Brief Alternative History of Yoga*

Via on Apr 19, 2010

sri_ramakrishna[1]

Shri Ramakrishna

It is time we take fresh look at the history of our yoga practices. The historical view of yoga in the West has been dominated by writers such as Georg Feuerstein and David Frawley. Their version of yogic history, which claims that Archaic Yoga originated in the Vedas, has become the accepted norm in the Western yoga community. In this outline, specially created for the research junkies and philosophers out there, I challenge this view by asserting that yoga is primarily a Tantric path and originated within the ancient Dravidian culture of India.

Steeped in religious dogmas, especially against women and the lower castes, the Vedic ritualistic tradition of India has often held a stranglehold on cultural life. In contrast, Tantra has been a rather liberal path and  much less influenced by the dogmas and superstitions of the Vedas. Even though one may find superstitions within the Tantric tradition as well, the inner essence of Tantra, represented by its yogic practices, are subtle arts and sciences, free of dogma and superstition.

Broadly speaking, Tantra and Yoga are the same paths of spiritual practice. The history of Yoga is therefore largely synonymous with the history of Tantra.  In the words of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Tantra “predates all of the world’s existing religions and provides the esoteric basis on which many of these religions were later based. A few thousand years after its creation, Tantra was wedded with the philosophy of Vedanta by the [Vedic] Aryans to form the system of yoga which is quite popular today.”

Tantra: the path that liberates us from bondage (etymological meaning); a path of spiritual liberation, the body-mind-spirit science of Yoga, also termed Raja Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, or broadly referred to as Shaivism. Practice: meditation, ethics, yoga asanas, chanting. Archetype: the yogi.

Yoga: to unite (etymological meaning), the union of individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness (Shiva’s Tantric definition), the suspension of mental propensities (Patanjali’s Yoga definition); the goal of Tantra; the practice of meditation and asanas.

Veda: philosophical and religious scriptures. Practice: rituals and chanting. Archetype: the priest.

The cultural history of India is the intermarriage of the traditions of Veda and Tantra. These two ancient wisdom paths form the foundation of Indian culture and its many sacred traditions. The earliest Veda, the Rigveda, originated outside India among the Aryans before they began arriving in India around 5000 BCE during the time of Shiva. This migration, which spanned hundreds, if not thousands, of years, has been genetically dated by Dr. Spencer Wells and documented in books by Shri Shri Anandamurti, Dr. Lalan Prasad Singh, N. N. Bhattacharyya, and others. The Atharvaveda, Samaveda, and Yajurveda were composed in India. The Atharvaveda is strongly influenced by Tantra.

Samkhya (oral teaching from 1500 BCE, literature from 200 CE): propounded by Maharishi Kapil, this Tantric philosophy forms the philosophical basis for the practice of Ayurveda and also Asthanga Yoga. Samkhya is also often referred to as Kapilasia Tantra.

Upanishads (7-500 BCE): Often called the Fifth Veda, these scriptures contain the subtle philosophy of the yogis and Vedic priests who practiced Tantra. Thus the Upanishads is an expression of the marriage of Tantra and Veda. Various philosophical schools of Yoga, such as Vedanta and Advaita, are also expressions of this sacred marriage.

Kashmiri Tantra: The oral tradition is at least 4000 years old; the philosophical literature originated during the Middle Ages. An expression of the blend of Veda and Tantra, Kashmiri Tantra is a nondualist tradition, unlike the dualist Samkhya Tantra and Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.

Comparison between the yoga cosmologies of Tantra, Samkhya and Vedanta: In Tantra there are three cosmological realities, Brahma (Supreme Consciousness) and its two inherent qualities, Purusha (Cosmic Consciousness, also termed Shiva) and Prakrti (Comsic Energy, also termed Maya or Shakti). In Samkhya, there is only Purusha and Prakrti and the latter has a dominant role and is the cause of creation. Samkhya is thus dualist. In Vedanta, Brahma is the ultimate reality, while Prakrti (Maya) is unreal.

If we compare the dualist Samkhya and the nondualist Vedanta to Tantra, the latter creates a cosmology of balance, which we may term nondualist-dualistic-nondualism. In Tantra, creation flows from the Oneness of Brahma into the world of diversity and, through spiritual practice and enlightenment, back to Brahma’s Oneness. Tantra does not see the world as unreal and an illusion as in Vedanta (nondualism), nor does it view Nature (Prakrti) as the sole source of creation as in Samkhya (dualism). In Tantra, Brahma is the source and ultimate cause of creation, and through its ever-united expressions, Purusha and Prakriti, the creation of the universe takes place.

According to Tantra, the world is not an illusion but rather a physical expression of the non-physical, absolute and infinite Cosmic Consciousness. Hence, the brilliance of Tantra is that it both transcends and includes dualism in its nondualist-dualistic-nondualism philosophy.

Brief Alternative Outline of the History of Yoga

Proto-Tantra Period (9-5000 BCE)

Rudimentary forms of shamanistic Tantra practiced by Dravidians and Mongolians. Proto-Tantric city complex established at Mehrgarh around 6000 BCE.

Classical Tantra Originates (5000 BCE)

Agama and Nigama, the philosophical and practical teachings, are given by Shiva and his wife Parvati. Shiva introduces concept of Dharma—the path of spirituality and righteousness. He also introduces yogic and Tantric meditation techniques, including asanas, pranayama, dharana, pratyahara, and dhyan. Tantra spreads to other parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Shiva systematizes Ayurvedic and Tantric medicine. Dhanvantari, the mythological god of Ayurveda, was in fact Shiva’s main apprentice.

Tantric Civilization Period (5-2000 BCE

Tantric civilization established in Kota, Rajasthan. Shiva establish city in Kashi (Benares), on the banks of the river Ganges. The Dravidians establish Tantra-oriented civilization in the Indus Valley region. People worship the Mother Goddess and also the Father God (Pashupati). Tantric yogis understand these expressions as Shakti and Shiva, the dual nature of Brahma. Assimilation between Vedic Aryans and Tantric Dravidyans takes place, but not always peacefully.

Tantric Transition Period (2000 BCE)

Shiva Tantra transforms into two branches, the Gaodiya and the Kashmiri Schools. The Gaodiya School was popular in East India and only marginally influenced by the Vedas. The Kashmiri school was more philosophical and Vedic in orientation.

The Tantric and Vedic Period (1500 BCE-500 BCE)

1500 BCE—Krishna Krishna of Mahabharata fame formulates three branches of yoga—action (Karma), devotion (Bhakti) and knowledge (Jyana). His teachings greatly influences the later school of Vaishnava Tantra. Yudhistira, a disciple of Krishna, popularizes the Tantric practice of pranayama, or breathing exercises. Tantric and yogic teachings spread all over the Far East. The Bhagavat Gita, the teachings of Krishna, mentions the Eightfold path of Yoga.

Samkhya 1500-200 BCE Introduced by the world’s first philosopher, Maharishi Kapil around 1500 BCE and composed in writing around 200 BCE. Also termed Kapilasa Tantra, after its founder, Samkhya is today widely known as the philosophical basis of Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing system.

Upanishads 700-200 BCE The intuitional science of the Upanishads are an expression of the unification of Tantric Yoga and Vedic philosophy and gave birth to many of the fundamental spiritual insights of the Indian wisdom traditions.

Classical Yoga Originates 200 BCE

Inspired by both Tantra and Samkhya philosophy, Patanjali systematizes important aspects of Tantra into the eightfold path of Asthanga Yoga: yama and niyama (ethics), asanas (hatha yoga exercises), pratyahara (withdrawal yoga), dharana (concentration yoga), pranayama (breath yoga) and Samadhi (spiritual union, the goal of yoga). The idea that Brahma comprises both Shiva and Shakti was now widely accepted and consummated in the Ardha-Narishvara, an idol depicting half a man (Shiva) and half a woman (Shakti).

Tantra Renaissance Period (100-1500 CE)

100 CE—Tirumular Shiva Tantra adept from South India. Proponent of Bhakti Yoga and the author of the famed Tirumantiram, considered one of the greatest yogic canons of all time.

400-1200 CE—Tantra Shastras Most of the important Tantric texts based on the oral tradition were written in this period, and thus to many scholars this was the “Tantric era” of Indian spirituality, but in reality the Tantric age started in 5000 BCE and lasted for thousands of years. Such texts include the Kularnava Tantra and the Mahanirvana Tantra as well as the many works by Kashmir Tantrics.

600 CE—Age of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Tantra begins. Both Buddha and Mahavira (founder of the Jain religion) were disciples of the Tantric teacher Gosala, and over time, both Buddhism and Jainism were strongly influenced by Tantra. Tantra Shastras are written and influence various schools of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Shiva Tantra evolves into five branches, or Paincha Tantra: 1. Shiva Tantra, 2. Vaishnava Tantra, 3. Shakta Tantra, 4. Ganapatya Tantra, 5. Saora Tantra. Famous Buddhist Tantric yogis from this period and onward include: Naropa, Milarepa, Saraha, Prahevajra, Je Tsong Khapa and Wanchuchuk Dorje.

800 CE—Yoga Vashista This great Tantric yogi returns from China where he had learned the subtle practice of Tantra meditation. (Tantra had migrated to China thousands of years earlier and was termed Taota) His esoteric teachings on Tantric meditation and philosophy are compiled in the book, Yoga Vashista.

900 CE—Abinava Gupta This Tantric Renaissance man revives Kashmir Shaivism, lays the foundation of Indian aesthetics, and writes an encyclopedia on nondualist Tantra.

1000 CE—Kularnava Tantra This seventeen chapter work contains over 2000 verses and is considered one of the most important Tantric texts.

1000-1200 CE—The Nathas develop Hatha Yoga. The founder of this movement, Matsyendranath, was a Shiva Tantric whose main disciple, Gorakshanath, systematized and further advanced the practices of Hatha Yoga.

1100 CE—Mahanirvana Tantra. Considered by some as the most important of the Hindu Tantric scriptures, this fourteen- chapter text defines yoga in accordance with Shiva’s teachings as the union of individual self (Jivatman) with the Cosmic Self (Paramatman).

1271-1296 CE—Jnaneshvar A genius Renaissance man and Tantric adept, Jnaneshvar composed the Gitagovinda at the age of 19, an epic poem reenacting the Bhagavad Gita. Merging the Vaisnava movement with Kashmir Shiva Tantra, Jnaneshvar created a popular Bhakti movement in north India. The nineteenth century sage Ramana Maharishi called him the “king of saints.”

1500 CE—Caetanya Mahaprabhu A Tantric adept, Caetanya is undoubtedly the most well known and celebrated Bhakti yogis of India.

Modern Tantra and Yoga Period 1800-2000 CE

1800-2000 CE Teachers Influenced by Tantra While all teachers of Yoga are influenced by Tantra, these teachers have a direct tie to this ancient tradition: Paramahansa Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Shivananda, Ananda Moi Ma, Nityananda Avadhuta, Swami Laksman Joo, Swami Ram Thiirtha, and Swami Muktananda. Contemporary Budhiist Tantric teachers include HH Dali Lama, Lama Yeshe, Tulku Rgyen Rinpoche, and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.

1914 CE John Woodroffe The seminal book The Principles of Tantra is first published. Woodroffe’s second classic on Tantra, The Serpent Power, was published in 1918.

(1888-1988 CE Krishnamacarya) Revived and reinvented Hatha Yoga and influenced the dynamic yoga series of Pattabhi Jois, the refined alignments of B.K.S. Iyengar, the classical postures of Indra Devi, the customized vinyasa of Viniyoga, and many other styles.

(1918- CE B.K.S. Iyengar) A student of Krishnamacarya, Iyengar published the seminal book Light on Yoga in 1966, which has inspired and educated hatha yogis all over the world. His teachings has greatly influenced the yoga fitness culture in the West and given birth to many styles of yoga.

1921-1990 CE— Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii. Anandamurtii synthesized the main features of Shiva’s and Krishna’s original Tantric teachings, which incorporates Ashtanga Yoga, Rahadhiraja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and the essence of the Five Schools of Tantra. He developed a comprehensive system and philosophy of Tantra Yoga for the current era outlined in traditional Tantric sutras called Ananda Sutram. His philosophy epitomizes the most sublime aspects of Tantric Yoga with the best of the Vedas—a synthesis of the practice of Tantric Yoga with the philosophy of the Upanishads.

*Many dates are approximate. Moreover, the list of teachers and written sources gives only a brief and selective outline of the vast history of Tantra and Yoga.

Short Bibliography

Anandamurti, Shrii Shrii, Namami Shiva Shantaya, AM Publications, Calcutta, 1992

Ibid, Discourses on Tantra, Volume 1 and 2, AM Publications, Calcutta, 1994

Ibid, Yoga Sadhana: The Spiritual Practice of Yoga,  AM Publications, Kolkata, 2010

Anandamitra, Acarya, The Spiritual Philosophy of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti: A Commentary on Ananda Sutram, Ananda Marga Publications, Kolkata, 1998

Bhattacharyya, N. N., The History of the Tantric Religion, Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 1981

Danielou, Alain, Shiva and the Primordial Tradition, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 2003

Ibid, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 1992

Feuerstein, Georg, Encyclopedia of Yoga, Shambhala, Boston,

Singh Prasad, Lalan, Tantra: Its Mystic and Scientific Basis, Concept Publishing Company, Delhi, 1976

Satyananda Saraswati, Swami, Meditations from the Tantras, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, 1974

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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18 Responses to “Brief Alternative History of Yoga*”

  1. vakibs says:

    I am afraid you have got your order jumbled up, Ramesh.. Samkhya is generally considered in India to be the oldest of all the philosophical systems, and with good reason. Every other system "refers" to Samkhya terms and either elaborates or criticizes ideas of Samkhya : such as prakriti, purusha, three gunas etc..

    In the Indian cultural tradition itself, Samkhya is considered very ancient, somewhere lost in the mists of time. The literary evidence of Samkhya as you have mentioned (either 1500 BC or 200 BC) just gives an upper limit to the possible date. But the real date can be much much older. The popular Samkhya text : Samkhya-karika is written only in 200 AD, but it is only a very later interpretation of an ancient philosophical system. Further, Samkhya-karika mentions clearly that Samkhya is Tantra, and any literary / archeological evidence of Tantra should be considered as also referring to Samkhya.

    The actual philosophical ideas of Samkhya itself are numerical / mathematical in inspiration. They have no doubt influenced the later scientific and mathematical developments of India : including arithmetic (counting with zeros), geometry, trigonometry, ayurveda etc. Some of these developments have an earlier date to the Vedas, going straight into the Indus valley civilization. For example, evidence for surgery and dental surgery is present in the Indus valley civilization itself. The latter medicinal texts of Charaka and Sushruta are only elaborations of more ancient techniques. The advances of mathematics (as influenced by Samkhya system of enumeration) have also left behind architectural monuments : the standardization of measurements in the Mohenzodaro city, for example.

    The influence of Samkhya philosophy on Tantra is right on the face, on the various yantras and mandalas, yogic postures etc. But there is a deep influence of Samkhya even on the Vedas and Upanishads. The Hindu trinity of gods : Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are just the Infinity represented with respect to the 3 gunas of samkhya. This is why they are called guna-avatars (manifestations of gunas), as opposed to Nirguna Brahman (absolute without any qualities). Upanishads are a philosophical commentary written in the language of Samkhya (purusha and prakriti, and the interplay between the two). They express very divergent views : sometimes granting purusha the primary importance, and sometimes prakriti, and sometimes negating both ! They are a series of philosophical debates of sages highly learned in the principles of Samkhya. Even the Vedas are influenced considerably by Samkhya (for example, the purusha-sukta is a direct reference to the purusha of samkhya).

    The right order would be Samkhya -> Vedas and Samkhya -> Yoga (Tantra). These two systems produced two religions : Brahmanic (vedic) and Shramanic (tantric / yogic). Buddhism and Jainism finally emerged out of the Shramanic tradition. And the Vedic tradition produced the epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Upanishads.

    • Ramesh says:

      I am well aware that Samkhya is the oldest philosophy, not only in India, but in the world. Kapila lived at the time of Krishna, 1500 BC but Kapilasya Tantra, as Samkhya is also called, is basically a Shaiva Tantric philosophy and based on the Tantric system that is much older than that. Everything else you write I basically also agree with, except your historical chronology in the last paragraph. The Rigveda is the oldest and was partly composed outside India before the Vedic Aryans arrived. The arrival of the Aryans has been proven by genetic science to be about 6-5000 BC. The other 3 Vedas were composed in India. When we speak of Vedas, we must distinguish between the ritualistic (these early Vedas basically) and the philosophical (the Upanishads and the Brahmanas) which came much later around 1500-400 BC. Tantra is much older than Samkhya according to my sources, but I do not want to repeat myself. So here I respectfully disagree.

      • vakibs says:

        Hmm.. This is an interesting point. You would like to say that Tantra could have existed as a practical system without the philosophical backing of Samkhya ? That is possible, but would be extremely curious indeed.. How can somebody figure out such complex chakras or medicinal system be developed without having a solid philosophical understanding ?

        This is why I would like to push Samkhya (or at least some primitive version of it) to an earlier date. The sage Kapila need not even have spoken an Aryan language, he just needs to have been an inhabitant of the cities of the Indus valley. The reason why I think so is because of the mathematical complexity of Samkhya philosophy. Personally, I am interested in the connections between the Samkhya system and the positional system of counting with zeros. The earliest evidence for such a positional system is available from Babylon, a city with which the Indus people traded extensively. It is possible that this mathematical knowledge percolated into the Indus valley, and then influenced both science and philosophy in this region.

        The Vedic Aryans, if they were indeed coming from outside, would be a very lucky people to have stepped into the philosophical goldmine that is the Indus valley.

        The Rig Veda also contains various mathematical ideas : the squaring of a circle, prime numbers, numbers related to recursion (such as 108 = 1^1 * 2^2 * 3^3) etc. This is why I think all the Vedas should have been composed in India. The Vedic Aryans, if they were outsiders, probably learnt about everything from the Indus valley people.. Such knowledge is very unlikely to have belonged to a pastoral people.

        • Ramesh says:

          Vakibs, As you know, both the Vedas and the Tantras were preserved as slokas and sutras in the oral tradition for a long time during the prehistoric era of humanity. The four early Vedas are primarily ritualistic teachings and contain slokas used to intervene between humans and the Gods. In Tantra the Agama and Nigama teachings, the questions asked by Parvati and the answers given by Shiva, contain some early philosophical teachings and explanations of Tantra practice, but the primary teachings were practical lessons taught from guru to disciple.

          Some of those teachings are found in the Atharvaveda, in certain portions, which also shows how Tantra influenced the early Vedas as well. these were never written down. I have personally been initiated in six various tantric lesson, non of which has ever been written down anywhere, yet they are 7000 years old or more. It is said in tantra that it is 99 percent practical and only 1 percent theoretical. So, Samkhya is the first attempt at formulate a full-fledged philosophy based on Tantra. The only difference perhaps between Kapila and Shivas Agama teachings is that his was a nondual teaching and taught the relationship between jiva and paramatman from the beginning, whereas Samkhya is dualistic. For thousands of years earlier, people were not using a sophisticated philosophy. The four Vedas are not a full-fledged philosophy either. As I mentioned above, the early Vedas were concerned with ritual practice and chanting mostly. The philosophical Vedas came about later in the Upanishads and Brahmanas, when script was readily available and when humanity expressed the need for such works. Thus it is said the Vedas are of two parts, ritualistic and philosophical. In addition, the Samaveda contains musical compositions…

  2. vakibs says:

    Also, Brahma (masculine gender) is very different from Brahman (neuter gender). The Absolute without any qualities is termed as Brahman, whereas Brahma is merely a creator figurehead in whose awareness the unvierse exists and who suffers a cycle of births and deaths along with the universe.

    The word Brahman itself comes from the root Brh which means "to grow". That which grows forever from zero to infinity is Brahman. It is, at the same time, zero and infinity – it is a paradox and is not comprehensible by any logical means. When we separate these polarities into observer / observed or male / female, they yield a language that can be used for describing it (often in myths which involve paradox). This language is what is provided by the Samkhya philosophy. And every other philosophical system that originated in India has used this language to express its views.

    • Ramesh says:

      Vakibs, In many texts I have seen Brahma also used for the impersonal, such as in:
      brahma, brahman-. Senses 2 and 3, from Sanskrit brāhmaṇa-, Brahmanic, from brahmā, brahmaṇ-, Brahman.
      Also, in the Gita it says:
      Brahmárpanaḿ Brahmahavir Brahmágnao Brahmańáhutam.
      Brahmaeva tena gantavyaḿ Brahmakarma samádhiná.

      Moreover, I have always assumed that the difference between "Brahma" (with no uci) and "Brahman" was simply one of noun declension.
      Here is how they are used as synonyms:
      Dictionary: Brah·man (brä'mən)

      n.
      also Brah·ma (-mə) Hinduism.
      . . .
      . . .
      The single absolute being pervading the universe and found within the individual; atman.
      "Brahma"/"Brahman" should of course not be confused with "Brahma'" (uci) or "Bra'hmana", as already mentioned by you and Didi. "Bra'hmana" may be spelled in English as "Brahman" or "Brahmin".

  3. vakibs says:

    I challenge this view by asserting that yoga is primarily a Tantric path and originated within the ancient Dravidian culture of India.

    It is true that the Tantric path has origins in the Indus valley civilization. But which language did these people speak ?

    I am a native speaker of a Dravidian language (Telugu). And I find it's telling that there's hardly any native words that we use when discussing Tantric / Yogic concepts. All these words in my language are derivations from Sanskrit.

    Secondly, there is hardly any evidence in the southern parts of India of Tantric / Yogic emblems or statues from the age of Indus valley civilizations. If the people of the Indus valley were speaking Dravidian languages, it seems they didn't exist any further south of India, and only migrated en masse at a much later date. But this theory is troublesome because the largest linguistic diversity of Dravidian languages occurs in the western ghat region of South India.

    It is exactly the argument from linguistic diversity (that the biggest diversity of the Indo-European speakers exists in the region of Caucusus mountains) which is used to deny that Sanskrit / Prakrit is a language that is not native to India. So which language did the Indus valley people speak ? No idea. It is why this question is so mysterious.

    • Ramesh says:

      Even though the earliest Dravidyans spoke their own tongue, Dravidian, that language gradually became influenced by Sanskrit in the North. The people of Bhalukistan (in Pakistan/Afghanistan) speak Brahui, which is similar to Dravidyan, which shows that there are people in the North of India/Pakistan still speaking an old form of Dravidian. These people go back 6000 years.
      So the sacred language of Tantra was Sanskrit from an early time, that is why sacred texts are in Sanskrit not Dravidyan… Sanskrit is a language of the yogis and the phonetics of Sanskrit is all yogic science. The alphabet of Sanskrit is based on the sounds of the chakras….

  4. Ramesh says:

    Vakibs, here are some scholarly comments from a friend and scholar on Brahma vs Brahman:
    Every Sanskrit noun or adjective has a stem-form or nominal base called the
    prátipadika. In this case, Brahman is the prátipadika, while the nominative
    singular is Brahma. The word is neuter in gender. There exist two common
    conventions for representing a noun/adj.: in the prátipadika form, or as
    declined in the nominative singular. Some dictionaries choose one convention
    and some the other (Monier-Williams lists prátipadikas; Apte lists the
    nominative singular for nouns, prátipadikas for adjectives). This problem
    extends beyond dictionaries; should we talk about yogins or yogiis (yogin
    being the prátipadika, yogii the masculine nominative singular)? It seems to
    me that P. R. Sarkar was consistent in referring to Sanskrit words in their
    nominative singular form, unless making a grammatical point. Hence we
    speak of Brahma, the neuter nominative singular, rather than
    Brahman. Most contemporary scholars are in the habit of using the
    prátipadika forms, especially outside of India, while the conventions in
    popular literature vary.

    In this case, one issue to note is that the word for the supreme entity,
    Brahman/Brahma, when declined in the masculine gender, means something else:
    the Hindu deity Brahmá (this is the masculine nominative singular). The two
    words share the same prátipadika. If one uses no diacritical marking (the
    ucii, á), the two words are indistinguishable in the nominative singular.

  5. Wow, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get something done.

  6. [...] > A brief alternative history of yoga. [...]

  7. [...] symbols. Her black complexion symbolizes her all-embracing and transcendental nature. Says the Mahanirvana Tantra: “Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her.” Her [...]

  8. [...] of the classic Indian works is the centuries old Avadhut Gita, written by the sage [...]

  9. Mallikarjun says:

    fantastic article and equally high quality dialogue.
    loved reading it.

  10. Ramesh says:

    Hi Yogasciguy,

    you are right, and I did not imply, that Feuerstein and Frawley represent a western scholarly consensus on the history of yoga. However, they do hold the mainstream view within the Western yoga community. Their history line is used by Yoga Journal, the video Yoga Unveiled and most prominent writers on yoga. Their view actually conflicts in many ways with academic scholars. In truth there are at least three views in the West: F and F's view, the academic view and the view that I have presented. The yoga community and the academic community largely share the view that Tantra started during the common era, a few hundred years after Christ. The obvious limitation with that view is that it is mainly based on certain scriptures and a disregard for the oral tradition and those scriptures (the puranas and some tantras, for example) which favors a Tantric or Shaiva view of Indian history. Even though Feuerstein in his book on Tantra (Shambhala, 1998) highlights the common Hindu understanding that Indian culture can be divided into the Vedic and Tantric currents of spirituality, he never really explores this idea far enough. That is the "mistake" most Western writers have made. One need to spend time in India and explore texts and oral sources not so easily accessible in the West to fully appreciate the complexity of that ancient culture.

    I can appreciate your hesitation in equating yoga and tantra, either spiritually or historically. I had the same trouble for some years. But a simple concept such as Tantra Yoga, which is another word for Raja Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga will make that leap much more plausible. Indeed, it is not much of a leap. The various concepts and schools, often conceal a thinly veiled common source, which also goes by many names, Tantra, Shaivism, Shiva Tantra, etc.

    I am not relying solely on Swami Satyananda's authority in making this equation–there are numerous writers, scholars and sages who make the same conclusion–Danielou, Bhattacarya, Prasad Lalan Singh, Anandamurti, Mokherjii, to name just a few.

    What we term Yoga in the West, did not originate as a unique school or tradition in a vacuum. It grew out of a specific cultural context shaped by the commingling of Veda and Tantra, and it was the Tantric or Shaiva tradition which fed Patanjali and those who came after him the sublime yogic practices we have come to love today. Patanjali mainly systematized (in writing) oral teachings that had existed in India as Tantra for several milennia. This I have come to learn and conclude after spending several years in India meeting with scholars and sages, receiving secret initiations and in the past 6 years studying linguistics, archeology, the spiritual traditions, genetics, mythology, scriptures, etc.

    So the quote I used from Satyananda Saraswati is not solely repeated on faith (I am aware that he is not an historian, of course), but rather as a summary of my scholarly conclusions.

    Finally, by equating Yoga and Tantra, both historically and spiritually, I am aware that I am making a broad generalization, but one that is important to make, because there are historical facts to base it on.
    Ramesh

  11. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Howdy again Yogasciguy: I ordered Light at the Center today. I'll let you know what I think after reading it…

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