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A Preliminary Study of The Meaning of "Yoga" in Sangharak

A Preliminary Study of The Meaning of "Yoga" in Sangharak

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This paper examines Sangharaksa's Yogacaryabhumi and its context and asks
whether the scholarly characterization of it as "Sravakayana" should not be re-evaluated
in light of recent studies of the proto-Mahayana period.
This paper examines Sangharaksa's Yogacaryabhumi and its context and asks
whether the scholarly characterization of it as "Sravakayana" should not be re-evaluated
in light of recent studies of the proto-Mahayana period.

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Published by: Unelaborated on Feb 05, 2013
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As a surrising contrast to Wyne's and Kumoi's presuppositions regarding the

Brahanic usage of the ter, the well known yoga historian, David White has suggested

that, fom the earliest Vedic times though the Upani�ads, the Brahmanic ter yoga was

employed primarily in the sense of "yoking animals" and specifcally refered to the

strapping down of animals for sacrifce on a stretching device known as a "tantra.,,23

According to White, it was only in the later Upani�adic times that the ter yoga came to

be used in conection with the practice of "yoking" of persons, where it indicated the

practice of becoming possessed by a god, such as Surya. Although White's explanation

has yet to gain widespread scholarly acceptance, his research has made it clear that the

Vedic usage of the term yoga was prmarily found in the context of sacrifce rituals.

Furthermore, since yoga qua "yoking" (the later UpaIi�adic usage) presupposed a Vedic

and Brahmanic soteriology, White has argued that yoga simply never implied a form of

meditation in either Brahmanic or non-Brahmanic contexts until much later i its hstory.

Perhaps complementing Wite's theory, however, is the theory presented by

Edward Crangle in his book The Origin and Development of Early Indian Contemplative

Practices. Here, Crangle attempts to trace the lin between the early Vedic practice of

23 From a pre-release copy of Sinister Yogis by David White, (University of Chicago Press, 2008) i
"Hindu Tantra"-given out in a class offered at UCSB in fall of2006. Cf. David Gordon White, Kiss of
the Yoginf: "Tantric Sex" In Its South Asian Contexts (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press,



and later forms of Upali�adicyoga qua meditation practice. According to

Crangle, the Vedic practice of upasana, (pre_8th century B. C.E.), involved a meditative

aspect in which the worshipper (upasaka) focused his mind on the elements or on

imperceptible objects (such as the breath, the sense organs or the utterance of verbal

symbols) and pronounced the names and epithets of a particular Vedic deity (such as

Agni, Sirya, or Indra) in order to invoke and seek "communion with that deity by means

of exteral offerings.,,25

In this way, Crangle suggests, the upasaka attempted to realize


Furthermore, Crangle suggests that, although upasana was practiced "in

parallel" to yoga in early times, by the later Upani�ads, that upasana had become

"synthesized" with the practice of yoga. 27

Even though some might argue with Crangle's chaacterization of this synthesis

24 This term literally means sitting near but means to attend or serve. In this context, it means to attend to
the gods or implies "worship." The ter had different meanings in the buddhist context, where it was
applied to lay persons who lived close to the ordained monastic community. cfEdward Fitzpatrick
Crangle, The Origin and Development of Early Indian Contemplative Practices, Studies in Oriental
Religions, V. 29 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1994),88.

25 Ibid., 76-80. White points to may passages where this practice can be understood as a form of "(self
)possession" (ave.a). This notion of yoga practice qua self-possession may well have been prevalent in
Hindu circles, but I will not delve far into it here, since it does not correlate to the meditational aspect
clearly adopted by Buddhist usage of the term, which as we will see below, may precede the meditational
aspect ofthe Hindu usage in some regards. Cf Frederick M. Smith, The Sel Possessed: Deit and Spirit
Possession in South Asian Literature and Civiliation (New York, N.Y. ; Chichester: Columbia Universit
Press, 2006).

26 Klemens Karlsson, "Face to Face with the Absent Buddha. The Formation of Buddhist Aniconic Art"
(Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2000), 61. Karlsson cites Crangle, The Origin and Development of Early
Indian Contemplative Practices, 72-82. The Maitri has also been referred to the Maitayalfa Upani:ad.
Though I am not able to discuss the precise dates for these names, it would be interesting to examine this
evolution in regard to the practioners not just of yoga (ogacara) but also the practitioners of upasana (i.e.
upasaka). Deleanu notes that upasaka does not mean laity. They were devoted lay practitioners, who
engaged in a serious degree of practice, somewhat akin to semi-professionals. The Ugradattapariprccha
sitra revolves aromld the upasaka Ugradatta in an interesting way.

27 Crangle, The Origin and Development of Early Indian Contemplative Practices, 87. See also Karlsson,
"Face to Face with the Absent Buddha. The Formation of Buddhist Aniconic Art", 62. Some scholars
have suggested that it was not Brahmanic but Buddhist notions of meditation that infuenced the later
Upani�adic thought. However, there are many historiographic difficulties in tracing whether there was
indeed a buddhist influence on the yoga described in the either the earlier and later Upani�ads and it
should be noted that some contemporary scholars might read this infuence differently. Since the methods
of transmission and textual history make it difcult to discern early layers and later accretions of these
texts, a genuine philological and contextual analysis of the Maitri Upani:ad would be necessar for
greater precision in addressing these issues. This is beyond the puriew of this paper.


as "contemplative practice,,

,28 Crangle's theory of sythesis makes sense in light of the

description of the sixfold yoga ($acanga yoga) practice in the Maitri Upani.ad 29


particular, three verses from the "Yoga Method" chapter of the Maitri Upani.ad suggest

that the term yoga and upisani (as described by Crangle) might have indeed merged:30

Thus it is said "Because in his maner he joins the breath, the syllable
aum and all this world in its manifoldness ... this [process of meditation] is
called Yoga [the process of unifcation]. The resultant unity of the breath,
the mind and likewise of the senses and the abandonment of all
conditions of existence, this is designated as Yoga.31

The rule for achieving this [the resultant unity] is said to be the sixfold yoga:
control of the breath (raniyima), withdrawal of te senses (ratihira),
meditation (dhyina), concentration (dhirana), contemplative inquiry (tarka) and
absorption (samidhi). When, by this (oga), the [practitioner] beholds the gold
colored maker, the lord, the person, the Brahma source, then the sage, shaking
off good and evil, makes everyhing into the resultant unity in the supreme

In these Maitri descriptions of yoga, we can distinguish three basic meanings of yoga:

(1) the sixfold process where yoga means "the process of unifing" the breath, the mind

and the senses (2) the "resultant unity" of the frst (above) paagraph where this sixfold

process of yoga means the "unity" that occurs when the breath, mind and senses have

been joined and (3) the "meeting" where a practitioner beholds "the gold-colored maker,

the lord, the person, the Brahma source" and achieves resultant unity in the supreme


For White, this yoga probably does not entail the meanings implied in "contemplative practice."

29 For example, see note above on Katha, which both Kumoi and Wynne attribute with being the source of
the non-nikaya term's usage in the post-Nikaya literature, where, Wynne admits, the ter evolves and is
used in relation to meditation.

30 I have used Radhakrishnan's translation, since it is the most readable and accessible. A close
philological comparison and a critical edition might yield slight nuances, but for the most part, it seems
accurate enough when compared with the available sanskrit edition to warant its usage in this broad
preliminary study.

31 The brackets are not mine. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upani:ads, 835.

32 Ibid., 830. Without changing words or meaning, I have reorganized Radhakrishnan's phrases into a
proper English sentence (not Sanskrit word order) for the sake of clarity.



Thus, although the passage glosses yoga in three ways, two of these

glosses are two different types of "unity." The frst "unity" is the unity of breath, body .

and mind and is a prelimina part ofthe sixfold yoga. The second "unity" indicates the

"resultant unity" of afer beholding "the Brahma source." This second tye of resultat

unity is specifed in the Maitri Upani$ad 6.3 as a meditation on the sun (sura) and its


and thus appears to be the meditative equivalent ofthe Vedic upisani practice

where the sun is worshipped through exteral offergs.35

This third tye of unity does

not particularly suggest becoming the Brahma source, just meeting and beholding it.

The key semantic shif to note here, then, is that the term, which once meant discipline

as in the Pali context, is now conected with meditative meeting with an enlightening

presence of some sort.

Since the Maitri Upani$ad was not written down until 4th centu C.B. many

scholars (such as David Wite) might discount these passages as possessing later

accretions and suggest that they read very differently in early times.36

However, it must

be noted that I am not attempting here to establish the early date of this passage or

analyze it historicity so much as I am using it to sketch out the semantic range of this

ten in the literary context of the Upani$ads. Thus, whether or not we accept Crangle's

suggestion that upisani and yoga were separate practices in Vedic times and became

sythesized as "contemplative practice" only in the later Upani�ads, these thee related

33 There is no space to examine alterate readings of this passage here, like those more in line with David
Wbite's readings of similar passages.

34 Although I read through a modem sanskrit edition of this text to verif the translation, I do not presently
have access to the sanskrit text at this time and regretflly, cannot provide the exact citation or sanskrit
lines. Since it is not a historically unimpeachable version of the text and since it is only being used here as
a general backdrop, this omission will hopeflly be excused.

35 Crangle, The Origin and Development ofEarly Indian Contemplative Practices, 111, 33.

36 In fact, David White's statements in his class "Tantra" is the source of this 4th century date. Further
research would be required to detenine whether this date is indeed widely accepted.


(but distinct) meaings of yoga should be kept in mind, since they will infon our

examination (below) of a similar, but more datable, early Buddhist usage of yoga qua


3. Buddhist Yoga qua Meditation

Although there is some evidence that the ten yoga appeared in the Buddhist igamas

and even occasionally in Sarvistividi Abhidhana texts (probably) dating from at least

the 2nd century B.C.E.,3

8 Satgharak�a's Yogicirabhumi (YBS) 39

provides perhaps one

of the earliest datable non-Pili-Nikaya usages of the ten "yoga" qua meditation in any

Buddhist context. For this reason, we will focus primarily on examning this text and its

context within the remainder of this paper.40 Interestingly, the YBS, whose title means

J7 On the other hand, the Ka/ha Upani$ad (suggested by Kumoi and Wynne as the source of yoga qua
meditation) seems to refect a usage of the term yoga that was not explicitly connected wit upisani (as it
was in the Maitri Upani$ad passage examined above). The Ka!ha Upani$ad appears to have involved only
to types of yoga, te "joining" process and the resulting "oneness". This paper is not the place for
analyzing this passage more careflly. However, it appears to me that Wynne and Kumoi have either
ignored or interpreted away the second part of the defnition, which is translated (above) as: "Then one
becomes undistracted for Yoga comes and goes" (apramattas tadi bhavati, yogo hi prabhavipyayau). The
compound prabhavipyayau, that is translated here as the obscure phrase "comes and goes" (literally that
which has "coming and going") can mean many other things, including "creation and dissolution" (which
suggests deity-yoga notions) or perhaps even, the "source and juncture" (which suggests a Maitri
Upani�ad-like distinction between joining and oneness with the source). Without a philological study, it is
hard to know te provenance and usage here.

38 As mentioned above, the Mahivibhi$aSistra refers to yoglcaas. Although this text may have been
composed earlier, it is diffcult to date it prior to the 3rd or even 4th centry C.E. However, the root text,
i.e. the Mahivibhi$a, itself seems to be a very old text, with parts stemming fom at least the 2nd century
B.C.E. However, most of the content and language of the extant text are not datable until the 5th century

39 The terminus ante quem for tHis text is 148 C.E., the date An Shigao came to China and translated it into
Chinese. Any date before that is a matter for carefl philological comparison which is beyond the purview
ofthis paper.

40 It should be noted that the evidence in these YBS rns counter to David White's research and offers
evidence divergent from his more general conclusions about te Indian religious landscape. In my
personal discussion with David White, he has mainly argued that the term yogin was not specifically
applied to persons prior to its appearance in the Sinti Pirvan, for which he gives a terminus ante quem of
the the 4th century. Although he is not primarily concered with buddhist notions of the term, his theory of
the terms yoga and yogin tends to generalize across religious boundaries which he has only cursorily
investigated. Many of the obvious Hindu usages of the terms yoga qua meditation or yogi qua meditator


"Stages of Yoga Practitioners,,,41 is dedicated to describing the precise meaning of yoga

in its Sarvastivadin context.42 A analysis of the YBS shows that multiple meditation

practices were included under the rubric of yoga, suggesting that it was merely a general

term meaning "meditation." 43

Although this general meaning of yoga as "meditation" is

attested in later Indian commentaries,44

the Ugradattapariprccha-sftra suggests that the

ter yoga might have meant something slightly more specifc in early Mahayana. In

particular, a list of persons in the Ugra distinguishes between two tpes of mons,

namely a meditator (dhyiin) and a yoga practitioner (ogacara).45

It is perhaps safe to

assume that both the dhyiin and the yogacara are doing something we can call

meditation; however a frther examination is requied to see whether yoga as a ter can

be frther distinguished from dhyana in early contexts.

are refted based on lack of unimpeachable written evidence of early times. Although White's strict
textual dating standards are admirable and force historians to justify their dating more precisely, the
Yogicirabhumi and the A9ta are two examples of Chinese tanslations which show strong evidence of
these meditational usages and need to be addressed by him in fture studies. This is not to say that
White's conclusions are not accurate with respect to certain segments of the non-buddhist population in
ancient India.

41 yogicira is ofen glossed as an exoteric, bahuvrTi compound meaning "one for who there is practice of
yoga." Hence, a yoga pracitioner.

42 Paul Demieville, fiLe Yogacarabhimi De Saigharalsa," Bulletin de L'Ecole Franraise XLIV, no. 1
(1951): 339-40. Demieville also mentions the possibility that the title Yogacarabhumi could mean "la terre
de la pratique" (lit. "the level of meditation practice") and this is Silk's provisional reading of the title.
However, based on Demieville's study and based on the other glosses we get from the text itself-not
mention tose in the Srivakabhimi and Bodhisattvabhimi which also clearly refer to practitioners-it
seems more likely that yogicara here refers to a practitioner. Silk seems overly conservative when he
says we would need an example of *yogacaaka (which is unattested anyhere) in order to be certain that
this is a bahuvrTi.

Etienne Lamotte, Histor of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era (Louvain-la-Neuve:
Universitbcatholique de Louvain Institut orientaliste, 1988), 217.Lamotte suggests that yoga is
synonymous with samadhi.

44 In his Aloka, Haribhadra (800 C.E.) says "yoga is a distinctive [kind of samadhi," whereas
Ratnakarasanti (11 th century) says, in the opening lines of his Prajiiparamiti-Bhivani-upadeSa, mal
sbyor dang sgom pa ni ming gi mam grangs dag go, i.e. yoga is equivalent to bhivani. See shes rab ki
pha rol tu phyin pa bsgom pa'i man ngag
([prajJApAramitbhAvanopadeza.]) [D. No.] 4545, jo bo'i chos
chung, gi 173b2-175a6. [NJ gi 196a2-198a6. [KinshaJ 3458, gi 248b6 (p.125-3-6).

45 Jonathan Silk notes this list, but does not t to unpack this early occurrence through an analysis of the
context in which it occurs. I will attempt to do just that below.


Below, I will argue that in the YBS, the term yoga seems to fnction as a general

semantic marker for: (1) the "process ofunifcation"ofthe mind, the breath and the

senses (2) the "resultant unit,46

of body and mind tat results through realizing their

emptiness and (3) the "resultant meetig" with the domain of the Buddha through the

practice of buddhinusmrti (i.e. "calling the Buddha to mind,,).47

I other words, yoga in

the YBS is a multivalent ter that encompasses meanings similar to those described in

the Maitri Upani.ad and explained by Crangle as the synthesis of Vedic upisani and

yoga practice.48

Furthermore, it is a term that specifcally refers to meditative practice,

through which one meets with the quality of the Buddha.49

Although I will suggest,

below, that this idea of yoga qua "process of unifcation" led to Mahayana soteriology of

becoming a buddha, I do not intend ever to argue here that the idea of unifcation or

unity (at this early stage) meant becoming a Buddha.

Nonetheless, given what is lown about other Buddhist and non-Buddhist

contexts, one might ask, how is it that a Sarvastivadin text, roughly contemporaneous

with the Pali-Nikayas,50

came to use the term yoga i such a different way from the PaU-

Nikayas? And, how is it that we only see the similar usage in the Pali teryogiacira

arising in Pali post-canonical works, such as Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, after the

46 Most scholars would, of course, agree that the later Buddhist Vajrayla usage of the ten yoga meant
the process of "the process of unification" with the result of "the resultant unity." However, we are
focused on very early usage of the ten here.

47 Here, I do not intend to suggest that the Vajrayana notion of "the resultant unity" or that the so-called
Mahayana notion of "the resultant-unity" were the same as the one expressed here.

48 Whether one characterizes the yoga in Maitri passage as "contemplative practice" (Crangle) or not
(White) is not important in this regard, since the YBS clearly portrays a yoga focused on meditation.

49 Pointing out the general "similarit" of two passages is not being intended as evidence of any borrowing
from one side or other. Rather, the distinctive YBS usage of the term will be read below within specifc
contexts in which they occur. Other studies might address issues of borrowing.

50 Pali Nikayas certainly purport to report the word of the buddha as it was spoken. However, since they
themselves purport to have been written down in approximately 50 B.C.E., they were written down around
the same time as the writing down of the Agamas, may of which are presently being studied by Richard


tum of the sth century?51

Is yoga qua meditation a semantic marker that necessarily

indicates proto-Mahayana soteriology? If so, when did it begin to be used as such?

In order to build towards an answer to this question in the remainder of this

paper, I will frst sketch out the textual history surrounding the compilation of the YBS,

then attempt to point out a few relevant and signifcant passages describing practice, and

fnally, fll in the portait of the com

unity surrouding this usage ofthe teryoga with

some of the biogaphcal, anecdotal, and archeological information. Nonetheless, in

order develop a sense of the relevance and signifcance of the YBS, some basic

background information regarding the Yogacarabhumi (YB) might provide a usefl

means for highlighting the hstorical pecularities of the YBS, especially since both texts

later come to be conected with the practice of yoga qua meditation.

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