Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?

Via on May 12, 2010


It has become common dogma in Western yoga circles to subscribe to the idea that yoga originally comes from the Vedas and that the Aryans, who developed these ancient scriptures, are indigenous to India.

The main proponents of these ideas are prolific yoga scholars Georg Feuerstein and David Frawley.

Their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, which seeks to demonstrate that the Aryans are indigenous to India and advanced everything great about Indian culture, including yoga, Vedic Astrology, Ayurveda, has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra.

Here’s the irony in all this: These eminent writers have thus, perhaps unwittingly, aligned themselves with some of the most extreme elements in modern India, the Hindu nationalists, who want to prove that Hindu Aryanism is indigenous to India and that anybody who attempts to disprove this idea is a racist and a bigot.

Warning: This whole debate is complicated, often heated, and rather one-sided, at least from the point of view of those who beg to differ.

That is, those researchers and writers, like myself, who present the view that ancient India was populated by peoples who had already developed yoga and tantra when the Aryans started arriving and that the clash of these two civilizations—the Vedic and the Tantric—is what has formed India’s cultural heritage.

Just imagine this: India had already developed cities, rice growing and great communal baths around 5,000 BC. And this was the time, according to genetic science, the nomadic Aryans arrived in India. A classical clash of two cultures ensued—one nomadic and, at times, rather violent, one agrarian and, to a great extent, quite peaceful.

So, yes, there is an alternative perspective to the one Chopra and the Hindu nationalists subscribes to: the Aryans came from outside India and brought with them the Rikveda, the first oral text of the four Vedas (a book in which you will find no information about yoga asanas or mantra meditation but a lot about prayers to conciliate the thunder god and the sun god as well as plenty of juicy and poetic information about fire rituals and horse sacrifices).

So to sum up: to say that the Aryans were originally indigenous to India is like saying Columbus and his fellow invaders were indigenous to Ohio.

Some questions to think about:

Do you go to a Vedic priest to learn yoga or do you go to a yogi?

Why does Lama Yeshe (a Buddhist tantric) and Swami Satyananda (a Hindu tantric) call yoga a tantric practice?

Why was the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first book on yoga asanas (Yoga and Tantra had been oral traditions for thousands of years before this book was written), written by Tantric yogis and not by Vedic priests?

The answers to these questions are simple: Yoga did not originate in the Vedas, as Chopra claims. Yoga was not really developed by Vedic priests. Rather, yoga was developed by Tantric yogis, some of whom, over time, also happened to be part-time Vedic priests.

Indeed, it is commonly understood in Tantric circles and documented in many books how Vedic priests would practice Tantric yoga in secret at night…

So, over time, there was a cultural blending between the Vedic and Tantric streams of wisdom in India. This blending gave us the great texts of the Gita, the Upanishads as well as Kashmir Tantra, Vedanta, the Yoga Sutras, Samkhya, the great nondual Tantric Renaissance of the Middle Ages, from which much of modern yoga practice originates, etc.

To read more about this alternative view of Indian history and the history of yoga and tantra, please read my other blogs on EJ:

> How old is yoga: a reply to Waylon Lewis

> A brief alternative history of yoga.

For information about genetic research supporting the Aryan migration to India:

Here’s a short summary of this article: Further, this desire by VF/HEF supporters to “prove” by any means that Aryans are “indigenous” people directly relate to their contemporary political agenda back in India of distinguishing the “indigenous Aryan Hindus” from “foreign Muslim and Christian invaders” and thereby characterizing India’s Muslim and Christian minorities as “traitors” that need to be marginalized and persecuted. It is disturbing to witness how dangerously close these Hindu nationalist groups have come to whitewashing California’s school textbooks with their unsavory political agendas.

And here is an article about what award-winning author Arundhati Roy thinks about the nationalist Hindutva movement:

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


97 Responses to “Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?”

  1. Ramesh,

    I think you're assuming knowledge of terms here the average Yoga reader will have no familiarity with, among them "Vedic", "Aryans", and "Hindu Nationalists". I myself understand "Vedic" well, "Aryans" only a little, and have no idea what is "Hindu Nationalism" is, a term your article assumes we know all about. So it's hard for me to relate to your article.

    I wonder if you're being fair to Chopra with your damning headline. Given the fact that I don' know what a Hindu nationalist is, it kind of lacks meaning to me, and probably to others. But it certainly doesn't sound good.

    Could you tell me the specific quotes by Chopra that make him deserve this condemnation? The only references I've heard Chopra make to the Vedas are in conjunction with the Upanishads, which I'm sure you agree are a seminal Yoga text and clearly considered part of the Vedas, although a separate secret appendage apparently.

    If Chopra is saying is that Yoga came from the Upanishads which are part of the Vedas, I don't see why that would arouse your ire. So I assume you have something more specific he has said or written that is clearly historically wrong. I'm interested in knowing what that is, so I can justify your angry-sounding headline.

    I guess I have to ask the same thing about Frawley, who, while a Vedic scholar, describes the roots of Yoga coming from the Upanishads and Tantra in his small book "Yoga–The Greater Tradition". In this book, at least, he doesn't even mention the Aryans. I assume you have some other sources for your displeasure with him, too.


    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Bob, if you read closer, you will find that most of your concerns are addressed in my article. Yes, this is a complex issue, and that is why I added links to my own more detailed article on EJ, one link and a summary of genetic findings, as well as one article by Arundhati Roy. For those interested in this topic, this is a good place to start to investigate this complex issue further.

    As mentioned in my article above, Deepak Chopra endorsed the book by Frawley and Feuerstein in which it is claimed it is racist to think the Vedic Aryans invaded/migrated to India. The book also claims that rudimentary forms of yoga comes solely from these peoples, the Vedic Aryans, who developed the four Vedas. This is whitewashing of India's ancient history. And Deepak Chopra endorsed this book. This view also happens to be the view of the Hindu nationalist movement. I say in my article above that this agreement is "perhaps unwittingly" conceived. This may be the case with Chopra, but not likely the case with Frawley and Feuerstein, who wrote an entire book on the subject.

    What is important is this: the Western yoga movement has subscribed to a view that is not balanced, that is, in many ways, quite biased. Chopra is supporting this bias by endorsing this book. See here:

    All I am doing is trying to present ideas that hopefully can contribute to a more balanced understanding of the history of India as well as the history of yoga.

  3. Hi, Ramesh.

    That's very helpful. What do you thing Feuerstein's and Frawley's motives would be for purposely falsifying history?

    Unless you have a smoking gun motive for this outrage you describe, these two fellows are so well respected and knowledgeable that, faced with a new issue I don't understand and am not willing to spend three days researching, I'd have to lean toward whatever they think, especially if they both agree, since they have very different backgrounds themselves. Chopra is highly knowledgeable in his own right, but I'm sure he feels the same way I do about Feuerstein and Frawley.

    I'm not saying you're wrong. But to believe you instead of them, I'd either have to spend hours of research following all your links, or I'd have to see a clear motive for them to lie, or I'd have to hear the charges from someone I believe more than I believe them.

    If I could make a friendly suggestion. I think you're talking way over our heads here. Well, let me just speak for myself. You're talking way over my head.

    I don't think you can solve that problem by flooding us with links to read. I know you're just trying to educate us, but I think if you want us to understand this important topic you might consider backing up a few steps, tell us more of the basics and selectively quote from your sources instead of giving us lots of links to read. Most of us won't take the time for an issue that hasn't grabbed us yet.

    This appears to be a matter of historical judgment about things that happened thousands of years ago. I'm not surprised there would be a few unresolvable differences of opinion.


    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Bob, whitewashing is sometimes purposeful, sometimes it is done out of ignorance. Most biases are unconscious, thus my use of the word "unwittingly"….

    In this case, I believe it is mainly ignorance and an unwillingness to search for truth outside one's own comfort zone.

    One writer and well known teacher of Ayurveda described these authors as "Brahmin apologists." That is, someone who glosses over the great injustices done to people of the lower caste, people who practice tantra, women, etc. The Vedic legacy of India is replete with such injustices.

    Watch the feature film Water by Deepa Mehta and you'll know what I mean….

    Most of my research on this issue is already in the two articles already on EJ and linked above. If anybody wants more information, I am more than happy to send a 40 page piece I have written on this issue. Or you may read my forthcoming book….

    Frawley and Feuerstein are great writers, no doubt, but they are not historians, and when they attempt to write the history of yoga, they leave out large chunks by furthering a one-sided version of Indian history.

  5. In my opinion, if that's all you've got, you should be more respectful to their excellent reputations and not write about them like they're two-bit hacks without any regard for the truth. Your headline implies that Chopra is supporting some unsavory political movement in India, which most of have no clue about. If you don't intend to create this impression you shouldn't throw out this sort of inflammatory headline.

    Just my opinion. What do you others think? I think I've hammered my good friend Ramesh here enough already! More opinions, please.

  6. Bob, I think you are going a bit overboard here, and you may want to look at why you take this so seriously… :-) I have praised these writers profusely when I think that is what they deserve. I have also created a strong case against some of their assertions… Yes, that is indeed all I've got…. Bob, a case that is supported by many writers and teachers much more reputable than me…..Alain Danielou, N. N. Bathhacarya (both have written extensively on Indian History and tantric yoga in particular), Romila Thapar (historian, well known in India), Swami Satyananda Saraswati (founder Bihar School of Yoga and prolific author), Anandamurti (author of 200 plus books and tantric master), Swami Abhayananda, Dr. Spencer Wells (geneticist with National Geographic), Marshall (archeologist), etc. That a short list of some prominent people who tend to disagree with these two authors. Moreover, most of Western academia disagrees with them, but that is another story altogether. So, yes, that is all I've got, Bob. :-)

  7. Linda-Sama says:

    The Aryan Invasion Theory is just that… a theory and is also controversial. and in any discussion of this, people tend to forget about the Dravidian culture in the south, as in Tamil Nadu, where the genetic markers have been identified as being African.

  8. Linda-Sama says:

    I understand what you are saying, Ramesh, and I am very familiar with Dravidian culture in the south. But I also know that there are other theories about the "Aryan Invasion" — not all people just buy ONE theory.

  9. Mat says:

    Ramesh, Apparently you were writing will I was… The JHG research would correspond roughly, if pushing back seriously at the late end, with your idea of earlier migration. Part of the trouble is that when you start talking about an Aryan invasion, unless you specify otherwise it gets assumed you are talking about the classic academic version you mention — and at the least that part is disproved.

  10. Hey, FYI ya'll, the title was briefly messed up over last hour today, blame is 108% mine. It's more accurate to what Ramesh is discussing, now, again.

  11. Mat says:

    I don't disagree with a word in there either. Hinduism is indeed a conglomerate of everything you list — which I think is part of its genius and attraction. But speaking in English in 2009, when doing so to an audience not necessarily versed in the different strains of Indic thought, belief, and practice, for better or worse Hindu is the term most commonly used, regardless of origin or accuracy.

    Tell 99% of people you come across in the US that you're a Saivite, Vaishnavite, devotee of Devi, tantric yogi, follower of Sanatana Dharma, etc etc and you'll get a blank stare. Tell them you're Hindu and they've got a starting point. Do non-Christians really know the differences between Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, or Unitarian Universalist belief and practice? Do non-Jews notice the differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed? Only when exposed to them for a while and even not then, that often.

    Even if not 100% accurate, foreign imposed (sounds a bit Hindu nationalist to me 😉 ) Hindu is a convenient turn of phrase, even if perhaps we should educate people more about the details of what it means — including that one can adhere to its beliefs without being born into it. But that's another topic.

    At least to me there are more important battles to fight.

  12. Here are some of my genetic and linguistic findings that support the Vedic Aryan migration idea:

    IDr. Spenser Wells states emphatically that there is genetic evidence that “the Aryans came from outside India.” The Rig-Vedic Aryan peoples, he claims, emerged on the southern steppes of Russia and the Ukraine about 5-1, 0000 years ago. From there, they migrated east and south through Central Asia toward India. He further emphasized that “there is clear evidence that there was a heavy migration from the steppes down toward India.” Wells maintains that he does not agree with scholars Frawley and Feuerstein, who claim the Vedic Aryans were the “original inhabitants” of India. To Wells, there is clear genetic evidence that “the Aryans came later, after the Dravidians.”

    A team led by Michael Bamshad of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City compared the DNA of 265 Indian men of different castes with DNA from nearly 750 African, European, Asian and other Indian men. First, they analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which people inherit only from their mothers. When the researchers looked at specific sets of genes that tend to be inherited as a unit, they found that about 20 to 30 percent of the Indian sets resembled those in Europeans. The percentage was highest in upper-caste males, which is logical since the early Aryan settlers were by and large upper-caste Brahmins and Ksyattrias.

    Geneticist Lynn Jorde of the University of Utah claims that "a group of males" was largely responsible for the Aryan invasion. If women had accompanied the invaders, the evidence should be seen in the mitochondrial genes, but it is not evident. The research team found clear evidence that women could be upwardly mobile, in terms of caste, if they married higher-caste men. In contrast, men generally did not move higher, because women rarely married men from lower castes. (16) Since the caste system is still in vogue today, the same practice prevails.

    Studies conducted by the People of India project of the Anthropological Survey of India assigned the entire Indian population to 4,635 ethnic communities and putting together detailed information from over 25,000 individual informants from all over India. They found that there are four major language families in India–Austric, Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan. These languages also correspond to the four main racial groups in India: the Austrics, Dravidians, Aryans and the Mongolians respectively. According to this study, it appears the Indo-European Aryans brought the Vedic language to India from Central Asia.

  13. Feuerstein’s book (Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy) is an excellent introduction to many important features of Tantric philosophy and practice. Nevertheless, in his writings, Feuerstein emphasizes the popular misconception that Yoga had its early beginnings in the Vedic tradition. But he also states that, according to some, Tantra is a separate tradition altogether with roots that may be “at least five or six thousand years old.” Problem is, Feuerstein never really follows up on this idea in his research or writings.

    While most writers may have sound scholarly knowledge, very few have extensive first hand knowledge of the Tantric tradition, which is important, since Tantra is primarily an oral tradition. Feuerstein falls in this category.

    In his award-winning book, A Brief History of India, Alain Danielou outlines in broad, colorful strokes an ancient history of India that contrasts with the one presented to most Western yoga students. Danileou reminds us that Yoga originated with the ancient sage Shiva and that these practices were “wholly unknown” to the early Vedas and their authors, the Aryans.

    Alain Danielou's emphasis on the importance of Shiva Tantra in shaping Yoga philosophy, culture and practice corresponds to the writings of Anandamurti. “It should be remembered,” he writes, “that in Hinduism, Yoga is a discipline created by Shiva…” Shiva is considered to be the King of Yoga in India. The "Buddha" of Yoga, so to speak.

    There is much miunderstanding as to the source of yoga. The main source of this misunderstanding arises from the Vedic Brahmins themselves. Although many of them practiced Tantra, due to their own prejudices, they attempted to demonstrate the Vedic origin of Tantra and Yoga. Therefore, writes N. N. Bhattacharyya (author of History of the Tantric Religion), “they often twisted Vedic passages to suit their own purpose.” Consciously or unconsciously, this tradition has continued among the vast majority of writers on Yoga in the past hundred years or so.

    In the insightful book, History of Mysticism, S. Abhayananda reveals the story of humanity’s recurrent experience of enlightenment in various cultures throughout the ages. To him, it appears that the Dravidian civilization was based on a “full-blown Shiva-Shakti mythology” and that we therefore may trace the Tantric and Yogic tradition back to pre-Aryan India.

    So, these are some of the authors and mystics who would disagree with Feuerstein and Frawley.

  14. Sarah says:

    “There is no such thing as right and wrong, there's just popular opinion.”

  15. The idea behind the first title of this article, which is now the subtitle, was to stir up some debate and discussion. This has been achieved, in part with the help of some promotion by Wayland and the EJ team as well as the change of the title to its current: Yoga: It's not Hindu–it's not even Vedic. I understand and accept the criticism that these titles are provocative. That was my point, to shake things up a bit. And with the help of Waylon, who saw the potential for some sparks to fly and grow into a communal fire, the debate took off and is still raging. Thanks and peace to all!

  16. The idea behind the title of this article Yoga: It's not Hindu, it's not even Vedic is this: I agree with Deepak Chopra that yoga is not Hindu in the same way as Christ was not Christian. The religion of Hinduism came much later, besides yoga is a practice, an art, a science, a lifestyle. Yoga is spirituality, not religious dogma. But I disagree with Chopra that yoga is Vedic, if by that is meant the four Vedas. If by that he means Vedanta, which basically is Tantric nondualism, then we agree. The Vedas contain many destructive dogmas yogis can live without. So this insistence that yoga is Vedic gotta stop! And I also created this inflammatory subtitle (Bob's words) so that we can make the connection that if we insist yoga is Vedic, then we should also accept whatever cultural baggage comes with that linkage–the caste system, for example.
    When did you hear Vedic yogis like Chopra/ Frawley stand up against the caste system? If anybody can share some writings showing that they are also speaking out against everything no-so-great about the Vedic system, then I'll shut up! But until then….

  17. Look, Ramesh. I'm not an historian or a scholar.

    But why would anyone even begin to imagine that Deepak Chopra would say Yoga is Vedic without meaning the Upanishads? I have never heard anyone even suggest that the Upanishads are not a part of the Vedas. In fact they are the secret part of the Vedas that rebel against the overly ritualistic, irrational, priest-driven Vedic religion. But they are part of the Vedas, right? Is that in dispute among historians?

    In any case, to suggest that Chopra would not be thinking of the Upanishads when saying Yoga is Vedic seems wildly off-the-wall to me. He couldn't. Even a lightly educated Yoga devotee like myself would know that was dead wrong. Chopra's writing, even his Tweets, are dripping with the Upanishads. So why set up this ridiculous straw-man of "Well, if Chopra meant just the Vedas without the Upanishads…"?

    And now you're going to imply that Chopra and Frawley are somehow in support of the caste system? Give me a break!

    Bob Weisenberg

  18. vakibs says:


    I think this debate about "Yoga" is primarily about the identity of people who culturally identify themselves as "Hindus". As I mentioned in the last post of yours, this identity is not a logical one to assume. People who are called "Hindus" by the western outsiders profess very different and varied religions in reality, the only thing in common being a free exchange of ideas. If Hinduism as a term needs to be understood, it can be thought of as an open-source religion of Indian people.

    Now, with this understanding, it is natural to speak of "Yoga" as being "Hindu". It is as much part of Hinduism, as are the Vedas. The truth is that each of these paths represent only a minority of ideas, and cannot completely define the religions of India. At a practical level today, even the Tantric yogis (who are only a subset of the total Yogic practitioners) worship similar kind of divinities as a common "Hindu" does today.

    I think what the "Hindus" in the USA want is to claim their entire ancestral heritage and show the richness of their philosophy and religion. "Hinduism" is a term that is very stereotyped in the US, associated with animal worship, and sometimes even barbaric acts. Remember the Indiana Jones movie of the temple of doom ? People that I meet randomly in the west ask me about whether there is human sacrifice in Hinduism, or if people eat monkey brains.. I am not kidding. (And the real joke is that if at all there are people who do human sacrifice and other such things, they are from the Tantra background – like Aghoris, and not from the Vedic background). There is a deep stigma in the west against Indian religions – part of it is cultural and part of it is indeed racist. The rise of the "Hindu nationalism" is actually a revolt against this stigma. You can read this easily in the blogs and manifestos of Hindutva people. This is very unfortunate, because a culture cannot define itself as a reaction to outsider's misunderstanding of it.


    Now, coming to another topic of your post : on whether Aryans are native to India or come from outside, the answers are not so clear cut. What studies on genetics tell us is that there is a large section of Indian people, especially in the north-west, who share several genes with European people. The pattern of these human migrations is still clouded in mystery. I am of the opinion that these migrations happened some 10,000 years ago or even earlier. There is nothing to prove that the Rig Veda is composed outside India. Max Muller, one of the first Indologists, has arbitrarily assigned a date 4000 BC to the composition of these verses, because of his belief in the Biblical timeline of creation. Opinions based on prejudice don't belong to science. The devas of Rig Veda : Indra, Soma, Vayu, Rudra etc.. are very much connected to the philosophy of the Upanishads, and that is intimately connected to the philosophy of Samkhya, which itself is connected to Tantra. These devas are not thunder gods or any such thing. The reason why people make this mistake is because they find parallels between Vedic religion and ancient Greek religion (but somehow, nobody tries to find parallels between the ancient Greek science and philosophy and its Indian counterparts). For a proper understanding of the devas of the Vedas, try to read the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where a disciple asks his teacher about "how many devas are there in all". I quoted this conversation in my blog, if you wish to see.

    The perspective that Rig Veda is just a random set of simplistic and pastoral hymns is first voiced by Christian missionaries, who had an incentive to misrepresent these texts. This opinion got stuck in the academia for long, but it is not logical at all. The various devas of Rig Veda are the fundamental elements with which the Upanishadic philosophy is built. There is a continuum in these philosophical traditions : samkhya (tantra) -> vedas -> upanishads -> puranas -> modern bhakti movement

    Another thread is samkhya (tantra) -> jainism -> buddhism -> modern buddhist

    Yet another thread is samkhya (tantra) -> yoga -> modern yogic meditations

    All these threads have merged over the years, and influenced each other mutually. But they had a common origin from which they started this evolution.

    There is another possibility of the shared genetics of Indians and Europeans – through a migration from India to outside. This sounds like very radical, but it is not. There is evidence that a certain pocket of humans have survived in the Indian subcontinent during the volcanic eruption in the Indonesian archipelago. This eruption was earlier thought to have killed all human tribes except in Africa, from which they migrated once again to outside. This classical "out of Africa" hypothesis need not be totally true. The second migration of human tribes might have happened from India.

  19. Vakibs, I agree with your first paragraphs above.

    Regarding Tantra being a subset in Indian culture: It depends who you speak to and how you define Tantra. The way Danielou, Anandamurti, Bhattacarya, Satyananda and a host of others define Tantra, it represents everything yogic in Indian culture as well as people's culture apart from what is Vedic.

    I know this is not always the way it is defined by Indian people, because to most Indians Tantra represents only a subset as you say, but that is not correct if you look at the overall picture of Indian cultural evolution.

    Regarding Tantra and human sacrifice in Aghora. Yes, there may be some evidence of that, but for the most part it refers to practices in this left-handed and to some extent degenerate form of Tantra in the cremation grounds, the use of skulls for eating, meditation on dead bodies and thus the fear people associate with Tantra in India. So most of this is mythmaking and stories. But yes, there are many strange tantric practices of the occult (avidya tantra), which has little to do with the vidya tantra that most people practice as yoga and meditation. Indeed, I met an aghora tantrics in the jungles of Nepal, one in particular who had chopped off part of his left hand in some strange ritual to gain occult powers. These practices have little to do with yoga and tantra for self-realization and more to do with occultism.

    There is indeed a lot of evidence in the Rigveda to show its pastoral past etc. So again I would disagree. The difficulty is that much of these texts evolved over time and ideas and slokas were added as part of human evolution. But many are of the opinion that Rigveda is very very ancient and started outside India.
    An example is the Goddess Durga. This worship is of very recent origin but is wrongly said to be part of the ancient Rigveda, but is actually of Puranic origin. Similarly, Rudra (Shiva) was orginally the thunder god in ancient Rigveda, then over time was associated with Shiva when the Vedic Aryans encountered Shaivism and Tnatra in India. So there is an evolution of these Gods and Goddesses that changed meaning as the culture evolved.
    More importantly, more sophisticated and transcendenatl meaning was added and read into these myths over time. This is the classical pre-trans fallacy (Wilnber's term) we have of ascribing transcendental meaning to mythic images, reading deep messages into prehistoric beliefs and myths that originally were quite literal. Ancient peoples believed that thunder was a God needed to be pleased with sacrifices, etc. Such nonsense has little to do with spiritual practice and yoga b ut is very commonly found in Vedic ritualism associated with the Rigveda.
    Therefore you will not find our dear friend Bob on this list raving about the Rigveda the same way he raves about the Upanishads..or the Gita. The latter texts are simply more sophisticated and transcendental, which is natural as people evolved through the practice of tantric yoga.

    I also disagree with you on the timing of the Aryan migration and again simply would refer to the genetic studies of Spencer Wells.

  20. Vakibs,
    one way to relate o the evolution of Indian culture from the Rigveda onwards is to use the cultural evolutionary model of Jean Gebser. He divided human evolution into archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and integral. Most of the ideas in the Rigveda would fall in the archaic to mythic level. Whereas yoga would be termed rational and integral, representing a peak in human psychological and cultural evolution. Yoga is partly scientific and partly spiritual whereas the Vedas are based on prayer and belief (magic and mythic belief systems). While yoga and even science may use mythic language to express ideas, these myths are not taken literally, they are seen as symbols. People of a purely magical persuation do not make the same distinction, they believe that the smoke from the sacrificial fire creates clouds and thus rain, they believe that certain diseases or famine are caused by lack of prayers to certain Gods, etc.
    This model is helpful in looking at the evolution from early Rigveda to the Upanishads and onwards. Religious dogmas are thus expressions lacking rational and integral insight. And the Vedic rituals are full of dogmas devoid of rationality, whereas in the Upanishads we see the expression of deep integral thought as these texts came out of a culture of yogis and not of people praying to gods…

    Similarly, rationality can become a dogma in itself, and we see that with modern scientism, in which anything spiritual is considered nonexsistent. Thus the integral mindset also includes the spiritual as well as the rational and is ideally able to discern the dogmas/limitations of all levels from rational downwards to archaic.

  21. Since not everyone may read all the replies, I am repeating this point here, prompted by Bob's comments, which nurtured this clarification:

    I am of course aware that Chopra means the Upanishads, but these texts are not part of the four Vedas, not part of much of Vedic culture at all. This distinction is as important to make as the distinction Chopra makes that yoga is not Hindu. That's all. Chopra correctly separates yoga from Hinduism to make it clear that yoga represents a sophisticated spiritual practice and philosophy. I am simply suggesting he does the same by making sure he is an Adavita Vedantic practitioner as he did on Larry King and not a Vedic practitioner. The latter muddles the waters as much as the former. And that is also what Frawley does etc and the rest of yogadom follows suit. Yogis do not like to think of themselves as Hindus. But they often think of themselves as Vedic practitioners because of this confusion.

    So, yes, I am splitting hairs. But, like Chopra about yoga and Hinduism, I am making a point.
    Do I have the right to do that, my dear friend?

    I am not suggesting these good folks are supporting the caste system, but I do not see much evidence to the contrary either.
    So, all I am saying Bob, if Chopra does not like to be associated with Hinduism, he should also deeply consider not wanting to be associated with everything Vedic either, because many of the things he objects to in Hinduism comes from the Vedas, not from Vedanta, not from the Upanishads.

    The wholesale promotion of Vedic this and Vedic that by these folks lacks the same sophistication they display in other areas. That's all.

  22. Thank you, vakibs. This is the the clearest and most interesting exposition I've ever read on this topic. I'm subscribing to your blog immediately!

    Bob Weisenberg

  23. Vakibs, here are some meanings of Indra in sanskrit. This is from my teacher's explanation, Sanskrit scholar and author of hundreds of book, including Sanskrit linguistics…. As you can see it refers in part to Indra of the Sky in the Rigveda, while indrya means sense organ…..
    Indra'. `Indra' means `energy', `electricity', `magnetism', `light' – they are all energy. Energy is called `indra' in Sam'skrta. In fact, in Sam'skrta, indra has several meanings. [One] meaning is 'the best man', 'the biggest one', 'the best'. `Devata'na'm ra'ja' Indra iti kathyate' – the king of the devas is known as Indra. `Indra' also means `big'. A well is called `ku'pam' in Sam'skrta, and a big ku'pam is called `indraku'pam'. (The Sam'skrta is `indraku'pam'. In Pra'krta it is `indrauya' '. Ardha Pra'krta is `indra'. Old Hindi is `inda'ra' '. Varttama'na Hindi is `ina'ra' ). `Indra' means `big'. [Another meaning of `indra' is (just now I told you) energy, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc.] And the fourth meaning of `indra' is the 'sha'l tree', because it is a big, strong tree.

  24. Indriya'na'm' manona'thah manona'thastu ma'rutah.

    "The mind is the Lord of the indriyas. The vital energy is the Lord of the mind."

    So Vakibs, while indriya means sense organs.. and the mind is the Lord of those sense organs and prana is the lord of the mind in yoga.. prana, vital breath, controls the mind, there is a vast difference between these yogic insights and Indra, the mythological lord of the Gods in the Rigveda. And now i am getting back to my point earlier, that the great fallacy is to read backwards into mythology and ascribe meaning that was not originally there. WE USE MYTHOLOGY TO EXPLAIN DEEP MEANING but we also use rationality to elaborately ascribe meaning that is not there. And that is what Frawley et al do a lot of, as well as many others. I hope I am making myself clear. gotta go!

  25. Kaoverii Weber Kaoverii says:

    Woah Rameshji! Your articles are rocking Elephant Journal! wow.

  26. integralhack says:

    Impressive dialogue on these subjects. A lot to sift through even in the commentary. Great work, Ramesh.

  27. The caste system in India is a form of Apartheid. I therefore do understand that someone like Deepak Chopra or enlightened people who still associate themselves as Hindus, do not want to be associated with this outdated social order. How does it work?

    The Hindu social order is based on three interrelated elements: predetermination of social, religious and economic rights of each caste based on birth; the unequal and hierarchical division of these rights among the castes; and provision of strong social, religious and economic ostracism supported by social and religious ideology to maintain the Hindu social order.

    The primary unit of society is caste. There is no room for individual merit or individual justice. Rights that an individual has are not due to him or her personally; it is due to him or her because of belonging to a particular caste. The disability is imposed upon the caste and as a member of the caste that is his lot. If you are a low caste in India, especially if you are a woman, you're literally stuck for life.

    Yogis, Western yogis, Indian yogis, we need to speak out against this outrageous system of cultural injustice.
    We need to denounce those aspects of the Hindu/Vedic system that still enslaves people.

    Here are some of the Vedic Laws of Manu. They are not kind to women and many of these laws are still part of the cultural fabric of India:

    * “A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property. The wealth which they earn is acquired for him to whom they belong.”

    * “Women, shudra (or sudra, lowest of four castes), dog and crow embody untruth, sin and darkness.” [In early times all Dravidians and other dark skinned peoples of India were considered shudras. Still to this day, most low caste shudras have dark skin, while upper castes have lighter skin due to their Aryan Vedic background.]

    * “Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling they may appear to be; for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on both the families. Considering it the highest duty of all castes, even wealthy husbands must strive to guard their wives….lest the seed of others be sown on your soil.”

    * “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world, for that reason the wise never remain unguarded in the company of female.”

    * “A woman should not go to a meeting place; and they should not dance like the young, but sit at their proper places.”

    * “This is the first law…A wife cannot be dismissed from the marriage by a slave, separation or abdication.”

    “A man can leave a barren woman after eight years and one who only gives birth to daughters.”

    * “A virtuous wife who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she have no son, just like those chaste men.”

    * “If a woman should happen to merely to overhear recitations of Vedic mantras by chance, hot molten glass should be poured into her ears.”

  28. vakibs says:

    "…Vedic Laws of Manu…. "

    Gosh.. The laws of manu are called smrithi – they are not part of shruti or the corpus of Vedic texts. They are explicitly set aside for a reason : the smrithi is considered to change over time, but the shruti doesn't.

    There have been several religious reformers in India who argued against the caste system precisely because it doesn't have a sanction in the Vedas. (This happened for several thousands of years, but most recently during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century)

    And about Brahmins having lighter skin, this is true only in very few cases. A vast majority of the Brahmins are very dark, as dark the rest of the Indians. You can find forest tribals in South India that are genetically closer to central Asians and Europeans than are Brahmins.

    I totally agree with you that the caste system is a form of apartheid, but its basis is the feudal system of land distribution, not an adherence to the Vedas. Nobody cares about the Vedas today in India anyways, but the caste system is very much alive and kicking ! Most of the caste-related crimes happen between land owners and indentured laborers. It is pretty similar to how race related crimes happen in the USA oftener in the southern agricultural lands.

    Over history, there were several times when Brahmins were huge land-owners. In those cases, they behaved as repugnantly to landless laborers as any others. But owning property or land is prohibited for Brahmins according to the Vedas. They are supposed to only guard intellectual wealth. And quite a lot of Brahmins in India today are materially destitute. They don't commit any caste-related crimes, which are mostly done by land owners such as Jats or Chowdhuries, who actually belong to the shudra class !

    It is very simplistic to equate the caste system in India with some Aryan racism. It is not as easy as that.

  29. vakibs says:

    Actually, that which is called shruthi (literally meaning "heard" in Sanskrit) is supposed to be heard by anyone who listens carefully. One needn't have access to the Vedic texts themselves.

    Brahma, with his 4 faces, is supposed to chant the Vedas eternally during the existence of this universe. Any person who cares to listen can apparently hear them.

    In contrast, that which is called smrithi (literally meaning "remembered" in Sanskrit) are just various texts of human authorship that are based on the cultural and moral values of the time they were composed. They don't have any permanent validity, unlike for example – the Bible or the Quran.

  30. Truth and Reason says:

    Thank you Ramesh for actually standing by the evidence, as you can see from the responses you receive, most people want to brush aside actual scientific and historical research showing that the Aryans came from outside India. There was a existent civilization before the "Vedics" came which has continued in various forms into today. People fail to understand that Hinduism in not necessarily a free exchange of ideas (caste system was barely condemned and barely let go until faced with Christian Missionary "Threat"). It was more of a appropriation of ideas, gods and practices and in a almost spiritual reflection of the caste system, subjugates them to specific approved Hindu gods, and exemplifies "vedic" as the ideal and the source. Buddhism eventually got wiped out in India, after it proved such a threat to the caste system, a campaign was initiated a la shankara to re-establish Hinduism and appropriate buddhist contributions and even the Buddha under a Hindu label. Compare it to the appropriation of African american music and putting a caucasian face on it.

    The best way to compare the Aryan invasion is what happened in central and south america. The Spanish came in, took the the native and african women as mates, relegating the native and african men as the labor and slave class. They had mixed children which became a higher "caste" which were considered better than the natives and slaves, then they took native and african foods and cultural conributions and claim them under the "Hispanic and/or Latino" label. The hispanic catholic religion absorbed native and african practices (virgin of guadlupe?) and appropriated them to ease the subjugation. Hinduism used religion to subjugate the natives mentally so there would be not slave/servant revolts, mental chains are harder to break than physical ones.

    People need to wake and smell the coffee, India suffered over 5000 years of oppression due to a colonizer called the Vedic Aryans!

  31. Ramesh says:

    It is evident in this discussion that the Vedic bias is still very strong among yoga practitioners as well as the general public, especially in India.
    It is true, Vakibs, that one cannot blame the caste system on the Vedic Aryans. However, the caste system started with them. P. R. Sarkar, Romila Thapar, Lalan Prasad Singh, Alain Danileou and many more writers have pointed this out, that the tri-varna system of Vipras (Brahmins), Ksyattrias, and Vashyas was installed among the Vedic Aryans and that the Sudras became the lowest caste, comprised of the dark skinned Indian natives. From this, the caste system evolved into numerous sub castes.
    Again, what is important to realize, to take into account, at least be open to the possibility of, is that this system had nothing to do with Tantra/Yoga and did not originate with the Dravidians, nor the Austrics nor the Mongolians of that sub continent, but with the Vedic Aryans. In that regard, what we historically see developing in India is the classic subjugation of native peoples by those coming from the outside.

  32. Ramesh says:

    As for the Divine Origin of the Vedic scriptures, which to any rational person, is pure hogwash, if you mean by that Gods and Goddesses in heaven being the original authors.
    Lalan Prasad Singh says the following: "The Vedic hymns, though inspired, were not of divine origin. The Vedas are not the Voice of Providence but are the achievements of the human mind."
    Any religious sentiment claiming to be the only true voice of God is dangerous, dogmatic and antithetical to true spirituality, which is open, all-embracing and free of dogma and can be supported, to a large extent, by rationality, investigation and logic.

  33. Ramesh says:

    Regarding the origin of the Vedas. Lalan Prasad Singh writes (and again this is supported by many writers, even Indian writers) says: "The Rigveda was composed in Central Asia. It bears the stamp of pure Aryan composition." He and several other writers moreover point out that parts of the Yajurveda was composed outside India, but that the Atharvavvda was composed in India. The proof of this can be in part seen by the blending of Vedic and Tantric sources, which are absent in the Rigveda, especially in certain sections, such as in the Nishinga Tapaniya shruti. P. R. Sarkar writes: "…as a result of their coming in closer contact with the non-aryans there emerged a mental or social blending amongst the Aryanas who were highly influenced by the non-Aryan Tantra. This fact is clearly reflected in the Atharva Veda, which cannot be regarded as a picture of Aryan civilization. In the subtle philosophy of the Atharva-veda, particularly in the shruti of Nisingha Tapaniya, non-Aryan Tantra is more prominent than the Vedic ideal of the Aryan civilization."

  34. Ramesh says:

    To sum this discussion up, there are basically three theories about ancient India: 1. The Max Mueller Theory: The Vedic Aryans arrived from the outside around 1900 BC and destroyed the Indus Valley. Most academics still subscribe to this theory.

    2. Feuerstein and Frawley's theory; The Aryans have always been indigenous to India because there is no evidence of a man-made destruction of the In dus Valley civilization. They are open to the possibility that the Aryans arrive from the outside much earlier… The Vedic Aryans developed yoga, ayurveda, etc. Most yogis in the West subscribe to this theory.

    3: Which brings us to the theory that I am presenting, which is based on oral Tantric history, genetics, linguistics, archeology etc. and proposes that the Aryans arrived before, during and after 5000 BC. Thus india is a mixed culture between these Vedic Aryans and the In digenous Tantric Dravidians, Austrics and Mongolians. According to this theory is was the Tantric yogis who developed yoga as the Vedas are more ritualistic and philosophical in nature. The Upanishads, Brahmanas etc came out of a blended culture between the Vedic Aryans and the Tantric yogis. All yogic practice is basically from tantra, as tantra is basically the science and path of yoga.

  35. Bob, it is only in the last 10 years or so of my practicing yoga for the past 35 years that I have been interested in the history of tantra and yoga. Thus the history of yoga and tantra has had little or no effect on how I practice. As Shiva said about 5000 years ago: Vartamanesu Varteta: Live in the present. That this message is old is not important. It is the message itself that is important.
    Yoga is about being present in each and very moment. Totally present.

    So, you do not need to know anything about the history of tantra in order to practice tantric yoga.

    But just as we human beings like to know where we came from, how our history was shaped, I have also learned that the way we view history also effect our present life. If you think the holocaust never happened, you will view and treat Jews differently than if you accept the truth about the holocaust. In that sense, history is important. Also for yogis.

  36. I love Keith Jarret, because of his music, and because I have always approached music in the same way:

    Flamenco Guitar as Yoga Philosophy

    See also my music site:

    Bob Weisenberg

  37. Ramesh says:

    Good old Keith Jarret, the improvisational jazz pianist, said it well on NPR the other day. Improvisational music is being totally present. When it works, he said, it works because that's how the universe works.
    When yoga works for us, we become one with how the universe works.

    The same Keith Jarret, I am sure, could also talk about the history of Jazz, the way he sees it, while being fairly present in the moment.

    Thanks for getting my point, Bob, and for accepting that you have been trying too hard some times to read my inner self through my talking about history.

  38. Curious says:

    Interesting essay! It is filled with arguments which are in search of a title.

    When is tantra & yoga not part of Hinduism? Hinduism can be compared to the great Indian dances. Unlike other religions, its roots combine many related (and unrelated) beliefs and mingling of innumerable sects; it has many shades and color, permutations and combinations.

    Like the Indian dances it has the good (shringara), the disagreeable (raudra) and the ugly (bibhatsa). Hinduism is still evolving and will always provide a topic for lively debate. But to overstate the ugly (bibhatsa) in order to deny what is integral (shringara) to Hinduism is totally wrong and objectionable.

  39. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Thanks for your insightful comments, Curios. Your points are well taken. Many people have pointed out that Jesus was not a Christian because the Christian religion evolved long after he was dead and contains many dogmas he would have revolted against. Similarly, my essay points out that Yoga and Tantra evolved long before Hinduism and are in essence different from the way many people today practice Hinduism. To generalize: Yoga and Tantra are scientific practices while Hindusim is a religion, a belief system. Yet, for others Yoga and Tantra are seen as integral to Hinduism, but that was not my focus in this article. I also sometimes refer to Tantra as Hindu Tantra when needing to distinguish it from Buddhist Tantra, for example. So, I do not think I overstated anything, I simply pointed out some facts that needs to be looked at and acknowledged, facts that so often are overlooked in the glossing over of the history and practice of yoga.

  40. juan says:

    wouldnt it be more that the brittish empire wanted to try to make from vedas an english copyright by max muller?rather than the hindus triying to deffend their culture heritage?since the term aryan is located at the hindus valley how could we talk about foreigners?what about the grabbed stones at mohenjo daro 5000bc with yogic asanas and places destinated to yajnas?what about the vedic influence on egypt and mesopotamia.what about the sanskrit influence on languages?the sanathana dharma concept ruled earth most probably from the begining,if we should look for the original place of all that, no doubt it should be india,why did the english government during the occupation in india spoiled all the sanskrit knowledge available?i think that they got impressed about the value of the hindu culture and they wanted to reinvent the origin of hindu knowledge.

  41. juan says:

    to try to make history out of genetic research it will allways be far from reality,its just funny that the genetic proof of aryan migration coincides with the mohenjo daro proof of vedic civilization dated on 5000bce.i can imagine that yoga started in hot clima rather than in sweden,i think the same about the philosophical aspect,the northern countries couldnt have the clima support and evironement facilities to think and create such science like the yoga.imagine someone meditating on chakras in russia under 0 degrees,im comvinced that tantra or paganisme was the esoteric knowledge spreaded all around the earth the celtics had much ritualism in their culture also the vikings,even alexander the great had a witch craft man in his protocol and the american and african cultures are full of rites.but the indian tantra is the only written treatise left alive , im pretty comvinced that yoga and tantras are from dravidian dna

  42. SRIRAM says:

    As per ancient indian literature, Maharshi Patanjali is the one who developed the science of Yoga.
    There is a famous book by him 'Patanjali Yoga sutras'.

  43. […] there is the question: “Is yoga a religion?” I always tell my students that yoga is used by a variety of faiths; but yoga, in of itself, is not a religion. I also tell them that if they have any questions or […]

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  45. Pallav Roy says:

    Whitewashing, nothing else…the american journel of genetics proves that there is no difference between north indians and south indians, languistics prove that there are more similarities between south indian languages and north indian languages, as they all have a common root; sanskrit. Archeology proves that people left the indus-saraswat valley and headed for the gangetic valley because of the drying up of the Saraswati river, turning fertile land into desert, not due to an influx of invaders. The existence of this river is also proven by NASA.
    Also the harapan civilisation shows images of yoga postures, recognised even today, so if yoga was aparently given by this mystical Aryan race whom which no historical homeland has been found, justified with the title of nomads, why did yoga already exist in the civilisations and people of the indus valley? They also show many hindu related images such as vermillion on women forehead, the tilak worn by hindus on their forehead, the great mother durga, the god shiva, sages and yogis in their meditation and yoga positions, and the revearing of animals such as cows exc.
    Also why is it so bad for hindus and indians to stand up against the whitewashing of their own history.
    Despite northern europeans having no civilisation for much of their history, and the fact that the greeks and romans called them barbarians, you still believe that they created sanskrit, hinduism and indian culture and literature.
    You must also understand the motives for this theories creation, it was created by the british in an attempt to destroy the faith of the indians by telling them that everything they know of was given by europeans so they should submit to christendom.
    It was also made to conquer india using divide and rule, diving the people by saying that the northern indians were aryan invaders and the southern indians are dravidian natives. This was created at a time of white supremacy, where african and non white groups were considered as un-human. So if you disagree with some of the raicist close minded views of european scholars of the time, why do you not disagree with this? Despite the cruel and biased agendas and motives behind its creation, its still widely accepted. This is the last accepted theory from the time of white supremacy, so why is it so bad for Indians and Hindus to prove this theory wrong despite TODAYS languistics, archeologists, historians and genetic researchers proving the Indian claim of their civilisation, language, culture and religion to be, Indian.

  46. Juven Bachan says:

    Indeed, it seemed Frawley and those foreign and Indian revisionists did indeed ride horses in the Indus Valley Civilization with their wild and fantastic indigenous Aryan theories. The DNA of Spencer Wells proving that the male Indian Brahmin population is from the southern steppes of Russia's Ukraine must be tasting like bitter pills in their mouths. This is when you have nuts like these interfering in your history.

  47. juvenBachan says:

    Question: So the Indus Valley Civilization occupied the country of India for thousands of years from the beginning. Can anyone say what was the name of India before the advent of the Aryans?

  48. Vaska says:

    Yoga is pre-Aryan and pre-Hindu *in origin* [only]. Given the material evidence from the Indus Valley Civilization that we have, there is no doubt about that.

    In fact, I'm surprised there's even any debate or question about the pre-Aryan (pre-Hindu) nature of the old Indus Valley civilization (where we get the earliest representations of yogis) or about the historical factuality of the Aryan invasions which ensued (Aryans arrived to the Indian subcontinent from Central Asia).

    Hindu nationalists, who talk about "the myth" of the Aryan invasion, propagate a fantasy version of the past and claim Aryans as indigenous to India; no historian worth his/her salt supports such (mostly 19th-century) fabrications.

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