[“What is known of the training of the Yogis? Nothing but what they give out themselves—which is very little. Read Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms; but with caution, for it is very apt to mislead, being written in symbolic language. Compare the article on “Sankhya and Yoga Philosophy” in The Theosophist of March.—Collected Writings, IX, p. 166 (from Lucifer Magazine)]
The Sankhya and Yoga Philosophy
A Lecture read by the Secretary before the Convention of the Theosophical Society, December 1887. The quotations from and references to Sanskrit works have been supplied by Pandit Bhashya Charya.
The Theosophist, Vol. 9, No. 102, March 1888, pp. 342-356
These two systems are so closely linked together that any attempt to treat the one without the other would be incomplete and unsatisfactory. The Sankhya system first demands attention, as being apparently the elder of the two, the Yoga system being in some sort its complement.
The word Sankhya is variously said to mean perfect or true wisdom—the wisdom taught by this philosophy,—or numerical system, or system of numerations, from the importance played in this system by the numbered categories which form its basis.
In its numerical aspect the Sankhya system is said to be a version of the system with which the name of Pythagoras is identified. The theory underlying this system may be roughly said to be that the universe and its various parts are capable of a sort of mathematical representation. Each number has a certain mystical meaning, says Madame Blavatsky (Isis Unveiled, ii. 407):
“All systems of religious mysticism are based on numerals. With Pythagoras, the Monas or unity, emanating the duad, and thus forming the trinity, and the quaternary or Arba-il (the mystic four) compose the number seven. The sacredness of numbers begins with the great first—the ONE, and ends only with the nought or Zero—symbol of the infinite and boundless circle which represents the universe. All the intervening figures, in whatever combination, or however multiplied, represent philosophical ideas, from vague outlines down to a definitely established scientific axiom, relating either to a moral or a physical fact in nature. They are a key to the ancient views on cosmogony, in its broad sense, including man and beings, and the evolution of the human race, spiritually, as well as physically.”
As there are now no available works treating the Sankhya system from this mystical point of view, and as I am not in a position to give even an abstract of it, I merely mention the alleged existence of such explanation and pass on to enquire into the sources whence our present knowledge of the system is derived.
The generally received opinion is that the Sankhya philosophy originated with the Rishi Kapila. It is however more probable that Kapila was rather the expander and arranger of the system, as we find evidence that it was previously known to the Vedic writers.
In Rig Veda, Ch. viii, v. 31, it says: the heavens, the earth, the mountains, the creator, everything in the cosmos—are eternal.
In several other passages we find expressions that seem to show that the evolutionary theory, as expounded by Kapila, was already known to older sages. These passages show that the writers conceived all things as being at first latent in mulaprakriti, and then, when manifestation set in, it is said that the Creator formed all these things as they had been before.
In the Anushasanika Parva of the Mahabharata, in the Sahasranama Adhyaya, the Sankhya, Yoga and Veda are said to be the main sources of knowledge that have come from Janadharma or Iswara. In the Mokshadharma of the same book, Sankhya, Yoga and others are quoted as fundamental theories that cannot be shaken by argument.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Ch. ii, v. 3, Krishna speaks of himself as the promulgator of Sankhya and Yoga. These two are again mentioned in Ch. v.
These passages go to show that we must trace the origin of this knowledge to Iswara, or the Logos, as its source. Perhaps we may say that the Sankhya philosophy represents one of the aspects of that body of knowledge which formed the heritage of our race, and that Kapila reduced the original ideas to the system associated with his name.
According to the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana, Kapila was the son of Kardharma Prajapati by his wife Devahuti. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, “Among the Siddhas, I am Kapila,” thus singling out Kapila as the special representative of a particular type of sage. Sri Sankaracharya, in the first sutra of the second chapter of his Commentary on Brahma Sutras, quotes a verse from the Veda to show that the knowledge attributed to Kapila was already known to the Vedic sages. (The author of the Brahma Sutras refers to the Sankhya system when he speaks of the theory held by certain persons that Prakriti is the one only material cause of the universe, whereas the Vedantins hold that Brahma is that cause. In other respects the Vedantins do not dispute the Sankhya conclusions, so far as the latter go. This goes to show that the Sankhya system was in existence before the date at which the Brahma Sutras were written.)
The author of the Brahma Sutras, who is supposed to be the founder of the Vedanta Philosophy, criticises the various interpretations of the Sankhyacharyas upon the passages of the Upanishads and expounds them in his own way. This exposition goes to prove the priority of the Sankhya system over the Vedantic doctrine as expounded by Vyasa himself.
In the fourth chapter of his great treatise, Panini mentions the Brahma Sutras. Whoever reads the Bhikshu Sutra—written, as shown by the Yajur Veda, by Párásaiya, is called Párásari. The Bhikshu Sutra is a name given to Brahma Sutras, because it was mostly studied by Bhikshus or ascetics. Párásaiya is a name of Veda Vyasa, the reputed author of Brahma Sutras, as shown in the first Prapathaka of the Yajur Veda Aranyaka. This shows that the Sankhya system existed prior to the Vedanta. Moreover all philosophers, including Jaimini and Gautama, argue about the conclusions of the Sankhya system, thus showing that it was already well established in their day. Kapila himself is mentioned as an ancient Siddha among the Rishis, and apparently must have lived before 1000 B.C., though how much before it is impossible to say. Thomson, who calls this “the first and only real system of philosophy to which the Indian mind gave birth,” speaks of Kapila as having lived “at least seven or eight centuries before Christ.”
Kapila is said to have lived on the banks of the Saraswati in Brahma Varta.
Though this system of philosophy may have been, and probably was, as to its main outlines, derived by Kapila from sages who had preceded him, his method of treatment was probably original. He differed from other Indian thinkers and philosophers in this, that he based his conclusions solely on perception and inference without supporting them by appeals to the authority of the scriptures. The problem he set himself was to think out a theory of the universe, as far as it could be constructed from the data furnished by what appeared to him fundamental propositions respecting the nature of things in themselves, to the complete exclusion of any idea, such as that of a single controlling intelligence behind all phenomena, which would have to be derived from the scriptures.
For this reason he is called Nirishwara—because he omitted all mention of Iswara in his system. But it by no means necessarily follows because we find no mention of Iswara in Kapila’s system, whence indeed such a factor was excluded ex hypothesi, that the sage himself had no belief in Iswara. His followers, who in later times earned the epithet Nastika or atheist, did entirely exclude Iswara or the Logos from their theory of the universe, and even seem to have denied its very existence on the merely negative evidence of their master’s system. Kapila was well aware of the existence of the scriptures and of their value. It was not his intention to supplant them with some newly coined scheme of his own, or we should have found him arguing against their teachings point by point. As we do not find such argument, it seems but fair to conclude that Kapila’s design was not to destroy but to support the authority of the scriptures themselves, by showing, in an independent manner, how far their inspired conclusions could be defended and paralleled by an argument founded on purely rational considerations deduced from the nature of things in themselves. In spite of numerous specific instances to the contrary, we are, at the present day, only too familiar with the popular idea that religion and science are necessarily hostile to one another, and the stupid reproaches of atheism levelled at Kapila in ancient days are but another proof that “there is nothing new under the sun.” In his Commentary on the Brahma Sutras (Ch. ii, v. 1) Sri Sankaracharya himself tries to remove these strictures passed on Kapila, and to point out that the mistake has arisen from imputing to the sage opinions he never expressed.
Sri Sankaracharya calls the work of Kapila a Tantra, by which he means to say that it deals with realities; some of his successors speak of it in similar terms. From the way in which the system is mentioned in the works of Sri Sankaracharya and his followers, it would seem as if they were in possession of numerous Sankhya works which have not come down to us. Among these may have been one by Kapila himself.
The oldest work now available seems to be the Tattwasamasa, a collection of about eighteen sutras or aphorisms: the authorship of this book cannot now be ascertained with precision, though some attribute it to Kapila himself.
Our largest work is the Sankhya Karika, containing seventy stanzas, written by Iswara Krishna. At the end of this book Iswara Krishna traces it back, from disciple to teacher, to Kapila. There are also the sutras attributed to Panchashika, who learned them from Asuri, the pupil of Kapila. These are quoted by many philosophical writers. In the Commentary on Patanjali, attributed to Vedavyasa, a Sankhya aphorism is quoted which is not now found in the sutras we now possess. This, of course, shows, that books once existed on this philosophy which are now unfortunately lost.
Again, in Sarvarthasiddhi, a Commentary on the Tattwa-muktakalápa, by Vedantacharya, sutras are quoted from Asuri which are not now found elsewhere. The name of Asuri, above referred to as a disciple of Kapila, is mentioned in the Brihadaranyakopanishad.
On the Sankhya Karika we have a Commentary by Gaudapacharya, the teacher of Sri Sankaracharya, and both the latter and Sri Ramanujacharya quote the Sankhya Karika in their commentaries on Brahma Sutras. Another commentary on the Sankhya Karika was written by Vachaspatimisra, who also annotated Sri Sankaracharya’s Commentary on Brahma Sutras. The Sankhya Karika is called by the Vedantins Tattwa Sangraha as is shown by the use of the term in Ramanujacharya’s Commentary on Brahma Sutras.
The Sankhya-pravachana is a collection of four hundred and ninety-nine sutras in six Adhyayas or readings. The real author of this book is unknown; it contains quotations from Panchashikacharpa, a follower of Kapila, hence it cannot have been written by that sage himself. The name Sankhya-pravachana Sutra shows that it is intended to be a sort of introduction to the philosophy set forth by Kapila, and this goes to show that it must be subsequent to the original Kapila Sutras, and was probably written by some follower of that school to further elucidate the system as originally set forth. There is a Commentary on this work by Vijnána Bhikshu. The Sankhya-pravachana Sutra is quoted by neither Sankaracharya nor Ramanujacharya, nor by any Vedantins, and the commentator thereon speaks of Sankaracharya and argues against his doctrines. Hence we conclude that the author of this Commentary must be a modern writer, and probably he did not flourish before the thirteenth century.
Another Sankhya work is the Sankhyasara, in slokas, written by Gaudapadacharya, and this ends the list of available works on this system.
The great object with which Kapila starts on his enquiry as to the realities of the universe and its laws, is to find out, if possible, some means of putting an end to the misery which seems inseparable from embodied existence.
He divides the enquiry into four parts: misery itself, the cause of misery, how misery may be destroyed, and the cause of its destruction. The endeavour to find a solution to these four problems is at once found to involve an enquiry into the foundations of existence. So, in like manner, we find that the great problem Buddha set himself to solve was the cause of evil.
The Sankhya Karika declares at its commencement that, since we are subject to the three kinds of misery, we are under the necessity of enquiring into the way in which that misery may be destroyed. The same reason is given in the first aphorism of the Sankhya Sutras.
The three kinds of misery are Adhiatmika, Adhidaivika and Adhibanddika. The first is personal or internal and arises from the very fact of bodily existence. The second is external and arises from our connection with the various elements of the universe, whence we are exposed to suffering from their action on our bodies in the shape of heat, cold, and the like; and the third form of misery, that which it is totally beyond our power to control, as it implies the direction of hostile energies against ourselves, includes such accidents as snake-bite, attacks by tigers or other wild beasts, and so on.
According to the Sankhya-pravachana Sutra the object of human existence is deliverance from the bondage of this three-fold misery. The question then arises: whence came this misery into existence? and we are told, in reply, that ignorance is the root of all evil. Again, it says that we are under the dominion of ignorance by reason of our connection with matter or prakriti. This matter or prakriti is said to consist of the combination of the three qualities, satwa, rajas and tamas. Kapila held that prakriti had no existence as a thing in itself, but that what we call substance is the combination of these three gunas. He differs from other philosophers in not allowing the existence of a separate substance—he says the gunas themselves are the substance.
This prakriti is unknowable in its real condition. It can only be inferred from its effects, behind these knowledge cannot reach, and he came to the conclusion that this prakriti or avyakta, the unmanifested, itself a purely negative conception, is the material cause of the universe.
In its real condition, when it is in a latent state before the universe comes into existence, it has no form whatever. Kapila does not agree with the atomic theory. According to him the simplest atom is a compound object—it is substance having form, and hence is a step beyond prakriti. He considers it impossible to form any idea whatever of the universe in its natural condition. He begins by conceiving prakriti as entirely devoid of all qualities. All we can say about it is that it is, but as soon as we try to say what it is or how it is, we at once limit it and invest it with qualities, and as soon as that is done it ceases to be prakriti in the sense of avyakta or unmanifested and becomes vikriti, the manifested principle. We can therefore only describe prakriti by saying what it is not. It is causeless, endless, produced by no other end, immutable without beginning. But while it is free from qualities it is one, and sovereign because in its real condition there can be no other beside it. All we can know about it is its manifestations which emanate from it.
For the sake of convenience of discussion nine things are predicated of prakriti. It is (1) causeless, (2) eternal, (3) universal, (4) immutable, (5) single, (6) independent, (7) free from qualities, (8) simple, (9) sovereign.
From prakriti emanates vyakta, the developed principle.
This comprises twenty-three categories.
Vyakta is said to have nine attributes, each the polar opposite to what is predicated of prakriti. They are: (1) it has a cause or origin (prakriti), (2) it is not eternal, (3) it is not universal, (4) it is mutable, (5) it is multiple, (6) it is accidental, (7) it is endowed with qualities, (8) it is compound, (9) it is subordinate, and the reasons given are:
(1). It has a cause, because it emanates from nature.
(2). It has been created, and must therefore perish; it has emanated from nature, and will be re-absorbed into it.
(3). It is this universe only, and must therefore be finite.
(4). It varies in its various component parts, which it produces in order.
(5). It is multiple, being composed of twenty-three parts.
(6). It is accidental, because it depends on prakriti for its existence.
(7). It has various attributes.
(8). And components.
(9). It is subordinate to the will of nature, on which it depends.
First itself and then seven nikritis, which together make up vikriti (change, leading to formation, destruction, etc).
The first of the nikritis is Intelligence (Mahat, &c., see Thomson, Bhagavad Gita, page lxxv, &c.)
The seven nikritis are said to be the manifestation of prakriti. The sixteen vikaras are said to be manifestations of vikriti and not of prakriti. The seven nikritis are thus said to form collectively the prakriti of the vikaras.
In all the details of his system Kapila admits only so much from the scriptures as may be reconciled with pure reason. His authorities are three, perception, inference and the scriptures. He entirely leaves out of account, however, all the ceremonies ordained in the Vedas, and says that the only road to destroy ignorance is by the attainment of true knowledge of the true conditions of realities. This he calls tatwajnana.
All those objects we are able to perceive exist as the result of the union of purusha with matter. All that we call knowledge is produced in the atma by this connection with matter, and forms manas and ahankara. These objective and subjective phenomena are not the attributes of atma, but are like the colour of the flower, the reflection of an object in a mirror, or the appearance of a flower enclosed in a clear glass vessel. The original reflection comes from the potentiality of prakriti. When it emanates the categories beginning with the manifested principle, a number of centres of reflection are set up, these reflect themselves on the vyaktam and on one another, these reflections give rise to other reflections, and thus all the objects in the universe are produced.
Until the atma is entirely separated from matter, misery will not cease. Atma is said to be eternal, it is the intellectual form of prakriti and prakriti is said to give rise to evolution by its own nature. Prakriti in fact seems to answer to the Parabrahm of the Vedantins, as described in last year’s lectures.
When atma attains the state of moksha, or release, it will go on existing for ever as an eternal reality, but there will be no more self or separation. It is said that when the atma is once evolved out of prakriti, it becomes eternal, and that this quality of immortality also applies to the individualized atma in human beings. But this existence seems to be entirely negative, so that it does not seem easy to distinguish pure atma from unmanifested prakriti. There is no bliss for it, no state or locality in which it may dwell for ever. The atma simply seems to be able to enjoy bare real existence, a state that an ordinary mind cannot distinguish, for all practical purposes, from annihilation. This view of the state of the released atma seems to be the prototype of the popular Buddhist idea of Nirvana in its aspect of annihilation. It is very much to be doubted whether Buddhists can show any sound authority for proving that Nirvana does not mean practical annihilation, unless they are prepared to admit the conception of something resembling the Iswara of the Vedantins.
The weak point in the conception both of modern Buddhists and Sankhyas is, that by reducing the ultimate destiny of all human beings to a colourless state of Nirvana, no machinery is provided for progressive evolution after the present cycle. What becomes of all the accumulated experience of the millions upon millions of years that make up a day of Brahm? What provision is made for anything like the continued consciousness of the Universal Mind? The occult doctrine that there is a form of the Logos or Iswara which, if it sleeps during the night of Brahm, yet wakes up again when the new day breaks forth and starts the new cycle of evolution on lines that are in some sort founded on what has gone before, is in accordance with the economy of Nature’s laws, and makes indefinite progress thinkable. But unless some such provision is made, the aim and end of all evolution is the attainment of a dead level of some sort—which appears to derive all its supposed perfection from its negative character,—and the mechanical arrangement of an indefinable prakriti which seems to be able to start into the most varied cycles of activity, each totally unconnected with one another, is quite as hard to conceive as the theory of Creation out of nothing. It may be true that it is useless for us to enquire into the real origin of things; it may be better for us to confine our attention to the means of salvation from the evil of this present life—evils which lie at our very doors and dog our daily steps,—and to leave aside all other speculations as unprofitable. There can, however, hardly be two opinions as to the comparative merits of two systems, one of which merely requires us to postulate one single act of motion at the beginning, which can be logically shown not only to provide for, but to necessitate an infinite chain of illimitable progress; and which, while destroying one limitation after another, goes on ever enlarging our sphere of consciousness, and a system which ends in a state of being which seems to be but another form of annihilation, not only of ourselves, but of all else, and which, providing no single bridge for the attainment of future advancement, seems to demand at least one fresh miracle for every evolutionary cycle. If we are not able to trace the evolution of consciousness to its original source, but must be content, for the present, to postulate its existence, it seems more rational to provide for the continuance of that consciousness in some manner that shall enable it to produce practical results, than to leave it to be inferred that, if not snuffed out like a candle, a “condition of total cessation of changes” will, at some more or less remote period, put an end to the production of effects.
One cannot help thinking that it was part of the intention of Kapila, by showing, as he has done in this system, the limits of material speculation, ending in a sort of universal deadlock, to furnish a powerful negative argument in favour of the teachings of the scriptures. He seems to have tried to go to the very end of rational inference, based on observation, to prove that the ultimate truths which are the underlying basis of all things and the real springs of the universe, are only to be reached by ascending to higher grades of consciousness, and that unless one can transcend the ordinary modes of thought and rise into the region of occultism, it is hopeless to try to understand the real nature of things as they are, while at the same time, by the systematic working out of his theory, he provides a valuable means of mental discipline, and to no man is such discipline more necessary than to the genuine occultist.
We now turn to the Yoga system. The word Yoga means either “union” or “concentration.” It is used in the latter sense by Patanjali. In his commentary on Bhagavad Gita, Sankaracharya seems to use the word as signifying perfect equal-mindedness, resulting from the realisation of the union of the jivatma or individualized atma with the supreme atma.
The Yoga is sometimes called Sankhya-pravachana, because it forms a sort of supplement to the Sankhya system. There is indeed no contradiction between the two systems. Sankhya may be called the theoretical and Yoga the practical aspect of one and the same school of philosophy.
The manner in which concentration may be effected is laid down in the Yoga philosophy; but unless a man is versed in the knowledge of the true realities, he has nothing on which to focus his concentration. In this way the Sankhya system is a necessary preliminary to the Yoga. Although a man may be able to gain some sort of concentration without true knowledge, he cannot, without true knowledge, so separate himself from matter as to utterly destroy the miseries of existence. Thus these two are considered to form together one and the same system of philosophy.
In Bhagavad Gita, Ch. v, verses 4 and 5, it is said that the ignorant look upon Sankhya and Yoga as two separate systems, but not so the wise. In the same chapter it is further said that he who looks upon Sankhya and Yoga as identical will be able to perceive everything. Again, in the Swetaswatara Upanishad, Ch. vi, the knowledge of the Supreme spirit is said to be attainable through Sankhya and Yoga, therefore it was evidently considered that the two systems did not contradict one another.
The original founder of the Yoga system is said to have been Hiranyagarbha, a great Rishi mentioned in the Puranas. In his Commentary on Ch. ii, v. 33, of the Brahma Sutras, Sri Sankaracharya quotes a Yoga aphorism which may have formed part of the original work of Hiranyagarbha—at least it does not appear in Patanjali. It is to the effect that Yoga is the means of true knowledge, whereas Patanjali says that concentration of mind is Yoga. Again, in the Vishnu Purana, two verses are quoted as being by Hiranyagarbha. The book itself, however, seems to have been lost. At the present day our only authority is Patanjali’s system of Yoga philosophy.
Patanjali’s work consist of four chapters, (1) On Samadhi, (contemplation or concentration of thought). (2) On the means of obtaining the same. (3) On transcendental powers acquired by the same. (4) On Kaivalya or the ecstatic abstraction of the soul.
By the term Yoganushasam, applied to his work in the introduction to the same, it is plain that Patanjali only claimed to be the expounder of some previously existing body of doctrine. Vyasadeva, the commentator on Patanjali, makes a statement to the same effect.
The system of Patanjali is theistic. He admits the existence of Iswara, though not in the exact sense of the Vedanta. He says that whoever has become free from all grief and sorrow, all actions, all results and all ashaya is purusha. Iswara never was subject to these pains and limitations. Patanjali relies on the scriptures for proving the existence of Iswara or the Purusha. He calls purusha any being who has freed himself from the bonds of existence, and Iswara is the first purusha among many purushas. In this way he tries to reconcile the scriptural doctrines with the teachings of Kapila, and, as we have already seen, Kapila wholly excluded Iswara from his system, though he nowhere actually denies the existence of Iswara, but rather takes up an agnostic attitude regarding its existence.
The Yoga system, according to Patanjali’s version thereof, is a detailed treatise on concentration and its practical applications.
Although he quotes the scriptures when establishing the existence of Iswara, Patanjali condemns sacrifice in spite of the Vedic injunctions regarding the offering of sacrifices for the satisfaction of the various deities. He lays great stress on ahimsa—the prohibition to take life.
Some Europeans think that Patanjali’s system was called into influence as a result of the teaching of Buddha. This seems probably because Patanjali seems to have lived after Buddha.
We do not know much about who Patanjali really was. We do not know whether he was the real author of the Mahabhashya, though his name is generally connected with that work. Some say he was a native of Illabhartavarshya, which may be considered a part of what is now the Gobi desert, or some other region in Central Asia beyond the Himalayas. To this effect a verse is quoted from the Padmapurana. According to the commentators or Mahabhasya, it would seem that this work was, in their opinion, by the same author as the Yoga Sutras. If this is correct, Patanjali must have lived about the time of the invasion of India by either the Greeks or the Persians. The Mahabhashya gives internal evidence that its writer was an eye-witness of a certain foreign invasion of India, for, in the third chapter, such an event is spoken of in the course of some of his illustrations to the grammatical rules. Unless he had himself been an eye-witness of some such invasion, he could not have used the expressions in which we find the event described.
He only speaks of one Yavana invasion, and it is impossible to tell whether Persian or Grecian is meant. The term Yavana does not merely mean “Greek,” but applies to Western nations generally. Goldstucker thinks the Yavana mentioned by Patanjali was Grecian, others think it merely denotes some foreign nation.
Supposing, however, that the invasion referred to is the latest which took place, we still cannot fix the date of Patanjali at later than 300 B.C. His aphorisms are not quoted either by Sankaracharya or Ramanujacharya.
There is a Commentary on Patanjali by Vyasadeva. Some have thought this Vyasa to be the same as Vedavyasa, the writer of the Mahabharata, but this is impossible, because, in all probability, Veda Vyasa lived long before Patanjali. The style of the commentary shows, however, that it cannot be very modern. Another Commentary on the Yoga Sutras was written by Bhojadeva, who lived in the tenth or eleventh century. The Commentary of Vyasadeva has also been annotated by Vachaspatimisra.
There is another work on Yoga by Yagnavalkhya, called Yágna valkhya Gita, by the author of the Smriti.
Yagnavalkhya says in the third Adháya of his Smriti (on which the Commentary of Vignaneshwara or Mitákshara is well known), that the system of Yoga philosophy taught by him should be studied by a student of Yoga. Vachaspatimisra, a commentator on the Commentary of Sankaracharya on Brahma Sutras, quotes another sutra from the Yoga philosophy by a Rishi called Várshaganya, but the latter work is not known to exist at present.
Again, there are numerous works called Hatapradipika by various authors, especially Matsyindranatha, Adhinatha and Gorakshanatha, who are said to have been great adepts. Some Bairagis indeed say that the last named is still alive, and lives in a cave in the Himalaya where some Bairagis have seen him in the physical body. The followers of these works are called Nathi sampradayis in the north, where they form peculiar sects.
The work called Yogavásishta is considered by modern scholars the best work on Yoga philosophy. Some attribute it to Vedayasa, but evidence is wanting to support this claim. It is used by many Vedantins to reconcile the Vedanta with the Yoga System.
Sankaracharya did not contradict the main tenets of the Yoga system. He even wrote a book called Yogatarávalli in verse. His main point of disagreement is that he considers Brahmam as the Universal first cause, whereas the Yoga system says the first cause is Prakriti, and in his Commentary on the second chapter of Brahma Sutras, he asserts that the knowledge derived from the Yoga independent of that gained from the study of the Vedanta, is not sufficient to attain moksha or release. The Yoga system makes Iswara the instrumental cause. In the second chapter of Brahma Sutras the author only differs from the Yoga system on the points just mentioned, as shown by the Commentary of Sankaracharya. He further adds that the system of Yoga philosophy, as taught by philosophers, treats of the means of the true perception of Parabrahm. In the third chapter of Brahma Sutras, Vedavyasa gives several details respecting the Yoga system as a means of acquiring upasana or branches of knowledge, showing that the Vedanta requires Yoga as an adjunct. Without the application of the Yoga system, the upasanas or vidyas prescribed in the Vedanta, in the Upanishads as well as the third chapter of Brahma Sutras, could not be practised at all. The knowledge of Yoga is essential for the liberation from bondage—says the Swetaswatara Upanishad.
The Yoga philosophy is not only a system of mental philosophy, but it is also a scientific exposition. This system was already known to Vedic sages, for we find that several Upanishads teach it. Manu again speaks highly of the benefits of Yoga as the highest dharma, by the practice of which the true knowledge of self may be obtained.
Yagnavalkhya gives details respecting the relations of the true self and the physical body, and explains how one should centre his mind on the former, in the third chapter of his work. He says, whoever wants to practise Yoga should read my work on Yoga. So several authors of Smritis speak of the Yoga system in scattered passages up and down their works.
The Puranas, especially the Vishnupurana, speak of the necessity of Yoga and the superiority of that system. It is the only means of moksha. The tantras or agamas of the Vaishnavas and Saivas extended the Yoga system. Each tantra contains four portions. The first teaches the manner in which temples are to be erected, how the images are to be placed, and so on. The second treats of the knowledge of realities. The third sets forth how the ceremonies laid down in the Vedas are to he observed, and the last part teaches the practice and advantage of concentration on a point.
In the Pancharathragama we have 108 sanhitas, each containing these four portions, the fourth teaching the complete system of Yoga. In the same way the Shaivatantras, twenty-eight in number, treat the same subject, so also the sixty-four Shakti tantras, and in these Yoga is divided into Raj, Mantra, Laya and Hatayoga. The Bhagavad Gita again divides Yoga into the three, Karmayoga, Gnanayoga and Bhaktiyoga,
It does not seem necessary to go into an enumeration of the various miraculous powers that may be attained by one who practises Yoga. These are familiar by name to most of us, or at least they are easily to be found in the various books on the subject. What seems much more to our present purpose is to try and discover the principles that underlie the doctrines of Yoga, for, to the majority of us, a knowledge of these principles is likely to be far more useful than a description of miraculous powers, which perhaps not one man in ten thousand may be capable of attaining.
The two great meanings of the word Yoga are, as we have seen, concentration and union, and it is from these two points of view that Yoga is most conveniently considered. Concentration, in the sense of Yoga, means the bringing all our energies to one common point. The advantage of this is sufficiently obvious. We all know how important it is, when we are engaged in some important action, to give our whole minds to the subject before us. In reading a serious book we must know how to keep our attention fixed, or if the mind is allowed to wander we lose the thread of the argument and are unable to properly understand what we are reading. Thus the Yoga system furnishes us with a number of different exercises which teach us to fix our minds on any given point. But this concentration implies two things—we must not only positively fix our minds, but at the same time take care that all other disturbing influences shall exercise no action on us. To this end the Yogi is recommended to resort to a quiet place where he is likely to be undisturbed. Again, the natural actions of the body are liable to interfere with the action of the mind; thus it is not good to attempt difficult mental work just after meals when all our energies are employed in digesting our food. Certain bodily positions too are more conducive to meditation than others. One cannot think very deeply on metaphysical problems when one is moving about and so the first thing is to keep still. The next point is to remain during meditation in such a position that the bodily organs shall have full play and not be impeded in their action, and at the same time we should choose a position in which we feel that the body, by being to some extent braced up, is more or less under command. Hence Yoga prescribes various postures to be used by the disciple, some of which have also as their object the more complete exercise of certain generally unused muscles of the body. Concentration implies command of the mind, and we find that this is assisted by a feeling of command over the body rather than by entirely abandoning the latter to repose, as in settling ourselves to go to sleep. But there is another and a higher sense in which the word concentration may be used, and that is the concentration of a life’s attention on a life’s work. The one great characteristic of mundane existence is its changefulness, and the varied objects and actions which engage our attention in our daily life produce corresponding changes in our consciousness and are liable to destroy the unity of our lives. What we want is, having an end in view, to bend our whole energies to the attainment of that end. Isolated Yoga practices are but helps to the practice of a life-long Yoga. This lesson is taught in the fact that Yogis are always told to concentrate their own consciousness in different parts of their own organisms rather than upon outside material objects.
If we believe that it is our destiny to develop in the course of successive incarnations into beings of a higher type, it is important for us in each incarnation to gather around ourselves such tendencies as may be carried on to future incarnations.
Yoga helps us to do this by teaching practically the manner in which such tendencies may be set up. A regular practice of concentrating the mind at frequent intervals on some sublime theme will tend to make our thoughts frequently recur to that theme when we are not actually practising concentration. Such practice will set up a habit of thought which will, as it were, tinge our other thoughts and our lives with its influence.
If we would unite ourselves with the divine Iswara, we must begin by setting up within ourselves an attraction towards it. If we frequently concentrate our attention thereon, we shall find that whenever the mind is at rest for a moment, as in the intervals of daily life it frequently is, our thoughts will, as it were, mechanically turn towards the great goal we have set before us as the object of our lives, and we shall find that we become more and more careful so to order our lives as to bring them into accordance with the divine laws. Gradually we shall find that the attainment of this union becomes the ruling thought of life to which all else is subordinate; and that aspiration, cherished and strengthened through life, will also become at death that last great thought which is said to be like the keynote of the future incarnation, and when that incarnation takes place, we shall find we start with our acquired tendency to spiritual life.
In order that this tendency may be set in motion, we must take care that no object or action of earthly life be allowed to take full possession of our mind, as if so it will by its sheer weight render impossible the entrance—for a time at least—of higher aspirations, and will thus break that continuity of spiritual growth which we want to cultivate. To avoid this we find it constantly reiterated in the Bhagavad Gita that work must be done without “attachment.” We must work without desiring the fruit of work, doing the work simply as for its own sake. In other words we must expend on each specific action the exact amount of energy it demands, neither more nor less. If, as by thinking about the fruit of work and speculating on future consequences, in a way that cannot possibly produce any difference in the action itself, we generate energy in excess of the amount required, energy that is as it were wasted because producing no definite effect, then we lay up for ourselves “Karma,” for that generated energy must be expended somehow, and if in this life it has no outlet, it will be stored up for future incarnations. It is this surplus energy that is the mainspring of rebirth.
At the beginning of his Commentary on Bhagavad Gita, Sri Sankaracharya lays down a broad rule to the effect that we must abstain from soka and moha. Soka, grief, worry, sorrow, anxiety, are not to be indulged in by the disciple. Purely negative, their only result is to prevent true action, they are forms of wasted energy and can only hinder us in our upward road. He who is always melancholy, say the books, can never attain moksha, for that very melancholy is itself a bond that must be destroyed before perfect release can be attained. Moha, confusion, includes all passion and all thoughts that tend to the destruction of equilibrium. We should always maintain self-command and not give way to passion, which is a species of temporary insanity. At all times, and under all circumstances, we should “keep an even mind.”
Lastly, we have to consider Yoga in its signification of union. That union is the union of man with the Iswara or Logos. You will remember how Mr. Subba Row, in his lectures last year, told us that this union was to be attained through daiviprakriti, the light of the Logos. He also told us that this daiviprakriti is the fourth and highest, term of the fourfold classification as applied to the individual man. If this be so, this daiviprakriti, is at least latent within every man, and, in fact, is itself the true man, all else that goes to make up what we call man, being but the vehicle for the manifestation of this daiviprakriti. This leads us to enquire further how we can attain this union. It has already been seen that periodical concentration in the right direction will help us to unite ourselves with the Logos. It was also seen that, so far as postures were concerned, physical means were a help to this concentration.
But in all systems of Yoga much is said about control of breath. The breath seems to be the means by which we can most easily control our physical life. Breath is the symbol of life, and we might almost say its outward synthesis. The theory of Yoga practice is that by controlling the breath in particular ways, we may rouse up those mysterious dormant human powers that are of use on the higher plane of consciousness. It seems that in our outbreathings and inbreathings there is always a certain residue of air in the lungs that is never entirely emptied out. This residue is said to be highly magnetic. By restraining the breath it seems we are able, by exciting this magnetic residue, to rouse up the mysterious force called Kundalini. You will remember it was said that daiviprakriti had three aspects, and was a sort of trinity of wisdom, life and force. Kundalini is daiviprakriti in its lowest aspect of force. It is the link between the Karana-sarira, and the rest of the man and its excitation is thus plainly an important factor in our progress towards union with the Supreme. One way in which this may be effected is by restraint of breath. This way is also the most dangerous, as it may lead to bursting the lungs, to insanity or death. Some mantrams, such as those that are to be repeated many thousands of times, are said to produce a similar effect to breath-restraint. But, whatever other means there may be, the whole key to the importance of practical Yoga lies in the fact that, in whatever shape or form, it has to do with the development of this mysterious link between the higher and the lower consciousness. Whatever practice can be described as bringing about this union is Yoga.
A Lecture read by the Secretary before the Convention of the Theosophical Society, December 1887. The quotations from and references to Sanskrit works have been supplied by Pandit Bhashya Charya.