The circumstances leading to the birth of ‘Yoga’ (Book Excerpt)

Jun 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Excerpts

Around 800-500 B.C. in India, there is evidence that growing discontent with Vedic ritualism led to the development of the Aranyakas and the Upanishads, a way of thought and philosophy leading to a fundamental shift from ritual worship of multiple Gods to some of the most profound questions about Man’s relationship with the cosmos. This was also the period leading to the development of Buddhism and Jainism in India. At the same time, Greek philosophy, Confucianism and Taoism in China , and Zoroastrianism in Persia were developing elsewhere.

The following excerpt outlines this important juncture in Indian spiritual history outlining the circumstances leading to the birth of Yoga in the book :
[openbook booknumber=”080913845X” templatenumber=”2″]

“In search of a unitary explanation to replace the sheer multiplicity of powers that seems to characterise the Vedic world view, the Upanishads begin to move toward a more unitary worldview. What is the ultimate reality? They asked : What is the self ? Is there a faculty within the self that explains what appear to be uniquely human abilities and needs? They began to craft the word ‘atman‘ (“breath,” later meaning “soul”) into a technical term for the indestructible core of the self, and used the word ‘brahman’ to refer to the Ultimate Reality beyond even the gods themselves. Thus they began to work out a way of understanding the relationship between the individual person and ultimate reality.

“Authors of the Upanishads shared with the early Buddhists the view that life in this world was hardly a worthy ultimate goal; there must be a way out of the impasse that was this dead-end suffering. Ritual karma alone would surely get you nowhere, but there must be some positive potential to human action. In tandem with the concept, by then well established, of the possibility of endless rebirths (samsara), they fashioned the theory that there must be a state beyond waking, dreaming, and even dreamless sleep, in which the self can break free of enslavement to action, in which one experiences simple oneness. Out of their speculation emerged the concept of the intimate relationship between brahman and atman, to be realized not through karma but through knowledge (jnana), achievable through the techniques known collectively as yoga. The expression “You are that (reality)” sums up the basic insight. Later tradition came to identify the Upanishads as the culmination or “end of the Vedas” (vedanta).

John Raynard

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