Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on May 12, 2010
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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.


99 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. You just told me far more in this last reply than you had told us previously. What you just said about these guys being dismissed by most other scholars is very significant, if true.

    Look, Ramesh, I was honestly just trying to help you out by pointing out if you've lost me, then you've probably lost one or two other readers as well. I wasn't suggesting you don't make your case against these guys, just that you make it in more understandable and transparently fair way.

  9. Linda Sama, you are correct, the Dravidian culture in the South is still there and very strong. But before the Vedic Aryans started arriving in India, starting as early as 5000 BCE according to the genetic evidence of Dr. Spencer Wells, there were three groups of peoples in India Dravidyans, Austrics (Africans who also migrated to Australia) and Mongolians. Dravidian culture and peoples was also in the North of India at that time and was gradually intermixed with the Aryans who brought Vedic culture to India from the outside of India. These migration patterns are clearly established by Wells' genome project and thus not just a theory but scientific and concurs with tantric/yogic oral and written history as I have learned it…. This why in India today, you have Aryan types in the North and in the Brahmin and upper castes… long story, and quite complex.

  10. Authority is one way to establish facts, Bob, logic another, sometimes we need to question bot logic and authority. So keep investigating….cause academia is not always right either. In fact, I do not agree with their timing. There are three theories: academia (Vedic Aryans arrive 200o BCE and destroy Dravidian tantric culture) Frawley (Aryan Vedic never arrived from outside, they are indigenous, there is no evidence of invasion at that time) Myself/Anandamurti/Wells (Vedic Aryans arrive much earlier, 5000 BCE and India has thousands of years of blending of cultures. In this third view, the oral tantric history as retold by Danielou, Bhattacarya and Ananadamurti match up–science and oral history merge beutifully. So, this third view is much more plausible and that is what I have outlined in my other two articles on EJ, articles which you previously were happy about. I guess you just did not like my title this time… 🙂

  11. 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.

  12. I did not understand your article. I'll try again on the next one.

  13. Yes, Linda-Sama, there are various theories and I outlined briefly above the three most common, any others you know of?

  14. I need to restate what I said above: Anandamurti's views and retelling of oral Indian history matches the genetic dates of Wells, that the Vedic Aryans arrived around 5000 BCE. Danielou and Bhattacarya are not so clear in their timing but have made a very strong case for the difference between indigenous tantric/yogic/shaiva culture and Vedic Aryan priestly culture, the conflicts between the two cultures and also how the Vedic priests coopted tantric yogic practices, etc. There are two sacred archetypes in India: the Vedic priest and the Tantric yogi–these two archetypes bled over time and form India's great cultural renaissance and civilization

  15. 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.

  16. Thanks Mat. Your reply is exceedingly helpful to me.

  17. 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.

  18. Mat says:

    In which case, I'd argue that yoga is of Hindu origin, if not Vedic. Even if different in approach and history, Vedanta and Yoga solidly fall under the banner (broad and sometimes contradictory as it is) of Hinduism. If the non-dualism of most of Saivism and the dualism of Vaishnavism are both Hindu, so are Vedanta and Yoga.

    Which isn't to say that you have to be Hindu to benefit from yoga…

  19. Ramesh says:

    Mat, thanks for your long and thoughtful reply. Yes, there are various conflicting results from genetic studies, something that is common in science, depending in part on who interprets the studies. The reason I value Wells's genetic research is that he has no agenda. Moreover, his research is probably the most extensive done so far, with over 100 reserchers as part of his team and lasting 10 years… His research, the Out-of-Africa theory of human migration is now widely accepted, but as always not everybody agrees.

    As with Frawley, he developed 17 points against the Aryan migration to India, one point states that ( and I paraphrase) the only possibility is that the Aryans arrived much earlier. This is what Wells' genetic research shows and that is also how it corresponds with tantric/shaiva oral history.

  20. Ramesh says:

    The Aryan invasion idea is theory #1 developed by Max Mueller et al. This supposedly took place around 1900 BCE and destroyed the Dravidyan Indus Valley civilization. Theory #2 (Frawley's) disproves this and says the Aryans never invaded India. I basically agree with him that it did not happen at that time. So theory #3 says that the Aryan invasion was more of a successive migration over hundreds if not thousands of years. Hence, there are some similarities between my idea and Frawley's and that is that the Indus Valley civilization (ca 5000 BCE to 1900 BCE) was already a mixed civilization between the Vedic Aryans and the Dravidyan Tantrics. The similarity ends with his claim that this Indus Valley civilization was entirely Vedic. It was also very much tantric, especially in the earliest years. And that information comes partly from the Puranas, partly from oral tantric history.

  21. Ramesh says:

    Hinduism is a foreign construct that started with the Muslims and became accepted as late as 1800 during the British period. We'we discussed this elsewhere as well. So to establish the roots of yoga you need to go beyond Hinduism, because Hinduism is a conglomerate of tantric/yogic, vedic, jain, samkhya streams. Tantra supplied the yogic technology, Samkhya much of the early philsoopshy, vedas supplied philosophy (Upanishads, Gita, which are strictly not part of the four Vedic books. See more above where I explain that.)

    So, yes, yoga is in a sense Hindu as opposed to be being Christian, but technically and historically and thus more accurately, yoga comes from tantra….. yoga is a tantric science and practice….

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Points well taken, Mat. Thank you!

  25. Mat, Yes, also point well taken. The main point I am really trying to make is that yoga is Tantric, not Vedic…. and that Hinduism is a blending of both Tantra and Veda. That is as simple as I can state it. As part of those two large rivers there are many tributaries with many names, Shaiva, Vasinav, Vedanta, Jainism, Shakta, Asthanga Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kriya, Kashmir Shaivism etc etc….and each of these tributaries have yet smaller sects and schools.
    It's a mystic jungle out there!

  26. 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.

  27. Mat says:

    That's fine, but we're still talking about a time period that is ancient. We're still talking about a multi-thousand year history of thought, with both Vedantic and Yogic practices present from the earliest times at least in oral form, existing side by side, in different levels of prominence in different times and places. The point of similarity in either your case or Frawley's is that at least since the Harappan civilization, if not earlier, the society of South Asia has not seen a violent invasion by a people known as Aryans. There is evidence to show that prior to this time there were influxes of people, that there are multiple linguistic and ethnic groups, surely. There are myriad strains of thought developed under the umbrella of Dharma since then. But for practical purposes, in historic times, there was no Aryan invasion as portrayed by Victorian-era scholars and perpetuated popularly ever since.

    All of this is secondary to the bigger point as to the differences between the philosophical perspective of Vedanta and Yoga and how they have and have not influenced one another.

  28. Sarah says:

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

  29. Mat says:

    It is indeed.

  30. Mat, I disagree partly… There is plenty of evidence in the Vedas to support violence against the "shudras", i.e. tha Dravidyans, or the raksasas (demons) as they were also called in the Vedas. Many writers have pointed this out, and I may quote some when I have time.
    The Ramayana is, as many scholars have pointed out, a tale about the Aryan conquest of South India, it is not just mythmaking. The Puranas are also a good source of this violent conquest as has been described by Danielou and others.
    And gain, this is something that is glossed over by many yoga scholars in the West.

  31. 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!

  32. Sarah, I get the point, but there are such things as "wrongs" in history. Just ask a Holocaust survivor; just ask a dalit (untouchable) in India; just ask all the widows burned in India each year in "accidental" fires in the kitchen, a vestige from Vedic times when widows were burned on the funeral pyres with their dead husbands.

  33. 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….

  34. Dear Mat,
    Fascinating discussion. I do think it is important to distinguish Hinduism and yoga. I am a practising tantra yogi but I would never consider myself a Hindu, primarily because there are a number of practices and traditions that are integral to Hinduism ( such as Casteism, the dowry system and the resulting suppression of women, and idolatry) that directly conflict with the core principles of yoga and tantra.

  35. 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

  36. Ramesh, great attitude. As long as the intent is genuine and productive, dialogue while fiery is of benefit. And again, and problem with the current title is my bad, be nice and respectful to one another, y'all!

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. Bob, take a deep breath and relax….
    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 much of the thi ngs 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. Yes, indeed, Waylon. This has been a great discussion. I grew up with Christian fundamentalist grandparents and atheist parents, all living under the same roof, so I am used to heated discussion while still remaining family and sharing the same dinner table. Thanks for creating the same kind of open space on EJ, bro!

  43. vakibs says:


    As I said, please read the conversation in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which explains the 33 Vishwedevas as mentioned in Rig Veda. The etymology of the words for these "devas" is explicitly given in the text. I will quote this below. A more elaborate explanation is given here by Sarojit Poddar

    8 vasus (that in which any natural object is placed) : fire, earth, air, sky, sun, heaven, moon, stars

    11 rudras (that which depart from any natural object) : the ten supposed breaths of a person and the mind as the eleventh

    12 adityas (that which move carrying all the universe) : the twelve months of a year, literally signifying time

    1 indra : who rules over the senses

    1 prajapathi : who symbolizes procreation of natural objects

    These 33 devas are supposed to represent everything in the universe, and that's why they are called Vishwedevas.

    As a native speaker of Indian languages, I can immediately connect the words vasu, indra etc to other words which are derived from the etymological roots. The word for a sense organ, for example, is indriya (meaning, that which belongs to Indra).

    The archaic interpretation of the Rig Veda, done by Christian missionaries, who don't know the subtleties of the language nor the cultural background of India is to simply dismiss aditya as meaning sun, indra as a rain god, rudra as the god of destruction etc.. The missionaries also had an incentive to trivialize Indian religious texts, in order to propagate their own religion. But this mis-interpretation of texts cannot persist for too long.

    Since you are more versed with the Tantric path, you are more eligible to quote on these practices and texts. Similarly, to learn about the Vedas, one should listen to people who are more versed with the Vedic tradition. And they tell seriously about the geneologies (gotra) of sages, where they lived and how they migrated across the Indian subcontinent. They were supposed to have lived on the banks of the Saraswati river (now extinct in the desert of Rajasthan, but around which the remains of the Indus valley settlements can be found today), and then migrated to the east and to the south (the story of Agastya).

    But many are of the opinion that Rigveda is very very ancient and started outside India.

    Nobody, including the people who composed Rig Veda themselves, talk of a migration or a homeland outside the Indian subcontinent. There is simply no proof about this. It is just an assumption, which may or may not be true. But an assumption based on prejudice cannot be sustained for long.

    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

    The word Shiva is a Sanskrit word with a well-defined etymology. If the Vedic Sanskrit were to be an external language and was not spoken in the Indus valley, the Tantric Yogis there had a different word to denote to Shiva. The word rudra is more ancient and forms the basis of the Shiva Puranas. But as I mentioned before, this word rudra has a philosophical interpretation but to deal with the passage of time. This very same idea is symbolized in the imagery of Shiva – such as the vibrating drum he holds, and the tandava dance he does.

  44. 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

  45. Also very interesting. This conversation just keeps getting better and better all the time.

    Bob Weisenberg

  46. vakibs says:

    The people who composed the Vedas were the most scientifically advanced people at that period on the planet !

    The Indian subcontinent was the place where the first major scientific advances were made in linguistics, medicine, trigonometry, geometry, algebra, astronomy etc. One can cross-compare the Greek scientific advances with those of the Indians at the corresponding stage, and the Indians can be seen to be as scientifically advanced (if not more) as the Greeks.

    It is not just the ancient times, even in the medieval periods, Indian scientists (and all of them Brahmins steeped into the Vedic tradition) have pushed these scientific advances forward – Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Varahamihira, Charaka etc..

    But the association of the Vedas to magical nonsense doesn't seem to end. The vishwedevas of Rig Veda (as I mentioned in my earlier comment) are not supernatural gods, by any means. They arise out of a naturalist perspective to decompose and understand parts of the universe.

    Can the ancient Greeks be held responsible for the current modern economic crisis of Greece ! ? But the ancient Vedic sages are now judged guilty of the scientific backwardness of India in modern times ! Can this be termed anything other than an archaic and orientalist mindset ?

    If people care to look at the Vedas impartially and carefully, they can easily see that these texts are not simplistic and magical. Instead, they can be found to be as brimming with philosophical insights as the Upanishads or the Yogasutras. The various mantras and yantras of the Vedas have as much a philosophical and psychological meaning as the Buddhist mandalas or the Tantric yantras. Repeatedly uttering those mantras is supposed to put a person into spiritual trance.

    Another cultural prejudice against the Vedas is due to the caste system. But the Greeks had slavery too. We don't begrudge the ancient scientific advances of Greece on account of this practice. For that matter, the Europeans practiced slavery and extreme racism till very modern times. They were also responsible for the great scientific renaissance in the past couple of centuries.

  47. I respectfully disagree, Vakibs for the reasons already stated. The etymological changes of words happened over long periods of time and there are many who have clearly established the outside India origin of the Rigveda by referring to the text itself. As you know, sanskrit words have numerous meanings and interpretations. But to equate Indra with indrya is like saying dog is the same as God. The vedic meaning of Indra and the yogic meaning of indrya are far apart. Anyway, long story….

    One of these who would disagree is Danielou and you will hardly find anyone who loves India and its peoples more than him, so the idea that this is based on some outsider's bias does not hold Water. Also, Bhattacaryya, Thapar, Anandadamurti and many other Indian scholars say the same thing, so again, you are not being fair in your assertions, This is not some Western bias only, these ideas are also subscribed to by many Indians.

  48. vakibs. Thanks again for taking the time to write these highly informative replies. I'm really enjoying this interchange and I'm learning a lot.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you view David Frawley and Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Bihar School), who are two other writers I've read on these subjects?

    Also, if you have a minute, Graham Schweig and Eknath Easwaran? I'm just interested in how you feel about my sources, since I'm not minutely as well versed in this history as you and Ramesh are.

    Bob Weisenberg

  49. 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.

  50. Thanks again, vakibs, for taking the time to write these highly interesting and informative replies.

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