Essay on Yoga: Learn about the Philosophy of Yoga

Essay on Yoga: Learn about the Philosophy of Yoga!

Yoga philosophy specializes in the presentation of means to achieve liberation.

Ever since the time of the Upanishads right up to the present day, Indian philosophers, from Yajnavalkya to Sri Aurobindo, have considered Yoga to be the most potent and indispensable method to attain liberation.

In India, different types of Yoga have been developed. Here we are concerned only with the Yoga developed by Patanjali in his ‘Yoga Sutra’.

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Yoga and Samkhya:

Yoga’ is the practical path for the realization of the theoretical ideals of Samkhya philosophy. Both Samkhya and Yoga philosophies maintain that libera­tion can be attained only by knowledge. But the attainment of this knowledge requires the suppression of the physical and mental modifications and gradual control over body, senses, mind, intellect and ego, so that the pure self may be realized.

The realisation of the pure self requires the cognition that the self is beyond the body, mind, senses, intellect and ego, etc. It is beyond space and time, liberated and eternal. The Samkhya philosophy emphasizes the attainment of knowledge by means of study, concentration and meditation. The Yoga presents a practical path for the realization of the self. It tells us the way by following which the self may be realized.

Yoga admits all the three sources of valid knowledge accepted by Samkhya philosophy, viz., perception, inference and scripture. The twenty-five elements of the Samkhya philosophy have also been admitted in Yoga to which one more viz., God, has also been added. Thus, in their essential metaphysical foundation, both Yoga and Samkhya are the same. The practice of Yoga is essential for the realization of Samkhya philosophy. Hence it is rightly said, “The Yoga system is the natural complement of practical discipline to achieve the Samkhya ideal of Kaivalya.”

Psychology of Yoga:

The path of Yoga is based on sound psychological foundation. Hence to appreciate this path, the psychology of Yoga must first be understood. The most important element in the psychology of Yoga is chitta. Chitta is the first modifica­tion of Prakriti in which there is the predominance of sattva over rajas and tamas gunas.


It is material by nature, but due to the closest contact with the self it is enlightened by its light. It assumes the form of anything in whose contact it comes. Due to the modifications of the chitta according to objects, the self knows these objects. According to Yoga Sutra, though there is no modification in the self, except as the reflection of the changing Chitta Vriattis (modifications of chitta), there is an appearance of change in it, just as the moon reflected in the river seems to be moving.

When true knowledge is attained, the self ceases to see itself in these modifications of the chitta and gets rid of attachment and aversion to the worldly pleasures and sufferings. This attachment and aversion is bondage. The only way to get rid of this bondage is to control the modifications of the chitta. This control is the result of Yoga. In the words of Patanjali, Yoga is the cessation of the modification of chitta.

Stages of Chitta:

Chitta has five stages which are known as Chitta Bhumi. These five stage are as follows:

1. Ksipta:


This is the stage in which the chitta is very much disturbed and remains loitering after the worldly objects, as, e.g., chitta of those intoxicated by the possession of superfluous money.

2. Mudha:

When there is preponderance of tamas, just as when one is over-powered by sleep, the stage of the chitta is known as Mudha, e.g., the chitta of the intoxicated persons.

3. Vikshipta:

This is the stage in which inspite of preponderance of the sattva guna, the chitta is oscillating between the tendencies of successes and failures created by the rajas guna. The chitta of the gods and that of beginners in yoga is of this sort. This differs from the kshipta stage because due to the preponderance of sattva sometimes there is temporary ceasing of the modifications of the chitta in this stage.

4. Ekagra:

The stage of the chitta when it is fixed on some one subject due to the preponderance of the sattva is known as the ekagra stage, just as the flame of the burning lamp remains always pointing to one side and does not flicker hither and thither.

5. Niruddha:

When only the impressions remain in chitta after the cessation of the modifications, the stage is known as the niruddha stage. It is this stage which is known as yoga.

Of the above-mentioned five stages, the first three are harmful in yoga and may be removed by practice. The last two stages are useful in yoga.

Forms of Chitta:

Because chitta is of the nature of three gunas, it always remains changing due to the preponderance of one or the other of the gunas. With this preponderance, three main forms of chitta can be noticed which are as under:

1. Prakhya:

In this stage, the chitta is predominated by sattva guna and tamas remains in subordination. In this form, the chitta aspires for different powers of yoga, e.g., anima, etc.

2. Pravritti:

When the tamas guna becomes weak, and the chitta is-pre- dominated by the rajas, it appears to be enlightened and full of dharma, knowledge, renunciation, etc.

3. Sthiti:

As the rajas is subordinated, the chitta, predominated by the sattva element, gets established in its own form and attains the discriminating reason. This form of the chitta is known as sthiti.

Modifications of Chitta:

As has already been pointed out, the chitta, in spite of its being material, seems to be a living entity due to the reflection of the self in it. It is these changes in the chitta which are known as its Vrittis or modifications. These modifications are due to ignorance, and their result is bondage. These modifications are of five types which are as follows:

1. Pramana:

Like Samkhya philosophy, Yoga has also accepted three tes­timonies of perception, inference and scripture. By going outside through the sensation, the chitta attains the form of object. This is known as pramana. The inference and sabda testimonies in Yoga philosophy are the same as those in Samkhya.

2. Viparyaya:

The false knowledge of anything is known as viparyaya. Vachaspati Mishra has included doubt (sansaya) also in viparyaya.

3. Vikalpa:

This is the knowledge in which the object which is known does not exist, e.g., in the knowledge that consciousness is the form of the purusa, a distinction is made between the consciousness and the purusa which actually does not exist. The conception of the two as distinct is vikalpa.

4. Nidra:

The modifications of the chitta which is the substratum of the knowledge of absence of anything is known as nidra or sleep. Due to the preponderance of tamas in its vritti, there is absolute absence of the waking and dreaming modifications. But this stage should not be conceived as the total absence of knowledge because after arising from sleep the person has the consciousness that he had slept well. Hence sleep is also a modification.

5. Smrit:

Smriti or memory is the remembering of the experiences. The above-mentioned modifications cause samskaras or predispositions in the inner instrument i.e., chitta, and in due course these predispositions again take the form of modifications. Thus, the cycle goes on forever.

According to Yoga philosophy, there are several causes of disturbance (Vik- sep) in the chitta. These are:

Disease, inactivity, doubt, carelessness, attachment with objects, false knowledge, non-attainment of the stage of samadhi, absence of concentration, etc. Due to these, distractions and physical disturbances follow.

The Yoga prescribes the practice of concentration to check the above-men­tioned causes of the distraction of chitta. Together with concentration, there should be friendliness towards living beings, sympathy towards sufferers, aversion towards evil doers and pleasant attitude towards the good persons.

Kinds of Klesas:

Avidya or ignorance breeds false knowledge and false knowledge breeds klesas. These are of five types:

1 Avidya:

The seeing of self which is eternal and pure in non-eternal, impure and painful not-self is avidya or ignorance.

2. Asmita:

Asmita is the false conception of identity between purusa and prakriti and the absence of distinction between them.

3. Raga:

Raga is the acute thirsting for worldly pleasures.

4. Dwesa:

Dwesa is anger in the means of suffering.

5. Abhinivesa:

Abhinivesa is fear of death.

The Eight-Fold Yoga:

To get rid of the klesas, the citta must be controlled and concentrated. Yoga philosophy has prescribed the following eight sadhanas for this purpose:

1. Yama:

Yama is the control of the body, speech and mind. The yamas which are five are as follows:

(a) Ahimsa:

Ahimsa or Non-violence is the absolute absence of any form of injury to any living being.

(b) Satya:

Truth or satya is to be exact both in mind and speech i.e., to speak things as they are and to remember them exactly as they are seen, heard or imagined.

(c) Asteya:

Asteya or Non-stealing includes both not taking o^n6t stealing another’s property and not having even a desire for it.

(d) Brahamacliarya:

Brahamacliarya or Celibacy is the control of attachment in the enjoyment of the senses, specially those of sex.

(e) Aparigraha:

Aparigraha or Non-covetousness requires one not to accept or collect unnecessary things.

All the above-mentioned yamas are necessary for the concentration of the chitta.

2. Niyania:

Another important step in yoga is Niyama or following the rules of good conduct. These Niyamas are the following five:

(a) Sauch:

Sauch or Cleanliness includes external cleaning through bath and pure diet, etc., as well as internal cleaning through sympathy, friendliness, happiness and detachment.

(b) Santos:

Santos or Contentment means satisfaction in whatever is attained by sufficient and suitable efforts.

(c) Tapa:

Tapa or Penance includes practice of tolerance of the cold and heat. It requires various types of hard practices.

(d) Swadhyaya:

Swadhyaya or study of religious scriptures is very useful for spiritual advancement. Hence it is a necessary principle of good conduct in Yoga.

(e) Ishwar Pranidhan:

The fifth niyama in Yoga is Ishwar Pranidhan or to remember God and to surrender oneself to him. This helps the aspirant in the practice of Yoga.

3. Asan:

The third step in the advancement of yoga is Asan or posture. Asan helps in the concentration of chitta and in the control of the mind. Yoga has prescribed various types of postures e.g., Padma, Veer, Bhadra, Sirsa, Garuda and Mayura.

These postures are very helpful in controlling the mind as well as other vital elements in the body. They also help in removing the sufferings due to cold and heat. As a matter of fact, postures is nothing but control of the body. It also keeps the body free from disease and makes it strong. By it, one can control the different external as well as internal organs in the body. Thus yoga philosophers had the valuable insight to realize that mental control requires discipline of the body as well.

4. Pranayama:

The fourth stage in the practice of yoga is pranayama or the control of breath. This presupposes control of the body through postures. By pranayama the aspirant controls the inhaling and exhaling of breath which helps in the concentration of citta. There are three main steps in pranayama:

(a) Puraka:

The first step in Pranayama is puraka or inhaling i.e., to take in as much air as possible.

(b) Kumbhak:

After the maximum amount of air is taken in, the second stage in Pranayama is Kumbhak or to retain it for half of the time taken in inhaling.

(c) Recaka:

The third stage in Pranayama is Recaka or to gradually exhale this air in almost the same time as taken in inhaling.

The time taken in all these three stages of pranayama is gradually increased so that in due course the aspirant may control his breath, thus helping in the concentration of the chitta.

5. Pratyalmra:

The fifth stage in the path of yoga is Pratyahara. The introversion of the different sense organs by restraining them from their object is known as pratyahara. By practising this, the aspirant can keep his mind undis­turbed by worldly objects even while he lives in the world. The practice of pratyahara requires very strong determination and repression of the senses.

The above-mentioned five stages in yoga are known as external means. The remaining three stages are known as internal means. As a matter of fact, the first five are merely preparatory to the latter three which are directly concerned with yoga. The latter three are as follows:—

6. Dharana:

The sixth stage in the path of Yoga is dharana. Dharana is the concentration of the cilia on some object. This object may be external, like the image of some God, or it may also be internal as the space in between the eye-brows, the lotus of the heart etc. This is the beginning in the stage of samadhi.

7. Dhyana:

The seventh stage in the process of Yoga is dharana. When the knowledge of an object of concentration is continued in a process, it is known as dhyana. This requires clear knowledge of the object. In dhyana, in the beginning, the aspirant knows only the different parts or forms of the object and only gradually realizes the whole of it. Thus, by dhyana the aspirant has the real knowledge of the object, along with the discipline of chitta through meditation.

8. Samadhi:

The last and the most important stage in Yoga is samadhi. This is the culmination and the goal to which all the above-mentioned seven stages arc only preparatory steps. The stage of absolute identity, when the process of concentration and the object become one and identical, negating the difference between the subject and the object, is known as samadhi. In this stage, there is no separate cognition of the subject or the process of concentration, and the chitta attains the form of the object. Thus, in this stage, the subject and the object as well as the process of concentration become one.

Samadhi, or the cessation of the modifications of chitta, is considered to be of the following two types:—

(a) Samprajnat or sabeej (attributed) Samadhi:

In this form of samadhi, some type of substratum of concentration regains and the aspirant has awareness of this substratum. This stage is realized when the chitta is concentrated on some object. Due to this concentration, the same modifications arise in the chitta and other modifications are annihilated.

Due to concentration on one object, there is the arousal of Prajna which destroys other modifications. This leads to destruction of klesas, the loosening of the bonds of karma and attainment of real knowledge. This is the stage very near to the attainment of yoga.

This form of samadhi has been further subdivided into the following four types:—

(i) Savitarka Samadhi:

In this type, the chitta becomes identified with some object outside and assumes its form. In this stage, there is the awareness of someone object. Hence it is known as Savitarka.

(ii) Savicar Samadhi:

In this type of Samadhi, the chitta is identified with some subtle object and assumes its form.

(iii) Sanand Samadhi:

When the china is concentrated on some sattvika sutbtle object, it increases in sattva guna which results in the attainment of bliss.

(iv) Sasmit Samadhi:

In this type, the asmita itself becomes the object of concentration. Asmita is the intellect reflected in the chitta. It is subtler than the senses on which the chitta is concentrated in samadhi. The senses are born out of asmita. Thus, this type of samadhi is higher than the above-mentioned three.

(b) Asamprajnat or Nirbija (Attributeless) Samadhi:

This is the highest form of Samadhi in which the distinction between the knower, the knowledge and the known, disappears. In it, there are no klesas and atrributes. Hence it is known as nirbija or attributeless samadhi.

This form of samadhi is also divided into two sub-types which are as under:

(i) Bhava Pratyaya Samadhi:

Samadhi is disturbed owing to ignorance. Bhava means ignorance. Ignorance means seeing of the self as not-self. In this form of samadhi, only the samskaras of the passions remain. Thus ignorance is not absolutely destroyed at this stage and because of this even after its attainment the beings have to return to world again.

(ii) Upaya Pratyaya:

In this stage of samadhi, the ignorance is ab­solutely destroyed due to arousal or prajna. In it, all the klesas are annihilated and the chitta becomes established in true knowledge. This is the samadhi of the Yogis. It breeds pleasure of the chitta, concentration, knowledge, etc.

The eight-fold path of yoga does not mean that the above-mentioned stages are passed serially. They are rather trodden concurrently. Yoga believes in a combined and all-round at lack on impediments in the path of Samadhi and an integral and all-sided human development. The stage of Samadhi, however, is only gradually attained.

Eight Siddhis:

According to Yoga philosophy, the Yogis attain various siddhis by practising the path of Yoga. These powers are mainly of eight types and hence are called Asta Siddhis or Asta Aishvaryas.

1. Anima:

This is the power to become small like an atom and to be invisible.

2. Laghima:

This is the power to become light like cotton and so to be able to fly away.

3. Mahima:

This is the power to become big like mountains.

4. Prapti:

This is the power to secure whatever is desired.

5. Prakamya:

This is the power by which all the impediments in the will power are removed.

6. Vasitva:

This is the power by which all the living beings may be conquered.

7. Esitva:

This is the power by which one attains absolute mastery over all the physical objects.

8. Yatrakamavasayitvu:

This is the power by which all the desires are fulfilled.

The powers attained through the above-mentioned eight siddhis may be used according to the wish of the Yogi. But in the Yoga philosophy the pursuance of the path of Yoga for attainment of these powers has been vehemently decried because that results in deflecting the aspirant from the path of Yoga. The ultimate end of Yoga is not the attainment of these powers, but the realisation of liberation.

The Place of God in Yoga Philosophy:

According to Vijnan Bhiksu, “The Yoga in order to avoid the difficulties of meeting the imputations of a partial or a cruel God has accepted Prakriti in all its peregrinations. Ishwar is only one of the many objects on which Yogis may concentrate their mind. The only purpose of Ishwar is to do good to his devotees.” Thus in Yoga, God has only practical importance.

The meditation on God or Pranava helps in the concentration of the chitta. According to Patanjali, lshwari pranidhan helps in the attainment of samadlhi. Thus in the old Yoga philosophy not much theoretical importance has been attached to God. Patanjali himself did not consider God as necessary to solve the problems of the world.

Prof. Max mullar has pointed out, “I do not consider, therefore, that Rajendra Lai Mitra was right when in his abstract of Yoga he represented this belief in one Supreme as the first and most important event of Patanjali’s philosophy.” But the later Yoga philosophers admitted the existence of God from the theoretical standpoint as well and advanced arguments to prove His existence.

Characteristics of God:

Describing the characteristics of God, Patanjali has written in Yoga Sutra, “God is a particular person who is devoid of the five klesas of Avidya, Asmita, Rag, Dwesa, Abhinivesa.” The jiva has to bear the fruits of its karmas and enjoy and suffer in the world. God is free from all this. He is different from the kevali i.e., the liberated man. The kevali is liberated from the bondage, but God was neither in bondage nor ever will be. Hence, he is different from kevali.

The liberated persons, like Kapila and others, were first in bondage and then liberated. God, on the other hand, was never in bondage. Hence, he is different from the Mukta Purusa because such a person, in spite of being liberated, has the possibility of getting into bondage again in future. God is called Ishwara because of his powers of knowledge, desire and activity. He is omniscient and the substratum of all things.

He has eternal knowledge and eternal bliss. He is transcendent and greater than everything else. There is no one equal to or better than Him in virtue. As a matter of fact, God is the name for Him who excels in all virtues. These virtues have been defined in the scriptures. God possesses all these since eternity. He has always been Ishwara. He was always liberated. He is the teacher of the teachers like Kapila.

Thus he is a particular person. Hence Patanjali has not considered God as different from the twenty five elements of Samkhya. The only purpose of God is to have compassion towards the living beings. He does nothing for his own sake but only for the sake of the world. He has resolved to help the worldly beings in creation and destruction, through the preaching of dharma and knowledge.

Arguments for God:

The Yoga philosophers have advanced the following arguments to prove the existence of God:—

1. Testimony of the Scriptures:

The existence of God is proved by the scriptures. The scriptures including the Vedas and the Upanishads have described God as the ultimate Existence and the summum bonum of life.

2. The ultimate in hierarchy:

Existence must have a lowest and a highest limit. Just as with regard to the quantity, there is the smallest and the biggest, similarly knowledge and power etc. must also have their highest limits, i.e., there should be a person possessing the greatest knowledge and maximum power. This ultimate person is Iswar. Had there been another person equal to Him in knowledge and power, the system of the world would have been destroyed by their conflict. Hence, God is unique and one.

3. The efficient cause:

The union and disunion of Prakriti and Purusa lead to creation and destruction respectively, but because they are very much different in nature, the union and disunion is not possible spontaneously. Hence, there must be an efficient cause, responsible for the union. This efficient cause is God. Without the direction from God, the Prakriti cannot evolve a world which is favourable for self-evolution of the living beings.

4. Means to Samadhi:

According to Patanjali, Ishwarpranidhan is one of the means to attain samadhi. But the later Yoga philosophers considered it to be the best means, because God is not merely on abject of concentration, but also the great Lord who removes the impediments from the path of aspirants, and thus makes the path of Yoga easy.

A true devotee of God and one, who always depends on Him, remains meditating on Him and sees Him pervading the whole universe. Such a devotee gets the purity of the heart and light of the intellect and other excellences from God. ‘Pranava’ is a synonym for God.

The repetition and meditation of its meaning helps in concentration. By meditating on God with single-mindedness, the intellect is purified and all the impediments arc destroyed. The aspirant realizes his self through Ishwarpranidhan.

Critical Evaluation:

The stage which the Indian philosophers entered through Yoga has been recognized as spiritual by many in the East and the West, both in the ancient and the modern times. Some of the modern psychologists, however, have compared Yoga with mysticism, auto-suggestion and psychopathic states.

Such a comparison only shows ignorance regarding the actual stale of Yoga. Yoga is a practical affair and it is useless and unreasonable to say anything regarding it without practising it under the guidance of some able teacher.

Every science has its own methods peculiar to it, its own experts and its own norms regarding the training to grasp and acquire it. Yoga is a science, like other sciences, and hence it has its own methods, experts and norms of training, etc. Any criticism without following these is at best a partial judgment.

According to Prof. Garbe all the verses of Patanjali Sutra concerning God are unrelated with the rest and are even against its fundamental principles. Dr. Radha Krishan has also supported this view. The God of Yoga is not the summum boruim of life. He is not the creator or sustainer of the world, but only a particular person.

Devotion to God is only one of the many means to reach the ultimate end. Vijnana Bhiksu has also admitted God as secondary in Yoga. At least it should be admitted that Patanjali has not given much importance to God in his Yoga. When God is conceived of as a particular Purusa, the idea of union with Him is difficult to understand.

As a matter of fact, neither Samkhya nor Yoga have given much importance to God, nor do they differ on this issue. As has been pointed out earlier, Yoga does not give much importance to God. The Samkhya, on the other hand, does not condemn God. The two representative scriptures of Samkhya, Tattva Samas and Samkhya Karika have not even discussed the difficulties in the acceptance of God.

But some later Samkhya philosophers have condemned God on this very issue. As Prof. Max Mullar has rightly pointed out, “This system is then without a creator or personal maker of the world, but if we call it therefore as atheistic, we should have applied the same name to Newton’s systems of the world, and Darwin’s theory of evolution, though we know that both Newton and Darwin were thoroughly religious men.”

Besides, Kapila has also expressed faith in the Vedas. Hence, in spite of the secondary importance of God in Samkhya, it cannot be called atheistic. The latter Samkhyas are, however, atheistic. Similarly, the early Yoga philosophy has given only a pragmatic place to God, while the later Yoga philosophers have developed arguments in support of His existence. Thus, in the early form of Samkhya and Yoga, there is not much antagonism on the question of God; but in their later form there has been much discussion on this subject.

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