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Yoga Philosophy

A large statue in Bangalore depicting Lord Shiva meditating.Yoga has been called a science or technology of liberation. This is because, unlike purely theoretical philosophies, yoga seeks to provide the student with a practical path (or indeed many possible paths) towards the common goal of liberation. As explained above, Yoga is a diverse tradition, which makes it quite difficult to provide a concise summary of the philosophy. One approach is to consider common elements that are found in all (or nearly all) braches of the tradition.

Within othodox Hindu philosophy there are six schools (astika) that recognise Vedic authority, of which Yoga is one. These schools are traditionally placed into three complimentary pairs - Yoga being paired with Samkhya, which is the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in Hinduism. The Samkhya school has deeply influenced the Hindu Yoga school of philosophy. Samkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two eternal realities: Purusha and Prakrti; it is therefore a strongly dualist and enumerationist philosophy. The Purusha is the centre of consciousness, whereas the Prakriti is the source of all material existence. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered to be the founder of the Samkhya school, although no historical verification is possible. The definitive text of classical Samkhya is the extant Samkhya Karika, written by Ishvara Krishna, circa 200 CE.

Returning to the practical side, the first step for any potential student (shishya or chela) of yoga is to find a suitable teacher. Traditionally, this relationship would be with a guru - who is seen as an embodiment of the Divine - and would involve a relatively full-time committment to study, often involving manual service to the guru as a form of payment for instruction. A guru may also found an ashram or order of monks. Many gurus write modern translations and elucidations of classical texts, explaining how their particular teachings should be followed. In practice, the modern western student is much more likely to attend a local yoga course and receive instruction from a teacher who are themselves practicing the style of a particular school founded by a guru. It is often a mark of accomplishment and authenticity if a yoga teacher can demonstrate their close link to a guru with a strong lineage.

In all braches of yoga, the ultimate goal is the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara). Yoga entails mastery over the body, mind, and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. It is said to lead gradually to knowledge of the true nature of reality. The Yogi reaches the enlightened state (Moksha) where there is a cessation of thought and an experience of blissful union. This union may be of the individual soul (Atman) with the supreme Reality (Brahman), as in Vedanta philosophy; or with a specific god or goddess, as in theistic forms of Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism. Enlightenment may also be described as cessation of mental fluctuations (citta-nirodha) accompanied by extinction of the limited ego, and direct and lasting perception of the non-dual nature of the universe.

In Hinduism, Yoga is described as the ultimate way to attain God.Common to most forms of yoga is the practice of concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Dharana, according to Patanjali's definition, is the "binding of consciousness to a single point." The awareness is concentrated on a fine point of sensation (such as that of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils). Sustained single-pointed concentration gradually leads to meditation (dhyana), in which the inner faculties are able to expand and merge with something vast. Meditators sometimes report feelings of peace, joy, and oneness.

The focus of meditation may differ from school to school, e.g. meditation on one of the chakras, such as the heart center (anahata) or the 'third eye' (ajna); or meditation on a particular deity, such as Krishna; or on a quality like peace. Non-dualist schools such as Advaita Vedanta may stress meditation on the Supreme with no form or qualities (Nirguna Brahman). This resembles Buddhist meditation on the Void.






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