Yoga philosophy is invariably tied to Hinduism. Well, there is no concrete evidence that links pre-modern yoga to Hunduism as its origin, but relatively early in its creation, it was appropriated by various schools of Hinduism. Though many Western practitioners of Yoga correlate its philosophies with Buddhism, there are pronounced differences. For example, Buddhism asserts that there is no self or soul, while Yogic philosophy is carefully attentive to a person's soul. (1) Claims that the Yoga we practice now is an "ancient" tradition is not actually true:
- We don't know what the ancient traditions were.
- Those tradition that we do know are not quite similar to those branches of yoga that make the claim of being ancient.
It is most closely related to the Samkhya
school of Hinduism, an enumerationist (rigidly ordering/numbering principles) school regarded as one of the rationalist schools of Indian philosophy. Samkhya is also strongly dualist -- believing the universe consists of two realities, consciousness and matter -- and adheres to three specific proofs as the only reliable means of gaining knowledge: Perception, Inference, and testimony of reliable sources. (3) These aspects of philosophy are shared by Yoga.
Yogic philosophy takes a Realistic Phenomenological
point of view toward life. "Jiva" (a living thing), is considered to be a phenomenon of consciousness meeting with matter, expressing itself in various senses, feelings, and activity of mind. When one of these elements overwhelms the others, imbalance is created.
A central concept in Samkhya-Yoga philosophy that ties it to Yogic practice is "Moksha": liberation, or, the end of bondage. The clear delineation between the schools of Yoga and Samkhya are thus: while Samkhya believes that knowledge is a sufficient path to moksha, Yoga additionally incorporates systematic techniques and practice, including of the body, hence the the Yogic practice we all know. (4)
While the origins of the Yoga school of Hinduism are unclear, we know it is possibly very old. Some of its earliest discussions are found in the 1st millenium BCE from Indian texts like the Katha Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, and the Maitri Upanishad. (5) The first mention of "Yoga" as we call it is from a hymn in the Rigveda, one of Hinduism's four canonical sacred texts. It is mentioned in conjunction with a dedication to the rising Sun-god in the morning. Hence, the modern adaptations of sun salutation.
However, this old mention of Yoga is only that: a mention. We do not have any evidence of Yoga philosophy with its current meaning or context until about the 2nd century BCE, when parallels among the Samkhya school, Yoga, and Abhidharma schools of thought emerge.
The school of Yoga's ideas are largely found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. As this text circulated in the first half of the first millennium CE, many Indian scholars reviewed and annotated it, propagating the school of philosophy and cementing it into history.
In Yogic philosophy, a living being is the meeting of two realities: pure consciousness devoid of thoughts or qualities, and an empirical, phenomenal, material reality. Present in different proportions in all beings are 3 different Gunas (tendencies or attributes): goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and darkness (tamas). Yoga asserts that a person's psychological disposition is a result of the proportions of these 3 Gunas, always in flux.
When sattva guna predominates an individual, the qualities of lucidity, wisdom, constructiveness, harmonious, and peacefulness manifest themselves; when rajas is predominant, attachment, craving, passion-driven activity and restlessness manifest; and when tamas predominates in an individual, ignorance, delusion, destructive behavior, lethargy, and suffering manifests. The guṇas theory underpins the philosophy of mind in Yoga school of Hinduism. (6)
Yoga has most in common with Buddhism the belief that the root of suffering is ignorance, which perpetuates samsara, the cycle of life and death. The Yoga Sutras is a treatise on how to accomplish liberation. Liberation in Yogic philosophy is thought to be eternal, an irreversible state of moksha.
Yoga philosophy allows the concept of God, unlike the non-theistic Samkhya school. God is a personal concept in Yoga philosophy and left quite open to interpretation. Some followers of Yogic philosophy view the Isvara as a sort of god, Isvara being that special self that is unaffected by one's experiences, actions, hardships, etc. (7)