Below are highlights of the extant yoga text called Yajnavalkya Yoga and Yoga Yajnavalkya. Below it is first put in context, and then follows gleanings or highlighted topics from the chapters.
The text that is called Yoga Yajnavalkya and Yajnavalkya Yoga here, is also known as Yajnavalkya Gita, Yajnavalkya Samhita and by twelve other names. Yajnavalkya is the name of a legendary sage from Vedic times. The Sanskrit word gita means song, and also translates as words, and poem. Samhita means collection.
Yajnavalkya Samhita is a yoga manual. In it, the sage Yajnavalkya explains to his wife Gargi how to attain to very deep meditation. The text's main grasp, its structure, embeds the eight limbs that are also found in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The text enlarges on pivotal ashtanga (eight-limb) ideas also, and brings a broader view of central issues.
These limbs are understood in several ways. Moreover, how they are weighed and made use of, differs too. In part it depends on what you are aiming at.
Suppleness - count it in. If getting supple limbs and body is one of your aims, or harmonising the body, there could be more focus on a regiment of body postures and some ways of breathing, perhaps adding meditation to it. Hatha-yoga, or "body yoga", contains some such old disciplines for de-stressing and getting calmer, for example.
Forms of inward yoga. However, if you aim higher, at personal development and subtler awareness, sound meditation is favoured. There are many ways here too - several alternative routes, that is. The traditional view is to balance a few of such yoga margas, or yoga paths. Now, few or no meditation ways may compare to meditation that swiftly make your meditation profound even if your body is rigid. Spending time on the cardinal matter, on meditation, should be time wisely spent. Mantra meditation has long been recommended - for example by the dear rishi Vyasa and the Buddhist saint Milarepa - as particularly helpful for progress in higher yoga. Getting firmly set on a good path is said to be vital for meditation achievements. Likewise, if you want to get benefits from meditation, get to the heart of it.
Meditate well and deeply for developing soundly. A practical goal is to advance into deep meditation. If we let swift, deep meditation come first, other parts or limbs of good yoga may gradually be fixed or well adjusted. If not, meditate still: that is about the essence of it. And this is to say: It should be good to learn to meditate first. That should help and be fit. Besides, from among the many techniques, have sense to pick the best or suitable one(s) and leave the others.
The best meditation methods should be documentedly best by tidy research results and show up as best among all the researched methods - generally speaking, and for more specific purposes. For the lack of documentation, some propounders take to hype on behalf of their meditation ways, take to big, largely unsubstantiated words, that is. There are many tricks around, and swayed research findings too. Ask for evidence instead of being taken in. And refrain from trusting Wikipedia wholesale too: It may not suit plumbing matters well, but can be better at showing details and findings pertaining to things that pop up to a surface - suited for cataloguing issues by broad classifications and links, as the case may be. For better information that biased and faulty articles and their links, why not go for savoury specialist literature - as it pays to be circumspect about one's sources of information, and weigh them. [Cf. WP, sv. "Meditation research"]
Guru help. Statistics hardly bring the whole picture of matters: there may be nuances that count and that averaging statistics have not caught in its net, so to speak. Friends may not be unbiased, or they fall short in some way or other. Experienced folks may offer helpful counsel to good friends, though - friendly, apt counsel. Buddha advocates getting and considering the advice of experienced folks. The yoga traditions abound in variously experienced folks, and others too. Some yogis take it upon them to serve as gurus.
There are mediocre gurus and other gurus - some may be false gurus too, or frauds. And then there are gurudevas, or Self-realised gurus. Such a guru's help is said to vital for catching the big salmon of one's Self, or "catching the fig fish", in the words of David Lynch. In India some texts are linked up to famous gurus. Most important, the guru helps one on and up. Without that assistance, one may fall away from the practises, stagnate or get adrift or go astray heedlessly, needlessly, succumb to failures and get overpowered too.
To put it more poetically: The water surface may be calm, and lone diving may feel fine and go well for a long time, but suddenly a school of barracudas attack the one who ventures below the surface unaided by anyone. The deeper he ventures, the more pressure is there to cope with too. Don't venture into the deep, dangerous waters of the mind unaided, is the standard advice. Learn how to dive in the better, safe ways, and get help and assistance as needed. Better be on the safe side.
There are many who are called gurus. A guru is a teacher, instructor, preceptor. And a gurudeva is a divine helper, mysterious too. The true and kind gurus are said to be in the minority among all who are called gurus in India. There are also frauds, including deep frauds. They may bring non-essential teachings, false teachings, dupe and lead astray by falsity and perversions and more - or less. The key: they are not fully self-realised, and not out to help others in reality. There are lots of counterfeits, they say in India, suggesting that nine out of ten gurus are false gurus. The figure may not be accurate, though.
Helpful gurudevas have attained deep-going realisation of their Self and of sides to the world as we know it. Moreover, they are able to help or assist their friends somehow. Linking up with a true, friendly guru is essential for progress in more elevated meditation matters. That is an essential yoga teaching - in this text Yajnavalkya serves as a guru instructor to his wife. For the lack of a personal trainer one can make good progress anyway; for the lack of a gurudev, one may also progress both in shallow and limpid waters and delve deep, although there may be certain risks or dangers to it. Some are lucky and get happy. This is to say that for the lack of a gurudev, one may strain and sift the offered techniques, weigh the methods, choose what are possible fit for oneself, practice skilfully, and benefit. That is the approach that Buddha speaks for. His role as a teacher is to point to the way. Others have to walk it themselves, or climb it, as the case may be.
Thus, for the lack of a good and divine guru, such a gurudev, try to find fit methods and get solidly skilful in doing them, and in balancing them with other sides to your daily life as long as you can or will.
The scope of Yoga Yajnavalkya
A broader scope. Yoga Yajnavalkya differs from Patanjali Yoga in some respects; there are similarities and differences. Some key terms are explained differently, and there are some helpful, alternative understandings linked to various steps and stages of yoga. By way of example, the text describes ten don'ts and ten do's where Patanjali's has two sets of five each.
One should know that each term that is used, can have many meanings. Se arjava and dhriti further down for an example. The sensible selection is as intended in the old book in its context, and maybe with some larger outlooks that don't negate the old ones, but stays wisely along with them, if that can be).
Mark well: Yajnavalkya offers five more yamas and five more niyamas than Patanjali. The student of Sanskrit may eventyally find an abundance of intertwined alternatives to the Sanskrit translations or understandings offered in Yoga Yahnavalkya If in doubt, stick to the old and traditional meanings.
The limbs of Yajnavalkya are often more extensive than those of Patanjali. For example Yajnavalkya speaks of five old means of getting pratyahara, and relates the yoga to kundalini (coiled up energy) and nadis (channels) too.
The text also describes several types of pranayama, five ways to pratyahara and four types of dharana. Pranayama, pratyahara and dharana are key aspects of Patanjali Yoga, but they are not explained so broadly there, and not so many of them.
A good source of ancient yoga. Yoga Yajnavalkya is a text to ponder on. One may come to appreciate that there are other or wider ways to go ahead than the ones Patanjali delineates. It may be appreciated as a yoga work that is compementary to Patanjali Yoga's very terse "recipes". And other reputed yoga texts, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, have borrowed verses from Yoga Yajnavalkya.
The text is focused on life energy, prana, which is related to energy channels called nadis. A good part of the text is focused on dealing with prana so as to make it furnish inner growth and essential realisation. Such dealing with the prana is termed prapayáma. There are several pranayama methods.
The first chapters cover ashtanga yoga (eight-limbed yoga) one by one.
Yájnavalkya explains principles and practice of yoga to his wife Gárgi. They live in a hermitage with other sages. In an assembly of such sages, Gárgi asks her husband and guru Yájnavalkya to teach all gathered his wise yoga.
Yajnavalkya is glad to explain what God the Creator has taught him about how to live very well. And after being asked by Gargi to elaborate on God's teachings, he does that too.
He defines yoga as the union of the jivatmán (individual or self) and Paramatman (Divine), and shows how the eight-limbed yoga is a way to that end.
Yájnavalkya lists various types of practices and goes into moral don'ts, yamas, in detail. They are well stylised, conventional sides to self-control. Yajnavalkya explains twice as many as Patanjali. Yajnavalkya's ten yamas are termed ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacarya, daya, arjava, ksamá, dhriti, mitáhara, and sauca.
Such qualities could help toward the goal of yoga, against cloven-footed plots. There are lots of plots or fiends to keep a good one earth-bound or hell-bound. The ten yamas are in part explained in detail in Yoga Yajnavalkya, as fit in former days and their very different settings. Since conditions differ, it makes sense to detect the key meanings and stick to the cores and apply them well in the here-and-now. Each to one's ability.
Laying bare what the second limb is about, Yajnavalkya sets up ten do's, niyamas - five more than Patanjali.. The Sanskrit names of Yajnavalkya's ten do's are tapas, santosa, astikya, dana, isvarapujana, siddhántasravana, hri, mati, japa, and vrata.
Moral conduct is fit for spiritual advancement, it is said, for example by Rudolf Steiner. He stresses it a lot. "Progress in spiritual training is unthinkable unless moral progress takes place at the same time." (1922, chap. 5).
Here Yajnavalkya describes eight body postures, and most of them are seated postures - svastikásana, gomukhasana, padmásana, virásana, simhásana, bhadrásana, muktásana and mayurásana.
He advocates combatting diseases by asanas and keeping up staunch moral - interestingly, Yajnavalkya is the first known Vedic sage to teach karma. Many diseases are told to be due to previous misbehaviour, according to the karma-reincarnation perspective. And if that is not so, stick to good moral and conduct anyway, for it makes life somewhat passable if the misbehaviour of brutes does not come in the way for it.
After balancing and harmonising energy flows in the organism by well chosen asanas, the time comes for breathing excercises, or forms of pranayama. But before he tells of pranayamas, he tells of the nadis, energy channels or funnels for the life energy, prana.
Here he explains how to purify the nádis, and where they are located, their various areas of origin and ending.
He also covers the position, function, and movement of each of the vayus.
The main idea is to centre the prana, or to gather one's energies in certain areas.
He speaks of activating the dormant kundalini, serpent power, to make the energy elevated. It is a tantric yoga teaching.
He goes on to list and describe fourteen nádis (vessels), and points out the susumná nádi as the central one among them all. He then lists ten vayus and their functions. He describes the most important váyu in the body, the prána váyu, then describes the location of the apána váyu, the other three important vayus (vyána, udána and samana vayus), as well as the remaining five vayus, that is, five more prana-givers.
Yaynavalkya concludes so far by describing how to perform a certain pranayáma.
In the second chapter on nadis, Yájnavalkya tells how to purify them (nádisodana), after stating how an ideal nadi-cleansing aspirant should be. He then describes a good environment and daily routine for the practice. Afterwards he describes in detail an alternative opinion of other sages. Finally he tells of results of such nadi-cleansing.
A note: Ideal or not, you are yourself and functions as that. Cleansing is not barred from all -
After you have cleaned some channels, you regulate and steer their contents to your ability. This is done various types of pránáyáma.
Yájnavalkya begins by defining pránáyáma, and points to breathing in, holding the breath, and breathing out as means or figurative handles to balance one's main pranas.
Three grades of pránáyáma are described. Yájnavalkya states that what leads to lightness of the body and absorption of the mind (samadhi) is the best one.
He adds an alternate definition of pránayáma as retaining the prana within the body. Yájnavalkya explains two ways to regulate the prána. One of them favours posture and Pranava (the Om sound). He also goes into how focusing the prána at various places in the body may affect and perhaps heal certain diseases. The thus points to therapy-intended uses of pránayama.
He then describes the movement of the prána. Pranayáma can ideally lessen or remove a person's ignorance. He also stresses the value of regular, daily pranayama practice.
Higher yoga start with pratyahara, inward-turning of the mind. The first four limbs of yoga are not wrong for a calm meditation sitting, and are good for balancing the outer life and preserving harmony in the body, mind and further. However, in traditional yogas they are resorted to in order to pave the way for the higher yoga, that is, meditation, which starts with pratyahara and ends with - allness.
Yajnavalkya now brings four definitions of pratyahara, "withdrawal", and five ways to get and possibly keep pratyahara. They may not be made good use of unless they are lessened to suit oneself. Here goes:
A sensible, easy go: In your life, keep your heart by feeling into it, and often gaze calmly, restively, and something may be won. Know there are sensible, deep yogi ways for it. In his Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, Adi Shankara says something one can relate to: "Piousness suggests intentness of the soul on its own nature . . . Piousness may also be called intentness on the reality of the Self." [More]
In the previous section, Yájnavalkya has explained five ways of focusing, five ways of directing one's attention. The results could be more than just going to sleep at night.
Dhárana is defined by Yajnavalkya as the absorption of the mind in the self. Other sources may say differently, for example, "sustained focus that breaks through sense realms". The five types of dháraná that Yajnavalkya illustrate, relate to focus on five deities associated with or controlling functions of the body and mind in ancient teachings.
He tells how to bring one's attention on these particular sides to oneself deep within, how long, and what benefits to go after.
The three doshas (the capital concepts of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in Ayurveda) can be balanced by doing a suitable pránáyáma along with dháraná. Yajnavalkya teaches that diseases caused by dosha imbalances may be redressed or removed by proper dháraná. Acupuncture theory is linked to Ayurvedic system thinking. [Cf. WP sv. "Dosha" > The illustration]
Yájnavalkya describes various meditation methods, dhyana methods. Dhyana is of two types: with attributes (saguna), and without attributes (nirguna). Yájnavalkya instructs his wife Gargi to do her Vedic duties, and to meditate all the time.
Samádhi comes from meditating deeply somehow. There are prerequisites for it.
At the time of death one must leave the body.
The art of living should consist of a good balance of righteous doing (karma) and yoga (deepening meditation). To get liberated, the wife is told to practice meditation etc. (the higher yoga).
Gárgi asks Yájnavalkya to explain how a person in a state of yoga (samádhi) will perform Veda-prescribed actions. Yájnavalkya answers that in a state of yoga (samádhi) one does not have to do any Vedic duty. But when one comes out of samádhi, one has to to such duties, difficulties may accrue.
Yájnavalkya then requests all the sages present to return to their respective hermitages. They do, after honouring Yájnavalkya. When they have all left, Gárgi again asks Yájnavalkya to explain the path of yoga briefly. He then sums up parts of it.
Yajnavalkya sums up concisely central parts of the text, by the use of stages. Here are some of them:
Significant Yajnavalkya teachings appear in the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads.
Deussen, Paul, tr. Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Vols 1-2. Varanasi: Banarsidass, 1980.
EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
Griffith, Ralph, tr. The Texts of the White Yajurveda. 4th ed. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, 1976.
Jha, Sureshwar. Yajnavalkya. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1998.
Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2006.
Mohan, A. G., tr. Yoga Yajnavalkya. 2nd ed. Svastha Yoga, 2013.
Müller, Friedrich Max, tr. The Upanishads. Part I. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1879.
Müller, Friedrich Max, tr. The Upanishads. Part II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1884.
Steiner, Rudolf. An Outline of Occult Science. 4th ed. New York: Anthropsophic Press, 1922.
WP: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopaedia.
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