Vedā: Yoga

The origin of Yoga in Vedā

Yoga in the sense of philosophy and spirituality comes from Vedic religion, (and not some stray “aboriginal religion”) and finds its mention in Rigveda. It is a purely spiritual activity in Rigveda.

The spiritual yoga is purely Vedic and is attested in the Rigvedic religion. It can be achieved by being in union with the divine knowledge (going beyond the words to attain the meaning), achieved by being in union with the essence of Vedic words, achieved by being in union with One’s Self, achieved with being in union with the final Reality going beyond the “many”s to “The One”.

In Rigveda, the solar metaphor is used to code the idea of yoga. Sun’s rays are called horses and Indra/Brhaspati “yokes” them in the dawn. This might sound funny or like a myth, but its significance comes when we read Vedic Sanskrit and note the metaphors – Sun is the metaphor for Reality, its rays are the means for us to reach the One, and the dawn is as usual, the spiritual dawn.

Yoga is thus Union.

The ideal yogi who has become one with his Self is described by the same Sun. Or more usually, the “dawn sun” who represents the enlightened person in spiritual dawn. There are many references to yogic journey in the spiritual realm by the spiritual seer poets of Rigveda. They travel in the solar boat, to and fro, in the spiritual realm (metaphor – the sky)

Seven of Rigvedic seers were the mystics, the “vAtarashanas” (air-feeders), and they saw the poem 10.136 in Rigveda. In the poem, they talk about being one with the One, and thus the Sun. The Sun is called keshin, his rays being the locks of hair. The Vedic Sun is the metaphor of One Reality or One God or one knowledge, manifested as different rays or different concepts of God or different syllables. As I have repeated, the rays are the medium through which we comprehend the presence of the Sun. But, to see the Sun, we must move through and beyond the rays. Similarly, through the horses Indra “yokes” in the spiritual dawn, one travels to the spiritual realm.

The wind of inspiration is their food and drive, they “through the ropes of winds”, fly across from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.

The word “yoga” as such appears in 6 mentions in the Rigveda. However, it is only in three of them: 1.18.7, 1.30.7, 10.114.9 that the word assumes a meaning that is not literally related to the “yoking of horse”.

Yoga – Historical implications in Rigveda

The word yoga is derived from ‘yuj-’ meaning to “yoke”. It was initially used to mean the “yoking of horses” in Rigveda, which stood for the poetic implication of yoking the Self in the rays of spiritual dawn. (usually called the “bay/tawny horses” – hari-ashva in Rigveda) Thus, yoga is the art of yoking yourself with the spiritual rays of the Dawn, the Uṣas, which is facilitated by Indra or Brahmaṇaspati. The Indra, through his bay horses yoked to his vacoyuja (yoked with the word; word of the poet/devotee) viśvasammiśla (universally mingling) chariot, gets to the mind of devotee to help him in his spiritual struggle against the Vr̥tras inside.

Thus, in the inner world, yoga is a spiritual activity, which promotes the spiritual journey.

Yoga as per Rigveda

The mentions and meanings in Rigveda

As you see, yoga deviates from even its literal meaning of yoking horses to the derived metaphorical meaning inside the Rigveda itself. In 1.18.7, the mention is :

sa dhīnāṁ yogaṁ invati

“He (saH) promotes (invati) the yoga (yogam) of thoughts (dhInAm)”. (He here is again, Brahmaṇaspati) In this mention, it is clear that Rigveda has itself showed to us what the “bay horses yoked by Indra / Brahmanaspati” are, in the more lucid part of the first Mandala. Thus, it is clear from the mention that yoga is a purely spiritual activity, it has less got to do with physical exercises in Rigveda.

The second important mention is at 1.30.7 :

yoge yoge tavastaraṁ vāje vāje havāmahe

“In each yoga, we invoke the Strong (Indra); in each struggle”.

The third relevant mention is a part of a very mystic but beautiful hymn of Rigveda, in 10.114.9 :

“kaś chandasāṁ yogaṁ ā veda dhīraḥ
ko dhiṣṇyāṁ prati vācaṁ papāda
kam r̥tvijāṁ aṣṭamaṁ śūraṁ āhur
harī indrasya ni cikāya kaḥ svit”

“who knows the yoga of the meters here, who has gained the “word” (Vak) the subject and object of thoughts? who is called the eighth Hero among the conductors of order? who has perhaps controlled the (two) bay horses of Indra!”

My regular readers may not find a problem in understanding the various meanings “who” can have in a Rigvedic poem. Here, it is simply asked as a question, and this hymn follows that it is indeed the One “who” who does all this. Anyway, note the connection of the “yoga” of metres and the speech. It refers to the spiritual process by which the sage composes the poems, the vAk.

Thus, from these mentions of yoga, it should be clear that yoga in Rigveda means the spiritual yoking, the synchronizing of the divine thoughts/speech with the spiritual car of mind to start the spiritual journey. It’s all poetic, don’t blame the poetic seers. Blame it on your curiosity. Blame it on my inefficiency.

Does this mean the sages practiced Hata Yoga? They could have practiced, but the mental and spiritual yoga is what they have given preference to. They have not stopped yoga with spirituality; they integrated it to their poetry, their thoughts, and actions. The mention of physical exercises in relation to meditation is scarce. (Though breathing techniques can be found in Brahmanas) But the inner spirituality and thoughts are given much prominence.

 Origin of Yoga

(May 18th, 2017)

Now we can see a whole poem dedicated to mystic yogis, modeling them in the light of the Sun, who is the model for yogi, with hair locks as rays. The Sun in spiritual dawn is saffron colored or muddy watercolored, the color that the yogis of Rigveda wear.

The poem is 10.136, for “Keshins”, the persons with long hair locks. As the single traveler in the spiritual realm (sky), the Sun is the metaphor for the yogi, who is clad in yellowish mud color (saffron). Let’s see this poem, seen by seven mystics who name themselves as vAtarashanas (“air-feeders”/ “air-eaters”) :
1. Jūti vātaraśana
2: Vātajūti vātaraśana
3: Viprajūta vātaraśana
4: Vṛṣāṇaka vātaraśana
5: Karikrata vātaraśana
6: Etaśa vātaraśana
7: Rśyaśṛṅga vātaraśana

The poem goes thus :

The Keshin bears Agni, Moisture and the two realms earth-sky.
Keshin when viewed, is all sky, This Keshin they call the light.

The Munis, tied to the wind, wear garments of muddy yellow hue.
They travel, following the wind’s course, to where the concepts of God converge.

Gladdened by Muni-hood, Here have we entered the winds.
Just our natural body (and nothing else) is what you mortals see.

Beholding all varied forms, there goes he, flying by the middle region.
The muni, who has been ordained for each of God’s great works.

The muni who is the bearer of wind, friend of vAyu, the God-impelled,
Here dwells he, in two oceans, one of antiquity, and one to come again.

Moving in the footsteps of the Apsarases, Gandharvas and wild beasts,
He, the Keshin, who knows the intention, is the sweet, most delightful friend.

For the Keshin, Vayu crushes, he crushes the inflexible,
when he, the Keshin, drinks from the water cup, with Rudra.

This is a great poem, that talks about the mystic nature of the one who realizes the One, who is just bound by the wind of inspiration. That wind makes him fly in the middle realm between the physical and spiritual. He attains the Sun, the Reality, the master Keshin who supports everything. He becomes beyond the oceans of time, he dwells in the past and future. For him, the air of inspiration crushes what does not bend – the time, and Keshin drinks from same the water cup of Soma, with Rudra the Death.

Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Aug 18th, 2017

What does the word yoga mean in Sanskrit?

Yogah (योगः) means the act, process or result of:

  1. joining or connecting one entity to another,
  2. merging one entity into another,
  3. applying one entity to another,
  4. implementation of an entity or idea or person.

It is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ (युज्).

The word and its verb forms are widely used in a variety of meanings in Sanskrit and Indian languages. Examples:

  • udyoga (उद्योग:) — production, endeavor, business, job, etc.
  • viyoga (वियोगः) — separation, termination, divorce, etc.
  • Ayoga (आयोगः) — commission, committee, etc.
  • niyoga (नियोगः) — engagement, commitment, support, etc.
  • prayoga (प्रयोगः) — experiment, implementation, handle, etc.
  • upayoga (उपयोगः) — utility, use (noun & verb)
  • prayojanam (प्रयोजनम्) — purpose, rationale
  • Ayojanam/prAyojanam (आयोजनम्/प्रायोजनम्) — setup, prepare, sponsor, plan or execute (an event), etc.
  • yogya (योग्यः) — well-suited, fit (for a job or position)
  • ayogya (अयोग्यः) — ill-suited, unfit, useless
  • yukta (युक्तः) — appropriate, proper, adequate
  • yukti (युक्तिः) — clever idea, ruse, smart plan, etc.
  • Ayukta (आयुक्तः) — appointed (to an official position), selected, chosen, an officer (noun), etc.
  • upAyukta (उपायुक्तः) — sub-officer, underling, etc.

Of course, the meaning that is most popular today throughout the world is the spiritual meaning of merging one’s individual consciousness to a universal consciousness; or other variations of what is being merged into what (for example, “state of being”, or “existence”, etc.)

This spiritual meaning existed way back in the Rig Veda itself.

Two examples from Rig Veda:

  1. RV 5.46.1:

हयो न विद्वान् अयुजि स्वयं धुरि तां वहामि प्रतरणीमवस्युवम्। नास्या वश्मि विमुचं नावृतं पुनर्विद्वान् पथः पुरएत ऋजु नेषति ॥

hayo na vidvAn ayuji svayam dhuri tAm vahAmi prataraNIm avasyuvam |

nAsyA vashmi vimucam nAvRtam punarvidvAn pathah puraeta Rju neShati ||”

“Like a knowing horse, I have joined myself to the “world cycle” and I carry that which is protective and gives salvation. I do not desire a release from this, nor do I desire a continuation. The wise, all-knowing Atman, knower of the path, the leader will lead me straight.”

This pretty much summarizes all of Vedanta and all of the Bhakti teachings that came in the later times.

2. RV 5.81.1:

युञ्जते मन उत युञ्जते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः ।

yu~njate mana uta yu~njate dhiyo viprA viprasya bRhato vipashcitah |”

“The wise humans (rishis) join their minds and intellect to the bigger wise, the all-knowing.”

This is very interesting. First of all, this mantra pretty much describes the process of yogic samAdhi. The wise persons (rishis) are trying to merge their consciousness and states of being into the universal consciousness.

Second important point to note is that both the humans and the deity are called “wise”. So there is no essential difference in substance between the human aspirant and the divine. The only difference is that the deity is called the “bigger wise”. So in calling them both “wise”, we see the concept of non-duality (advaita). And in calling the deity the “bigger wise”, we see hints of the concept of qualified non-duality (vishiShTAdvaita).

Author: Ram Abloh
April 7th, 2018
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