Classical (ca. 200 CE)
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
After the Bhagavad Gita, the next seminal work on Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are a compilation of Yogic thought that is largely Raja Yogic in nature, it was codified some time between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century by Patanjali, and prescribes adherence to "eight limbs" (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga") to quiet one's mind and merge with the infinite. These eight limbs not only systematized conventional moral principles espoused by the Gita, but elucidated the practice of Raja Yoga in a more detailed manner. Indeed, his "eight-limbed" path has formed the foundation for Raja Yoga and much of Tantra Yoga (a Hindu deific, Shiva-Shakti yoga system) and Vajrayana Buddhism (Buddhist Tantra Yoga) that came after. It goes as follows:
Patanjali, whose own life is virtually unknown, had the impact of further spreading in compact form the essence of Raja Yoga. Some legends speak of his being Adinaga, the first snake, the lower half of his body being that of a snake, upon which the great Hindu God Vishnu reclines. Many say that he was the same Patanjali who wrote commentaries on Panini's singular masterwork on Sanskrit grammar. Others speak of the legends of his birth. A few even dispute his existence and attribute the Yoga Sutras to many authors, but this is highly unlikely due to the structural, linguistic and stylistic uniformity of the short work. His base is Hindu Samkhya philosophy and shows itself to have been highly influenced by the Upanishads.
- Yama (moral codes)
- Niyama (self-purification and study)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (sense control)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption)
His Yoga Sutras espouse a trifold system for attainment of samadhi through tapas (austerities; discipline; literally "heat"), swadhyaya (self-study) and ishwar-pranidhana (contemplation of God).
While Patanjali accepts the idea of what he terms "ishta-devata" (worship of deities as manifestations of the single Brahman), his overall "ishwar" is not a conventional God with personal form and speaks more to a universal, attributeless Brahman, an impersonal, unknowable, infinite force that is all and transcends all.
Together, the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical base of all yoga. However, as far as Raja Yoga (meditational yoga) goes, it is most precisely captured by Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras.
450 - 850 CE
The Yoga-bhasya, Veda Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali could have been written as early as 450 CE. Professor J. H. Woods, places the date of the Yoga-bhasya between 650 CE to 850 CE. Trevor Leggett places the date closer to 600 CE based on a commentary to the Yoga-bhasya published in Sanskrit in 1952 in the Madras Government Oriental Series #94 by Polakam Sri Rama Sastri and S. R. Krishnamurti Sastri. Evidence strongly suggests that this sub-commentary was written by Sankara who lived about 700 CE.
Vacaspati Mishra's Tattva Vaisharadi, a commentary on the Yoga-bhasya was written in ca. 850 CE. An authoritative translation of this work can be found in "The Yoga System of Patanjali" by Professor James Haughton Woods.
- Reference: "Sankara on the Yoga Sutras" Trevor Leggett, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, ISBN: 81-208-1028-7
- Reference: "The Yoga System of Patanjali" James Haughton Woods, Harvard Oriental Series, 1914, (out of print) ISBN:81-208-0577-1 (reprint: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi)
1350 - 1400 CE
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In the West, outside of Hindu culture, "yoga" is usually understood to refer to "hatha yoga." Hatha Yoga is, however, a particular system propagated by Swami Swatamarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India.
After the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras, the most fundamental text of Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatamarama, that in great detail lists all the main asanas, pranayama, mudra and bandha that are familiar to today's yoga student. It runs in the line of Hindu yoga (to distinguish from Buddhist and Jain yoga) and is dedicated to Lord Adinath, a name for Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction), who is alleged to have imparted the secret of Hatha Yoga to his divine consort Parvati. It is common for yogins and tantriks of several disciplines to dedicate their practices to a deity under the Hindu ishta-devata concept (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) while always striving to achieve beyond that: Brahman. Hindu philosophy in the Vedanta and Yoga streams, as the reader will remember, views only one thing as being ultimately real: Satchidananda Atman, the Existence-Consciousness-Blissful Self. Very Upanishadic in its notions, worship of Gods is a secondary means of focus on the higher being, a conduit to realization of the Divine Ground. Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in any one religion.
Hatha is a Sanskrit word meaning 'sun' (ha) and 'moon' (tha), representing opposing energies: hot and cold, male and female, positive and negative, similar but not completely analogous to yin and yang. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical exercises, or "asanas", controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance & strength and were originally (and still) practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. "Asana" means "immovable", i.e. static, and often confused with the dynamic 108 [natya karana]s described in [Natya Shastra] and, along with the elements of Bhakti Yoga, is embodied in the contemporaty form of Bharatanatyam.
By balancing two streams, often known as ida (mental) and pingala (bodily) currents, the sushumna nadi (current of the Self) is said to rise, opening various chakras (cosmic powerpoints within the body, starting from the base of the spine and ending right above the head) until samadhi is attained. Ida and pingala are represented in the dynamism of natya yoga by lasya (female) and tandava (male) aspects, and bear direct reference to the Taoist dualism.
By forging a powerful depth of concentration and mastery of the body and mind, Hatha Yoga practices seek to still the mental waters and allow for apprehension of oneself as that which one always was, Brahman. Hatha Yoga is essentially a manual for scientifically taking one's body through stages of control to a point at which one-pointed focus on the unmanifested brahman is possible: it is said to take its practicer to the peaks of Raja Yoga.
In the West, hatha yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose, and thus, devoid of its original efficacy. Currently, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans practice hatha yoga. But in the Indian subcontinent the traditional practice is still to be found. The guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship that exists without need for sanction from non-religious institutions, and which gave rise to all the great yogins who made way into international consciousness in the 20th century, has been maintained in Indian, Nepalese, and some Tibetan circles.
In India, whose Hindu population combines to a staggering 800 million, Yoga is a daily part of life. It is common to see people performing Surya Namaskar (a yogic set of asanas and pranayam dedicated to Surya, the Hindu God of the Sun) in the morning or speaking about food diets and body therapy entirely based on Yoga or the Hindu healing system of Ayurveda. The age-old tradition of Yoga has continued uninterrupted by the its popularity in the west (although more established schools like the Bihar School of Yoga work from within India to produce Yoga texts to send abroad).
In addition, hundreds and thousands sanyasins (renunciates) and sadhus (Hindu monks) wander in and out of city temples, village country sides and are to be found smattered all across the foothills of the Himalayas and the Vindhya Range of central India. For India's holy-men, Yoga is as fundamental as lifeblood. To see a man meditating at the steps of a temple, or even wondering contemplatively on the roadside, is not uncommon even to the more Westernized crowds. It is the same in Tibet, where the Buddhist establishment's lifestyle is permeated with the Yoga or yogic practices, which is ultimately not a once-a-day routine, but a constant immersion in self-discovery.
- See also: Wikisource - Hatha Yoga Pradipika