The Philosophy of Yoga

This article written by Dr. P. C. Jain looks at the philosophy of Yoga and its influence on Hindu and Buddhist art. It’s accompanied by beautiful photos depicting the philosophy, history, and art of the yogic tradition.

Yoga is one of the most ancient spiritual concepts of East, and despite a philosophical look it has an equally significant physical basis. It is not a body of doctrines, theories or principles. Intellectual problems or inquiries as to ‘why’ or ‘whence’ are not the areas of yogic deliberations. Boiled down to basics, Yoga is a collection of simple practices, a kind of body rituals, consisting of action, method and technique.

The Bhagavad Gita clarifies this interpretation and lays stress upon the Karma Yoga. This scripture says ‘Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called Yoga.’

The Kathopanishad describes Yoga thus: ‘When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free form delusion.’

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels. As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power
for industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human upliftment.

The word Yoga itself is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘yuj’. It means ‘to yoke’ or ‘join’. Thus, Yoga is the science that yokes ‘the finite’ with ‘the Infinite’, or ‘the finite spirit’ with ‘the Supreme Spirit’. In the book ‘Gita according to Mahatma Gandhi,’ the author says that Yoga means “the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God; it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, and the will-power.” The learned author further says that Yoga helps one achieve a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly, whether it is pleasure or pain. Yoga prescribes no pantheon; one can have a deity of one’s own choice to guide yogic performance. In modern terminology Yoga thus is a secular ritual.

The Origin of Yoga

In the valley of the River Indus, a team of archaeologists under Sir Mortimer Wheeler discovered the remains of a civilization, which is now acknowledged to be approximately five thousand years old. Amongst the valued artifacts discovered were a number of seals depicting horncapped figures sitting in positions which are advanced Yogic postures. The most famous of these seals is that of an ithyphallic deity now recognized as
Shiva.

Indeed tradition has it that it was Lord Shiva who first manifested in himself both Yoga and Tantra. The ithyphallic nature of this object points to tantric connotations while the essentially Yogic posture in which he is seated points to him being the Lord of Yoga. Yoga ultimately also got associated with Vishnu, where in his Yoga Narayana form he is personified the supreme object of Yoga.

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