Continued from: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part V
The Bhagavad Gita is a yogic scripture par excellence, and is applicable to people throughout the world and in every walk of life. It maps out in concise, but specific manner, the yogic paths of karma yoga (the path of action), jnana yoga (the path of intuition), bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) and dhyana yoga (the path of meditation). In fact, with regard to karma yoga it can be considered the supreme treatise.
It is in the Bhagavad Gita where we really see that yoga is for everyone and not for the recluse. Before the writing of this text there was a tendency to regard yoga as unworldly and unconnected with daily life. It is the Bhagavad Gita that urges everyone to start practising yoga here and now, and not to consider it something to be practised on retirement from one’s responsibilities or some time in the future when the opportunity presents itself. It is to be practised now as an integral part of one’s life. Another important aspect of the Bhagavad Gita is that it blends all die different aspects of yoga into a comprehensive whole. With the practice of yoga there should not be confinement to one path. In fact this is impossible. Integration of all the different paths is necessary. Though a person might follow one path in particular, the other paths should also be practised where possible. The Gita makes this point very clear. Before the time of writing the Gita, there was a tendency to see separation between the different paths and even to consider some of the paths as mutually exclusive. It is the Gita that formulates the basic structure of the science of yoga as it is known today.
So far we have mainly concerned ourselves with the development of literature on yoga. This must be the case, for we only know with certainty the direction of yogic development by reference to the ancient texts. At the same time, however, yoga was simultaneously being refined and developed by its practitioners and gums, who then passed on their teachings by word of mouth. In fact, it is certainly these people who evolved and improvised yoga practices by their personal experience in an endeavour to achieve the best results. All the texts can do is to reflect current and prevalent ideas.
Since the teachings of yoga were generally passed on orally, its development was haphazard. Different teachers taught different methods so that before it was systematized, yoga was a collection of varied and unrelated techniques, riddled with all types of personal beliefs and superstitions. It is here that the writers of the ancient texts served their greatest purpose by bringing all these different ideas together and integrating them. One of the most successful of these writers was Rishi Patanjali who wrote the text called the Yoga Sutras some time before the birth of Christ. This is still regarded as the classical and authoritative book on raja yoga. In a mere one hundred and ninety six verses, Patanjali has considered the essential philosophy, background, techniques and attainments of raja yoga. In a sense, it can be said that he is the compiler more than the writer, for he took all the important existing practices which were used for many centuries up until his time and united them into one comprehensive and harmonious system. He certainly did not invent the path of raja yoga for its constituents were known in essence since the beginning of the vedic period thousands of years before.
Continue to: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part VII