The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part II

Continued from: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part I

The first books to mention yoga were the ancient Vedas. Though scholars are not positive, it is generally felt that these books were written at least four thousand, five hundred years ago. They don’t give any specific yogic practices, however, but generally allude to yoga in symbolic form – in fact the verses of the Vedas were uttered by rishis or yogis in states of spiritual bliss and knowledge (samadhi). It is for this reason that the Vedas are regarded as revealed scriptures – the rishis did not compose the verses but acted in a sense as transmitters through which these revelations were expounded. The Vedas are regarded as the first yogic texts, for they illustrate, even in an indirect manner, the essence of yoga. The word yoga is mentioned in various places in the Vedas, particularly the Rig Veda, but it is generally a vague reference to the meaning of yoga in relation to something else, such as harnessing horses together for example. Of course the terms are symbolic, but one would learn little of yoga as it is understood today by reading the Vedas. Many aspects of yoga are mentioned, such as dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and so on, though in little detail. The Self or consciousness was fully understood as being something beyond the body and mind and yet to be realized within. This is not, however, surprising in view of the fact that the inspiration behind the Vedas is from highly evolved yogis. This higher knowledge transcends all national and language barriers. It is something that has been realized by persons in every part of the world and at every period of history. The seers of the Vedas clearly recognized that there existed a dynamic life principle which they called vayu (prana). They also clearly saw that this prana was closely related to breathing. The Vedas also briefly mention the existence of pranic centres (chakras) within but not of the physical body. The science of sound was clearly recognized for they mention various mantras (psychic sounds) that can be used for the attainment of both material or worldly goals as well as spiritual aims. In this sense they were probably more advanced than the people of today in the science of mantras, for it is only recently that people have begun to understand the power of sound.

In conclusion we can say that the concept of yoga was known in vedic times in one form or another, as it had been for many thousands of years before. This is not surprising, for there have always been people who have aspired and attempted to tune in with higher consciousness and to transcend their limited individuality. However, in all probability the system of yoga was not properly formulated before and during the time of the recording of the Vedas. The experiences of yoga were known but the science of yoga had yet to be systematized.

It is with the advent of the Brahmanas and Upanishads that we begin to see yoga take shape and assume the form that it has today. The Brahmanas are texts which deal mainly with sacrificial and ritualistic practices, though there is a wealth of knowledge and historical information contained within its pages. They mentionjapa (meditative techniques involving chanting of mantras) and mouna (another technique for inducing meditation, which can be translated as ‘inner silence’) as being two important aspects of yoga2. In these texts the universal mantra Turn is mentioned in written form for the first time, together with its significance. The foundations for the later development of the science of swara yoga (study of the breath and flow of psychic currents and relationship with life) were also laid down, which later led to the classical swara text called Shiva Swarodaya. The development of psychic powers through yoga are also mentioned in the Brahmanas, such as the ability to read other people’s thoughts.

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

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