Taking The Mystery Out Of Yoga

by Gretchen Karros


The actual history of India is very hard to write because only the ancient scriptures are revered and the history was very seldom elaborated on. Maybe it is because it did not seem important compared to meditation and chanting that kept them in the moment. That is not to say they did not write about people (consider the “Mahabarata”, an epic poem of two warring families. It contains many thousands of pages and is still revered.) But it was much later that they put down in print what happened to this family so long ago. Also, archaeologists, too, were not aware of the ancient civilizations around Pakistan and Afghanistan until the space explorations! Then they saw an ancient riverbed that people had only talked about through the centuries. Very few people really believed it was true until it was finally seen from outer space.
Archaeologists found that around 2500 b.c.e. there was a very large inhabitance in the Indus Valley of northwestern India. It is believed that there were two large rivers that formed a bay and they could sail on the Arabian Sea, going even as far as Egypt. These ancient people were called the Mohenjo-Daro and another group the Harappa. These two cities were quite large, had a writing system (although there were not enough fragments to decipher their language), they had agriculture, domestic animals, and the cities laid out were planned around running water so they had great water system along with a great reverence for it.
As mentioned above, the historical orientation is very important even though rather scarce. We need to understand that the real meaning of the sacred history for the Hindus is in the events that transcend the historical age. These events correspond with the sacred writings of these major books called the Vedas, (1500 – 800 b.c.e. four books) Then came the Upanishads, (earliest 872 – 775 b.c.e.) and then the Bhagavad-Gita, (450 – 300 b.c.e.). It is said that these books, all written in Sanskrit, if put together in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. would not be large enough to fit all of these books. And who knows how many were destroyed, lost, and thrown away!
The next big event in India was ”The Buddha” was born. It’s not that there were not many other sects gathering more and people to be part of their “flock” because most of their beliefs came from the Brahmins. They were priests who were in charge of the rituals; the fire ceremonies, the sacrifices, the manual about these rituals, puja (the acts of worship paid to a god), meditation practices, all ceremonies, festivals, pilgrimages, life cycles, etc. In the Upanihads, where most of their rituals originated, Brahman is the one soul of the universe and the source of all. By the time Buddha settled in his Ashram (a spiritual community), his message was how to get beyond suffering and live in peace. The Brahmans were very powerful; but their message was totally different and people were looking for a change.
Since Buddha’s message was quite different than the Brahmans and, since he was “enlightened”, he could teach “Ultimate Dharma” so that they could also become enlightened. His teachings were not so severe, his Dharma (life lessons) were based on love, compassion, ethical steps while on the Path, healing practices, living the “good life” in community and many other practices that are conducive to health and holiness. His message spread throughout India and Buddhism became very strong. But after his death, after approximately 85 years of teaching, he died, leaving the monks to fend for themselves against the Brahmins. Eventually Buddha’s sutras, his books, his ashrams and the temples were burned. The followers who were left went to Tibet, Japan, China and Southeast Asia.
The next great era in Indian society was about 200 a.d. when Patanjali was born. Much has been written about him in previous articles here but, since we are taking the mystery out of Yoga, his inclusion is a necessity. His system of the Sutras has influenced the Yogis of the past, as well as the system becoming the “bible” of Yogis almost everywhere in the world.
The final system is “Tantra” that began about 4th century, a.d.. in Tibet. There are two main branches; the Yogacaras and later the Vajryana that were at their most important times and they described and practiced many rituals. Some of these were the designs on the ground (called yantras). They used visualizations of gods and goddesses representing energies (kundalini), the use of mudras (gestures) and many aids to meditation and Sadhana (worship) Tantrism became incorporated not only into Buddhism and Hinduism, but also influences Islam via the Sufis. Even today, it is a vital, separate religion.
For more info email Gretchen.karros@gmail.com.

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