A fresh look at the sutras – the history of the sutras

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TACKLING THE SUTRAS

Before I start on the Sutras, I would like to say that I have every respect for tradition if the information contain in it is true and still applicable today.

There is a general consensus in the world that “what is really old must be very good, because in the olden days, life was simpler, less complicated and people were more connected with the earth”. Unfortunately, in my experience is not necessarily right.

Life renews itself every moment, so old things need to be put into the context of efficacy (meaning if it is still working well). However if there is something in tradition that helps me be a better person, is practical, makes me more intelligent and loving, I am all for it.

Now, imagine sitting in a cave in the Himalayas for a few million years in a blessed state of Samadhi and then when you wake up every civilization or so you are being tasked with handing down the guidelines for humankind to follow.

This may sound funny, but according to Dr. Ernst Muldashev, a Russian researcher, this is exactly how it is. The ancient keepers of our human genetic stock are sitting protected in caves in the Himalayas for a great number of years until it is time to re-animate and get the ball rolling again, so to speak.

Only whatever they have created as a new civilization 10 – 12000 years ago, obviously has not worked yet, otherwise we would live in paradise and not in this social karmic chaos that is currently reigning the planet.

I only mention this because these wise men or rishis (mystic seers) are thought to be responsible for recording the vedic scriptures, apparently the oldest written down words on earth.

The Vedas are one of the major sources of yogic scriptures, which throughout the ages have created our current understanding of yoga. The other sources are of a more shamanistic tradition and resulted in what is know as “tantric” yoga.

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As the title of this blog says I would like to ”tackle the sutras”. I can do this because I am intelligent, in touch with life and love and I don’t trust in tradition blindly because any tradition is in the past and life is NOW. And also because in my experience old things need updating every now and then.

So this blog is a lovely little “tackle” – I got the word from the Finnish ice hockey culture. They too love to tackle.

As I said before, my wife and I educate yoga teachers because of the great benefits that yoga can bring to our society. Because we are dedicated to this we need to be always right at the source of life and love (hence the name of our school – YOGASOURCE).

We have done this work for many years now and have produced wonderful intelligent and loving teachers. Kudos to all of them.

So to make yoga an even better system than it already is, we decided to not only teach about the many physiological and the traditionally based spiritual benefits, we also found it necessary to re-evaluate the practical behavioral benefits that can be derived from yoga. Yoga in essence has it all, but it needs to be taught rightly.

So I decided to look at each aspect of the current Yoga Sutras and to add those things that the venerated sages of old have obviously overlooked (or chose to deliberately avoid, can’t tell).

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rig

THE HISTORY OF YOGA

Lets start of by taking a little (very much condensed) look at the history of yoga.

The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The origin of the Rig Veda, the first of the four vedas is somewhat unclear, but is generally thought to go back a few thousand of years. It is also thought that the Rig Veda originated in India but according to Graham Hancock’s research that origin may be questioned (see Graham Hancock “Underworld”).

The Rig Veda is said to have originated as an oral tradition that much later was compiled into a written text. There are seven rishis (saptarishi) which are thought of as the patriarchs of the Vedas. These seven rishis are often associated with being the keepers of knowledge throughout the ages but also appear in other cultures (see “Underworld”), like ancient Sumerian texts.

The seven rishis that handed down the vedas are strongly associated holy places in the Himalayas. Why always the Himalayas?

According to Dr. Ernst Muldashev, there are many caves in the Himalayas that serve as “storage facilities” for human genetic seed stock, meaning that there are beings in those caves from this current and other much older civilizations that apparently millions of years old. Those caves have the right temperature (4° C) to enable a sage to enter the state of Samadhi, which is a state where the physical body’s metabolism is lowered down to zero. It is then cosmic energy that keep the bodies alive for all those years. Many of those beings are rishis.

After the original rishis recorded the Rig Veda, the writings got gradually refined over a period of a few thousands of years by the work of other rishis or Brahmans, depending on which tradition you follow.

Most of these rishis that the Vedas are attributed to are of male gender (although there appears to be mention of female rishis as well in the Rig veda – which was also confirmed by Muldachev’s research)

Chronologically the Rig Veda is the oldest Veda and was then followed by the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. Interestingly, according to researchers Joseph Selbie und David Steinmetz, (the Yugas), there appears to be a gradual chronological degradation of the vedas over time, meaning the first Rig Veda was of a different and much higher quality then the last Atharva Veda.

Selbie and Steinmetz conclude that the influence of the great year, a great cosmic year that lasts about 24.000 years and is recorded as the knowledge of the Yugas in Hindu tradition, causes a definite cyclical rising and falling consciousness on the planet. This cycle of the yugas is can be viewed as a very long version of the four seasons in an ordinary year. This cycle is very easy to follow and corresponds beautifully with recorded history. If you have not heard of the book, I highly recommend it.

So at the time the Vedas were recorded the planetary consciousness was already in decline. (This is important because it indicates that there is every chance that something is missing in the Vedas that cannot be written down – something that needs to experienced – love, in my opinion). The yugas also explain why the Vedas were not recorded earlier – because earlier people did not need written texts; their communication was more telepathic nature, writing was too slow.

Right now, though, it is lovely to know, we are on an ascending curve to a higher consciousness, meaning our consciousness is making leaps and bounds toward more love and unity.

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Back to the history: Other non-vedic texts that are important to understanding the traditional Hindu yogic mindset are the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Ghita, which is a love story embedded within the Mahabharata.

yoginiParallel to the development of the vedic yogic context there was another development which was known as Tantra Yoga. Tantra yoga appears to be of shamanistic origin and is also very old (about 7000 years or more).

Tantric yoga differs from vedic yoga in so far that woman was very much included in the practice of yoga and in fact worshipped as a goddess. the goal was to awaken Shakti, the concept of divine feminine creative power.

From the sources that I read in the net, it appears that the tantric approach was very much alive by the end of the 19th century but fell into the background with the arrival of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Today tantra yoga as well as kundalini yoga (which has elements of tantra yoga) experience a revival through the efforts of the west.

In fact though, when talking about modern yoga, we are dealing to a larger degree with a traditional old patriarchal approach rather than the more female tantric one.

This means in simple terms that men have come up with those ideas on how to reach samadhi – and this is important in the context of this blog, because men have that tendency to not put first things first (love), but to put second things first (such as science, tradition, religion etc.). Many men they tend to overlook love, as you might have noticed).

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patanjali

One of the later male sages who contributed to yogic knowledge was a a hindu monk called Patanjali who is credited with creating the current Yoga Sutras, a compilation of 196 aphorisms that lay down the foundation for a yogis life. The origin of the yoga sutras is generally given as about 200 A.D.

* Just in case you don’t know, an aphroism is a piece of writing that is more like giving a hint rather than a precise description. In practical terms it means you have to figure out what it means for yourself – that is why there is so much commentary on it.

Patanjali’s yoga sutras are basically attributed to Hindu religion but have definitely aspects of Buddhism in it. (Buddhism appears to have been based on the Upanishads, which are part of the Vedas, although Buddha himself opposed the Hindu tradition.).

Again please note that before the 20th century the ”Indian yoga scene” was based on the texts of the Bhagavad Ghita, the Yoga Vasishta, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and various Tantra Yoga texts, rather than Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Except the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which clearly teaches to avoid woman, all other approaches actually emphasize the worship of woman and provide therefore another historical viewpoint for the development of yoga.

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viviekAs history goes, Patanjali’s yoga sutras became famous in the west through the work of Swami Vivekanada, a hindu monk that is accredited with bringing the Raja Yoga (meaning royal yoga) tradition to the western world.

Today Patanjali’s yoga sutras are among the most followed-by recommendations that yoga practitioners the world over live by (or at least try to.)

Patanjali’s yoga sutras describe an “eight limbed path”, a set of guidelines that prepares and enables the yoga practioner to achieve Samadhi or Enlightenment, a state of ultimate freedom from the wheel of life (meaning the cycle of life ie. the yugas).

Those guidelines concentrate mostly on training the mind by connecting directly with the life force itself and then withdrawing into the highest states of spiritual life.

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So, in summary of Part 1:

Here we have a very old sacred text, the Vedas, that has been used as a source by the monk/sage Patanajali to create the current yoga sutras which describe an “eight limbed path” to achieving Samadhi, a blessed state of oneness with all, but apparently not so much with our own sexuality.

This system was first made famous in the west by a Hindu monk, Swami Vivekanada, and then further by Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, the great Indian yogi/monk that captured the world with his magic stories of yogic achievement.

In modern times Patanjali’s yoga sutras are the philosophical foundation for all of BKS Iyengar yoga, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya yoga, TKV Desikachar yoga and Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga yoga.

Parallel to the development of vedic yoga we have tantric yoga, which does emphasize the importance of woman in spiritual development but which compared to modern yoga culture is somewhat in the background.

In essence then we can say there were many Hindu yogic male monk/sages that laid down the foundation for traditional yoga and over the past 100 years or so brought this system to the western world. Many of these great teachers were, we are told, celibate, but the founders of the most well-known yoga styles today were indeed married, loved their wives and lived the life of a householder Yogi (which traditionally involves a fairly regulated behavior pattern between man and woman and is quite different to what we live in the west)

Knowing that a large percentage of yoga practitioners the world over are western women, this makes for an interesting dynamic.

Now, let’s see how the Sutras hold up and go to..

Limb no. 1: Yama