The Importance of Yoga and Meditation in Hinduism; Goal of Achieving Moksha (Liberation): Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that originated in India and has been a strong tradition there for centuries. It is seen as a way to achieve liberation, particularly in Hinduism. The practice of yoga is first mentioned in the Upanishads, a collection of ancient Hindu texts, between the fifth and third centuries BCE. In the early Vedic religion, yoga primarily involved performing rituals and ceremonies in order to gain the favor of the gods. However, as the concept of liberation, or moksha, became more central to Hinduism, yoga began to shift its focus from external rituals to inner spiritual practices. This shift is reflected in the Mundaka Upanishad, which states that sacrifices and rituals are inferior and unstable ways of achieving liberation, and that the practitioner’s focus should be on inner spiritual practices rather than external rituals. Despite this shift, formal rituals have been retained as a part of yoga practice, alongside the focus on inner spirituality.
The Importance of Yoga and Meditation in Hinduism; Goal of Achieving Moksha
The classical system of yoga described in the Vedic tradition is known as ashtanga yoga and was developed by the ancient sage Patanjali. It is called the eightfold yoga system because it consists of eight progressive steps, or limbs, known as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. These eight limbs are designed to gradually elevate the practitioner’s consciousness to a higher level of awareness until the state of samadhi is reached. This is a highly conscious state or trance in which the practitioner realizes their true nature and achieves the state of liberation, or moksha.
Specifically, yama refers to ethical discipline and involves abstaining from violence, lying, theft, illicit sex, and excessive attachment to possessions. Niyama involves adhering to rules and observing purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to God. Asana refers to the physical positions or postures used in yoga practice. Pranayama involves control of the breath. Pratyahara involves withdrawing the senses from external stimuli. Dharana involves concentration or one-pointedness of the mind. Dhyana involves meditation. Samadhi is the final step in this process and is the state of liberation. Overall, yoga can be seen as a systematic and almost scientific approach to raising the practitioner’s consciousness and achieving a higher level of awareness through the use of various physical and mental techniques.
According to Patanjali, the ultimate goal of yoga practice in Hinduism is to achieve moksha, or liberation. This is achieved by ending the “whirling” of thought, or citta, through the practice of yoga. Patanjali states that yoga is the process of bringing the activities of the mind, including thought or citta, to a halt. By bringing the mind to a state of stillness and clarity through yoga practice, the practitioner can achieve the ultimate goal of moksha. This is the ultimate aim of yoga in Hinduism, and the various physical and mental techniques used in yoga practice are all designed to help the practitioner reach this state of liberation.
According to Patanjali, yoga is essentially non-theistic, meaning that it does not involve the worship of any particular deity. The eight limbs of yoga he defined, known as Ashtanga Yoga (asht meaning “eight” and anga meaning “limb”), include ethical discipline, rules, physical postures, breath control, withdrawal from the senses, one-pointedness of mind, meditation, and samadhi. One important aspect of yoga practice is breath control, which is seen as a particularly important technique. The Upanishads, a collection of ancient Hindu texts, recognize breath as the “lord of the body” because it is necessary for maintaining life. By regulating the breath, practitioners can control their mind, body, and senses. This idea may have led to the strong emphasis on the practice of pranayama, or breath control, before beginning meditation and concentration in yoga.
The ultimate goal of yoga practice in Hinduism is to achieve samadhi, a state of concentrated meditation that results in the union of the individual self (atman) with the universal soul (Brahman). This state is achieved through the discipline of the mind and the detachment from the senses and sensual pleasures. The purpose of practicing yoga is to achieve this state, which is the ultimate goal of all Hindu yogis. This emphasis on achieving samadhi through the discipline of the mind and detachment from the senses further demonstrates that yoga is more than just meditation, but rather a formal practice that involves a set of specific requirements that must be followed.
The Yoga Sutras, a text compiled by Patanjali, contain the basic teachings of yoga practice in Hinduism. These texts, which are the most commonly cited authority on yoga and date back to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, define yoga as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Patanjali made significant contributions to the practice of yoga by developing the practical components and elaborating on both the theoretical and practical aspects of the practice. He identified various physical positions, exercises, and mental states that are now considered the diverse forms of yoga and described these tools as the eight stages of yoga that lead the practitioner towards the attainment of moksha, or liberation. According to Patanjali, yoga is the ending of the “whirling” of thought, or citta, and by bringing the activities of the mind to a halt, the ultimate goal of yoga practice in Hinduism, moksha, can be achieved.
According to Patanjali, yoga is essentially non-theistic. The eight limbs of yoga he defined, known as Ashtanga Yoga, include ethical discipline, rules, physical postures, breath control, withdrawal from the senses, one-pointedness of mind, meditation, and samadhi. Breath control, or pranayama, is an important aspect of yoga practice and is seen as a superior practice because breath is considered the “lord of the body.” By regulating the breath, practitioners can control their mind, body, and senses. This emphasis on breath control is likely the origin of the strong focus on pranayama in yoga before beginning meditation and concentration.
Samadhi, a state of concentrated meditation, is the ultimate goal of yoga practice in Hinduism. It is meant to discipline the mind and prevent it from being controlled by the senses and sensual pleasures. The purpose of practicing yoga is to achieve this state, which is the ultimate goal of all Hindu yogis. This emphasis on achieving samadhi through discipline and detachment from the senses further demonstrates that yoga is more than just meditation, but rather a formal practice with specific requirements that must be followed.
Origin of Word Yoga
The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to join.” Therefore, yoga is seen as a science that brings the finite self into union with the infinite, or the supreme spirit. In Hinduism, yoga is often described as a practice for controlling the senses and the mind. The Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu scripture dating back to the 6th to 3rd centuries BCE, mentions four types of yoga as paths to achieving moksha, or liberation: bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge), karma (action), and dhyana (concentration, often referred to as raja yoga). However, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes that no matter which path a practitioner chooses, yoga is always an individual journey that requires lifelong dedication. Patanjali, in Yoga Sutra 1.12, also emphasizes the importance of consistent practice, or abhyasa, in achieving the goals of yoga.
Yoga is a multidisciplinary tool that is highly valued in Hinduism as a means of purifying the mind, body, and gaining control over one’s emotions. It is seen as an effective tool for both physical well-being and self-transformation, and is useful for both those seeking mental peace in the material world and ascetics striving for liberation. Yoga helps practitioners to become better people and better devotees.
References to yoga can be found in many Hindu scriptures, including the Katha Upanishad, which dates back to 800-600 BCE and states that the firm control of the senses is considered yoga. This suggests that yoga has a definite metaphysical component in Hinduism and is considered an independent philosophy. Patanjali was the first to classify yoga as a body of philosophy, while also incorporating elements of Jainism and Buddhism. The Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu scripture, also mentions the word “yoga” numerous times, further demonstrating the centrality of yoga in Hinduism and the pursuit of liberation.
Today, on the other hand, yoga is widely misinterpreted as primarily a physical activity focusing on the different postures or asana. While practicing yoga for health reasons and to improve one’s physical condition is acceptable, it is not the ultimate goal of yoga or the purpose for practicing it in Hinduism. A development in the Western world, above all, is the transformation of yoga from an inner spiritual journey to a commercialized multi-million dollar industry, which is troubling to Hindus who see it as yoga being severed from its roots. After all, for Hindus, ‘yoga is a spiritual discipline rooted in Hindu philosophy and is universally available to anyone.’
We can go as far as speaking of a conflict between East and West or a modern versus a traditional interpretation when it comes to yoga today. Whereas modern yoga is a popular practice that transcends cultures as well as national borders, in Hinduism, older and more traditional forms of yoga have persisted to the present day. But, as Long (2014) notes, a Modern Hinduism has also emerged, which like the Modern Yoga in the West, is characterized by an innovative approach to the traditional Hindu systems of thought and practice. However, even the modern versions of yoga are still connected to Hinduism. The Indian masters who first introduced yoga to the Western world did so as part of the Hindu identity and worldview, so we cannot distinguish between yoga and Hinduism as separate concepts.
Ultimately, we still have to acknowledge ‘the Hindu provenance of much of the conceptual and practical content of the various yoga traditions’. This leads to some tension between Indian Hindus and the West today because there are those proponents who believe that yoga and Hinduism are the cultural property of Indian Hindus, on the one hand, and those yoga practitioners, in particular in the West, who consider either yoga or Hinduism as being universally relevant and not confined to their Indian roots. Non-Indian practitioners who see yoga’s primary purpose as a secular, physical or therapeutic one unrelated to its origins are likely to be thought by some Indian Hindus to be purporting intellectual dishonesty.
In summary, yoga is a spiritual concept that originated in Hinduism and is not simply a set of doctrines or theories. It is a collection of simple practices and rituals that involve physical and spiritual techniques and methods. The eight limbs of yoga, as defined by Patanjali, include meditation and other practices such as assuming specific physical postures, practicing breath control, withdrawing the senses from external stimuli, and stilling the mind. Meditation is explicitly mentioned as one of the eight limbs, and the ultimate goal of this practice is to reach the peak state of meditation known as samadhi, which leads to moksha, or liberation. While there are modern interpretations of yoga that focus more on the physical aspects of the practice, traditional Hindu yoga remains focused on the spiritual goals of attaining liberation.
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The Importance of Yoga and Meditation in Hinduism; Goal of Achieving Moksha (Liberation)