Continued from: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part VI
The whole subject of raja yoga is treated in a most scientific manner starting from moral precepts, leading on to the physical and mental aspects and finally self-realization. Some of Patanjali’s terse comments on the mind are far ahead even of modern day psychological ideas. In fact the modern trend in psychology is towards adaptation and implementation of the ancient ideas of yoga, particularly those propounded by Patanjali.
The essential foundations of yoga as we now know it were laid down by the time Patanjali had finished writing his Yoga Sutras. Many more texts and developments were to follow, but the stmcture of yoga was outlined; all that was required was the filling in of the empty spaces. This was done mainly by large numbers of commentators who interpreted and reinterpreted the traditional texts. Often this caused more confusion than clarity, because many differing commentaries arose resulting in controversy and speculation. Nevertheless a few of these scholars did throw some light on the traditional yogic texts. An example is Shankaracharya, who personally interpreted twelve different Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as writing many original books on yoga such as Viveka Chudamani (Crest Jewel of Wisdom),Aparokshanubhuti (Direct Experience of Reality) and the Atmabodha (Knowledge of the Self). These treatises are masterpieces in themselves. Shankaracharya was a man who had extensively practised yoga for himself and knew through personal experience the significance of yoga. He was not content, as were so many others, to merely analyze intellectually the science of yoga without personal experience.
There are many other contributors to the development of yoga who we have yet to mention. Bhakti yoga, though practised throughout the eras of yoga, was given a particularly strong boost in the middle ages by such bhakti yogis as Kabir, Tulsidas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Nam Dev and many more. They all wrote wonderful poetry which even now inflames the heart with its devotional feeling. People such as Kabir not only expressed their intense love in their poetry, but also interspersed it with clear practical advice on the path of bhakti yoga and other paths.
Large numbers of hatha yoga texts were written throughout the ages. The most well-known of these are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita, the Gherand Samhita and many more. These texts give details on asanas, pranayama and other hatha yoga practices, together with techniques for performing mudras, bandhas, etc. However, all the books emphasize that the hatha yoga practices are not specifically aimed at making the body healthy. They are a means to higher ideals, which first demand a healthy body. There are many sages and yogis who have contributed to the growth of yoga, such as the ancient yogis Gorakhnath, Matsyendranath, Janaka, Yajnavalkya, Ashtavakra, Vyasa and so many others, as well as the yogis of recent times such as Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda and our guru Swami Satyananda. The list is endless. The number of books on yoga runs into the thousands. For example, the Ashtavakra Gita is a sublime text containing the utterances of yogis in advanced states of meditation; the Anu Gita of the Mahabharata, which is said to be a further explanation of the Bhagavad Gita by Krishna to Arjuna, his disciple; the Brahma Sutras, which attempt to consolidate in a condensed form the essence of the Upanishads; the Vyasabnasya which gives a masterly commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; Narada’s Bhakti Sutras, which gives rules for practising bhakti yoga, and so on. And this list grows with every year that passes.
We have only given a brief glimpse of the origin and development of yoga. There is much more to be said, but there is no space, for many volumes would be required and besides, those who are sincerely interested in the history and literature of yoga can take the steps to find out for themselves. For those who want to tread the yogic path, such a deep knowledge is not necessary. The books that we have mentioned contain the essence of yoga and can easily be obtained by anyone who wants to investigate the original yogic texts. However, for personal growth through yoga it is not necessary to read any of these books, for yoga is one hundred percent practice. These techniques are widely available in modern books on yoga, in ashrams and yoga schools and can be learnt from a compretent guru, which is the best way.
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