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Yoga Philosophy from the Śāstras

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Krishnamacharya at the Mysore Palace 1930’s

“It is very important to understand yoga philosophy: without philosophy, practice is not good, and yoga practice is the starting place for yoga philosophy. Mixing both is actually the best.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

What is Yoga:

YS Ch. 1 v. 02: “Yoga is – citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ – the controlling of the mind. If we are sitting here, but our mind is not here, then it has gone elsewhere. To control the mind, to bring it back, that is yoga.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

YS Ch. 1 v. 13: Yoga practice is the effort to keep the mind and senses focused [in a chosen direction].

BhG Ch. 2 v. 48: Yoga is the act of directing your mind and senses fully upon your work while maintaining your equanimity and focus through both successes and failures.

BhG Ch. 2 v. 50: A wise person does not accept the ordinary opinion regarding good and bad deeds; rather, committed to yoga this person acts skillfully based on the Inner Guiding Conscience.

YS Ch. 1 v. 16: The highest, purest form of non-attachment (vairāgya) comes from experiencing your Inner Guiding Intelligence (puruṣa).

BhG Ch. 2 v. 57: A person who does not cling to anything, whether it be good or bad … a person who neither seeks nor shuns the good nor the bad, such a person is established in their True Inner Wisdom.

BhG Ch. 6 v. 23: Yoga is the separation from suffering, and should be practiced with absolute determination free from distractions, doubts & hesitations.

taṁ vidyād duḥkha-saṁyoga-viyogaṁ yoga-saṁjñitam | sa niścayena yoktavyo yogo’nirviṇṇa-cetasā ||

तं विद्याद् दु:खसंयोगवियोगं योगसञ्ज्ञितम् |

स निश्चयेन योक्तव्यो योगोऽनिर्विण्णचेतसा ||

YYV Ch. 6 v. 2: Prāṇāyāma is the joining together of prāṇa and apāna, and consists of three parts exhale (recaka), inhale (pūraka) and retention (kumbaka).

prāṇa-apāna-samāyogaḥ prāṇāyāma itīritaḥ |

prāṇāyāmas tridhā prokto reca-pūraka-kumbakaiḥ ||

प्राणापानसमायोगः प्राणायाम इतीरितः |

प्राणायामस्त्रिधा प्रोक्तो रेचपूरककुम्बकैः ||

Without Yoga - Life is Haphazard & Accidental:

BhG Ch. 2 v. 67: Just as the wind sweeps a boat off its course, the mind that follows the roaming senses takes away with it discrimination and correct perception.

YS Ch. 1 v. 4: If we are not consciously engaging our mind, then we are ensnared by the mind’s haphazard wanderings.

YS Ch. 4 v. 7: When one does not transcend one's own motive (either for self interest or the interest of others), then he / she acts from the whim of his / her incidentally changing mood (i.e. by the changing state of the guṇas).

The Yogic Intention for Practice and Action:

BhG Ch. 5 v. 11: Purely for the sake of self-purification, the yogin engages the body, mind, intellect & senses, and works & does yoga without attachments to results.

BhG Ch. 3 v. 20: … you should act for the benefit of maintaining the world.

BhG Ch. 18 v. 23: That yoga practice (karma-yoga) which has been ordained to be done - when done selflessly without attachment to the fruits and with disregard to one’s own desires and aversions - becomes uplifting (sāttvika) because it has been imbued with a pure motive.

Two Types of Yoga - Karma & Jñāna:

BhG Ch. 3 v. 3: There are two levels & paths of yoga: karma-yoga (the yoga of action) which is for those striving for balance & clarity, and jñāna-yoga (the yoga of knowledge) which is for those already established in equanimity and balance.

BhG Ch. 3 v. 3 § 1: Jñāna-yogis are those who discriminate between Self and non-Self; they are the renouncers who have established themselves in the Ultimate Reality.

BhG Ch. 3 v. 4 § 0: Yoga practice (karma) promotes life’s end by endowing aspirants with the necessary capacity to understand and practice jñāna-yoga (the discipline of knowledge).

BhG Ch. 3 v. 4 § 1: Yoga practice (karma) … attenuates past conditioning and purifies the mind, and is thus the beginning of knowledge (jñāna) …

Transcendence of karma … arises from abiding within the very essence of that True Self which performs no action … not by merely abstaining from practice.

BhG Ch. 4 v. 18: One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction is wise among men; such a person is yogī and accomplishes everything.

YS Ch. 1 v. 50: Yoga practice creates beneficial qualities (saṁskāras) which override [our] past conditioning.

The Process & Stages of Yoga:

BhG: Introduction § 5: When observed with dedication to God and without expectation of rewards, yoga practice (karma yoga) purifies the mind. It is this purified mind that becomes fit for practicing the discipline of knowledge (jñāna yoga); this then generates Self knowledge and hence liberation (kaivalya, mokṣa).

BhG Ch. 2 v. 11 § 0.c: Prior to the birth of Self knowledge is the state of yoga characterized by the performance of those practices which are conducive to Self knowledge [e.g. yoga practice]. The performance of such actions is based on certain concepts such as the self being the doer and the reaper of the fruits from those actions, as well as a perception of plurality [rather than unity] in the world.

Yoga Practice, Selflessness & Self Purification:

BhG Ch. 5 v. 5 § 1: Karma yogins are those who, without seeking the fruits of yoga for themselves, practice yoga - while dedicating all of it to God [or for the benefit of the world] - as a means to attaining Self knowledge.

BhG Ch. 5 v. 27 § 0: Kṛṣṇa repeatedly affirms … the need for yoga practice (karma yoga) to be dedicated to God (Brahman) with complete mental dedication; the object being to win liberation by first gaining purification of the mind, and then by acquiring knowledge…

BhG Ch. 6 v. 2 § 1: Any performer of works who has given up mentally clinging to the fruits of works is a yogin; their mind is concentrated, because they have abandoned the causes of their distractions.

The Peak of the Mountain of Yoga:

BhG Ch. 6 v. 3: For the yogin who seeks to climb to the peak of the mountain of yoga, [yoga] practice is said to be the method; as regards to the yogin who has already reached this peak of yoga, equanimity and meditation on the eternal (śama) is said to be the cause.

BhG Ch. 6 v. 3 § 1: For one who seeks to scale yoga’s peak - but who has, as yet, not [yet reached the top (viz. the goal) - yet who has discarded the fruits of works, but is not yet established in the yoga of meditation - for that one, yoga practice (karma) is the means.

Yoga Practice, Prāṇāyāma & Meditation:

YS Ch. 1 v. 14: Yoga becomes firmly established only by daily faithful practice, done with a willing attitude of service over a long time.

YS Ch. 2 v. 1: Actions are purified (kriyā yoga) when balanced with discipline (tapas), self-reflection (svādhyāya), and selflessness (īśvara-pranidhāna).

YS Ch. 2 v. 51: The fourth state of prāṇāyāma transcends the actions of exhale, inhale & retention.

BhG Ch. 4 v. 29: Obtain True Freedom through prāṇāyāma by offering the exhale into the inhale, and the inhale into the exhale, and by remaining thus absorbed in the breathless state.

apāne juhvati prāṇaṁ prāṇe ’pānaṁ tathāpare |

prāṇāpāna-gatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāma-parāyaṇāḥ ||

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे |

प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणा: ||

Yoga - The Middle Path:

BhG Ch. 6 v. 16 & 17: Yoga is not possible for one who eats too much nor not at all; neither is yoga possible for one who sleeps too much nor too little. [However] for one who eats and plays moderately, who is moderate in sleep and wakefulness, for this one, yoga becomes the destroyer of suffering (duḥkha).

BhG Ch. 6 v. 16 § 1: “The food, in sufficient measure, protects and does not harm [the body], excess [food] is harmful; too little [food] fails to strengthen & protect [the body nor mind].” … “Fill the stomach half with solid food, a third quarter with liquid, and the fourth quarter left empty [this ensures proper digestion].”

Understanding God Inside:

YS Ch. 1 v. 25: The Creative Principle (īśvara) is the unlimited source of all understanding, knowing & intuition (sarvajñā bījam).

YS Ch. 1 v. 29: The mind turned inwardly in search of its own source is able to overcome distractions and obstacles.

YS Ch 4 v. 22: The mind which can remain inside [during practice], disconnected from externals, takes the form of Spirit and develops the ability to know & do anything.

Spiritual Enemies Destroy Intelligence:

BhG Ch. 2 v. 62 & 63: ​

ध्यायतो विषयान् पुंसः सङ्गस् तेषु पजायते |

सङ्गात् संजायते कामः कामात् क्रोधो भिजायते ||

क्रोधात् भवति संमोहः संमोहात् स्मृतिविभ्रमः |

स्मृतिभ्रम्शात् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात् प्रणश्यति ||


BhG: Bhagavad Gītā with Commentary by Śaṅkarācārya

YS: Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali (Pātañjala Yoga Darśana)

YYV: Yoga Yājña Valkya Samhitā


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