The Philosophy Behind Yoga
The word yoga conveys a series of physical exercises designed to set man into a state of trance. It also conveys as a type of physical exercise aimed at bringing out the body’s latent physical potentialities, enhancing man’s control over his mind. In fact, however yoga is a well developed philosophical teaching, with highly original components of its own.
Classical yoga dates back from Patanjali’s treatise, the yoga-sutra, which contains all the basic teaching. They were later developed by a host of subsequent writers. All these writings elaborate the terminologies of Yoga, providing more information for better understanding of certain excerpts from this sutra. – a collection of aphorisms relating to some aspect of the conduct of life.
The Sankhya and yoga schools are traditionally regarded as complementary systems in India. Indeed, many of the propositions of the Sankhya school (the teaching concerning the twenty-five elements) are also accepted by the yoga school. Nevertheless Yoga philosophers were inclined to regard these as secondary aspects of their doctrine, while they concentrated their attention on psychology, the theory of knowledge and practical methods for achieving psychophysical control over the body. In addition, the Yoga philosophers announced theirs to be a theistic school, a claim not made by the Sankhya school.
The interpretation of psychological aspects is considered to be the most important contribution made by Yoga to the history of Indian philosophy. The most vital of these is chitta – the mind. According to Patanjali, chitta is an empirical fact, although it expresses something more than the simple reproduction of specific states of the individual. It is assumed that its inner nature remains unchanged and all manifestations of the individual’s psyche are no more than modifications. The chitta acts and lives in accordance with the real laws of material world’s existence. However the states of man accessible to direct observation are seen as its distorted development, a deviation from one’s own original essence. Practically, manifested mental conditions are referred to as kleshas (sufferings).
Patanjali lists five sufferings: The first one being Avidya (ignorance) that finds expression in man’s predisposition to see the inconstant as constant, and the transitory as eternal. The second, asmita is the equation of the ego with man’s physical body and his individual psychological attributes. This reflects a trend that can be traced back to the Upanishads. The third klesha – raga- consists of a thirst for pleasure, delights and success in life. It is countered by dvesha – hatred for everything which stands in the way of pleasure. At the end of the list comes abhinivesa- an instinctive love of life and fear of losing it.
All in all, study of this original philosophical system makes it possible to elucidate more effectively the complex development of the correlations between the various trends in the philosophical thought of ancient India. At he same time it brings out the close link between philosophy and the achievements of certain scientific disciplines. ‘The eightfold path of Yoga’ could not have come into being without advances in the spheres of anatomy, physiology and psychology.