The History of Yoga
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 16 –
नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सत: |
उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभि: || 2.16||
nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayorapi dṛiṣhṭo ’nta stvanayos tattva-darśhibhiḥ (2.16)
na—no; asataḥ—of the temporary; vidyate—there is; bhāvaḥ—is; na—no; abhāvaḥ—cessation; vidyate—is; sataḥ—of the eternal; ubhayoḥ—of the two; api—also; dṛiṣhṭaḥ—observed; antaḥ—conclusion; tu—verily; anayoḥ—of these; tattva—of the truth; darśhibhiḥ—by the seers
Meaning – Of the transient there is no endurance, and of the eternal there is no cessation. This has verily been observed by the seers of the truth, after studying the nature of both.
Very Basis of Hinduism and exploration of truth
Prasthan Trayi (Tripods of Hinduism) – Vedanta philosophy acknowledges the Prasthanatrayi as its three authoritative primary sources. The texts comprising the Prasthanatrayi are the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutra. Anyone proposing any philosophy in hinduism has to write commentaries on these three texts called as prasthana trayi. All the founders of the major schools of Vedanta, Adi Shankara, Ramanujacharya, Nimbarkacharya and Madhva wrote bhasyas (commentaries) on these texts.
The Upanishads – Shruti prasthana (shruti – that which is heard, the revealed texts)
The Bhagavadgita – Smriti prasthana (smriti – that which is remembered, composed by sages based on their understanding of the Vedas)
The Brahma Sutra – Nyaya prasthan (Nyaya – logic/order, the logical text that sets forth the philosophy systematically).
“No study of Vedanta is considered complete without a close examination of the Prasthanatrayi. Hence history of Yoga required also a sincere study of the materials into these authoritative texts.”
Hinduism and Human Evolution
Hindus have faith in the theory of Evolution is abundantly clear from the fact that we believe in the theory of incarnation of God. There is this wonderful Ancient Tamil Hindu-hymn that explains the knowledge of physical amongst beings
Meaning – became grass-became little shoots of plants-became huge trees-became little worms-became birds-became snakes-became-illiterate-humans-became humans-became godlings/heavenly beings-became everything.
Another quote from the famous Hindu sage swami Vivekananda observes – “From the lowest protoplasm to the most perfect human being there is really but one life. Just as in one life we have so many various phases of expression, the protoplasm developing into the baby, the child, the young man, the old man, so, from that protoplasm up to the most perfect man we get one continuous life, one chain. This is evolution, but we have seen that each evolution presupposes an involution. The whole of this life which slowly manifests itself evolves itself from the protoplasm to the perfected human being-the Incarnation of God on earth the whole of this series is but one life, and the whole of this manifestation must have been involved in that very protoplasm. This whole life, this very God on earth, was involved in it and slowly came out, manifesting itself slowly, slowly, slowly.” (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol -2, page – 228). According to the Hindu tradition, a Jiva (from the stage of a protozoan, perhaps) attains competence for a human body after undergoing 8,400,000 births.
Sir John Woodroffe (1865-1936), Advocate General of Bengal and Legal member of the erstwhile Govt. of India, had the same revelation after the study of Sanskrit texts. He says –
“Ages before Lamarck and Darwin, it was held in India that man has passed through 84 lakhs births as plants, animals, inferior species and then came the ancestors of developed man existing today. The theory was an act of brilliant deduction in which observation may also have had played part!”
Some ancient Puranas of the Hindus record in detail this evolutionary journey. For example, the Vishnu Purana states that there are a total of 8,400,000 species in the following order:
20,000 species of non-mobile plants etc. (Sthavara), 900,000 species of aquatic creatures, 900,000 species of amphibian and reptiles, 1,000,000 species of birds, etc., 3,000,000 species of other creatures such as animals, etc., 400,000 species of anthropoids (Vanaras), after which the human species (Manushya) of 200,000 varieties come into being and Man then engages in purposeful activity to attain perfection.
Puranic view asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa) and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, named pralaya (Cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion, 40 billion human years) that represents Brahma’s lifespan.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4) mentions that in the beginning, only the Atman existed as the Purusha. Feeling lonely, the Purusha divided itself into two parts: male (“pati”) and female (“patni”). The men were born when the male embraced the female. The female thought “how can he embrace me, after having produced me from himself? I shall hide myself.” She then became a cow to hide herself, but the male became a bull and embraced her. Thus the cows were born. Similarly, everything that exists in pairs, was created. Next, the Purusha created the fire, the soma and the immortal gods (the devas) from his better part. He also created the various powers of the gods, the different classes, the dharma (law or duty) and so on. The Taittiriya Upanishad states that the being (sat) was created from the non-being. The Being later became the Atman (2.7.1), and then created the worlds (1.1.1). The Chhandogya states that the Brahma creates, sustains and destroys the world.
Hence the life, existence and evolution is a continuous process.
Antiquity of Yoga
With the continuous evolutionary process, knowledge also evolves. At certain state of life, there is a requirement of specific knowledge and this is Yoga. There is a great controversy about how and when Yoga evolved. Nevertheless, there are some substantial proofs which can form basis to study history of Yoga.
The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following broad categories –
1. Pre -Vedic
2. Vedic Period (5000 – 7000 Years BC)
3. Pre – classical Period (3000 – 4000 BC)
4. Classical Period (2000 BC)
5. Post – classical Period (500 BC – 1700 AD)
6. Modern Period (1800 AD)
1. Pre-Vedic – First verse of Sanskrit – Valmiki (a sage) was going to the river Ganges for his daily ablutions. A disciple by the name Bharadwaja was carrying his clothes. On the way, they came across the Tamasa Stream. Looking at the stream, Valmiki said to his disciple, “Look, how clear is this water, like the mind of a good man! I will bathe here today.” When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the stream, he saw a crane couple mating. Valmiki felt very pleased on seeing the happy birds. Suddenly, hit by an arrow, the male bird died on the spot. Filled by sorrow, its mate screamed in agony and died of shock. Valmiki’s heart melted at this pitiful sight. He looked around to find out who had shot the bird. He saw a hunter with a bow and arrows, nearby. Valmiki became very angry. His lips opened and he cried out,
mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhā tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam.
O Nishad! You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity. For you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting.
Birth of the first Epic of the world – Emerging spontaneously from Valmiki’s rage and grief, this is considered to be the first shloka in Sanskrit literature. Valmiki later composed the entire Ramayana with the blessings of Lord Brahma in the same meter that issued forth from him as the shloka. Thus, this shloka is revered as and Ramayana as the first poem or Adi Kavya.
Hint at history – Ikshavaaku vamsha prabhavo raamo naama janaih shrutah |
niyata aatmaa mahaaviiryo dyutimaan dhritimaan vashi || (1-1-8)
ikshvaaku vamshah prabhavah – Ikshwaku, dynasty, as his birthplace (emerged from Ikshvaku dynasty); raamah naama – Rama, named; janaih shrutah – by people, heard (by that name); niyata aatmaa – controlled, souled (conscientious); mahaa viiryah – highly valorous one; dyutimaan – resplendent one; dhrithimaan – steadfast; vashii – controller (of vice and vile or senses).
Meaning – “One emerged from Ikshvaku dynasty and known to people as Rama by his name, and he is conscientious, highly valorous, resplendent, steadfast and a controller of vice and vile and his own senses, as well. (1-1-8)
Another Text Yoga Vashistha – Yoga Vasistha is a philosophical text attributed to Valmiki, although the real author is unknown. The complete text contains over 29,000 verses. The short version of the text is called Laghu Yogavasistha and contains 6,000 verses. The text is structured as a discourse of sage Vashistha to Prince Ram. The text consists of six books.
The 1st book presents Rama’s frustration with the nature of life, human suffering and disdain for the world.
The 2nd describes, through the character of Rama, the desire for liberation and the nature of those who seek such liberation.
The 3rd and 4th books assert that liberation comes through a spiritual life, one that requires self-effort, and present cosmology and metaphysical theories of existence embedded in stories. These two books are known for emphasizing free will and human creative power.
The 5th book discusses meditation and its powers in liberating the individual.
The 6th book describes the state of an enlightened and blissful Rama.
Opinion on Tantra – A Brief History and Development of Yoga – The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization. Several Thousand years ago, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi poured his profound knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful Yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and marvelled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the globe. However, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who travelled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core yogic way of life. A number of seals and fossil remains of Indus Saraswati valley civilization with Yogic motives and figures performing yoga indicate the presence of Yoga in India. The Number of seals and fossil remains of Indus Saraswati valley civilization with Yogic motives and figures performing Yoga Sadhana suggest the presence of Yoga in ancient India. The phallic symbols, seals of idols of mother Goddess are suggestive of Tantra Yoga. Presence of Yoga is available in folk traditions, Indus valley civilization, Vedic and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Darshanas, epics of Mahabharat and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Tantric traditions. In addition, there was a primordial or pure Yoga which has been manifested in mystical traditions of South Asia. This was the time when Yoga was being practised under the direct guidance of Guru and its spiritual value was given special importance. It was a part of Upasana and yoga sadhana was inbuilt in their rituals. Sun was given highest importance during the vedic period. The practice of ‘Surya namaskara’ may have been invented later due to this influence. Pranayama was a part of daily ritual and to offer the oblation. Though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematized and codified the then existing practices of Yoga, its meaning and its related knowledge through his Yoga Sutras.
Tantra – Shiva and Parvati conversation mostly form the main works on Tantra. The story is about how Tantrik knowledge was revealed to first Parvati and then to other 7 sages and so on.
Scriptures in Tantra – Agama and Nigama. Agamas are spoken by Shiva to Parvati and Nigamas are spoken by Parvati to Shiva. Shiva, Shakti, Visnu, Surya and Ganesh are the main deities of Tantra.
2. Vedic (5000 BC to 7000 BC) – The Sanskrit word Veda means “knowledge”. There are 4 different Vedas.
Rig Veda – hymns that are in praise of a higher power/deities.
Yajur Veda – Knowledge of sacrifice/rituals/yajna
Sama Veda – Knowledge of Chants/songs/music
Atharva Veda – Knowledge of spells, prayers, charms
These are followed by four Upavedas or sub-Vedas – Ayurveda, Arthaveda, Dhanurveda, and Gandharvaveda. Further down the line are six upangas or components – Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chandas, and Jyotisha. These are further classified into six sub-components – Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Mimansa, Vedanta, and Yoga. The earliest recorded mention of the word ‘Yoga’ is in the ancient Indian text, the Rig Veda – this body of knowledge. In the Atharva Veda, again there is a mention of the importance of the control of breath. It is difficult to pinpoint exact dates because in the beginning, the Vedas were, only, orally passed on from one generation to another. Written records came much later. However, even before this, in the Indus-Saraswati civilization (dating to 2700 BC), several seals and fossils have been found, with figures performing Yoga Sadhana. This suggests that Yoga was known and practiced even in those early stages of civilization.
From Vedas –
- Sa dya no Yoga aa bhuvat sa raye sa puram dhyay
Gamad vaaje bhira sa nah (Riga Samhita 1/5/3, Samveda 1/2/10/3, Atharvaveda 20/69/1)
Meaning- For perfection in Yoga grace of God is essential.
Further in Vedas
- Hiranyagarbha samvart taagre, bhutasya jaatah patirek aasit
Sah daadhar prithvih dyam ulemam, kasmai devay havisa vidhema (Riga 10/121/1)
Meaning – Hiranyagarbha came first who is the father of all beings. He brought earth and heaven life planes. We worship that God who is beyond expression.
In the Mahabharata, it’s been confirmed that:
- Samkhasya vakta Kapilah Paramarsi sa uccayate
Hiranya garbha Yogasya prokta Nanya puratanah (12/349/65)
Meaning – Kapil is the great speaker (knower) of Samkhya and Hiranyagarbha is the speaker (knower) of Yoga. There is no more ancient speaker of speaker.
“Yoga came from the embryo of Brahma, the Creator, who rose up from the navel of Visnu – and none other’s. Brahma himself came out of Visnu and hence the first preceptor of Yoga is Visnu, who imparted it to Brahma.”
Again in the Mahabharata we read that Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) states, identifying himself with Hiranyagarbha:
“As my form, carrying the knowledge, eternal and dwelling in the Sun, the teachers of Samkhya, who have discerned what is important, call me Kapila. As the brilliant Hiranyagarbha, who is lauded in the verses of the Vedas, ever worshipped by Yoga, so I am also remembered in the world.”
Note that Krishna identifies Yogic Hiranyagarbha with the deity of the same name in the Vedas.
-Mahabharata, Shanti Parva 342.95-96
Gita (Chapter 4, Verse – 1, 2, 3)
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur iksvakave ‘bravit
The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of Yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.
Balmiki Ramayana (Baal Kand – 1/1/8) – Ikshvaku vandha prabhavo Ramau naam Janaih hrutah, Niyat atma mahaviryo dutimaan dhritimaan vashi || The Ikshvaku dynasty is a dynasty of the rulers of ancient India. They originated from the Suryavanshis. He was the king of ancient Kosala country and his capital was Ayodhya. Many famous rulers of these two dynasty are mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata.
In this millennium, the sun-god is known as Vivasvan, the king of the sun, which is the origin of all planets within the solar system.
In the Brahma-samhita it is stated:
yac-caksur esa savita sakala-grahanam
raja samasta-sura-murttir asesa-tejah
yasyajnaya bhramati sambhrta-kalacakro
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“Let me worship,” Lord Brahma said, “the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda (Krsna), who is the original person and under whose order the sun, which is the king of all planets, is assuming immense power and heat. The sun represents the eye of the Lord and traverses its orbit in obedience to His order.”
The sun is the king of the planets, and the sun-god (at present of the name Vivasvan) rules the sun planet, which is controlling all other planets by supplying heat and light. He is rotating under the order of Krsna, and Lord Krsna originally made Vivasvan His first disciple to understand the science of Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is not, therefore, a speculative treatise for the insignificant mundane scholar but is a standard book of knowledge coming down from time immemorial.
In the Mahabharata (Santi-parva 348.51-52) we can trace out the history of the Gita as follows:
treta-yugadau cha tato vivasvan manave dadau
manus ca loka-bhrty-artham sutayeksvakave dadau
iksvakuna ca kathito vyapya lokan avasthitah
“In the beginning of the Treta-yuga [millennium] this science of the relationship with the Supreme was delivered by Vivasvan to Manu. Manu, being the father of mankind, gave it to his son Maharaja Iksvaku, the King of this earth planet and forefather of the Raghu dynasty in which Lord Ramacandra appeared. Therefore, Bhagavad-gita existed in the human society from the time of Maharaja Iksvaku.”
At the present moment, we have just passed through five thousand years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvapara-yuga (800,000 years), and before that there was Treta-yuga (1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago, Manu spoke the Bhagavad-gita to his disciple and son Maharaja lksvaku, the King of this planet earth. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu, the Gita was spoken by the Lord to His disciple, the sun-god Vivasvan, a rough estimate is that the Gita was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society it has been extant for two million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about five thousand years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gita, according to the Gita itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Sri Krsna. It was spoken to the sun-god Vivasvan because he is also a ksatriya and is the father of all ksatriyas who are descendants of the sun-god, or the surya-vamsa ksatriyas. Because Bhagavad-gita is as good as the Vedas, being spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this knowledge is apauruseya, superhuman. Since the Vedic instructions are accepted as they are, without human interpretation, the Gita must therefore be accepted without mundane interpretation. The mundane wranglers may speculate on the Gita in their own ways, but that is not Bhagavad-gita as it is. Therefore, Bhagavad-gita has to be accepted as it is, from the disciplic succession, and it is described herein that the Lord spoke to the sun-god, the sun-god spoke to his son Manu, and Manu spoke to his son Ikshvaku.
imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata
yogo nastah parantapa
TRANSLATION – This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.
It is clearly stated that the Gita was especially meant for the saintly kings because they were to execute its purpose in ruling over the citizens. Certainly Bhagavad-gita was never meant for the demonic persons, who would dissipate its value for no one’s benefit and would devise all types of interpretations according to personal whims. As soon as the original purpose was scattered by the motives of the unscrupulous commentators, there arose the need to re-establish the disciple succession. Five thousand years ago it was detected by the Lord Himself that the disciple succession was broken, and therefore He declared that the purpose of the Gita appeared to be lost. In the same way, at the present moment also there are so many editions of the Gita (especially in English), but almost all of them are not according to authorized disciple succession. There are innumerable interpretations rendered by different mundane scholars, but almost all of them do not accept the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, although they make a good business on the words of Sri Krsna. This spirit is demonic, because demons do not believe in God but simply enjoy the property of the Supreme. Since there is a great need of an edition of the Gita in English, as it is received by the parampara (disciple succession) system, an attempt is made herewith to fulfil this great want. Bhagavad-gita—accepted as it is—is a great boon to humanity; but if it is accepted as a treatise of philosophical speculations, it is simply a waste of time.
sa evayam maya te’dya
yogah proktah puratanah
bhakto’si me sakha ceti
rahasyam hyetad uttamam
TRANSLATION – That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore, you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.
The wisdom and performance of eternal spiritual principles as given in the Vedic scripture Pancaratra which Lord Krishna aeons before had instructed in initiation to Brahma, Shiva, Indra and Surya the sun-god is again being explained to the Pandavas as the eternal principles of the Bhagavad-Gita which is the abridged form of the Pancaratra and the essence of all Vedic scriptures. All these things are explained in the Bhagavad-Gita. From Arjuna to Manu, all perform karma yoga and gain Vedic wisdom as prescribed in the Bhagavad- Gita. The Brahma Vaivarta Purana states that there is no Vedic scripture superior to the Bhagavad-Gita. The Pancaratra which is supplementary to the four Vedas should be learned and assimilated in its entirety and the Bhagavad-Gita is its essence. Thus there is nothing that can compare to the illustrious Bhagavad-Gita.
Lord Krishna instructed it to Visvavan the demi-god controlling the sun, as a way of attaining moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Visvavan taught it to Manu who instructed it to Ikshavaku and so on successively until it was transmitted to the saintly kings from the mouths of their spiritual masters. But due to the passage of time and dull understanding of humanity this knowledge was lost and forgotten. But the very same yoga, pure and pristine is being revealed in all its entirety and details by Lord Krishna because Arjuna has taken full shelter in Him in loving devotion as the only refuge. Now Lord Krishna is confirming that the very same eternal Yoga or science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness that had become lost and disappeared is being taught again in parampara or disciplic succession to His friend Arjuna because he is His disciple. Because Arjuna was qualified to receive this yoga, and because he was Lord Krishna’s surrendered disciple. As this Yoga is highly confidential it should not be revealed to those who have no faith nor to those who are unqualified.
3. Pre-classical Yoga (3000 – 4000 BC) – The Upanishadstook birth in this era. They explain the meaning hidden in the Vedas, elaborating on the workings of the mind and spirit through personal teachings. They espouse meditation and mantra recitation towards the ultimate goal of attaining enlightenment. Out of the 108 Upanishads, there are 20 Yoga Upanishads. These talk about different Yogic techniques, like Pranayama and Pratyahara, breathing exercises, sound, and meditation. Tantra evolved during these times….
Various Upanishads, 6 Darshanas – (Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaishesik, Yoga sutra of Patanjali, Poorva Mimamsa, Uttar Mimamsa) and Tantra flourished and became main practices.
4. Classical Yoga (2000 BC) – Samkhya philosophy and Yoga Sutra dominated still as the main practices. Maharshi Patanjali, considered the Father of Yoga, was the first one to systematize the practices of Yoga. Through his Yoga Sutras, he disseminated the meaning of Yoga, and the knowledge it has to offer. This Yoga was called Raja Yoga. He formulated the Astanga yogaor the eight limbs of Yoga, which included yamas, niyamas, asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyan, and samadhi. The earliest available Sanskrit commentary on it is the Yoga-Bhāshya (“Speech on Yoga”) attributed to Vyāsa. During the same time period, Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha emerged and his teachings formed the early basis for Yoga Sadhana. While Lord Mahavira spoke of attaining salvation and freedom through meditation, Lord Buddha spoke of specific postures and meditation to attain enlightenment.
5. Post-classical Yoga (500 BC to 1700 AD) – In this era, many sages and philosophers such as Adi Guru Shankaracharyacontributed to the development and continuation of Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga, adopting and building upon the teachings and techniques of Yoga. With his teachings, and yogic rituals, like the Jnana Yoga, one can achieve Nirvana or liberation. Additionally, meditation was also considered vital to help clear the mind. Tulsidasa and Purandaradasa also contributed to the science of yoga. Hatha Yoga was popularized in this period. Most of the asanas that we practice today are part of Hatha Yoga. It also led to the various branches and schools of Tantra-Yoga, of which Hatha Yoga is just one approach.
Emergence of some greats saints and Yogis during these time period is undermentioned –
Nath Order – The history of order of Nath goes way back to the past. Today it is almost impossible to determine when and how the followers of Gorakshanath appeared. Around 8 to 9 AD it began.
Main Guru in Nath Order – Matsyandranath, Gorakshanath, King Bhartrihari.
Other famous saints – Ramanandacharya, Ramanujacharya, Ballabhacharya, Samartha Ramdas, Tulsidas, Kavir Das, Ravidas, Nanak, Sur Das, Meera, Narsimha Mehta, Chaitanyadev etc.
The geography of Order of Naths is pretty wide. We can find its representatives all over India, also Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma and Sri-Lanka. The Tradition consists of 12 main directions and lots of smaller ones. The founders of each and every direction were the followers of Gorakshanath or himself. It is interesting that there were members of royal families of Nepal, Bengali and India among the followers and the missioners. Those individuals renounced their titles in order to fulfil themselves in Yogic Way and to develop the Tradition. Their names are Bhartriharinath, Jalandharanath, Chauranginath and some others. Probably, there is no city in India where a temple of Naths couldn’t be found. Their representatives can be found in every large or medium size city. The main temple is in Uttar- Pradesh state, in Gorakhpur, the city which got its name after Gorakshanath. During the time of its existence Nath Sampradaya accumulated a significant experience of implementation. All those facts can be found in texts that can be called classical. The most known among them are:” Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati”, “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”, “Goraksha-vacana-sangraha”, “ Goraksha-upanishad”, ”Yoga Bija”, ”Shiva Samhita”, ” Gheranda Samhita”, ”Yoga Martanda” and many others. Some of them are considered to be written by Gorakshanath. The total amount of texts is about 50, all of them are preserved and studied and still remain actual in our daily life.
6. Modern Period (1700 AD to 1900 AD) – Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, Maa Sharada and Swami Vivekananda era.
The history of modern Yoga is widely thought to begin with the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. It was at that congress that the young Swami Vivekananda made a big and lasting impression on the American public.
After Swami Vivekananda, the most popular teacher in the early years of the Western Yoga movement was Paramahansa Yogananda, who arrived in Boston in 1920. Five years later, he established the Self-Realizaton Fellowship, which still has its headquarters in Los Angeles.
Of more limited appeal was Swami Rama Tirtha, a former mathematics teacher who preferred spiritual life to academia and who came to the United States in 1902 and founded a retreat centre on Mount Shasta in California.
In 1919, Yogendra Mastamani arrived in Long Island and for nearly three years demonstrated to astounded Americans the power and elegance of Hatha Yoga. Before returning to India, he founded the American branch of Kaivalyadhama, an Indian organization created by the late Swami Kuvalayananda, which has contributed greatly to the scientific study of Yoga.
A very popular figure for several decades after the 1920s was Ramacharaka, whose books can still be found in used bookstores. What few readers know, however, is that this Ramacharaka was apparently not an actual person. The name was the pseudonym of two people—William Walker Atkinson, who had left his law practice in Chicago to practice Yoga, and his teacher Baba Bharata.
Paul Brunton, a former journalist and editor, burst on the scene of Yoga in 1934 with his book A Search in Secret India, which introduced the great sage Ramana Maharshi to Western seekers.
Other renowned modern Yoga adepts of Indian origin are Sri Aurobindo (the father of Integral Yoga), Ramana Maharshi (an unparalleled master of Jnana-Yoga), Papa Ramdas (who lived and breathed Mantra-Yoga, the Yoga of transformative sound), Swami Nityananda (a miracle-working master of Siddha-Yoga), and his disciple Swami Muktananda (a powerful yogi who put Siddha-Yoga, which is a Tantric Yoga, on the map for Western seekers). All these teachers are no longer among us.
Also in the 1960s and 1970s, many swamis trained by the Himalayan master Swami Sivananda, a former physician who became a doctor of the soul, opened their schools in Europe and the two Americas. Most of them are still active today, and among them are Swami Vishnudevananda (author of the widely read Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga), Swami Satchitananda (well-known to Woodstock participants), Swami Sivananda Radha (a woman-swami who pioneered the link between Yoga spirituality and psychology), Swami Satyananda (about whom we will say more shortly), and Swami Chidananda (a saintly figure who directed the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India). The last-mentioned master’s best known American student is the gentle Lilias Folan, made famous by her PBS television series Lilias, Yoga & You, broadcast between 1970 and 1979.
Since the early 1930s until his death in 1986, Jiddu Krishnamurti delighted or perplexed thousands of philosophically minded Westerners with his eloquent talks. Among his close circle of friends were the likes of Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Charles Chaplin, and Greta Garbo. Bernard Shaw described Krishnamurti as the most beautiful human being he ever saw.
Yoga, in the form of Hatha-Yoga, entered mainstream America when the Russian-born yoginī Indra Devi, who has been called the “First Lady of Yoga,” opened her Yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. She taught stars like Gloria Swanson, Jennifer Jones, and Robert Ryan, and trained hundreds of teachers. Now in her nineties and living in Buenos Aires, she is still an influential voice for Yoga.
In the 1950s, one of the most prominent Yoga teacher was Selvarajan Yesudian whose book Sport and Yoga has been translated into fourteen or so languages, with more than 500,000 copies sold. Today, as we mentioned before, many athletes have adopted yogic exercises into their training program because . . . it works. Among them are the Chicago Bulls. Just picture these champion basket ball players stretching out on extra-long Yoga mats under the watchful eye of Yoga teacher Paula Kout! In the early 1950s, Shri Yogendra of the Yoga Institute of Santa Cruz in India, visited the United States. He pioneered medical research on Yoga as early as 1918, and his son Jayadev Yogendra is continuing his valuable work, which demonstrates the efficacy of Yoga as a therapeutic tool.
In 1961, Richard Hittleman brought Hatha-Yoga to American television, and his book The Twenty-Eight-Day Yoga Plan sold millions of copies. In the mid-1960s, the Western Yoga movement received a big boost through Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, largely because of his brief association with the Beatles. He popularized yogic contemplation in the form of Transcendental Meditation (TM), which still has tens of thousands of practitioners around the world. TM practitioners also introduced meditation and Yoga into the corporate world. It, moreover, stimulated medical research on Yoga at various American universities.
In 1965, the then sixty-nine-year-old Shrila Prabhupada arrived in New York with a suitcase full of books and $8.00 in his pockets. Six years later he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and by the time of his death in 1977, he had created a worldwide spiritual movement based on Bhakti Yoga (the Yoga of devotion).
In 1969, Yogi Bhajan caused an uproar among the traditional Sikh community (an offshoot of Hinduism) when he broke with tradition and began to teach Kundalini Yoga to his Western students. Today his Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization—better known as 3HO—has more than 200 centers around the world.
A more controversial but wildly popular guru in the 1970 and 1980s was Bhagavan Rajneesh (now known as Osho), whose followers constantly made the headlines for their sexual orgies and other excesses. Rajneesh, a former philosophy professor, drew his teachings from authentic Yoga sources, mixed with his own personal experiences. His numerous books line the shelves of many second-hand bookstores. Rajneesh allowed his students to act out their repressed fantasies, notably of the sexual variety, in the hope that this would free them up for the deeper processes of Yoga. Many of them, however, got trapped in a mystically tinged hedonism, which proves the common-sense rule that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Even though many of his disciples felt bitterly disappointed by him and the sad events surrounding his organization in the years immediately preceding his death in 1990, just as many still regard him as a genuine Yoga master. His life illustrates that Yoga adepts come in all shapes and sizes and that, to coin a phrase, one person’s guru is another person’s uru. (The Sanskrit word uru denotes “empty space.”) Another maxim that applies here is caveat emptor, “buyer beware.”
The great exponent in modern times of Hatha-Yoga was Sri Krishnamacharya, who died in 1989 at the ripe old age of 101. He practiced and taught the Viniyoga system of Hatha-Yoga until his last days. His son T. K. V. Desikachar continues his saintly father’s teachings and taught Yoga, among others, to the famous Jiddu Krishnamurti. Another well-known student of Sri Krishnamacharya and a master in his own right is Desikachar’s uncle B. K. S. Iyengar, who has taught tens of thousands of students, including the world-famous violinist Jehudi Menuhin.
Mention must also be made of Pattabhi Jois and Indra Devi, both of whom studied with Krishnamacharya in their early years and have since then inspired thousands of Westerners.
Of living Yoga masters from India, I can mention Sri Chinmoy and Swami Satyananda (a Tantra master who established the well-known Bihar School of Yoga, has authored numerous books, and has disciples around the world). There are of course many other great Yoga adepts, both well-known and more hidden, who represent Yoga in one form or another, but I leave it up to you to discover them.
Until modern times, the overwhelming majority of Yoga practitioners have been men, yogins. But there have also always been great female adepts, yoginīs. Happily, in recent years, a few woman saints—representing Bhakti-Yoga (Yoga of devotion)—have come to the West to bring their gospel of love to open-hearted seekers. Yoga embraces so many diverse approaches that anyone can find a home in it.
An exceptional woman teacher from India who fits none of the yogic stereotypes is Meera Ma (“Mother Meera”). She doesn’t teach in words but communicates in silence through her simple presence. Of all places, she has made her home in the middle of a quaint German village in the Black Forest, and every year is attracting thousands of people from all over the world.
Since Yoga is not restricted to Hinduism, we may also mention here the Dalai Lama, champion of nonviolence and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is unquestionably one of the truly great yogis of modern Tibet, who, above all, demonstrates that the principles of Yoga can fruitfully be brought not only into a busy daily life but also into the arena of politics. Today Tibetan Buddhism (which is a form of Tantra-Yoga) is extremely popular among Westerners, and there are many lamas (spiritual teacher) who are willing to share with sincere seekers the secrets of their hitherto well-guarded tradition.
If you are curious about Westerners who have made a name for themselves as teachers in the modern Yoga movement (understood in the broadest terms), you may want to consult the encyclopedic work The Book of Enlightened Masters by Andrew Rawlinson. His book includes both genuine masters (like the Bulgarian teacher Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov on whom there has a been a book—The Mystery of Light) and a galaxy of would-be masters.
Branches of Yoga – Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, Hatha, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Swara, Kriya, Kundalini etc.
Hatha- Yoga – It is a system of practices by means of which the body and its elements get pure. It consists of sukshma-vyaama, shatkarma, asanas, pranayama, pratyahara and therefore allows the transition to more complicated forms of Yoga which deal with the management of energy and consciousness.
Mantra Yoga – It is a practice for consciousness expansion by practicing special sounds which reflect different qualities of Absolute. Mantras are widely used in all forms of Yoga as the most direct way for purifying the mind, balancing emotions and understanding the Ultimate Reality.
Karma- Yoga – This form of self-realization is attained through devoted service to Guru or to a certain community. In other worlds it is a form of service when one orients oneself toward realization by acting in accordance with one’s duty without consideration of personal self-centered desires, likes or dislikes. One acts without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds.
Bhakti- Yoga – Bhakti means devotion and sincerity. This form of Yoga is practiced by worshipping a chosen Deity form. When one worships and follows one’s way sincerely the Deity begins to manifest its nature through the student’s consciousness.
Gyana Yoga – Gyana means knowledge in common interpretation. But in Yoga context the complete knowledge is not based on intellectual background. Only the knowledge received through experience will be considered true and complete. The knowledge about the Ultimate Reality is attainable by practicing all the above-mentioned forms of Yoga and some others.
Hari Om Tat Sat!