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The Original Teachings of Yoga- From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha

Distortions of the Yoga Sutras                  
Much of modern Yoga rests upon a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the Yoga Sutras. The first problem is that many people try to look at the Yoga Sutras as an original text that stands in itself, when it is only a later compilation that requires examining its background in order to make sense of it. This causes them to separate Yoga from the earlier Vedic tradition that forms the greater context of Patanjali’s teachings. The Yoga Sutras are the main text of Yoga as one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy (shad darshanas). They are part of the Smriti literature or remembered texts that includes various works on philosophy and dharma in the Hindu tradition and which rest upon the Shruti or the Vedic revelation.

Second, the Yoga Sutras, as a sutra work consisting of short aphorisms, can be easily slanted in different directions according to the inclinations of the interpreter. The teachings of the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana, on the other hand, are more complete and can be cross referenced to avoid such distortions.
Third, the Yoga Sutra tradition has been made sectarian, notably opposing Yoga and Samkhya to Vedanta. This is not something of the modern age only, but occurred in old debates between these philosophical systems going back to the Middle Ages and before. The original Hiranyagarbha Yoga Shastra, however, is presented as in harmony with Samkhya and Vedanta, such as we find it in the Mahabharata. The synthesis of these three systems is in fact as old as Krishna, if not older.

This older integral Yoga is the same general type of Yoga-Vedanta taught by great modern Yoga gurus of India like Vivekananda, Yogananda, Aurobindo, Shivananda, and his many disciples, and many others, the very teachers who first brought Yoga to the West in the last century. They have taught the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads together as part of the same broader tradition.

So how do we approach the Yoga Sutras then? It is best to do so in the context of the older Yoga Darshana. There is only one Yoga Darshana through all the texts and tradition. There is no Patanjali Yoga Darshana as an entity in itself apart from the older Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. If we want to understand the meaning of the technical terms in the Yoga Sutras, we should do so with recourse to the older literature, not by inventing our own meanings or trying to make these terms unique to the Yoga Sutras. Whether it is the yamas and niyamas, the different types of samadhi, or the different aspects of Yoga practice, all such terms often alluded to only briefly in the Sutras can be found explained clearly and in detail in the older literature.

In addition, we should look at the Yoga Sutras in light of Vedanta, not only the Bhagavad Gita but also the Upanishads. While Patanjali emphasizes the Purusha rather than Brahman (the Absolute), we must remember that the Hiranyagarbha tradition gives Brahman its place.  We can also look to Vedanta for a greater description of Ishvara or God, which Patanjali does not examine in detail, but which Vedantic texts examine in great detail.

This means that we should delink Yoga per se from Patanjali and restore its meaning at a broader level. We should look at Yoga beyond the Yoga Sutras, not only the ancient Yoga literature before Patanjali but the later Yoga literature apart from him, the various traditions of Vaishnava, Shaivite, Shakta and Vedantic Yoga. Once we do this we can understand why different aspects of Yoga have been used by different philosophical systems in India, including those who may not agree with Patanjali on certain philosophical issues. Yoga as a general tradition is something more than Patanjali, however great his compilation may be. Most of that broader Yoga can be found in the earlier Hiranyagarbha formulation, particularly in the Mahabharata.

Besides looking at Patanjali in a new light, we should work to restore the teachings of the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. Many of these can easily be compiled from the Mahabharata, Upanishads, and other ancient Vedic teachings. Through it we can gradually reclaim the older Vedic Yoga it was based upon. In this way, we can restore the spiritual heritage of the Himalayan rishis. This is an important task for the next generation of Yoga aspirants, if they want to really reclaim the origin and depths of the teaching.

The author Dr David Frawley (Pt Vamadeva Shastri) is an accomplished and highly respected scholar on Indic studies. He is the founder of The American Institute of Vedic Studies. To know more about his work visit Click Here.

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