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Yoga and Other Traditions

The goals of yoga are expressed differently in different traditions. In theistic Hinduism, yoga may be seen as a set of practices intended to bring people closer to God - to help them achieve union with God. In Buddhism, which does not postulate a creator-type god, yoga may help people deepen their wisdom, compassion, and insight. In Western nations, where there is a strong emphasis on individualism, yoga practice may be an extension of the search for meaning in self, and integration of the different aspects of being. The terms Self-Realization and god-Realization are used interchangeably in Hindu yoga, with the underlying belief that the true nature of self, revealed through the practice of yoga, is of the same nature as God.

For the average person still far from enlightenment, yoga can be a way of increasing one's spiritual awareness, or cultivating compassion and insight. While the history of yoga strongly connects it with Hinduism, proponents claim that yoga is not a religion itself, but contains practical steps which can be found in the esoteric spiritual practices of all religions, as well as those who do not consider themselves religious.

Yoga and Buddhism

It is quite likely that Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama), who is estimated to have lived 563 to 483 BC, actually studied what was known of yoga at that time as part of his extensive education on Hindu philosophy. It is also very likely, given the rapid growth of Buddhism after his death and before the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras were composed, that Buddhism had some influence on those works.

In either case, there is a considerable overlap between Yoga and Buddhism. Of particular interest is a comparison of the Buddhist eight-fold path and the eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga. Their moral precepts (the sila of Buddhism, the yama and niyama of yoga) share the Hindu principle of non-violence (ahimsa); their final steps point towards a common goal - 6. Buddhist Samma Vayama (Effort) vs Yogic Dharana (Concentration), 7. Buddhist Samma Sati (Mindfulness) vs Yogic Dhyana (Meditation) and 8. Buddhist Samma Samadhi vs Yogic Samadhi. An in relation to views of the Self, yoga's asmita-samapatti is designed to eradicate the wrong views on the Self much in the same way Buddha did it in Anatta-lakkhana-sutta.

The correlation between Yoga and Buddhism seems to be particularly strong in Tibetan Buddhism, due to various historical events including the influence of Tantra on Tibetan traditions. For example, a system of 108 bodily postures practiced with breath and heart rhythm timing in movement exercises is known as Trul khor or union of moon and sun (channel) prajna energies, and the body postures of Tibetan ancient yogis are depicted on the walls of the Dalai Lama's summer temple of Lukhang.

Yoga and Tantra

Yoga is often mentioned in company with Tantra, and it is true that these traditions have influenced one another over time. They are both families of spiritual texts, practices, and lineages with origins in the Indian subcontinent and both have been popularized in the West.

Tantra has roots in the first millennium, and incorporates Shiva and Shakti worship. It focuses on the kundalini, a three and a half-coiled 'snake' of spiritual energy at the base of the spine that rises through chakras until union ('samadhi') between Shiva and Shakti is ultimately achieved. These concepts were formally introduced into yoga with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and because of the subsequent popularity of Hatha Yoga, many Hindu and western yoga teachers now accept these essentially tantric concepts within the yogic philosophy, and this is the most obvious major intersection between tantra and yoga today. The acceptance of tantric kundalini teachings into modern yoga was reinforced by the New Age movement which accompanied (and fed into) the rise of popularity of yoga in the West.

However, Tantra and Yoga have notable points of difference. Where body consciousness is seen as the root cause of bondage in Yoga, Tantra views the body as a means to understanding, rather than as an obstruction. As a result, in India particularly, Tantra often carries quite negative connotations involving sexual misbehavior and black magic, although it must be said most forms actually follow quite mainstream social mores and this is simply an expression of prejudice.

The actual method of Tantra is quite different to traditional Raja Yoga. It emphasises mantra (Sanskrit prayers, often to gods, that are repeated), yantra (complex symbols representing gods in various forms through intricate geometric figures), and rituals that range from simple murti (statue representations of deities) or image worship to meditation on a corpse.






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