UNO and Western Scholars on Yoga Philosophy

By : Dr. Buddhadeb Ghosh | : 23 September, 2020
UNO and Western Scholars on Yoga Philosophy

UNO and Western Scholars on Yoga Philosophy

 Western scholars particularly from the USA and Europe have long recognized the scientific contributions of Yoga. The 193-member United Nations General Assembly approved by consensus a resolution establishing 21 June as "International Day of Yoga". Practice Yoga, and keep your Body Mind Soul perfectly integrated. Keep your family happy- mentally and physically.

Western Scholars on Yoga

According to Jacobsen, "Yoga has five principal meanings:

  1. Yoga, as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;
  2. Yoga, as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;
  3. Yoga, as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darśana);
  4. Yoga, in connection with other words, such as "Hatha-, mantra-, and laya-," referring to traditions specializing in particular techniques of Yoga;
  5. Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice."

 According to David Gordon White, from the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of "Yoga" were more or less in place and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time.

Origin of Yoga

 The origins of Yoga are a matter of debate. There is no consensus on its chronology or specific origin other than that Yoga developed in ancient India. Suggested origins are the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1900 BCE) and the Vedic period (1500–500 BCE), and the Å›ramaṇa movement. The first use of the root of the word "Yoga" is in hymn 5.81.1 of the Rig Veda, a dedication to rising Sun-god in the morning (Savitri), where it has been interpreted as "yoke" or "yogically control".

 Rigveda, however, does not elaborate on Yoga. Early references to practices that later became part of Yoga, are made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Indian Upanishad. For example, the practice of pranayama (consciously regulating breath) is mentioned in hymn 1.5.23 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (c. 900 BCE), and the practice of pratyahara (concentrating all of one's senses on self) is mentioned in hymn 8.15 of Chandogya Upanishad (c. 800–700 BCE).

Types of Yoga

 The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”), uses the term "Yoga" extensively in a variety of ways. In addition to an entire chapter (ch. 6) dedicated to traditional Yoga practice, including meditation, it introduces three prominent types of Yoga:

 The Bhagavad Gita consists of 18 chapters and 700 shlokas (verses), with each chapter named as a different Yoga, thus delineating eighteen different Yogas. Some scholars divide the Gita into three sections, with the first six chapters with 280 shlokas dealing with Karma Yoga, the middle six containing 209 shlokas with Bhakti Yoga, and the last six chapters with 211 shlokas as Jnana Yoga; however, elements of karmabhakti and jnana are found in all chapters. Mahabharata defines the purpose of Yoga as the experience of uniting the individual soul (ātman) with paraātman (the universal Brahman) that pervades all things. During the period between the Mauryan and the Gupta eras (c. 322 BCE–500 CE), philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of Yoga began to emerge. Yoga as a philosophy is mentioned in Sanskrit texts dated to be completed between 200 BCE–200 CE. Acharya Kauá¹­ilya's Arthashastra in verse 1.2.10, for example, states that there are three categories of anviksikis (philosophies) – Samkhya (nontheistic), Yoga (theistic) and Cārvāka (atheistic materialism).

 Patanjali's writing also became the basis for a system referred to as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"). This eight-limbed concept is derived from the 29th Sutra of the Book 2 of Yoga Sutras. They are:

  1. Yama (The five "abstentions"): Ahimsa (Non-violence, non-harming other living beings), Satya (truthfulness, non-falsehood), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy, fidelity to one's partner), and Aparigraha (non-avarice, non-possessiveness).
  2. Niyama (The five "observances"): Åšauca (purity, clearness of mind, speech and body), Santosha (contentment, acceptance of others and of one's circumstances), Tapas (persistent meditation, perseverance, austerity), Svādhyāya (the study of self, self-reflection, the study of Vedas), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of God/Supreme Being/True Self).
  3. Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
  4. Pranayama ("Breath exercises"): Prāna, breath, "āyāma", to "stretch, extend, restrain, stop".
  5. Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
  6. Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object.
  7. Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
  8. Samadhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.

 When Alexander reached India in the 4th century BCE, one of his intellectual companions, Onesicritus described Yogins of India. He reported that those Indian Yogins (Mandanis) practiced aloofness and "different postures – standing or sitting or lying naked – and motionless". He also mentioned his colleague Calanus trying to meet them, who was initially denied the audience.

 But being allowed later, they learned that the Yogins consider the best doctrine of life as "rid the spirit of not only pain but also pleasure", that "the best place to inhabit is one with scantiest equipment or outfit". These principles are significant to the history of the spiritual side of Yoga in India. These may reflect the ancient roots of "undisturbed calmness" and "mindfulness through balance" which were later found in the works of Patanjali and Buddhist Buddhaghosa.

Yoga in the USA

 Since 2001, the popularity of Yoga in the USA has spread a lot. The number of people who practiced some form of Yoga has grown from 4 million (in 2001) to 20 million (in 2011).

 According to reports from Google on 21 June, 2018, about two billion people practiced yoga “because it works.”  It has drawn support from world leaders such as Barack Obama who stated, "Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures. Every day, millions of people practice Yoga to improve their health and overall well-being. That is why we are encouraging everyone to take part in PALA (Presidential Active Lifestyle Award). So, show your support for Yoga and answer the challenge".

 The American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of Yoga into the exercise regimens of healthy individuals as long as properly-trained professionals deliver instruction. Al Biruni's translation preserved many of the core themes of Patañjali 's Yoga philosophy, but certain sutras and analytical commentaries were restated making it more consistent with Islamic monotheistic theology. Al Biruni's version of Yoga Sutras reached Persia and Arabian Peninsula by about 1050 AD. In Iran, as of May 2014, according to its Yoga Association, there were approximately 200 Yoga centers in the country, a quarter of them in the capital Tehran, where groups can often be seen practicing in parks.

Here is an ideal sketch of Yogic position for the perfection of body-mind-soul.


 A few words which are also an inseparable part of breathing control should be mentioned here. Conch is known as shankh in Sanskrit. Shankh in Sanskrit means “Conch holding sacred water”. Shankha is pronounced sanka, chanku, senkham, sankha and shankho in Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Oriya and Bengali respectively. Shankha is actually the outer covering of a big sea snail biologically called as “Turbinella pyrum” and found abundantly in Indian Ocean.  Shri Krishna’s Pāñcajanya (or Panchjanya) was found in Bhagawatpuram (present Bhagalpur, Bihar) which had a connection to the ocean. Conch Shell, made of calcium and magnesium, is very hard, strong and shiny.  Shankh is of utmost importance in Indian philosophy as it signifies brilliance, luster, auspiciousness and purity. This is why conch is the emblem or logo of many institutions and organizations in India. Blowing a conch perfectly would result in the formation of scalar waves that would enter your body to create conscious morphogenetic fields. It improves the functioning of the lung, heart and other neural networks. This spiritual effect of echoing sound waves stimulates the electrons within each of the trillions internal cells to stimulate the hormonal glands and spiraling chakras. When a conch is blown in the evening, many viruses and bacteria are diverted away from the door of the home. In a sense, therefore, it is also part of the grand spiritual practice in India including Yoga and Pranayama. Here is a classical sketch of the Chakras.

Spiraling Chakras

About the author:

Dr. Buddhadeb Ghosh
Dr. Buddhadeb Ghosh
Buddhadeb completed his Ph. D. in Social Science, taught at the two greatest institutes...

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