Yoga Philosophy

M. R. Dwarakanath

Introduction: The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root युज् to unite. Primarily Yoga means union, application, means, etc. In the Gita, Sankhya refers to knowledge and Yoga to the means to such knowledge. Similarly in the Darshanas too, Sankhya and Yoga are closely related. Yoga accepts the 25 Tattwas of Sankhya en mass and adds Ishwara or the Lord as the 26th Tattwa. While Sankhya’s focus rests on understanding the material principle, Yoga’s focus is on reining in the mind. Sankhya considers reasoning and a correct understanding of Prakrti (matter) as the means to release, Yoga deals with the Purusa (mind,) consciousness, meditation and devotion as means for release. Yoga is more theistic than Sankhya or Vaishesika. One finds references to the Lord, Karma, personal deity etc. in Yoga.

Yoga philosophy is attributed to sage Patanjali who is also regarded as the author of Mahabhashya, a commentary on Panini Sutras. Patanjali is said to have flourished around the 2nd century BCE. He composed the Yoga Sutras, a traditional aphoristic work, in 4 chapters comprising a total of 194 – 196 Sutras. The 4 chapters are: Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada or Kriya Yoga, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada. Vyasa, Vacaspati, Bhojaraja and Vijnanabhikshu are some of the commentators on the Yoga Sutras.

Yoga Epistemology: is basically identical with the Sankhyan view of 3 valid means to knowledge – Perception, Inference and Revelation. Revelation includes both scripture as well as testimony by a reliable source. Sense perception is mediated by the mind grasping the object of perception through the sense organs. The Mahat Tattva of Sankhya is called Citta in Yoga. Citta undergoes changes when the senses cognize an object. The mind thereby creates a representation of the object. This process is called Vrtti. Yoga is concerned with restraining the Citta Vrttis through spiritual practice and overcoming desire. Yoga makes a distinction between Yogic perception and ordinary perception. Yoga introduces the concept of Vishesa or particularity which is distinct from Samanya or commonality. Knowledge gained by sense perception provides information only about the common or Samanya. Knowledge about the Vishesa or the particulars and the subtlety therein is gained only in the insights of Samadhi.

 Misconception, imagination, memory and sleep represent unreliable knowledge. Misconception is illusory knowledge caused by a lack of integrity in experience. Imagination is reliance on words and lacking in objectivity. Memory is the persistence of sense perception even after the contact between the senses and the object of perception is broken! Sleep is absence of mindfulness.

Yoga Metaphysics: views the difference between mind and matter to be merely one of a preponderance of certain Gunas.  Mind is more Satvik while matter is more Tamasik by nature. Individuals differ from each other in their content of these 3 Gunas. The Sattvik souls tend to be calm, wise, happy etc. while Rajasiks tend to be more restless and active. The Tamasiks tend to be dull, lazy or stupid.

Samadhi Pada: This chapter begins with a definition of Yoga as the restraint of mental modifications. It is one of discrimination between subject and object or mind and matter. In this state of Yoga one realizes one’s true nature or Self, which is the goal of life. This awareness of the true Self is distinct from one’s thoughts. It is a state of content-less awareness. The Vrtti (modifications of thought) are of 5 types. They are: Pramana (correct knowledge,) Viparyaya (mis-conception,) Vikalpa (doubt,) Nidra (sleep) and Smrti (memory.) These vacillations are stilled by practice and dispassion or ridding of all attachment. Non-attachment comes from Self realization and indifference to craving.

Samprajnana or perfect knowledge comes from Vitarka (logical reasoning,) Vicara (contemplative inquiry,) Ananda (reflecting on the true nature of bliss,) and Asmita (the nature of pure being.) This type of knowledge may be inborn (such as in a Yogi) or realized by faith, being absorbed in the spirit (being mindful) and an intense desire for wisdom. Spiritual practice culminates in devotion to the Lord, who is distinct from the self and untainted by karma. The sound of the sacred (divine) syllable OM denotes the self. Repetition of the syllable OM with reverence and love is a path to spiritual refinement, self awareness and removal of obstacles.

Nine obstacles to such knowledge are identified. They are: Vyadhi (Disease,) Styana (Dullness,) Samshaya (Doubt,) Alasya (Laziness,) Bhranti (Delusion,) Avirati (Fatigue,) Alabdha-bhumikatva (lack of focus,) Anavasthitatva (Instability) and Pramada (Negligence.) These result in suffering and interfere with proper respiration. These obstacles can be overcome with a positive attitude and by meditation on a single object / idea. Specific means of overcoming obstacles are by proper breath control and focusing the mind. When the vacillations of the mind are tamed, one enters a state of Samadhi in which the knower, knowing and knowledge fuse into one. When the Vasanas (mental impressions) are purified, perception becomes free from thought and free from form. It is a state of pure consciousness.

Sadhana Pada: This chapter deals with practical ways of attaining states of higher consciousness. They include self-discipline, study and devotion to the Lord. These are attitudes that facilitate being absorbed in spirit and ward off suffering.  Suffering is caused by Ignorance of one’s essence. Ego, attachment, hatred and fear of death are barriers to true knowledge. Ignorance is thinking of the ephemeral as the true self. Egoism is the mistaken notion that perception is consciousness. Attachment and hatred are dwelling on pleasure and pain. When such causes are still in a potential state, its effects can be mitigated by meditation. As long as the Vasanas remain, the potential for suffering exists. Pain is caused by the identification of the seer with the seen. When one realizes that the seer is pure consciousness and the seen exists only for the seer, the world ceases to exist.

The path to discrimination and wisdom consists of eight steps. They are: Yama (self control,) Niyama (rules,) Asana (posture,) Pranayama (regulation of breath,) Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from sense objects,) Dharana (focus,) Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (being absorbed in the Self.)

Self control consists of Ahimsa (non-violence,) Satya (truthfulness,) Brahmacarya (continence) and Aparigraha (non-covetousness.) The rules are: Sauca (cleanliness,) Santosha (happiness,) Tapas (austerity,) Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrendering unto the Lord.) Surrendering to the Lord results in acute awareness of the spirit.

Yoga posture begins with a stable, relaxed and comfortable position. It helps one to overcome reacting to praise or criticism; making Pranayama to follow naturally. Pranayama lifts the veil of ignorance obscuring the effulgent self.


Vibhuti Pada: deals with the benefits that accrue from Yogic practice. This section begins with Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Dharana is mental focus, Dhyana is constant awareness and Samadhi is a state of content-less awareness. These states are internal as against the first 5 which are directed externally. When all these 3 states are in harmony it is Samyama. Various Siddhis (supernatural gifts) and powers flow from Samyama. They include: intuition into past and future events, ability to understand the language of animals, awareness of one’s previous lives, knowledge of the extra-terrestrial world, disappearing from this body and entering another’s body etc. However, these supernatural gifts pose obstacles to being absorbed in pure spirit. Instead one should be absorbed in the spirit and gain the discriminative knowledge with heightened intuition. When the mind is purified thus, absolute freedom awaits.

Kaivalya Pada: deals with the nature of reality and final emancipation or beatitude. This chapter discusses the power of the Gunas and how to transcend limitations of space and time. A single thought becomes the source of many such thoughts. However, a thought arising from meditation does not bind one in the karmic snare.

Summary: In summary Yoga is a theistic philosophy whose goal is release from the cycle of births and deaths. The means to release is one of restraining the modifications of the mind. This is possible by constant practice and by giving up attachment. The practical approach is Astanga Yoga consisting of 8 steps. Five of these steps are external relative to the body and the final 3 relate to the mind. Even these 3 are external to the self. Yogic practice and devotion to the Lord clears the mind and the self shines through. The self becomes rooted in its pure nature unsullied by matter principle. This is release!

॥सर्वं श्रीकृष्णार्पणमस्तु॥


Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation (SVBF) is established as an international extension of the ancient Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka State, India. It is incorporated as a non-profit religious and charitable organization in the USA. The Foundation functions under the direct guidance of the Jagadguru Shankaracharya, His Holiness Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamigal of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham.

One Response to “Yoga Philosophy”

  1. Josalpra says:

    Hi,only when we can control our mind we can acivehe anything i realise that we can control our mind only by yoga. thankyou for giving me this gnanam.Last two proverb are thought provoking and capturing.THANKYOU FOR GIVING SUCH A WONDERFUL EXPLANATION -NITHYA HARI

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