The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part I

Continued from: What is Yoga? Part II

The origin of yoga lies hidden in the mists of pre-history. It was slowly evolved and developed by the ancient sages, not only in India but all over the world. However, it has been modified to suit regional languages, social ideas and so on. The essence of yoga was wrapped up in or explained in different symbols, analogies and languages. Some traditions believe that yoga was a divine gift revealed to the ancient sages so that mankind could have the opportunity to realize its divine nature.

Generally the techniques of yoga were passed on from teacher or guru to their disciples by word of mouth. In this way there was a clear understanding of the meaning of the techniques and aims of yoga, for the guru, through his personal experience, could guide the students along the right path and away from any confusion and misunderstanding. In fact, it was only when the various systems of yoga were written down that people began to see contradictions in the teachings. However, these discrepancies are only superficial and arise through misinterpretation. The writers of the classical texts cannot be blamed, for they recorded their ideas on yoga as clearly as possible in order to avoid misinterpretation.

They expounded their ideas with the minimum amount of words so that people would not lose themselves in trying to understand or intellectualize about word meanings, or in other cases they clothed their writings in symbolism and analogies. This was done so that only a person prepared and ready for a teaching would be able to understand the symbolism, if necessary with the help of a guru. However, even though these precautions were taken, many misunderstandings arose, mainly among overly verbose and intellectual scholars who did not have the personal experience to support their commentaries. Unfortunately people have listened to the commentators without resorting to the original texts and the advice of people more in touch with the spirit of yoga. The result has been confusion, and as a consequence many well-intentioned people have performed the most bizarre acts in the name of yoga. Some often quoted examples are walking on fire, sitting in the midday sun and torturing the body in a variety of ways, such as standing on one leg in one place for months on end. The list is endless and could almost be laughable except for the fact that many of these misguided people were so intent and confident in their minds that these are the methods to higher awareness.

The yoga that we now know, that which developed in India, was utilized, at least in its rudimentary form, more than five thousand years ago. In archaeological excavations made in the Indus valley at Harappa and Mohanjodaro in what is now Pakistan, various statues have been unearthed depicting people practising yoga. They show Lord Shiva (the mythological originator of yoga) and his wife Parvati sitting in various asanas and practising meditation. These ruins were once the dwelling places of people who lived in the so-called prevedic age. These discoveries are a definite indicator that yoga was practised in India even before the Aryan civilization invaded and started to flourish in the Indus subcontinent.

Continue to: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part II

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