By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Yogadarsana, YogadarZana, Yogadarshana
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Sāñkhya and Yoga Darśanas
- 3 Yoga Definition
- 4 References of the Word Yoga
- 5 The Author and His Times
- 6 The Work
- 7 Commentaries on Yogasūtras
- 8 Philosophy of the Yogasūtras
- 9 Yoga as ‘Cittavrttinirodha’
- 10 Obstacles to Yoga
- 11 Practical Suggestions to Overrule Obstacles
- 12 Astāñgas or Eight Steps
- 13 Yogasiddhis
- 14 Conclusion
- 15 References
Philosophical systems are known as ‘darśanas.’ Unlike the Western philosophical systems, they do not depend solely on logic and reasoning but also on ‘darśana’ or ‘seeing’ or ‘experiencing’ the truth in mystical states. This signifies the appropriateness of the term.
Types of Darśanas
The darśanas have been classified into two groups:
- The āstika - Those based on the authority of Vedas come under this category.
- the nāstika - Those which are not based on the authority of Vedas come under this category.
The Cārvāka, the Jaina and the Bauddha systems come under the nāstika category and the Saḍ-darśanas or the six traditional systems of philosophy come under the āstika.
Classification of Traditional Systems
The six traditional systems are:
Concepts of Darśana Systems
They generally deal with four topics:
- Existence and nature of Brahman or īśvara or God
- Nature of the jīva or the individual soul
- Creation of jagat or the world
- Mokṣa or liberation as the disciplines that lead to it
Sāñkhya and Yoga Darśanas
The word ‘Sāṅkhya’ has been derived from ‘saṅkhyā,’ which means jñāna or knowledge. Since the Sāṅkhya system of the sage Kapila declares jñāna as the sole or primary means of attaining mokṣa called as ‘kaivalya’ as per this system, it has been designated as ‘Sāṅkhya-darśana’. ‘Saṅkhyā’ also means ‘number’. Since this system has fixed the number of the basic cosmic principles as 24 + 1, it might have earned this appellation for itself.
The Sāṅkhya system accepts only puruṣa and pradhāna or prakṛti as the fundamental realities and does not accept īśvara or God. Hence it is sometimes called ‘Nirīśvara-Sāṅkhya’.. The Yogadarśana which accepts all the principles of the Sāṅkhya and also īśvara or God, in addition, has been designated as ‘Seśvara-Sāṅkhya’.
In the Sāṅkhya system, tattvajñāna or inquiry into the nature of truth is of primary importance. But the Yoga system deals primarily with sādhanas or spiritual disciplines. That is why the Yogasūtras of Patañjali, the basic text of the Yoga system, begins with the words atha yogānuśāsanam, instead of the words, ‘jijñāsā’ or ‘mīmānsā’.
The word ‘yoga’ can be derived from two verbal roots as follows:
- Yuj - to yoke
- Yuj - to concentrate
‘Yoga’ is that which helps a jīva or the individual soul to attain concentration on īśvara and ultimate union with him.
References of the Word Yoga
- The word ‘yoga’ in its several senses has been used in the Rgveda'.
- It finds a mention in some of the Upaniṣads like the Kathā Upaniṣad and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad.
- The Bhagavadgitā contains many ideas which reflect in the teachings of the Yoogasutrās.
- It is likely that there might have been a more ancient work on Yoga attributed to Hiraṇyagarbha and this could have influenced other works.
The Author and His Times
Religious tradition attributes the origin of the science of Yoga to Hiraṇyagarbha, an aspect of God himself. Two sages, Sanatkumāra and Jaigiṣavya, are sometimes stated to be the authors of Yogaśāstra. However, their works have not been traced till now.
Among the works on Yoga available now, the Yogasūtras of Patañjali seems to be the most ancient one. Whether the Patañjali who wrote the bhāṣya or commentary on the sūtras of Pāṇini and the Patañjali of the Yogasūtras are the same or not has not been conclusively established. A work on Āyurveda is also attributed to him. It has not been traced so far. Scholars opine that Patañjali might have lived during the period 200 B. C.-A. D. 300.
Like the other works of the six darśanas, Patañjali’s treatise is also in the form of sūtras. A sūtra is a brief mnemonic statement with a minimum of letters expressing a vast amount knowledge. The Yogasūtras comprises 195 sūtras spread over four pādas or chapters. They are:
Commentaries on Yogasūtras
The nature of Sūtra work is ambiguous, if not obscure. Hence it needs a commentary to unravel it. Fortunately for us, the work Yogasūtras has attracted the attention of several savants who have enriched the yoga literature by their earned commentaries and sub-commentaries. The Bhāsya of Vyāsa is regarded as the basic commentary honored by almost all the later writers. Vyāsa, considered to be different from the traditional Vedavyāsa, lived perhaps during the period A. D. 400.
The following are the glosses on this Vyāsabhāsya:
- Tattvavaiśāradī of Vācaspati Miśra
- Yogavarttika of Vijñanabhikṣu
- Bhāsvatl of Hariharānanda Araṇya
There is also a work named Yogabhāsyavivarana attributed to Śaṅkara. Whether the work is really of the famous teacher of Advaita Vedānta or not, scholars do not seem to agree. The style of writing, the presentation and the belief that Śaṅkara was a great yogi lends some support to the view that he is the author of this work.
There are at least six commentaries written directly on the Yogasūtras. They are:
- Rājamārttāndavrtti of Bhojadeva
- Yogasūtrapradipikā of Bhāvāgaṇeśa
- Yogasūtravrtti of Nagojibhaṭṭa
- Yogamaniprabhā of Rāmānanda Yati
- Yogasiddhāntacandrikā of Nārāyaṇa TIrtha
- Yogasudhākara of Sadāśiva Brahmendra
Philosophy of the Yogasūtras
Though the Yogasūtras of Patañjali is primarily a work heavily oriented towards sādhana or spiritual practice, a basic knowledge of its Sāṅkhyan background is necessary to understand it. Yogadarśana accepts three fundamental realities:
- Īśvara - The existence of īśvara is called as ‘Puruṣaviśeṣa’. It can be known only through the scriptures. He is sarvajña or omniscient. Being untouched by the shackles of prakṛti he is ever free. He is the ādiguru, the primeval teacher. He is also designated as praṇava or Om. It is by his will and in accordance with the karmas of the puruṣas that prakṛti, comprising the three guṇas sattva, rajas and tamas, evolves into this universe.
- Puruṣas - Puruṣas are the individual souls. They are cidrūpa or of the nature of consciousness. They are infinite in number.
- Pradhāna or prakṛti - The evolutes of prakṛti are mahat. ahaṅkāra, manas, the tanmātras and so on. It is the same as in the Sāṅkhyan system.
The puruṣa or the individual soul, somehow due to avidyā or nescience, forgets his real nature as pure consciousness. It gets involved with the evolutes of prakṛti and suffers all the pangs of birth, death and transmigration. However, when he performs sādhanas, the aṣṭāṅgas or the eight steps of yoga, he once again realizes his essential nature and is instantly freed from sansāra, the cycle of transmigration. Being established in oneself and thus transcending sansāra is termed as ‘kaivalya’.
Yoga as ‘Cittavrttinirodha’
Patañjali defines yoga as cittavrtti-nirodha. When all the vṛttis or modifications of the citta or the mind are controlled and suppressed, the true nature of the puruṣa or the Self is revealed. Citta is the mind-stuff that is variously called as antahkaraṇa, manas or buddhi.</ref>Buddhi means the intellect.</ref> The waves of thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise in it due to the impact of the sense-objects upon it through the sense-organs like the eyes and the ears, are called ‘cittavrttis.’
States of Citta
The citta or the mind has five states as follows:
- Kṣipta - impulsive
- Mūḍha - dull
- Vikṣipta - distracted
- Ekāgra - one-pointed
- Niruddha - inhibited
Yoga is not possible in the first three states since the mind is in the grip of rajas and tamas. When sattva predominates, the mind can attain one-pointedness leading it to samprajñāta-samādhi. In the last, the niruddha state, there is a total suppression of all modifications, leading to asamprajñāta-samādhi, where no object is cognized and the puruṣa remains established in his intrinsic state. Then he becomes a mukta, a liberated soul, free from all the trammels of prakṛti.
Classification of Cittavṛttis
Though these cittavṛttis appear to be innumerable, they can be classified under five groups:
- Pramāṇa - It is the means of right knowledge. The pramāṇas are of three types:
- Pratyakṣa - direct perception
- Anumāna - inference
- Āgama - words of reliable persons and the scriptures
- Viparyaya - It is false-knowledge like that of seeing a snake in a rope in semidarkness.
- Vikalpa - It is mental picture based on hearing a word or words like “Rāhu’s head".
- Nidrā - It means sleep is that condition of mind where its modifications arise out of a preponderance of tamas.
- Smṛti - It means memory of previous experience.
Outcome of Cittavṛttis
These cittavṛttis when they produce kleśa or suffering to the puruṣa due to avidyā, asmitā and so on are called kliṣṭa. When they help the puruṣa to free himself from them, they become ‘akliṣta’.
Obstacles to Yoga
Patañjali calls the obstacles to yoga as Antarāyas that which comes in between and lists them as nine
- Vyādhi - It means illness. It has to be remedied by medical treatment.
- Styāna - It means apathy. It has to be overcome by exercising will-power.
- Sanśaya - It means doubt. It must be countered by faith in the scriptures and the preceptor.
- Pramāda - It means heedlessness. It must be abolished by eternal vigilance.
- Ālasya - It means laziness. It should be conquered by healthy activity.
- Avirati - It means lack of renunciation. It should be nullified through viveka and vairāgya.
- Bhrāntidarśana - It means misconception.
- Alabdha-bhūmikatva - It means failure to attain yogic states.
- Anavasthitatva - It means instability in the state.
The last three obstacles must be tackled as per the advice of a competent preceptor.
Patañjali names five more obstacles to yoga since they too distract the mind. They are:
- Duhkha - pain
- Daurmanasya - frustration
- Aṅgamejayatva - restlessness of the limbs of the body
- Śvāsa and praśvāsa - spasmodic breathing in or out
They too have to be countered by appropriate remedies.
Practical Suggestions to Overrule Obstacles
Patañjali gives quite a few suggestions which help an aspirant to ward off the obstacles to yoga and attain greater concentration, ultimately leading to samādhi or mystical experience of the self. Out of these, vairāgya and abhyāsa comes first. The former helps one to take the mind away from the sense-objects whereas the latter leads it towards the Self or God.
Other indications are:
- Attitude of friendship or maitrī towards those who are happy instead of feeling jealous of them
- Compassion or karuṇā towards those who are suffering
- Controlling the prāṇic energy by regulating the breath
- Meditating on the light in the centre of one’s heart
- Contemplating on the minds of great persons
- Repeatedly remembering highly elevating dreams if one had had them
- Contemplating on the forms of gods and goddesses or planets like the moon or the psychic centres in one’s own body
All these methods help the spiritual aspirant to gain peace of mind as also greater control over it.
Astāñgas or Eight Steps
The puruṣa or the jīvātman (individual soul) is in bondage because of his inordinate attachment to his body-mind complex, which is a product of prakṛti. The aim of yoga is ‘viyoga’ (separating) of the puruṣa from the clutches of prakṛti. This comes about by vivekakhyāti or the knowledge that prakṛti and puruṣa are essentially separate from each other (khyāti = knowledge; viveka = discrimination).
The Yogasūtras prescribes a graded discipline comprising eight steps, called the ‘aṣṭāṅgas’ of yoga. They are: yama (restraint), niyama (observances), āsana (posture), prāṇāyāma (control of vital currents), pratyāhāra (state of withdrawal), dhāraṇā (concentration), dhyāna (meditation) and samādhi (total absorption). Out of these, the first five are considered as ‘bahiraṅgas’ (external aids) and the last three as ‘antaraṅgas’ (internal aids) to yoga.
Ahirhsā (non-injury), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence) and aparigraha (non-acceptance of gifts) constitute yama, the first step.
Niyama includes śauca (cleanliness), santoṣa (contentment), tapas (austerity of body, speech and mind), svādhyāya (study of holy books and repetition of mantras like OṁJ, and īśvarapraṇidhāna (devotion to God).
The former contribute to social harmony and the latter to personal purity. The three disciplines of tapas, svādhyāya and īśvarapraṇidhāna are grouped together by Patañjali and christened as ‘Kriyāyoga’. It is effective as a shortcut to yoga.
Āsana is that posture in which one can sit steadily and comfortably for the practice of yoga. Prāṇāyāma is controlling the vital airs in the body, through the regulation of breathing. When the sense-organs are withdrawn from the sense-objects they remain merged as it were, in the mind. This is called pratyāhāra.
The next three disciplines—dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi—are actually three continuous steps of the same process. In dhāraṇā, the mind is fixed on the object of concentration. When this concentration becomes uninterrupted, like the oil being poured from one vessel into another, it is dhyāna. When dhyāna ripens into a state of total absorption on the object, so much so, that the aspirant is not aware of even his own existence, it is called samādhi. Samādhi can be attained by īśvarapraṇidhāna or devotion to God also (1.23).
Patañjali terms these three steps together as ‘saṁyama’. And, this samyama should always be on one and the same object.
The belief that one can attain supernatural powers by tapas and by the grace of God is very ancient. Patañjali describes quite a few of such powers in the second and the third chapters in order to generate faith in the minds of the ordinary seekers of truth. For instance, he declares that while in the company of a person who is well-established in the virtue of ahiiṅsā, even animals inimical to one another (like a tiger and a cow) will live in peace and mutual harmony. The words of a person rooted in satya will be infallible. One who observes aparigraha very strictly can get a knowledge of his past and future lives (vide 2.35, 36 and 39).
Saiyama on different objects will endow the yogi with several occult powers. For instance, by saṁyama on the five elements like pṛthvī (earth) and ap (water), the yogi can get aṣṭasiddhis or the eightfold powers like aṇimā (power to become atomic in size), mahimā (power to grow to any large size) and so on (3.44, 45). Some of the other powers given in the work are: thought-reading, disappearance from view, getting enormous strength, understanding the language of animals and other creatures, and so on.
However, Patañjali, who as a scientist of mind, describes these powers (since they are part of the science), also cautions the aspirant of yoga not to seek them. The temptation for these powers can lead him away from the goal of his life, viz., kaivalya or liberation. But, after the attainment of kaivalya—since he may continue to live for some more time due to prārabdha-karma (the karma that has started this life)—he will have those powers and can safely use them for the good of mankind.
The Yogadarśana is not only ancient but also very practical. Even the Vedāntic systems accept its sādhana aspects. Modern psychologists too are discovering its utility in guarding or in regaining mental health. Methods and techniques of yoga are becoming quite popular all over the world. The first two steps—yama and niyama—can contribute to the well-being of the individual as well as of the society. The various āsanas—better known as yogāsanas—can help in regaining or maintaining one’s health. Thus the Yoga system is gradually gaining universal acceptance.
- Cārvāka means Materialism.
- Puruṣa means the individual soul.
- Prakṛti means nature.
- Nirīśvara-Sāṅkhya means ‘Sāṅkhya without īśvara'
- Seśvara-Sāṅkhya means ‘Sāṅkhya with īśvara’.
- Atha yogānuśāsanam means ‘Now, the teaching of Yoga is begun.’
- Mīmānsā means ‘enquiry’.
- Rgveda 5.81.1
- Kathā Upaniṣad 6.10, 11; 2.12
- Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 1.3
- Bhagavadgitā 6.11, 13, 20 and 35
- Yoogasutrās 2.46; 1.2; 1.12
- Sūtra 51
- Sūtra 55
- Sūtra 55
- Sūtra 34
- He lived in A. D. 850
- He lived in 16th century.
- He lived in 19th century.
- He lived in A. D. 788-820.
- He lived in 11th century.
- He lived in 18th century.
- Puruṣaviśeṣa means ‘special or unique purusa’.
- Mahat means cosmic intellect.
- Ahaṅkāra means the ego-principle.
- Manas means cosmic mind.
- Tanmātras means subtle elements.
- Yogasutrā 1.2
- It means niruddha.
- Antahkaraṇa means the inner instrument.
- Manas means the mind.
- Samprajñāta-samādhi means state of perfect concentration where there is a clear cognition of the object.
- Rāhu is the malefic planet which has only the head and no other part of the body.
- Avidyā means ignorance.
- Asmitā means egoism.
- Yogasutrās 1.30
- Viveka means discrimination.
- Vairāgya means detachment.
- Yogasutrās 1.31
- Vairāgya means detachment or the spirit of renunciation.
- Abhyāsa means constant practice.
- Yogasutrās 1.12
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore