YOGA, YOGAS – System of Thought and Practice

The word yoga is frequently used in Indian philosophy. It means “union” and connotes uniting the individual self with the higher Self. The Bhagavad Gîtâ defined yoga as “skillfulness in action” and “steadiness of mind.”

Yoga as a system of Indian thought was founded by Patanjali, probably of the second century B.C.E. Around the time of the Bhagavad Gîtâ Indian philosophers and theologians began to classify religious or spiritual experience according to three or four types, which they called ways (margas) or disciplines (yogas).

Devotion (bhakti) appeared in both classifications of religious types. Devotion was the way (marga) or practice (yoga) known as bhakti marga or bhakti yoga. Two other types appeared in both lists: karma yoga (the way of works, or ritualism) and jñâna yoga (the way of knowledge).

The fourth type, râja yoga (the royal way), influenced the way jñâna yoga was interpreted. In a list of three religious types, jñâna yoga and râja yoga referred to mysticism—knowledge of the Absolute. Thus, both were essentially mystical paths, leading to knowledge of the Absolute.

YOGA, YOGAS - A system of thought and practice

The distinctive yoga of cognitive, spiritual study (jñâna) that produced far more than the six traditional philosophies (dars´anas) was lost. When four religious types are recognized, râja yoga is mysticism and jñâna yoga is a rational, philosophical path of knowledge, meaning, and purpose.

Among these paths or spiritual disciplines, bhakti is the most accepting and appreciative of mythology and its uses, while the jñâna yoga of Hindu rationalism was unsympathetic and even hostile toward mythology.

Rational Hinduism’s modern manifestation, the Brahmo Samaj, is consistent with those philosophers of the past who rejected idols and myths. Mystical practice (râja and/or jñâna yoga) entails renunciation of everything, including worship, images, and myths.

Leave a Comment