You are on page 1of 8

Chris Wallis aiva Yoga Paper #4

Yoga: Issues of Definition and Categorization


Yoga, a central concept for Indian religious thought, is a term that bears both on a type of religious behavior as well as soteriological conceptualizations linked to those behaviors. First we may assess, within the broad diversity of meanings the word has acquired, what are the semantic parameters that apply in nearly all usages of the word in religious contexts. The term yoga nearly always denotes either 1) the means to a religious or magical goal, or 2) the goal itself (the latter usage usually restricted to soteriological contexts). I will categorize the various definitions of yoga as Type 1 or Type 2. Additionally, the methods entailed in yogic practice nearly always involve a single-minded application of effort requiring some extent of self-mastery and self-discipline.1 Yoga as goal nearly always connotes either release from the cycle of sasra and the attainment of spiritual beatitude or, in some cases, the attainment of supernatural power, or both. Release from sasra had been held out as the highest soteriological goal from Upaniadic times: the Indian concept of transcendence of mundane reality and of normal humanity as the highest possible attainment is a uniquely pervasive idea in subcontinental religion. Ultimately, it amounts to transcending human limitations and becoming, in some way, divine. Finally, yoga usually entails a practice better characterized by a Jamesian model of religion (i.e. the acts
1

Bhakti-yoga is not an exception to this rule, as will be noted.

of individual men in their solitude...in relation to whatever they consider the divine) rather than a Durkheimian one (social religious cult).2 We will see all these themes played out in our specific definitions of yoga. One of the earliest uses of word yoga in the sense we are considering is in the Kaha Upaniad (c. 200 BCE?), where control of the senses is advocated using the famous chariot metaphor, which also entails elements of early Skhya philosophy: the horses are the senses, the road the senseobjects, the mind the reins, the intellect the charioteer, the body the chariot, and the tman the passenger. The practitioner is to use his discriminating intelligence to control the senses by means of the mind. (KaUp 3.3-8) This can be seen as an early form of pratyhra, an important element of later systematized yoga. This also marks the entry into the textual tradition of a significant stream of religiosity extant since the time of the Buddha or before, that of rigorous and renunciatory self-discipline and concentration. Clearly this is a Type 1 definition (cf. Ka 3.8, 6.10-11). The Bhagavad Gt (BhG), which at times sounds almost like a commentary on parts of KahaUp, takes this sense of yoga and expands it further. This text is, of course, couched within the framework of the Mahbhrata, which frequently uses the verbal root yuj in the sense of yoke. In 5.149.47, for example, the warriors call for the Yoke, i.e. for the horses to be joined to their chariots and wagons, to be made ready for battle. This is therefore the context for the use of the word yoga (derived from the same root) in the BhG. Following van Buitenen, we may conclude
2

This despite the fact that yogic elements have been subsumed in a superficial way by some temple cults.

that yoga for this text connotes a self-yoking to a strenuous effort to which a person is committed, in order to win a goal (van Buitenen 17-18; very much a Type 1 definition). We see evidence for the close semantic connection between yoga and its root in BhG 2.61, where Ka prescribes that one should sit down, controlling ones senses, yoked (yukta), and intent on me.... In 2.66 he clarifies further that to be yoked is to have singleness of purpose.3 Whether the topic is karma-, jna-, or bhakti-yoga, in every case the yoga part of the compound indicates a disciplining of the mind. For example, in 12.2 Ka says I deem most adept at yoga [those] who fix their minds on me..., thus demonstrating that what makes bhakti a yoga is disciplined singleness of mind. The method is the same, though the inflection or object may differ, as this is a Type 1 definition.4 Another early definition, perhaps even prior to the BhG, is that of Vaieika-stra 5.2.16-17. Here yoga is understood in much the same way as in Kaha. The drawing near to each other of the senses, their objects, and the mind is seen as the problematic source of pleasure and pain; hence yoga is defined as the mind standing within the soul (tmasthe manasi), i.e. fixing the locus of ones awareness in the atman, which results in freedom from pleasure and pain. This may be seen as both Type 1 and 2; yoga is for the first time defined in terms of both the means and the goal (though this

3 4

Van Buitenens translations, The Bhagavad Gt in the Mahbhrata, University of Chicago Press. Having said this, I must note that yoga is also defined according to Type 2 in the BhG., as in samatvam yoga ucyate, yoga is said to be equanimity (2.48, cf. 6.29, 6.33). However, a Type 1 perspective dominates the text.

is accomplished through ambiguity).5 The simplicity of the articulation here suggests that this was not yet a fully systematized yoga. Another definition from the classical period is that of Patajalis Yogastras, which presents the famous yoga citta-vtti-nirodha: yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (1.2), a clear-cut Type 1 definition. Again, mental discipline is stressed, here as part of a highly organized system of practice, synthesizing a number of elements under this basic definitional banner. This practice is said to result in the radical state of kaivalya, total extraction and isolation of the pure consciousness of purua from prakti. This is a highly specific goal peculiar to the Skhya/Yoga ontological systems; but here, as in most early systems, yoga is really defined in terms of means, not goal. akara confirms this when he cites an anonymous stra in his commentary on Brahma-stra 2.1.3: yoga [is] the means which shows the truth, though he is probably thinking of a discipline of knowledge rather than cessation of thought in using this quote. Our shift to texts in which yoga is defined primarily in terms of a goal is well articulated in Jain Yoga-akata (c. 800 CE). Here yoga is seen as the concurrence of correct knowledge, doctrine, and conduct, which together are necessary and sufficient for liberation. This is taken as definition in terms of a goal (Type 2), but Haribhadrasri also notes In common usage this [term] yoga also [denotes] contact with the causes of these [three],

Perhaps this a source for the union definitions we will see later; this text was certainly known to the redactor(s) of the Mlinvijayottara-tantra.

due to the common usage of the cause for the effect (2.4). 6 This neatly pinpoints the easy semantic shift that led to our dual classification. aiva Siddhnta texts offer an interesting range of definitions of the term. The Parkhyatantra lists several definitions, held by various schools (14.98-99b):

[Yoga is] conjunction with the [eight] Perfections (aasiddhis)Type 2 Yoga arises from the influence of aktiType 1 Yoga arises from the attainment of samdhiType 2 (but Type 1 insofar as it implies the practice leading to the attainment of samdhi) [Yoga] resides in the practice of yogaType 1 Yoga is immersion (samvea) into That [i.e. iva], arising from the contemplation of the true nature of Thatfirst phrase Type 2, second phrase Type 1

Finally, the 13th century rad-tilaka, another Saiddhntika text, gives its definition of yoga as ascertainment of iva and the soul as non-different (25.2; Type 2). The list exhibits a greater diversity of meaning in the usage of the term than previously observable. Yoga no longer exclusively means mental training and discipline, but has also been subsumed into mystical systems that do not always consider the aspirants sustained mental effort a keynote of yogic practice. The last two definitions listed show the move into the realm of Tantrik aiva yoga. However, we see echoes of the classical past in the slightly later Mgendratantras definition: To have self-mastery is to be a yogin (YP 2: tadtmavattva yogitvam, translation Sanderson). If the best single translation for yoga in the earlier texts is discipline (per Edgerton), then perhaps the most appropriate single word
Trans. Vsudeva. Also cited as an example of this semantic shift by Haribhadra is the phrase yur ghtam, ghee is life which of course really means ghee is a means to long life.
6

for the later (mediaeval) usage is union. We see this shift even from the Mgendras text to its commentary (the vtti by Nryaakaha), which reads: The term yogin means one who is necessarily conjoined with the manifestation of his nature, in other words the iva-state...[which] is the invariable concomitant of self-mastery. (Translation Sanderson.) Here Nryaakaha takes a definition which could be either Type 1 or 2, and presents it as unequivocally Type 2, with stress on the theistic concept of joining oneself to ones true nature (svarpa) which is an essence identical to ivas. Finally, the Mlinvijayottara, the central scripture for Trika aivism, offers this definition: Yoga is said to be the oneness (ekatvam) of one entity with another. (4.4) This is a Type 2 definition, concerned with the identification of the aspirants awareness with a higher tattva entity. The groundwork laid by chapter two of the text would imply to the reader that the entities being spoken of here are those of the pure universe, i.e. iva, akti, Mantramahevaras, Mantrevaras, and Mantras. (1.15) This is confirmed by the verses immediately following the definition, which speak of mantra-yoga (4.6-8). Verse 4.5 specifies that knowledge of the entity to be joined with is essential, and the easiest of the uddhdhvn entities to have gnosis of are Mantras. Abhinavagupta supports this interpretation, advocating single-minded practice of a seed mantra until identification with the mantra deity occurs (T 280-290). The state of consciousness thus

engendered is non-discursive and non-differential, well described by the term ekatvam. The Mlins definition would appear at first glance to be quite different from that of the Mgendra. However, it is not very different from the commentators Mgendra; both specify the conjoining of the aspirants awareness with a higher transcendent principle identified in some way with iva, though apparently in nondualist and dualist veins respectively. The common element here, and generally from this point forward, is one of union, as the dominant motif of the earlier systems of yoga was one of discipline (though of course this latter sense is not lost). This shift in meaning is intimately related to the categorical linguistic shift described earlier.

All primary sources consulted are cited in the body of the essay. No secondary sources were used, but this essay has benefited greatly from the careful reading and comments of Dr. Somadeva Vsudeva, Wolfson College, Oxford.