The Library

Yoga and Hinduism



Yoga as we tend to know it today is based on the school of philosophy described by Patanjali around the second century CE.  Yoga is not a religion in the normal sense of the word.  It is a way of seeing life, indeed a way of living.  There is no conflict between any of the great religions and the basis of yoga.


Yoga has been practiced now for at least 5 – 10,000 years.  There is evidence to suggest it is much older: maybe even going back up to 40,000 years ago.


Yoga, like all the great religions is based upon the moral virtues which are unaffected by time or place.  This is the `truth` known as `sanatana dharma`.


Apparently having developed on the Indian sub-continent, it is not surprising that yoga and the form of Hinduism as we know it today, share many commonalities.  In particular there is the recognition of deities which are seen as aspects of a single god or universal force, often called the Ultimate Reality.


Patanjali suggests a `dualist` concept of being where `purusha` or the transcendental `Self`, (the atman of advaita), is separate from the power of nature or creation, `prakriti`, and the aim of yoga is to bring about the union, `yoga` of the Self with the creative force, the Ultimate Reality..  For yogins (m), or yoginis (f), the most commonly accepted teaching of our relationship with god is known as nondualism or Advaita , where it is considered that all is one, and all the deities are simply aspects of that god.  In the same way a person may be a parent, sibling, friend, lover, colleague etc but still remains the same one person.  In `advaita` the aim of yoga is realise that we are also a part of that Ultimate Reality.  It is our ego which creates our awareness of separateness, and it is this which should be subdued.


To help us realise this relationship of ourself with that Ultimate Reality, human societies throughout history have relied on anthropomorphic images of god.  In the ancient  Vedic scriptures many deities have been described, but usually thirty-three are generally recognised.  


Each deitiy will have specific characters and associations with other deities.  The characters represent the material, psychological and spiritual aspects of the deity.  These aspects also represent the same  elements within ourself, and indeed the world.  The many forms of god allow each individual to associate with the aspect of god with which they feel a particular affinity.  In Hinduism this is known as the `ishta devata` the god chosen by the individual, or the god who has chosen the individual.  The two most common deities in this context for Hindus are Shiva and Vishnu.  For Christians it could equally well be Jesus Christ.  However yoga does not rely on any recognition of God, simply an acknowledgement of the fundamental moral truths of human existence – sanatana dharma.



Derek Osborn / Swami Shiv Giri                                               2003