka) of the inhaled air. These three moments must each fill an equal space of time. Practice enables the yogin to prolong them considerably. The yogin begins by holding his or her breath for sixteen and a half seconds, then for thirty-three seconds, then for fifty seconds, three minutes, five minutes, and so on. (Similar respiratory technique were familiar to the Daoists, to Christian hesychasts, and to the Muslim contemplatives; see Eliade, 1969, pp. 59–65).
 
Yogic Concentration and Meditation
 
Making respiration rhythmical and, as far as possible, suspending it greatly promotes concentration (dhāraṇā; Yoga Sūtra 2.52–53). The yogin can test the quality of his concentration by pratyāhāra, a term usually translated as "withdrawal of the senses" or "abstraction" but more acurately rendered as the "ability to free sense activity from the domination of external objects." According to the Yoga Sūtra (2.54) and its commentators, the senses, instead of directing themselves toward an object, "abide within themselves" (Bhoja, on Yoga Sūtra 2.54). When the intellect (citta) wishes to know an exterior object, it does not make use of sensory activity; it is able to know the object by its own powers. Being obtained directly, by contemplation, this knowledge is, from the yogic point of view, more effective than normal knowledge. "Then the wisdom [prajñā] of the yogin knows all things as they are" (Vyāsa, on Yoga Sūtra 2.45). Thenceforth, the yogin will no longer be distracted or troubled by the activity of the senses, by the subconscious, and by the "thirst of life"; all activity is suspended. But this autonomy of the intellect does not result in the suppression of phenomena. Instead of knowing through forms (rūpa) and mental states (cittavṛtti) as formerly, the yogin now contemplates the essence (tattva) of all objects directly.
 
Such autonomy allows the yogin to practice a threefold technique that the texts call saṃyama. The term designates the last three "members" of yoga (yogāṅga), namely concentration (dhāraṇā), yogic meditation (dhyana), and stasis (samādhi). They do not imply new physiological practices. Dhāraṇā, from the root dhṛ, meaning "to hold fast," is in fact an ekāgratā, undertaken for the purpose of comprehension. Patañjali's definition of dhāraṇā is "fixation of the thought on a single point" (Yoga Sūtra 3.1). According to some authors (cf. Eliade, 1969, pp. 66–68), a dhāraṇā takes the time of twelve prāṇāyāmas (i. e., twelve controlled, equal, and delayed respirations). By prolonging this concentration on an object twelve times, one obtains yogic meditation, dhyana. Patañjali defines dhyana as "a current of unified thought" (Yoga Sūtra 3.2) and Vyāsa adds the following gloss to the definition: "continuum of mental effort to assimilate the object of meditation, free from any other effort to assimilate other objects." It is unnecessary to add that this yogic meditation is absolutely different from any secular meditation.
 
Samādhi and The Lord of The Yogins
 
Yogic enstasis, samādhi, is the final result and crown of all the ascetic's spiritual efforts and exercises. The term is first employed in a gnoseological sense: Samādhi is the state in which thought grasps the object directly. Thus, there is a real coincidence between knowledge of the object and the object of knowledge.
 
This kind of knowledge constitutes an enstatic modality of being that is peculiar to yoga. Patañjali and his commentators distinguish several sorts, or stages, of samādhi. When it is obtained with the help of an object or idea (that is, by fixing one's thought on a point in space or on an idea), it is called samprajñāta samādhi, "enstasis with support." When, on the other hand, samādhi is obtained apart from any relation to externals, when it is simply a full comprehension of being, it is asamprajñāta samādhi, "undifferentiated stasis."
 
Because it is perfectible and does not realize an absolute and irreducible state, the "differentiated enstasis" (samprajñāta samādhi) comprises four stages, called bīja samādhi ("samādhi with seed") or sālambana samādhi ("samādhi with support"). By accomplishing these four stages, one after the other, one obtains the "faculty of absolute knowledge" (ṛtambharāprajñā). This is in itself an opening toward samādhi "without seed," pure samādhi, for absolute knowledge discovers the state of ontological plenitude in which being and knowing are no longer separated. According to Vijñānabhikṣu, asamprajñāta samādhi destroys the "impressions [saṃskāra] of all antecedent mental functions" and even succeeds in arresting the karmic forces already set in motion by the yogin's past activities (Eliade, 1969, p. 84).
 
Fixed in samādhi, consciousness (citta) can now have direct revelation of the self (puruṣa). For the devotional yogins, it is at this stage that the revelation of the Supreme Self, Īśvara, the Lord, takes place. Unlike Sāṃkhya, Yoga affirms the existence of a God, Īśvara. He is not a creator god, for the cosmos, life, and humanity proceed from the primordial substance, prakṛti. But in the case of certain persons (i. e., the yogins), Īśvara can hasten the process of deliverance. Īśvara is a self (puruṣa) that has been eternally free. Patañjali says that the Īśvara has been the guru of the sages of immemorial times (Yoga Sūtra 1.26) and that he can bring about samādhi on condition that the yogin practice īśvarapraṇidhāna, that is, devotion to Īśvara (Yoga Sūtra 2.45). But it has been seen that samādhi can be obtained without such mystical exercises. In the classical Yoga of Patañjali, Īśvara plays a rather minor role. It is only with the later commentators, such as Vijñānabhikṣu and Nilakaṇṭha, that Īśvara gains the importance of a true God.
 
The Yogic Powers; Deliverance
 
By practicing saṃyama—that is, by means of concentration, meditation, and the realization of samādhi—the yogin acquires the "miraculous powers" (siddhis) to which book 3 of the Yoga Sūtra, beginning with sūtra 16, is devoted. The majority of these powers are related to different kinds of supranormal or mystical knowledge. Thus, by practicing saṃyama in regard to his or her own subconscious residues (saṃskāra), the yogins come to know their previous existences (Yoga Sūtra 3.105). Through saṃyama exercised in respect to "notions" (pratyaya), the yogin knows the mental states of other people (3.19). Saṃyama practiced on the umbilical plexus (nābhicakra) produces knowledge of the system of the body (3.28), on the heart, knowledge of the mind (3.33), and so forth. "Whatever the yogin desires to know, he should perform saṃyama in respect to that object," writes Vācaspatimiśra (on Yoga Sūtra 3.30). According to Patañjali and the whole tradition of classical Yoga, the yogin uses the innumerable siddhis in order to attain the supreme freedom, asamprajñāta samādhi, not in order to obtain a mastery over the elements (Yoga Sūtra 3.37). A similar doctrine is found in Buddhism (Eliade, 1969, pp. 177–180; Pensa, 1969, pp. 23–24).
 
Through the illumination (prajñā) spontaneously obtained when reaching the last stage of his or her itinerary, the yogin realizes "absolute isolation" (kaivalya), that is, liberation of the self (puruṣa) from the dominance of nature (prakṛti). But this mode of being of the spirit is not an "absolute emptiness"; it constitutes a paradoxical, because unconditioned, state. Indeed, the intellect (buddhi), having accomplished its mission, withdraws, detaching itself from the puruṣa and returning into prakṛti. The self remains free, autonomous; that is, the yogin attains deliverance. Like a dead person, the yogin has no more real relation with life, but is a jīvanmukta, one "liberated in life." The yogin no longer lives in time and under the domination of time, but in an eternal present.
 
To recapitulate, the method recommended by the classical form of Yoga comprises a number of different techniques (physiological, mental, mystical) that gradually detach the yogin from the processes of life and the rules of social behavior. The worldly person lives in society, marries, establishes a family; Yoga prescribes solitude and chastity. In opposition to continual movement, the yogin practiced āsana; in opposition to agitated, unrhythmical, uncontrolled respiration, the yogin practices prāṇāyāma; to the chaotic flux of psychomental life, the yogin replies by "fixing thought on a single point"; and so on. The goal of all these practices always remains the same—to react against normal, secular, and even human inclinations. The final result is a grandiose, although paradoxical, mode of being. Asamprajñāta samādhi realizes the "knowledge-possession" of the autonomous Self (puruṣa); that is, it offers deliverance, freedom, and, more specifically, the consciousness of absolute freedom.
 
Bibliography
 
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra, with the commentary (Yogabhāṣya or Yogasūtra-bhaṣya) of Vyāsa and the gloss (Tattvavaiśāradī) of Vācaspatimiśra have been translated into English by James H. Woods as The Yoga System of Patañjali, 3d ed. (Dehli, 1966), and by Rāma Prasāda as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (Allahabad, 1910). A listing of editions and translations of other, later commentaries can be found on page 372 of my Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, 2d aug. ed. (Princeton,N. J., 1969), which also includes bibliographies on pages 372, 437–480, and 533–555.
 
On the Yoga Upaniṣads, see Yoga Upaniṣads with the Commentary of Srī Upaniṣad-Brahma-Yogin, translated and edited by Allādi Mahādeva Sāstrī (Madras, 1920). Among the different works on Yoga, written from different perspectives, one may cite Richard Garbe's Sāṃkhya und Yoga (Strasbourg, 1896); Surendranath Dasgupta's Yoga as Philosophy and Religion (1924; reprint, Calcutta, 1973) and Yoga Philosophy in Relation to Other Systems of Thought (1930; reprint, Delhi, 1974); Hermann Jacobi's "Über das ursprüngliche Yogasystem," Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 26 (1929): 581–627; Sigurd Lindquist's Die Methoden des Yoga (Lund, 1932) and Siddhi und Abhiññā: Eine Studie über die klassischen Wunder des Yoga (Uppsala, 1935); Heinrich Zimmer's Kunstform und Yoga im indischen Kultbild (Berlin, 1926); J. W. Hauer's Der Yoga, als Heilweg: Nach den indischen Quellen dargestellt, 2d. ed. (Stuttgart, 1958); Jean Varenne's Yoga and the Hindu Tradition, translated by Derek Coltman (Chicago 1976); and Georg Feuerstein's The Philosophy of Classical Yoga (Manchester, 1980).
 
On Īśvara, see my Yoga, 2d aug. ed. (Princeton, N. J., 1969), pp. 68ff., and especially Jan Gonda's "The Īśvara Idea," in Change and Continuity in Indian Religion (The Hague, 1965), pp. 131–163.
 
On different types of yogic meditation, the best work is Strukturen yogische Meditation by Gerhard Oberhammer (Vienna, 1977). See also A. Janácek's "The 'Voluntaristic' Type of Yoga in Patañjali's Yoga-Sūtras," Archiv Orientálni 22 (1954): 69–87, and Corrado Pensa's "On the Purification Concept in Indian Tradition, with Special Regard to Yoga," East and West, n. s. 19 (1969): 1–35. On the recent scientific observations in regard to the physiological and psychological aspects of yogic technique, see Thérèse Brosse's Études instrumentales des techniques du Yoga: Expérimentation psychosomatique (Paris, 1963).
 
On ṣaḍaṅgayoga, see Anton Zigmund-Cerbu's "The Ṣaḍaṅgayoga," History of Religions 3 (Summer 1963): 128–134; Ṣadaṇga-yoga, edited by Günter Grönbold (Munich, 1969), an edition and German translation of Guṇabharaṇi-nāma-Ṣaḍaṇgayogatippanī of Raviśrījñāna and Grönbold's "Materialen zur Geschichte des Ṣaḍaṇga-yoga, I–III," Indo-Iranian Journal 25 (April 1983): 181–190 (also published in Zentralasiatische Studien 16, 1982, pp. 337–347), and "Der sechsgliedrige Yoga des Kālacakra-Tantra," Asiatische Studien / Études asiatiques 37 (1938): 25–45.
 
My Yoga, cited above, includes discussion of the different forms of yogic practices in Brahmanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Tantrism (pp. 101–274, 384–414) and of the yoga of the Jains (pp. 209–210, 404–405). On the yoga of the Jains, see also Robert H. B. William's Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Medieval Śrāvākācaras (London, 1963).
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