Category Archives: c. The Six Orthodox Systems

The Nyaya Darsana

The Nyaya Darsana (or simply Nyaya) is one of the six orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy. It is highlighted as essentially being a school of logical thought, debate and reasoning. The word Nyaya itself may be translated as “right” or “justice” and therefore its practice, Nyaya-Sastra, translates as “the science of right judgement”. The school has a long history, with its first relevant text – the Nyaya-Sutras – purportedly composed by one Aksapada Gautama (or otherwise rendered Gotama) around 150CE (Vidyabhusana 1978:40-41).


Historical Overview:

Nyaya may be regarded as one of several schools of logic (Hindu and otherwise) that have flourished in and around the Indian subcontinent. Prior to the advent of Nyaya as a recognized branch of philosophy it was preceded by the Anviksiki (literally translated as philosophy) dating back as far as 1500BCE. This school bore a close resemblance to Nyaya as it was characterized by a rigorous study of the nature of the soul, and utilized similar technical principles such as tarka (reason), pramana (proof or evidences, and later means of cognition), and prameya (object of knowledge or cognition). So prominent was this system of philosophy that the Mahabharata records the exploits of the legendary Anviksiki practitioner Astavakra. This Anviksiki sage, on one occasion in his youth confounded a renowned sophist named Vandin, in a battle of wits that ended in Vandin’s death. Sometime during the 6th century BCE, the Anvisiki school divided into a school dedicated to pure philosophical speculation and a school dedicated to logic, which likely gave root to the Nyaya Darsana (Vidyabhusana 1978: 1,13-15).


The history and development of Nyaya as a self-contained school began roughly around 1CE. In this first century, the personality of Narada as a foremost expert in Nyaya-sastra becomes apparent as a character in the Mahabharata displaying expert deductive skills whose life intertwined with the likes of Krsna and the god Brahma. Although Narada was a legendary character there is speculation that he was also based on a real life practitioner of Nyaya-sastra (Naiyayika), to whom several aphorisms in Nyaya literature are attributed (Vidyabhusana 1978:40-44).


The formalisation of the school and its system of logic occurred as a result of the work of one Aksapada Gautama, who was the purported author of the Nyaya-Sutras. Significant mystery surrounds Aksapada as much of his persona is equated with far fetched myths involving the unusual title-name Aksapada derived from “aksa” meaning eye and “pada” meaning feet. One such myth details how Gautama, in a state of absent minded philosophical contemplation fell into a well, and upon his rescue was gifted with eyes in his feet to prevent further accidents due to his contemplative tendencies. It has also been speculated that Aksapada and Gautama may have been separate individuals that each contributed to the Nyaya philosophy [For a more detailed discussion of the identity of Gautama see Vidyabhusana (1975:i-xvi)]. Whatever the identity of the original author(s), the Nyaya-Sutras contain several quotations from Buddhist texts and references other Hindu philosophies which date to the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, which demonstrates that the work available today has been altered from its original form by these additions (Vidybhusana 1978: 46-50).


From the 4th century CE till the 13th century CE the practice of Nyaya-sastra became less popular as Buddhist and Jain forms of logic became more prominent and was in addition considered a heterodox philosophy generally (Vidyabhusana 1978: 152, 157). It was however during the 11th and 12th century CE that Nyaya Darsana became recognized as one of the six Saddarsana (orthodox schools or philosophies). This incorporation may have been due to the school actively supporting the authenticity and teachings of the Vedas. In addition this induction coincided with the recognition of the Naiyayikas as saivas or worshippers of Siva. These several factors likely contributed to the Nyaya school being adopted as an orthodox philosophy (Vidyabhusana 1978:152-156).


The latest significant contribution made to the Nyaya philosophy was the so called Navya-Nyaya or “New-Nyaya”. The philosopher Gangesvara Upadhyaya (or simply Gangesa) was purported to have composed the work called the Tattva-Cintamani. Ganesa, similar to the other contributors discussed, was himself mythologized as being gifted with a boon of logical reasoning by the goddess Kali due to a sacrificial offering. The Tattva-Cintamani was in use from the middle of the 15th century among Mithila Brahmans, and became popularized after the establishment of the Navadvipa University in 1503, which allowed its influence to spread throughout India. This text has been largely responsible for the adoption of the Navya-Nyaya variant of logic in pre-modern India (Vidyabhusana 1978:405-406).


The Classical Nyaya Logic System

The Nyaya-Sutras propose sixteen categories (padarthas) which are meant to represent all that can and does exist. These sixteen categories in order of discussion are instrument of cognition (pramana), object of cognition (prameya), doubt (samsaya), the objective (prayojana), familiar instance (drstanta), established tenet (siddhanta), member (avayava), disputation (tarka), ascertainment (nirnaya), discussion (vada), rejoinder (jalpa), cavil (vitanda), fallacy (hetvadhasa), quibble (chala), legitimate objection (jati) and deficiency (nigrahasthana) (Junankar 3). This extensive list has, however, been reduced by subsequent commentators on the Nyaya-Sutras to only include the first two categories, pramana and prameya. This is due to the following fourteen padarthas being included within the definition of pramana or prameya, as pramana pertains to the observer while prameya pertains to that which is observed. Therefore the investigation of pramana and prameya forms the foundation of the classical Nyaya Darsana. It is of note however that the Nyaya-Sutras ascribe equal importance and relevance to each of these sixteen categories (Junankar 11-12).



The concept of pramana as translated roughly means instrument or means of cognition and realization. According to the NyayaSutras the padartha, pramana may be further broken down to four forms of valid observation; perception, inference, verbal testimony and analogy (Junankar 12; Vidyabhusana 1975: 2-4). To these four pramana subcategories (or pramanas) four other methods of pramana are suggested; historical tradition, inclusion, implication and absence. These additional pramanas are however dismissed as being included within the scope of the first four (Junankar 38-44). The pramana of perception (pratyaksa) is considered foremost of the four pramanas. It is defined by the Naiyayikas as a sensory cognition of an object that is not itself flawed. This pramana within the framework of classical Nyaya requires an interface or contact between the self and sensory input. Furthermore, the self or atman must make contact with the mind and the senses with the object in order for perception to take effect. This system substantiates a clearly materialistic nature to the philosophy that places personal witness above other forms of cognition (Junankar 47-51). These are based on the use of the five senses (touch, hearing, sight, sound and taste) to apprehend the object in question. However, it also substantiates the existence of and a difference between self (atman) and mind (manas), the self as a transcendent feature of consciousness beyond the mind which in turn produces cognitions from the sense-object contact (Junankar 55-68).


Inference, the second pramana, can be summarized as the act of re-measuring a perception. This is derived from the Sanskrit word anumana, which is comprised of anu meaning “after” and mana meaning “measuring”(Junankar 117). Analogy (upamana) or comparison comes next in the series and “is the knowledge of a thing through its similarity to another thing previously well known”(quoted from the Nyaya-Sutra,Vidyabhusana 1975:3). Lastly, verbal testimony (from sabda meaning sound) which is defined as “the instructive assertion of a reliable person”(quoted from the Nyaya-Sutra, Vidyabhusana 1975: 4) , which according to the Nyaya-Sutra is someone with authority to communicate with regard to the object in question.



Of the two simplified pardarthas there remains prameya, the object of cognition. The prameyas listed in the Nyaya-Sutras are the soul or self (atman), body (sarira), sense organ(indriya), objects of sense (artha), intellect or apprehension (buddhi), mind (manas), activity (pravrtti), fault or defect (dosa), transmigration (pretyabhava), fruit or result (phala),pain (duhkha), and release (apavarga) (Junankar 4; Vidyabhusana 1975: 5-7). Of these prameyas the self (atman) and release from pain (apavarga), are of special importance. According to the Naiyayikas the self is the first prameya perceived, and the perception of the self leads to the perception and cognition of the other prameyas. Release or apavarga is in fact the ultimate goal of the Nyaya-Darsana, and is characterized by a release of the self from pain and pleasure in the attainment of bliss (ksema) through tattvajnana or true knowledge of the nature of things. It must be noted that apavarga differs rhetorically from that of liberation or moksa, yet both are correlated with renunciation and have the same semantic meaning in this context. This accomplishment may be met, according to Nyaya philosophy by the obtaining of true knowledge of all things or a true knowledge of the padarthas (Junankar 391, 465-467;Vidyabhusana 1975: 1).

Nyaya System of Proof and Debate:

The system of proof in the Nyaya system revolves around the use of five “steps” or “limbs” which each demarcate a stage in reasoning. These may be illustrated in the following often quoted example [The following is modified from Matilal (1999:4)]:

1) There is a fire on the hill.

2) For there is smoke.

3) Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, as in the kitchen.

4) This is such a case (smoke on the hill).

5) Therefore it is so, there is fire on the hill.

The first step presents the conclusion or thesis, the second explicates some piece of evidence, the third gives an example to uphold the second step. The fourth step instantiates that the case under investigation is like the example mentioned in the third step. The fifth step then simply states the conclusion again as valid. This system of proof was designed not to reflect the essential structure of reasoning, but rather to act as a way of convincing others of the thesis presented in step one. These steps reflect the attitude of debate possessed by ancient Naiyayikas and the goals of their argument structure (Matilal 1999: 4-5).


The classical system of Nyaya debate (katha) according to the Nyaya-Sutras is divided into honest or truth seeking debate (vada), debate that should be won by any means necessary (jalpa) and finally a debate meant to irrevocably and harshly defeat an opponent (vitanda).   The first katha, may occur between a master and his students where truth is the ultimate goal, the second between equals where victory (vijaya) is the goal. The third is characterized by a wholesale attack or rebuttal of the opponents view without giving time or credence to the opponent in any form, the goal being to merely dispute the opponents view, not substantiate ones’ own. In fact the enactor vijaya may be considered in a case such that the philosopher possesses no true opinion and is only intent on defeating his opponents’ position (Matilal 1986: 83-86).


Navya-Nyaya and Conclusion:

The New Nyaya or Navya-Nyaya, was introduced as an advancement over the older school of Nyaya. Its system differs in key aspects from the original school of Nyaya, one prominent aspect being the array of padarthas.


The Navya-Nyaya system details only seven padarthas, as opposed to the sixteen detailed by Gautama in the Nyaya-Sutras (though later scholars reduced them to two, as previously discussed). These padarthas are, substance (dravya), quality (guna), action (kriya), generic character or genus (jati), ultimate difference or that which distinguishes one indivisible object from another (visesa), inherence or self relation (samavaya) and absence (abhava). While it is obvious that these categories differ from the padarthas of Gautama, the most significant difference is the last padartha, abhava or the lack of substance (bhava). The recognition of absence as a part of the system allows the Navy-Nyaya logician to attribute the absence of a quality to an object rather than simply not mention it when categorizing objects (Ingalls 37-38). While the theme of absence was explored in the older Nyaya school particularly in application to the apprehension of the absence of an object it was formally dismissed (Junankar 39).


Another interesting feature of the school is the idea employed by its practitioners that all things that exist are knowable, but not necessarily knowable to human minds. They affirm that if it (whatever “it” may be) is not knowable to human minds, it is at least knowable to a god. Hence there is both determinate and indeterminate knowledge. Determinate knowledge is described as that knowledge that allows for a specific object to be distinguished from other objects, which knowledge is usually expressible in language. Indeterminate knowledge on the other hand is held by Naiyayikas to be knowledge which cannot be expressed in linguistic terms as linguistic terms only refer to determinate objects, not indeterminate objects. They therefore affirm that one may only infer the existence of indeterminate knowledge (Ingalls 39).


While the Nyaya Darsana has played a significant role in the development of the religious landscape of India and surrounding areas, in modern times it is largely framed as a subject of the past. Still its impact remains relevant as a realist philosophical contributor to the shape of the philosophical schools of India (Matilal 1986: 1-15).


References and Further Recommended Reading:

Ingalls, Daniel H. H. (1988) Materials for the Study of Navya-Nyāya Logic. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Junankar, N.S. (1978) Gautama: The Nyaya Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Matilal, Bimal K. (1986) Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press.

Matilal, Bimal K. (1999) The Character of Logic in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra (1975) The Nyāya Sutrās of Gotama. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra (1978) History of Indian Logic: ancient, mediaeval and modern schools. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.


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Article Written by: Jordan Pepper (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Vishnu-devananda

Born as Swammy Kuttan Nair on December 31, 1927 in Kerala, Swami Vishnu-devananda did many different things before he achieved this name. After school he was an engineer in the Indian army during which he stumbled upon the ideas of Swami Sivananda who was one of the most prolific yoga teachers who ever lived. He then left the army to find the ashram of Swami Sivananda and became a school teacher. Within a year he became a monk and was given his name Swami Vishnu-devananda. For ten years he lived at the Sivananda Ashram before he was given the position of a Professor of Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga is the use of various postures for exercise to control the body and maintain unity within the Self and the Being (Devananda 155).As described in his book The Sivananda Companion to Meditation: How to Master the Mind and Achieve Transcendence, aside from his position at the Ashram and his eventual voyage to the Western world, Swami Vishnu-devananda was renowned for his piece in peace: “In 1969 he founded the True World Order to create unity and understanding between the peoples of the world”(Vishnu-devananda 155). Two years later he flew a small plane over troubled countries and dropped flowers and leaflets of peace from the plane and to the people on the ground below (Vishnu-devananda 155).

Swami was a professor of Hatha yoga at the Sivananda Ashram in India, but he was also a master in Kundalini Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. Respectively each are described in Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction by Hillary Rodrigues as such: Hatha is “ Yoga involving the performance of specific yogic postures and breathing techniques” ( Rodrigues 549), Kundalini Yoga is “the path of awakening latent cosmic energies within the body”(553), Raja Yoga is “Royal yoga; Pantijali’s yoga”(560), and Jnana Yoga’s focus is transcendental knowledge(550). By combining these different styles he was able to create a yoga that is suitable for many and achievable by anyone who put in the time and effort.

In The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnu Devananda it is said that yoga “balances, harmonizes, purifies, and strengthens the Body, Mind, and Soul of the practitioner” (Devananda x). These are achieved during the growth period known as the “anabolic process” (x). Devananda believed in a triangular model of life. The first point of the triangle is birth, the second growth, and the third death(x). Yoga is to be practiced during the growth cycle. It is through 5 basic yogic principles anyone can achieve balance, harmony, purity, and strength. They are: “(1) proper exercise; (2) proper breathing; (3) proper relaxation; (4) proper diet; and (5) positive thinking (deep philosophy) and meditation.”(xi). Exercise forces the body to be limber and flexible as well as increases circulation. Proper breathing: “connects the body to its battery, the Solar Plexus, where tremendous potential energy is stored” (xii). This energy can then be released for rejuvenation of mind and body. Proper relaxation cools down the system after it has been over worked and allows the body and mind to go to a calm serene state (xxi). Proper diet is for fueling the body. Yogic diets are typically vegetarian and are foods that are easily digested (xiii). Positive thinking: “(deep philosophy) and meditation put you in control. The intellect is purified… nature is brought under conscious control through steadiness and concentration of the mind” (xiv). Together these elements form the basis for Swami Vishnu-devananda’s yogic principles.

Meditation is a key factor in yoga. Vishnu-devananda said much of mediation in many texts. In one such text Meditation and Mantras he describes just how important he believes meditation is in accordance to a person:

Without the help of mediation, you cannot attain Knowledge of

the Self. Without its aid, you cannot grow into the divine state.

Without it, you cannot liberate yourself from the trammels of

The mind and attain immortality.

Meditation is the only royal road to attainment and freedom. It is

a mysterious ladder which reaches from earth to heaven, from error

to truth, from darkness to light, from pain to bliss, from restlessness to

abiding peace, from ignorance to knowledge. From mortality to

immortality.( Devananda 1)

Swami Vishnu-devananda brought this idea of meditation as well as his other ideas over to North America where his practices would slow down the hectic lives of the citizens down.

In 1957 Swami Vishnu-devananda arrived in America. He saw a people who did not take the time to relax and live healthily. As a Professor of Hatha Yoga he desired to do something for these people and their hectic lives. This is why he developed the idea of the “Yoga Vacation” as described in the Sivananda Companion to Meditation: How to Master Mind and Achieve Transcendence by Swami Vishnu-devananda. The idea was to allow people to come to a place to rest their body, mind and spirit (Devananda 155). According to the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres the hectic lives we live today can be improved through simple daily activities: silent meditation and mantra chanting and spiritual lecture (Sivananda 1).

In Devananda’s book Meditation and Mantras he states that people search for happiness in external objects for satisfaction. These satisfactions are only short term though. The challenge to attain full happiness is to gain access and control of one’s internal world. Swami Vishnu-devananda believes that by slowing down all the internal conversation we are having at any given moment and focusing on the good things, that is how we can live a more effective peaceful life (Devananda 2). This is where meditation comes into play. Meditation channels positivity and rids destructive thought. Meditation loosely, is invoking a certain feeling, while remaining conscious. A feeling such a compassion is focused on and all negative thought is pushed out in order to allow it to take complete precedence (4). Mantras are used to develop the ability to concentrate while mediating. “OM” is sometimes recited by the practitioner during meditation (6). Devananda believed the optimal time to practice yoga is dawn and dusk because the atmosphere is charged with spiritual force at these times(10).

Swami Vishnu-devananda was a great teacher and writer on yoga and its practices. He supplied many places and many people with the knowledge of Yoga and also a knowledge of peace. His teachings of Hatha yoga were only a small part of his contribution to mankind. He will be regarded for years to come as a master of yoga and of peace for his plights against the angst of mankind.






Related Readings

Thomas McEvilley (1981) An Archaeology of Yoga. Harvard Press.

Ian Whicher (1998) Yoga and Freedom: A Reconsideration of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Sarah Strauss (2002) The Master’s Narrative: Swami Sivananda and the Transnational Production of Yoga. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

k. Satchidananda Murty (1961) Yoga: Path to Freedom from Suffering. Philosophy Education Society Inc.


Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) HinduismThe eBook, Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd. Print.

Vishnu-devananda, Swami (1995)  Meditation and Mantras. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Print.

Vishnu-devananda, Swami (1988) The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. New York: Three Rivers Press. Print.

Vishnu-devananda, Swami and Swami Sivananda (2012) Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre. Val Morin, Quebec, Canada. (Accessed March 24 2012).

Vishnu-devananda, Swami (2003) The Sivananda Companion to Meditation: How to Master the   Mind and Achieve Transcendence. New York: Gaia Books. Print.

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Swami Sivananda

4 path yoga

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Article written by Michaela Thompson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Dhyana (Meditation)


Yoga is a very influential and important aspect of the Hindu tradition. There are very many different forms of yoga, some that focus more on strength, and other’s that are predominantly for the mind, and its control. The word yoga stems from the root yujir, which means to unite, or connect (Joshi 53). There are two reasons for the name of yoga; one, it brings about unity of the senses, the mind, and the vital force, and two, for the steadiness of contemplation by eliminating multi-pointedness of the mind (Joshi 57). All the different types of yoga stem from the classic eight limbs of yoga. The eight limbs are Yama (constraint), niyama (spiritual discipline), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (mental concentration), dhyana (meditation), and  Samadhi (higher consciousness) (Varenne 99). Each of the limbs can be further grouped together in twos by how they are related to one another (Varenne 99). Dhyana is an important and very powerful limb of yoga, which many Hindus strive to achieve. Dhyana (the 7th limb), is usually paired with Samadhi (the 8th limb) (Varenne 127). It is argued that these two limbs are the final stages before achieving the final goal, which is a state of liberation (Varenne 127). [To read more on how Dhyana is paired with Samadhi, see Varenne (1976).]

As mentioned earlier, there are many different types of yoga. Hatha-yoga is also known as the yoga of strength, and puts its emphasis on the physical aspect of the practice, while tantra-yoga on the other hand is structured around understanding what is occurring during deep meditation (Varenne 83), also known as dhyana (Venkatesananda 387). Raja yoga is also focused on dhyana, and is even sometimes referred to as dhyana-yoga (Joshi 62). Joshi states that Raja yoga is believed to be the yoga of the few, beyond the reach of the common man (62). Dhyana is also perceived as part of the wheel of yoga in which it is not its own form of yoga, but instead, a form of “practice” (Feuerstein 2002:36).

Yoga is practiced all over the world today, to relieve stress, to mediate, and to gain strength. In the western world, the practice of meditation, or dhyana, does not receive as much emphasis in comparison to some of the other limbs of yoga – like the art of achieving the postures (asana), and being able to accomplish a steady, and controlled breath (pranayama) while in the postures. Although the focus is not usually on the meditation in the western world, it continues to be a pivotal aspect in the practice of yoga in the eastern world. Pantanjali defined yoga as the elimination of the modifications of mind (Joshi 57-58); which clearly indicates that he held the belief that the control of one’s mind should be the main focus of yoga.

Yoga is often paired with Sankhya, one of the six orthodox systems (Rodrigues 201). [See Rodrigues (2006) to read more on the six orthodox systems.] Dhyana, a Sankhya-yoga, is a yoga where the final truth could be known and is a method where a person’s thoughts are fixed on the “object” of meditation (Dasgupta 1979:39). As stated by Burley one endeavors to sustain this level of single-pointed concentration to the point where it becomes genuine meditation (dhyana)(130).

Meditation first stems from concentration (dharana), the sixth limb of yoga. Dharana is the advancement of the mind, when it becomes focussed on an object repeatedly, in other words, thinking of the single “thing” and nothing else (Dasgupta 1978:148). With the continuation of concentration, it may be followed by meditation, which is when concentration advances from focussing on a single “thing”, to flowing steadily without any interruption (Dasgupta 1978:148). Eventually, even the steady flow becomes an unconscious act (Dasgupta 1978:148). Concentration (dharana) is a creative act based on centering one’s mind, or consciousness, and must become incorporated in a yogin’s life to bring him/her full success (Feuerstein and Miller 1972:31). [For an example of concentration see Feuerstein and Miller (1972:31).] Feuerstein and Miller state that “the fruit of successful concentration is meditation or dhyana” (1972:31). To be successful in meditation, the practice of breath is needed in addition to concentration. With the control, or discipline of breath (pranayama), the mind becomes prepared for concentration, and therefore, can flow into dhyana (Dasgupta 1978:147). And in order to properly practice the pranayama’s, the mind must be in a state of dhyana (Dasgupta 1978:147). The yogi must fix his mind on an object (dharana), all the while steadying himself with the art of breath and posture (Dasgupta 1979:336). Breath and posture help to keep distractions at bay, and allow the yogi to centre himself on the attainment of deep mediation (Dasgupta 1979:336). Once dhyana is achieved, the mind is in such a deep state, it even fails to realize that it was once thinking (Dasgupta 1979:336). The final stage can then take place that is, Samadhi, or a state of higher consciousness (Dasgupta 1979:336). The combination of dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi becomes one state, known as samyama (Dasgupta 1978: 148). [See Dasgupta (1978) to read more on samyama.] These statements show how the limbs of yoga interact with one another, and how one is not truly attained without the others. It is illustrated with the noun “yoga”, which was originally used to portray union – the connection of various things, or the “tool of union” (Joshi 53-54).

The purpose of accomplishing the eight limbs of yoga is to gain a better understanding of oneself and to unite all aspects of your life together. Along with that, in the Hindu tradition, once dhyana is attained, nothing is desired and the true knowledge arises, which is what separates prakrti from purusha (Dasgupta 1978:117). [More on prakrti and purusha, see Dasgupta (1978), and Rodrigues (2006).]

Dhyana is an important aspect of yoga, and in order to achieve it, you must be fully committed to yoga, and open to learning possibilities about yourself, and more specifically, your mind.

References and Further Recommended Reading:

Burley, Mikel (2007) Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. New York: Routledge.

Dasgupta, Surendranath (1978) Yoga: As Philosophy and Religion. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Dasgupta, Surendranath (1979) Yoga Philosophy: In Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Feuerstein, Georg and Miller, Jeanine (1972) Yoga and Beyond. New York: Schocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice. New Delhi: Elegant Printers

Joshi, K.S. (1965) “On the Meaning of Yoga”, Philosophy East and West, 15(1): 53-64.

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Hinduism: The eBook Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd: ISBN 0-9747055-4-3.

Varenne, Jean (1976) Yoga: And The Hindu Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Venkatesananda, Swami (2008) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

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Article written by: Lenae Olson (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

B. K. S. Iyengar


Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as B. K. S. Iyengar, was born into an influenza epidemic on December 14, 1918, in the small village of Bellur, India (Iyengar 2000: 15). Iynegar’s mother, Sheshemma, battled with influenza when she gave birth, which threatened Iyengar’s survival as a new born (Iyengar 2005: xvi). Despite the odds, Iyengar survived the influenza. However, he was very weak and sick, and battled with malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis throughout his childhood; furthermore, he was often unable to attend school in his weakened states (Iyengar 2000: 16). At the age of nine his father passed away, leaving Sheshemma to take care of Iyengar.

Fortunately for Iyengar, his family’s Brahmin status resulted in the marriage of his older sister to Shriman T. Krishnamacharya, an honoured and highly revered scholar of Sanskrit (Iyengar 2005: xviii). At the age of fourteen, Iyengar was asked by Krishnamacharya to visit his wife in Mysore while Krishnamacharya was away. Upon his return, Krishnamacharya suggested that Iyengar remain in Mysore and begin practicing yoga asana (posture) to improve his health (Iyengar 2000: 17).

Iyengar studied under Krishnamacharya for many years, and thus Iyengar considers him to be his guruji, which is an honorable title a student gives to his guru or teacher (Rodrigues 549). At first, Iyengar struggled with his asana practice due to his poor health, but gradually his skill improved, as did his health. The pivotal moment that helped Iyengar become a guru himself occurred in 1936 when Krishnamacharya asked Iyengar to teach a class for women who wanted to learn yoga. As Iyengar was one of the youngest of Krishnamacharya’s students, the women were not as shy around him, and he was successfully able to instruct them (Iyengar 2000: 17). Not long after, Iyengar was sent to Pune to teach yoga to schools, colleges, and physical activity centres. While he was not at first accepted by his students due to his slight physique and difficulty speaking English, Iyengar put in a great deal of effort to instruct his classes for the benefit of his students. He remained teaching for the Deccan Gymkhana Club of Pune for three years (Iyengar 2000: 18).

During this time, Iyengar expanded his practice and started focusing on how his body responded to it. He stretched and breathed deeply in different postures, testing how his asana practice affected his own body. He learned by trial and error since his guru, Krishnamacharya, was nowhere near him. He felt as though he had no qualifications of practical knowledge to draw upon, so instead he chose to use his practice to teach him more about yoga. He felt pressure to master the art of asana for the benefit of his students, so he would practise for up to ten hours a day, and often until his body ached with pains and his mind felt fatigued. Yet he persevered, and after many years he developed what he considered to be a true understanding of asana. Moreover, Iyengar discovered that he could further his understanding of asana from his experiences teaching his students. One of Iyengar’s students was an eighty five year old professor of Ferguson College, Rajawada, who suffered from dysentery and could not even walk. From these experiences, Iyengar started to understand how asana could be adapted to both healthy and unhealthy bodies (Iyengar 2000: 32).

All these experiences helped Iyengar develop into one of the world’s most influential yoga instructors. Since Iyengar had received limited instruction from Krishnamacharya and was independently teaching himself about yoga, Iyengar developed a strong understanding of what it meant to be both a student and a guru. His teachings were very different from Krishnamacharya’s as he put emphasis on clarity of knowledge and purity of what one does to guide their students (Burley 69).  More importantly, Iyengar asks of his students a consistent and dedicated practice, claiming; “your guru is your practice” (Budia 16). This can be interpreted to mean that, while instruction and book learning are important, one’s self and practice are the most important aspects for a student who is learning yoga.

Iyengar also discovered the importance of being a good student in order to be a good teacher, and of being a good teacher to be a good student. It was only through close examination of his students and himself that he was able to breakdown the different postures and focus on proper alignment. Moreover, from the wrestlers that lived next door to him in Pune, Iyengar learned of the importance of balance in one’s life and physical activity. The wrestlers had developed such inordinately large muscles that they were unable to use the latrines without help from someone else in locking the doors to the toilets (Iyengar 2000: 31).While Iyengar was considered by many of his students to be physically inferior, he did not wish to be crippled by physical strength, and instead desired a well balanced and healthy body. As with the wrestlers, Iyengar used many common people in everyday situations to help him learn more about the body and yoga asana. His student Agens Mineur studied in Pune under Iyengar’s supervision for many years, and recalled how her guruji would turn everything into a learning experience by pointing out poor posture or indications of pain in nearby people (Busia 13). Another of Iyengar’s students, Marian Garfinkel, has noted that “Iyengar is always practicing and inquiring. He is focused on his study and learns from his practice … Iyengar is his own best teacher and his own best student. He has always remained a student – eager to learn, to find out, to question” (Busia 59).

From his constant work to remain an attentive and critical student, Iyengar helps his students by allowing them to realize their full physical capabilities, while still remaining knowledgeable of their limitations. Agens Mineur recounted one time when she was helping her guruji Iyengar teach a class, and he told her “your pupil is your god” (Busia 12). Mineur took his words to heart, always remaining attentive of her students, and treating them as demigods. Similarly, Iyengar cherished his students, and learned as much from them as they did from him. From his years of work analyzing asana, Iyengar developed an unparalleled understanding of postures and the importance of body position and alignment. He could skillfully direct students into the most appropriate form for their specific bodies. Another of Iyengar’s students, Rama Jyoti Vernon, commented that when Iyengar would correct postures he “worked like a sculptor, moving bodies into exacting alignment, with or against the gravitational pull” (Busia 8).

However, possibly even more important than his understanding of asana and of teaching yoga, Iyengar began to learn the true meaning of yoga. Asana simply refers to the postures that are taught in yoga, but yoga is much more than that. Hatha-yoga, the type of yoga that Iyengar studied under Krishnamacharya, is a branch of Indian soteriology, which is the study of the means to attain salvation (Burley, 1). It is a form of self-realisation, and as Iyengar explains, “yoga is the process of stilling the consciousness and then merging the individual soul (jvatma) with the Universal Soul (Paramatma)” (Iyengar 2000: 69). The term yoga is derived from the word yuj, which means to yoke, and implies the binding of the individual with the Supreme. While Iyengar did not know this when he began to practice yoga, he eventually learned of it, and feels that through yoga he has achieved self-realization. He describes humans as a unit comprised of a trinity of body, mind and self, and that yoga practice helps to combine the three (Iyengar 2004: 12). Moreover, he explains that certain principles are important in this process, using the metaphor of an eight limbed tree to explain the core values of yoga. Iyengar places the values yama (ethical discipline), and niyama (restraint), at the roots and trunk of the tree, as they form the basis of yoga (Burley 190). Asana is placed as the third limb, and only comprises one out of the eight major values or limbs of yoga, demonstrating the postures are only a small component of yoga.

In its entirety, the type of Hatha-yoga that Iyengar constructed drew together all of the important aspects of traditional Hatha-yoga, with emphasis on asana and correct body alignment and position. This type of yoga consequently became known as Iyengar yoga (Burley 96).  Iyengar yoga has become more and more popular over the years, and while it is not always practiced to “still the conscious” as Iyengar would like, it is frequently used by people of various degrees of health as a form of physical activity. Often yoga is sold to the masses as a trendy new exercise for people wanting to get fit; however, Iyengar yoga can and should be practised by people of all levels of health, age, and disability (Garfinkel 6). Moreover, Iyengar Yoga has been the subject of many studies examining the effects of yoga on various health conditions. In a 2009 study on chronic lower back pain it was found that sufferers who performed Iyengar yoga had significantly greater reductions in functional disability and pain intensity when compared to the non-yoga control group at 24 weeks. Moreover, at the end of the six month investigation, the yoga group demonstrated an even more significant reduction in functional disability, pain intensity, and depression compared to the standard group (Williams et al. 2074).  Similarly, a 2005 study found that Iyengar yoga is effective at treating knee osteoarthritis symptoms, such as stiffness (Kolasinski et al, 692). The effects of Iyengar yoga on breast cancer survivors was also examined in 2008, and it was found that participants in a structured eight week Iyengar yoga program had improved quality of life, flexibility, balance, and cognition compared to breast cancer survivors that did not participate in the program (Galantino et al. 25).

While Iyengar never suspected that his developments in yoga would lead to such an incredibly diverse following and medical uses, he also never envisioned himself becoming a guru himself. Since Iyengar began on his yoga journey, he has traveled abroad, teaching yoga across the globe. He has written a multitude of books, the first being Light on Yoga, which took him six years to write and is considered by many to be a bible of sorts for modern hatha yoga practitioners (Iyengar 2000: 49). He has written several more books on yoga, which have examined the importance of pranayama (breath work), spirituality, and many more yogic concepts.

Through his work, he has improved the lives of many, both directly through his teachings, and indirectly through his development of Iyengar yoga. He has spread yoga across the globe, and has developed a safe and easily accessible form of yoga that can be practiced by people of any physical ability or walk of life. It would be difficult to argue that yoga would be the same without the contributions of B. K. S. Iyengar.


Busia, K. (ed.) (2007). Iyengar: The Yoga Master. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Galantino M. L., Cannon, N., Hoelker, T., Quinn, L., and L. Greene. (2008) “Effects on Iyengar Yoga on Measures of Cognition, Fatigue, Quality of Life, Flexibility, and Balance in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Case Series.” Rehabilitation Oncology. 26(1): 18-27.

Garfinkel M. (2008). “The Use of Iyengar Yoga as a Complementary Therapy to Traditional Medicine.” Frontier Perspectives. 16(2): 6-10.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2000). Astadala Yogamala: Collected Works, Volume 1. Mayapuri Phase 2, Delhi: Allied publishers.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2004). Astadala Yogamala: Collected Works, Volume 4. Mayapuri Phase 2, Delhi: Allied publishers.

Iyengar, B.K.S., Abrams, D. & Evans, J.J. (2005). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness,      Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Pennsylvania: Rodale.

Kolasinski, S. L., Garfinkel, M., Tsai, A. G., Matz, W., Van Dyke, A., and H. R. Schumacher,   Jr.(2005). “Iyengar Yoga for Treating Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Knees: A Pilot Study.” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 11(4): 689-93.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2003). Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books,   Ltd.

Williams, K., Abildso, C., Steinberg, L., Doyle, E., Epstein, B., Smith, D., Hobbs, G., Gross, R., Kelley, G., and L. Cooper. (2009). “Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Efficacy of  Iyengar Yoga Therapy on Chronic Low Back Pain.” Spine. 34(19): 2066-76

Related Research Topics for Further Investigation

Shriman T. Krishnamacharya

T. K. V. Desikachar

Astanga Vinyasa Yoga


K. P. Jois

Indra Devi

Pattabhi Jois















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Article written by Beth Millions (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Asana (Posture) in Hatha-Yoga

Asanas and pranayama which are third and fourth limb of the eight limbed path that forms the backbone of Hatha-Yoga. They are: postures (asana) aimed at attaining mastery over the body, and breath control (pranayama) the power over our vital energy, which is our breath (Varenne 111-4). The goal of pranayama is to make ones respiration rhythmic and progressively slower, this is said to allow the practitioner to penetrate other states of consciousness through the harmonization with one’s life force (prana). Controlling the pranayama is done through the suspension of inhalation (puraka), retention (kumbhaka) and exhalation (recaka) and slowing of the overall breathing rhythm. Some yogis with practice can stop breathing for over five minutes (Jones 9895).

Whimsical bas-relief depicting a cat performing a balancing and stretching posture (asana), associated with the practice of Hatha Yoga; Mahabalipuram, India
Whimsical bas-relief depicting a cat performing a balancing and stretching posture (asana), associated with the practice of Hatha Yoga; Mahabalipuram, India

Hatha-yoga is the “physical yoga which teaches the aspirant how to control his body (Fuller 51),” It means the union (yoga) between sun and moon or the two different elements of the body-mind union (Feuerstein 38), and is the type of yoga most commonly known in the west. Although yoga is thought to have existed before Patanjali, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras form the foundation of yoga, along with the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika. According to scriptures there were believed to be originally 8,400,000 asanas, each representing an incarnation needed to be lived before liberation could be achieved; however, only around a few hundred are known today. In the Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha one of the most popular current yoga manuals, only 84 asanas are discussed (Saraswati  9). Animal asanas came about through the risis observation of animals; they saw how the animals lived and created these asanas based on their movements. They then discovered how a particular posture can affect certain hormonal secretions of the body which can therefore improve one’s health. For example, sharshankasana the hare pose may influence the flow of adrenaline such as in the “fight or flight” response, as seen in hares who are easily startled (Saraswati 10). The animal poses are believed to have been created to remind the practitioner that life is sacred and the world is full of living creatures (Radha 6).

Mastering any asana is the first stage in yoga. Poses aimed to increase strength and health can be done in many different ways based on the skill level of the practitioner. Asanas are divided into different categories depending on the text; Swami Sivananada Radha’s book: Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language divides them into categories of structures, tools, plants, fish, reptiles, insects, birds, animals, and finally shavasana, and the text by Swami Satyananda Saraswait: Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha divides poses into beginner, intermediate and advanced. Various poses overlap and many are included in both texts, different yoga sources however usually have different tips and information about particular asanas so many practitioners study a variety of yoga texts.

The Beginner Group according to Saraswati’s text consists of the pawanmuktasana series, exercises for the eyes, relaxation asanas, meditation asanas, varjrasana group of asanas, standing asanas, surta namaskara, and chandra namaskarais. The intermediate group consists of the padmasana group of asanas, backward bending asanas, forward bending asanas, spinal twisting asanas and balancing asanas. The advanced group does not have any subcategories and should be attempted only when the beginner and intermediate poses have been mastered (Saraswati 9-360).

Beginner’s yoga is done for a variety of purposes, whether the practitioner is just starting their journey through yoga, or due to illness or bodily constraints is unable to do more advanced poses. Although the beginner asanas may be simple, the health benefits are alleged to be numerous and should not be underestimated.  The pawanmuktasana series is believed to be very useful for the management of various disorders and maintaining health by developing awareness of the body (Saraswati  21). It is further separated into three groups of asanas: the anti-rheumatic group, the digestive/abdominal group and shakti bandha or energy blocking group (Saraswati 22).

The anti-rheumatic group of postures is aimed at a low level of physical exertion to loosen the joints and to help with ailments such as arthritis, high blood pressure and heart problems. A few examples are: janu chakra (knee crank) aimed at loosening the knee joints and poorna titali (full butterfly) which can alleviate tiredness from long hours of standing or walking (Saraswati 23-44).

The digestive/abdominal group is said to be helpful for people with ailments such as indigestion, reproductive disorders, diabetes, excess gas, constipation, acidity, and lack of appetite. By strengthening the digestive system and clearing energy blockages of the abdominal area these ailments can be relieved. A few postures are:  pada sanchalanasana (cycling) which helps to strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles while also loosening the knee and hip joints and jhulana lurhakanasana (rocking and rolling) which massages the back, buttocks and hips (Saraswati 44-59).

The energy blocking postures are aimed mostly at improving energy flow. It is also thought to be useful for menstrual problems, a stiff back, toning pelvic organs and muscles, and to improve overall endocrine function. This series is also commonly done prenatally and after birth, as it tones the reproductive muscles and aids in child birth. A few common positions are; rajju karshanasana (pulling the rope), which loosens the shoulder joints and stretches the muscles of the upper back, the chakki chalanasana (churning the mill), which is believed to help regulate the menstrual cycle as it improves the function of the organs and nerves of the pelvis and abdomen. Chakki calanasana can be preformed up to the third month of pregnancy (Saraswati 60-73).

Yoga exercises for the eyes are done to improve visual health, and it is believed that through practice and patience one can improve or even reverse eye disorders such as glaucoma, cataracts and trachoma which are due to defective ocular muscles. An example of a yogic eye exercise is palming. This is done by placing warm palms (due to vigorous rubbing) over the eyelids to relax the eye muscles; the warmth of the hands stimulates circulation of the blood and other parts of the eye (Saraswati 74-8).

Asanas done either before or following yoga practice are typically referred to as relaxation asanas. One example is the shavasana (corpse pose) or death pose which would done by simply lying on your back with the palms facing upward. It is believed that it is useful in developing whole body awareness (Saraswati 85-7) and “the best sign of a good savasana is a feeling of deep peace and pure bliss. Radha the author of Hatha-Yoga: The Hidden Language explains savasana as a watchful surrendering of the ego. Forgetting oneself, one discovers oneself (Radha 254).”

Meditation asanas are done to allow the practitioner to sit still for extended lengths of time. The most popular example is the pasmasana (lotus pose). It is referred to as the “royal posture” as it is both glamorous and graceful. The Lotus symbolizes birth and death, the interaction of the created forces. To the Chinese it represents the past, present and future as the plant bears fruit, flowers and buds simultaneously (Radha 121). This asana creates a firm foundation to begin meditation as it allows the body to be motionless in a steady position. It also is said to relax the nervous system by putting a slight pressure on the spine (Saraswati 93-9).

The vajrasana group of asanas are easy to perform and are beneficial for many aspects of the body and spirit. They are believed regulate the sexual energy as well as reproductive and digestive organs (Saraswati 108-134). In India the simhasana (loin pose) is seen as the absolute representation of royal strength and majesty, it is believed to help one to discover the power masked within oneself and the danger it is to keep subdued pretending to be a mere lamb. Simhasana pose is explained by placing the right foot under the left buttock, and the left under the right. Bring the weight forward on the knees with the arms straight and the palms of the hands placed on the knees. Stretch the jaw wide open, and stretch the tongue out toward the chin. Forcefully exhale air out the mouth with the throat open (Radha 239-41).

Standing asanas are claimed to be very beneficial to those who have back pain or spend a lot of time sitting as they stretch and strengthen the back. The tadasana (palm tree pose) is believed to be especially helpful for stretching the back and loosening the spine; as it is done by reaching to the sky with both arms and raising the heels off the ground. It is said to increase balance both physically and mentally and can be useful during the first six months of pregnancy to keep the abdominal muscles strong (Saraswati 135-140).

Surya namaskara (salutations to the sun) is a group of asanas that were not originally in the yoga scriptures, but were later added on. Surya namaskara is thought to be one of the most useful groups of postures to aid in health yet at the same time is helpful in “preparing for spiritual awakening and the resulting expansion of awareness (Saraswati 159).” It incorporates pranayama, mantra and meditation and is said to be most beneficial if done in the morning. There are twelve asanas which represent the twenty-four hours of the day, the twelve zodiac phases of the year and the biorhythms of the body. The asanas in sequence are: 1. pranamasana (prayer pose), 2. hasta utthanasana (raised arms pose), 3. padahatasana (hand to foot pose), 4. ashwa sanchalanasana (equestrian pose), 5. parvatasana (mountain pose), 6. ashtanga namaskara (salute with eight parts or points), 7. bhujangasana (cobra pose), 8. parvatasana (mountain pose), 9. ashwa sanchalanasana (equestrian pose), 10. padhatasana (hand to foot pose),  11. hasta utthanasana (raised arm pose) and 12. pranamasana (prayer pose). Asanas 13-24 are a repeating of asanas 1-12 (Saraswati 160-172).

Chandra namaskara (salutation to the moon) are similar to the surya namaskara as they reflect the 14 lunar phases of the moon. Each asanas name represents a day of the lunar cycle and should be practiced at night when the moon is visible, or at dawn during a full moon. The sequence of poses for chandra namaskara are the same sequence as the surya namaskara however, the pose ardha chandrasana is added at position 5 and 11 in the first round, and in positions 19 and 25 in the second round (Saraswati 173).

The intermediate group of asanas consist of the padmasana group, backward bending asanas, forward bending asanas, inverted asanas and balancing asanas. According to Saraswati, the padmasana group is believed to help “clear physical, emotion and mental blocks, help awaken the energy centres of the body and induce tranquility (Saraswati 181).” However, they should only be attempted if the padmasana (lotus pose) can be done for extended periods of time with comfort and zero muscle strain. (Saraswati 181-7).

Backward bending asanas are claimed to have a variety of benefits for the torso, particularly the abdomen and back. They are associated with people who “bend over backwards” for others, so it is believed that people who have an apprehension of these asanas may have a fear of facing life or love (Saraswati 194-5). One well known asana is bhujangasana (cobra pose); buhjanga meaning serpent and, “like a snake [while performing the pose the] spine should be moved from end to end, when the head moves the movement is transmitted to the tail (Radha 146-8).” Many yogis believe to cobra pose to be helpful in relocating slipped disks, improving circulation in the back, and alleviating female reproductive disorders (Saraswati 198).

Forward bending asanas are similar to the backward bending in their difficulty, and such positions are claimed to give an insight into the individual psyche.  Some believe “An inability to bend forward may indicate a stiff, proud or stubborn personality (Saraswati 227),” and those that can are associated with; bowing and humility. Forward bending loosens up the back by utilizing gravity to stretch the muscles; it is typically done by bending from the hips and not the waist, which creates greater flexibility in the poses. The utthita janu sirshasana (standing head between knees pose) is pretty self explanatory, and is believed to help stimulate the pancreas and relax the hip joints and hamstring muscles. Like any inverted pose it is thought to supply the brain with rich blood, revitalizing the mind (Saraswati 227-247).

Inverted asanas, similar to utthita janu sirshasana mentioned above, are believed to cause rich blood to flow to the brain which may therefore cause a change in thinking. They are thought to improve health and reduce anxiety by slowing the breath and creating a better exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide (Saraswati 258) helping bringing clarity of mind in emotions and in language. These asanas should be done with caution and not preformed around furniture; after vigorous exercise, and should not be attempted by people with high blood pressure or back conditions (Saraswati 259). One of the more difficult inverted asanas is the sirshasana (headstand pose). It is done in six stages working up to the final position with the forearms on each side of the head, interlocking fingers at the back and the rest of the body straight upwards towards the sky. Sirshasana is considered to be the greatest of all asanas (Saraswati 279-283) as it represents: struggle, rebellion, awareness and learning (Radha 44).

The last group of intermediate asanas is the balancing asanas. These poses can be difficult for many if they have not previously developed a good sense of balance. However, with practice they are said to develop the cerebellum; the part of the brain that controls the motion of the body. It can also be helpful when practicing these to find a spot on the wall to focus on to help with balance (Saraswati 290). One example of a balancing asana is the vrikshasana (tree pose) which is done by placing one foot against the opposite legs inner thigh, with the knee facing outwards, and the arms stretched over the head (Radha 102). It is believed that “trees, like people have their destiny, and much of the survival of the tree depends on the sturdiness of the trunk and the branches, sturdiness that must be balanced with flexibility (Radha 109).” Vrikshasana is thought to represent: destiny, firm attachment, seasons of human life, beauty in death and the tree is the symbol of man and the cycle of life (Radha 110).

Advanced asanas are reserved for serious practitioners who have mastered the beginner and intermediate asanas, and should only be attempted when the body is flexible enough and one’s concentration is strong. Any strain in these postures can result in injury (Saraswati 325). Vrishchikasana (scorpion pose) is believed to represent danger, pain, balance, strength, reward, compassion, sexual activity and it is alleged to entice the practitioner with a taste of the nectar of consciousness making them long for more. The scorpion pose is accomplished by resting the forearms on the floor and raising the legs up while the head and chest are lifted, bending the legs at the knees so that the feet slowly lower until they rest on the top of the head (Radha 174-8). [See Saraswati and Radha for an extensive list of yoga asanas with techniques, legends and benefits].


Bernard, Theos. (1982) Hatha Yoga. London: Hutchinson Group.

Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. New Delhi: Bhavana Books & Prints.

Fuller, J.F.C. (1988) Yoga. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Jones, L. (Ed.) (2005) Encyclopedia of Religion. (2nd ed., 15 vols.) Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Radha, Swami (1987) Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language: Symbols, Secrets and Metaphor. Idaho: Timeless Books.

Saraswati, Swami (1997) Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. India: Bihar Yoga Bharati.

Sivananda, Swami (1981) Science of Yoga. India: Divine Life Society.

Varenne, Jean (1976) Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation













Raja Yoga

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga


Eight Limbs of Yoga

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Article written by: Jillian King (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vibhutipada

The origins of Yoga are unknown, however, researchers date the Vibhutipada’s composition to around the second century CE (Rodrigues 201).  Some scholars believe the great grammarian Patanjali can be credited for writing it, however, it is sometimes thought a different man by the same name created the metaphysical text (Rodrigues 202).  This text is contained within the Yoga Sutras, which is one of the most influential systems on yoga.  Yoga is just one of the orthodox systems within Hindu philosophy; yoga is a psycho-physical practice of attaining unification with absolute reality (Brahman).  The word Yoga stems from the Sanskrit word, yuj, “to unite” (Rodrigues 202), which “implies union or unification of the body, mind, spirit, and divine” (Feuerstein 35) and Sutra means “aphoristic verses” (Rodrigues 565).  Therefore, the Yoga Sutras contain rules or guiding principles to ultimately liberation (moksa) through uniting “a spiritual path to self realization and the goal” (Rodrigues 570).

The Yoga Sutras consists of four chapters (padas).  The first being called Samadhipada (a chapter on concentration), the second Sahanapada (a chapter on practices), the third Vibhutipada (a chapter on supernatural powers), and the forth pada is called the Kaivalyapada (a chapter on liberation).  These four chapters are collections of aphorisms or formulas in the form of a manual to guide one’s journey to self-realization. [For more information on the Yoga Sutra and the other padas, see The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali].

The Vibhutipada is a text regarding “marvelous powers” and contains fifty-five Sutras (Eliade 13).  This pada starts with the “last three sutras of the Eight-Faceted Path (Asthaanga Yoga): Dharna (contemplation), Dhanya (meditation), and Samadhi (union with Divine Consciousness)” and are known as Samyama (fusion)(Devi 249).  Samyama allows one to find knowledge of the divine self (Devi 249) and believed to channel our conscious thoughts to spiritual powers.  Spiritual powers are believed to be gained through none other than “the hard way of sacrifice, of trial, of renunciation, of selfless self conquest and genuine devotion” (Johnston 90). When considering these spiritual powers, there are things that must be first understood and kept in mind (Johnston 26).  These powers are believed not to be gained until the first and second books are fully attained.  “When the commandments have been kept, the Rules faithfully followed, and the experiences which are described have been passed through,” is it then that marvelous powers are mastered (Johnston 87).   This means to fully obtain powers, one must ultimately understand citta (thoughts), and how vritti has the inclination to stop the mind from finding one’s true nature.  This is included in the first chapter samadhipada, where it also establishes a means to have power over the mind and circumvent diversions.  It helps to “distinguish between the mental process of prediction, and observation, induction or testimony (Johnston 13) that is thought to facilitate in finding one’s self and one’s thoughts.

The Vithutipada is claimed to relate to techniques to control the conscious mind. This can be done through concentration, which  “is attainable when all the modifications of the mind-stuff are set at rest is called Asamprajnata (super-conscious)” (Gopalananda 2).  Staal (1975) relates that the Vithutipada contains information about various powers such as sidhi or vibhuti, and how to attain a high state of concentration known as samprajnata samadhi. However, asamprajnata is considered the highest state of yogic attainment (Feuerstein 96). Nevertheless, the Vibhutipada concentrates on techniques to learn concentration (samadhi), which include both asamprajnata and samprajnata Samadhi (Gopalananda 3)

Knowledge of the Vibhutipada is required to fully gain understanding of the second Sutra.  The sadhanapada is the “practical way” and is concerned with spiritual training, which “like every true system of spiritual teaching, rests on this broad and firm foundation of honesty, truth, cleanness, obedience” (Johnston 44).  These teachings are explored through the eight limbs of yoga, which ultimately leads to the acquisition of siddhi (supernatural powers).  Once the first two padas are attained then one is entitled to the Vibhutipada chapter and what it holds.  The Vibhutipada explores meditation (dhyana), concentration (dharana) and Samadhi (contemplative union), collectively known as Samyama (attention, awareness, and energy).  [For more information on the eight limbs of yoga, see Development of Psychic Powers in Yoga]

Dhyana (meditation) is the idea of attaining an unbroken, steady flow of awareness.  This awareness is trying to go beyond reflexive thinking, to a profound state of relaxation, which will lead one to self-realization.  In other words, it is attempting, through self-regulation, a special form of insight.  The technique of Dharana (concentration) includes the idea of attaining one-pointedness of focus (Rodrigues 206).  This can be reached through acts of sacred utterances (mantras), breath control, icons, diagrams and or prayer beads (mala) (Rodrigues 182).  Samadhi is also an essential system in the Vibhutipada, and it opens up the ideas around contemplative absorption and insight into the nature of awareness (Rodrigues 206).

Johnston (127) also makes it evident that unity is the reality, and the closer one comes to reality the closer one finds unity of the heart.  This results in feelings such as sympathy, compassion, and kindness.  Knowledge and power are also gained through concentration and some of these powers include, “divine power of intuition, and the hearing, the touch, the vision, the taste and the power of smell” (Johnston 127), as well as, learning languages of animals, reading thoughts, and levitation.  However, Nischala Joy Devi points out that “these are not practices in themselves; rather, they are progressive internal “states” that evolve through the influence of conscious living and the other practices, which preceded them (Devi 264).  They allow oneself to fully encompass the pathway to love, which is accomplished through reaching the full essence of all senses (Devi 264).  Supernatural powers and spiritual progress are deemed to then be attainable.

Ultimately, the mind and body become one, and once one has conquered these techniques, liberation can be reached.  Moksa (liberation) “is freedom from sorrow and suffering and their twins, sensuous pleasure and happiness, and the one pair is never without the other” (Chennakesavan 129), and is the goal of the forth chapter of the Yoga Sutra. The Kaivalyapada is believed to give one the abilities to become free from bondage, pure awareness, and finally liberation, yoga’s ultimate goal.


Chennakesavan, S  (1992) Yogas sutras. Asian philosophy, 2(2), 147.

Devi, N. J (2007) The secret powers of yoga. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Eliade, Mircea (1975) Patanjali and yoga. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Feuerstein, G (1998) The yoga tradition: Its history, literature, philosophy and practice.

Arizona, AZ: Hohm Press.

Johnston, Charles (2006) The yoga sutras of patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man. Kensinger Publishing.

Rodrigues, H (2007) Hinduism: The ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Staal, F (1975) Exploring mysticism. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Yoga Sutras







Eight Limbs of Yoga


Article Written by: Megan Horsley (April 2010) is solely responsible for its content.



Samyama or “perfect discipline” is the collective and seamless integration or fusion of the three practices of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (contemplative absorption) (see Miller 46).  The goal of samyama is essential to, as well as, parallel to the goal of yoga: “to eliminate the control that material nature exerts over the human spirit . . . through introspective practice” (Miller 10). According to yogic philosophy, as an individual manoeuvres through daily life by use of his or her sensory engagement, he or she identifies and attaches with material phenomena; thereby, because of ignorance (avidya) the individual is not aware of the true nature of things (svarupa) (Kesarcodi-Watson 3), and the individual does not observe true spirit or purusa. Inherent in the practice of yoga is the attempt to remove the veil of ignorance and return the consciousness to the source, which is purusa. In a similar fashion, the yogi/yogini attempts to withdraw from the interplay of material manifestation in the form of the three gunassattva, rajas, and tamas—in order to observe the world from a transformed state of consciousness (Dasgupta 92). The yogi/yogini carries out the process to liberation through consistent and continual practice (abhyasa) (Saraswati 58), and through a total detachment or dispassion from desires, accomplishments, and cravings (vairagya) (Saraswati 62). Practice and detachment are said to result in greater insight into the mind, and clearer knowledge of the spirit.

The student begins the yogic journey by first cultivating the external limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs; namely, niyama, yama, asana, pranayama, and pratyahara (Devi 252), and then developing the internal (antaranga) (Vasu 9) limbs—dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The limbs are not thought of as mere stages or individual practices, but processes that are interconnected and dependent on each other. Spiritual progress in samyama is said to result in supernormal powers or siddhis. For instance, if samyama is done on the strength of an elephant this same strength may be gained by the yogin/yogini (Saraswati 236). However, Patanjali emphasizes that for the yogin/yogini to achieve the supreme goal of yoga there must be a total dispassion and detachment to all powers, otherwise, the yogin/yogini will only delay ultimate liberation.

In Patanjali’s second aphorism of the Yoga Sutra, he defines yoga as, “citta-vrtti-nirodha,” which means the “cessation of the turnings of thought” (Miller 28). Our thought, through its daily wondering, worrying, calculating, and assessing is in a constant “turning” or modifying (vrtti) process (Whicher 92). The totality of citta (thought) is composed of manas (mind), ahamkara (the ego), and buddhi (the intellect)—the three tattvas (Whicher 90). The goal of the practitioner in Patanjali’s Raja Yoga is to implement disciplined practices in order to harmonize the body and mind; thus, allowing the yogin/yogini to eliminate senseless thought, develop a clearer focus or “one-pointedness”, and a highly absorbed contemplation. The simultaneous joining of the three, samyama, allows for finer contemplation of the more subtle forms of prakrtimanas, ahamkara, and buddhi.

The “perfect discipline” that is samyama is said to be comparable to the application of oil to hard, tough leather. If an individual applies a small amount of oil to the leather and then wipes it off, the leather is briefly softened, but the oil does not greatly affect the composition of the leather; this is comparable to dharana. If the individual applies the oil again, but leaves the oil for a longer duration before removing it, the oil will slightly alter the composition of the leather, and make it more malleable; this is comparable to dhyana. Finally, if the individual applies the oil to the leather allowing it to penetrate and become fully absorbed by the leather, no residue of oil remains. The oil dramatically transforms the composition of the leather, and leaves it soft and pliable; this is comparable to samadhi (Devi 253).


The first part of samyama, dharana, is the internal concentration of the mind to a single place or entity for a short duration of time (Saraswati 225). Practicing dharana, a yogin/yogini may concentrate on an object in his or her mind, on a mantra, on the breath, or even on a single location of the body. The practitioner, by means of focusing intently on the chosen object, is able to “zone” in the attention to the exclusion of other mental activity.  The process of dharana produces a foundational “one-pointedness” or ekagrata (Feuerstein 84), wherein, the object of focus captures the yogin/yogini’s attention with great intensity. To effectively assert the full faculty of the yogin/yogini’s attention the object must be personal or pertinent to the practitioner; thus, the object may be any personally chosen mantra, deity, vivid picture, or such things as, the tip of the nose, the navel, or the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Sutra I.39 of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali states that the yogin/yogini is free to choose any object that facilitates in effectively concentrating the attention (Saraswati 107).


Flowing effortlessly from dharana the practitioner arrives at dhyana, which is the continuous and unbroken flow of consciousness (Saraswati 228). Dhyana is said to be comparable to the unwavering flow of oil or honey pouring from a container to its source, in which the content of the consciousness is the continuously uninterrupted stream of oil (Devi 259). At this stage no other thoughts or distractions impede upon the steady flow of focus on the object, and the yogin/yogini’s concentration extends to a more thoughtful meditation of the object’s inexpressible nature. The yogi/yogini begins to comprehend the object and its inner essence begins to reveal itself, thus aiding the practitioner in the quest for a higher transcendence (Feuerstein 84). Dhyana or meditation “generates a necessary churning process” that allows the practitioner to regenerate new perceptions of the falsehood present in his or her perceptions of the material world (Whicher 20). After extensive practice in dhyana the samskaras (Saraswati 393) or mental suppressions, which are imbedded in the mind, begin to dissolve. It is necessary for the seeds to dissolve, otherwise, these impressions continually multiply themselves in the subconscious—sprouting, and taking form through thoughts, memories, and dispositions (Feuerstein 73).

Sutra I.41 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra explains that when the vrttis (turnings of thought) stop, the thought is purified and colourless; therefore, he compares pure thought to a clear crystal, which reflects, without distortion, the color of any object presented to it (Miller 34). When the yogin/yogini’s thought is not bound by the ego’s false identification with the continuum of material phenomena, the yogin/yogini is free to look upon objects and realize their undifferentiated nature.


The bud of dhyana matures and flowers into the deepened meditative state of samadhi. In the pure contemplation of samadhi the yogin/yogini is fully absorbed by the object, and only the true essence of the object is illuminated, shining forth to the observer (Dasgupta 336). Samadhi is divided into two kinds: “seeded” (sabija) and “seedless” (nirbija) (Whicher 201). Samadhi with seed is termed samprajnata-samadhi; furthermore, within states of samprajnata the practitioner uses an object, whether it is gross or subtle, to support his or her practice. Samprajnata-samadhi can further be divided into four states, all containing seeds within the consciousness: vitarka-samadhi, vicara-samadhi, ananda-samadhi, and asmita-samadhi (Whicher 203).

In vitarka-samadhi, the “aspirant is aware of an object, without there being any awareness of anything else” and the grosser manifestations of prakrti are understood (Whicher 203). For instance, in the vitarka state, the aspirant sees a cow appear before him or her, knows that the object is called “cow”, but also knows that the word, object and idea of the cow are unified or one. In vicarasamadhi, the practitioner experiences the object like the natural transformations of a clay pot. The formless pot begins as minute dust particles that accumulate into the form of clay. Next a potter uses the clay to mould a pot that an individual will use for daily functions. In time, the pot disintegrates back to its minute dust particles and exists only as formless dirt particles apparently devoid of any obvious “potness”. Through abhyasa (practice) in vitarka-samadhi the aspirant is able to master and understand the underlying nature of all things (Miller 47-48). In the vitarka-samadhi state the object of focus is the manas (mind) and the ahankara (ego) (Whicher 229-238).

The third state is ananda-samadhi, which means “joy” (Whicher 203). The ahamkara (ego) is focused on in ananda contemplation, and the yogin/yogini is able to grasp the joy of the sattva guna; thus, the yogin/yogini identifies with the inherent happiness that is sattva (Whicher 240). The fourth state asmita-samadhi, occurs when the aspirant realizes the faulty nature of the subtle guna identity, and is able to detach from self-identification with ahankara (ego), to identify with the most subtle of the tattva—buddhi or mahat (Whicher 243). The aspirant’s mind becomes like a still ocean, and liberating knowledge, dispassion, and an all-encompassing compassion pervades the yogin’s/yogini’s consciousness.

Accompanying the application of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, is the manifestation of psychic, spiritual, or supernormal powers (siddhis) (Devi 249). Through pure meditative contemplation the consciousness is able to actualize knowledge and power that is not possible at regular levels of thought (Miller 48).  When the knowledge of samadhi is strengthened in samyama, the consciousness is transcended to a higher level and the object of meditation shines with clear knowledge (prajnaloka) (Dasgupta 339-340).  Thus the yogin/yogini applies samyama to any gross or subtle object in order to clearly see the underlying nature (Saraswati 233-234). Through application of samyama to various entities the yogin/yogini gains extraordinary powers (siddhis), “such as, invisibility, superhuman strength, knowledge of past and future lives, knowledge of the workings of the cosmos and the microcosm of the body, as well as control over the physical needs of hunger and thirst” (Miller 49). Furthermore, a yogin/yogini can perform samyama on (among many) friendliness, the strength of an elephant, the sun, the moon, and the heart in order to gain, knowledge—respectively—of friendliness, strength, the solar system, the position of stars, and the citta (Saraswati 263-273). However, Patanjali cautions that, although the powers are a sign of spiritual progression, they “might lead the unwary astray by inspiring pride, egoism, and new cravings” (Miller 53). Therefore, if the yogin/yogini attaches to the powers, the powers will impose a barrier on the ultimate transcendence of the spirit; the yogi/yogini through dispassion must relinquish the powers for the sake of the supreme separation of purusa from prakrti.

The growth and application of samyama culminates in the second kind of samadhi, nirbija-samadhi. Nirbija-Samadhi is a finer state of consciousness, wherein, the yogin/yogini no longer relies on an object for support in his or her practice. At this point, the consciousness of the yogin/yogini is completely void of thought, leaving no seeds to mature into future thoughts, and the spirit free from the material world. All samskaras, which are karmic residue or dormant mental impressions, are cleared from the consciousness, and no longer affect future consciousness (Saraswati 393). In nirbija-samadhi “all affliction and its effects are ‘burned away’ ‘scorched’, bringing about the total cessation (nirodha) of thought” (Whicher 274). Nirbija-samadhi gives rise to kaivalya (liberation or oneness) which is a definite isolation or aloneness from all the afflictions of material nature (Sarbacker 38-39).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Dasgupta, S.N. (1930, 1974, 1979) Yoga Philosophy: In Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Devi, Nischala Joy (2007) The Secret Power of Yoga: A Women’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. New York: Three Rivers Press, Crown Publishing.

Eliade, Mircea (1975) Patanjali and Yoga. New York: Shocken Books.

Miller, Barbara S. (trans.) (1996) Yoga, Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu (1975) An Introduction to the Yoga Philosophy. New Delhi: Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2004) Samadhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. NewYork: State University of New York.

Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1976) Four Chapters on Freedom. Munger, Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.

Whicher, Ian (2000) The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classic Yoga. New York: State University of New York.

Further Reading:

Eliade, Mircea (1969) Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Aranya, Swami Hariharananda (1983) Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Connolly, Peter (2006) A Student’s Guide to the His­tory and Philosophy of Yoga. London: Equinox.

Daniélou, A. (1956) Yoga: The Method of Re-Integra­tion. New York: University Books.

Feuerstein, Georg (1979) The Yoga-sutra of Patanjali. Reprint. Rochester: Inner Traditions Internation­al, 1989.

Woods, J. H (1914) The Yoga-System of Patanjali. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Oriental Series XVIII.

Related Topics for Further Investigation










Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

Raja Yoga


Eight Limb’s of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga

Samprajnata Samadhi


Asamprajnata Samadhi







Asmita samadhi



Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Whitney Balog (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vedanta Sutras

The Vedanta Sutras The Vedanta Sutras, also commonly known as the Brahma Sutras, is the fundamental text of the Vedanta school of philosophy. Since the text is so deeply rooted in the ideology of Vedanta, it defines the history of this school as being divided up into pre and post-Brahma Sutra periods (Nakamura 425). The word vedanta itself has several proposed meanings such as, “End of the Veda,” “Dogmas of the Veda,” or “Final Aim of the Veda,” [On the reasonings and development of the proposed meanings, see Deussen (1973)]. Therefore, the Vedanta Sutras are an attempt to systematize and summarize the various themes or threads of the Upanisads, the final book of the Vedas.

Authored by Badarayana, the Vedanta Sutras are thought to be written sometime around the second century B.C.E. This is given by the fact that the Vedanta Sutras refer to most Indian systems (Radhakrishnan 22). At this time, many theories existed among the thinkers and philosophers in the Vedanta school. These theories mainly concerned the interpretations of individual passages in the Upanisads that were left ambiguous or open ended. The Vedanta Sutras set out to summarize, organize, and criticize the many interpretations and to focus the Vedanta philosophy to its fundamental concepts (Nakamura 429). However, others argue that the date of the Sutras’ creation can be placed between 200 and 450 C.E. [For a discussion on the proposed later date of composition, see Journal of the American Oriental Society XXXI, pg. 29].

The structure of the text itself is quite uniform in how it is laid out and divided up. It contains four chapters, or adhyayas, each divided into four parts or padas, and finally each part is divided up into sections or adhikaranas, which are made up of the sutras or aphoristic statements (Radhakrishnan 23-24). Each chapter provides different information on different topics within the Vedanta philosophy. Chapter one deals with samanvaya, and attempts to provide a coherent interpretation of the texts in the Upanisads. Chapter two deals with avirodha; it uses writings of other sages as well as views from other systems of thought to support the previous chapter’s interpretations. Chapter three deals with sadhana; it is devoted to a comprehensive description and explanation of the means of realization of Brahman. Lastly, chapter four deals with phala, or the fruit of knowledge (Radhakrishnan 24).

There are many ideas put forth by Badarayana in the Vedanta Sutras. These cover topics from the nature of reality and the individual self to ideas about karma and bhakti. Overall, however, the essential purpose of the Vedanta Sutras are to provide support to the philosophy of Vedanta, address the idea of Brahman, suggest ways to reach enlightenment, and finally the state which is achieved once one has reach enlightenment [for a discussion in greater detail of the topics and philosophies in the Vedanta Sutras, see Radhakrishnan (1960)].

Many Hindu thinkers and philosophers tend to commentate on the existing texts of the Upanisads, Bhagavadgita, and Vedanta Sutras. These texts are held in such high regard that to do otherwise would bring into question any new teachings being put forth by the new ideology. As such, there are many commentaries on the Vedanta Sutras that exist in which a new teaching or ideology takes the foundation and the ideas put forth and applies them to the new concepts being proposed (Radhakrishnan 26).

Some of the most notable commentaries were produced by Sankara of the Varaha-sahodara-vrtti tradition, Ramanuja of the Bodhayana-vrtti tradition, Madhva of the Haya-griva-brahma-vidya tradition, and Sripati of the Agastya-vrtti tradition [For further discussion on most notable commentaries, see Radhakrishnan (1960)].

Sankara (788-820 C.E.) is said to be the incarnate of Siva on earth. His commentary is well known for its speculative nature and profound spirituality. Sankara proposes that anyone who does not question a view before adopting it “will miss his aim of beatitude and incur grievous loss.” Sankara proposes that the only way to coherently understand and interpret the Upanisads is through a non-dualistic approach (Radhakrishnan 28-29).

Ramanuja (1017-1127 C.E.) wrote the Sri-bhasya, a commentary on the Vedanta Sutras. He takes Sankara’s arguments and expands on them to complement the ideas and philosophies put forth. Although both authors come from the same relative school of thought, Ramanuja approaches the commentary from a more focused and differentiated non-dualistic approach (Radhakrishnan 46-51).

Madhva (1197-1273 C.E.) lived in a time when the non-dualistic ideas of Samkara were most widely accepted and supported. In his lifetime he is thought to have written thirty-seven works. The most famous of these would be his commentaries on principal Upanisads, the Bhagavadgita, and Vedanta Sutras. Madhva was one of the first to establish the reality of a Personal God, and other topics such as the differing qualities of Brahman and the self (Radhakrishnan 60-63).

Sripati (fourteenth century C.E.) took the dualistic approach to the Vedanta Sutras and applied a doctrine of “unity in duality.” This thread of thought stems back even before Sankara’s original commentary as it criticizes a similar theory. Sripati criticizes the view that Brahman is no different from the self, and proposes that this idea can only be established on authority of actual scripture (Radhakrishnan 82-85).


Deussen, Paul (1973) The System of the Vedanta according to Badarayana’s Brahma-Sutras. New York: Dover Publications.

Thibaut, G. (1962) The Vedanta Sutras. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass.

Agrawal, Madan Mohan (2001) Six systems of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan. Date, Vinayak Hari (1973) Vedanta Explained. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Radhakrishnan, S. (1960) The Brahma Sutra: The philosophy of spiritual life. London: Allen & Unwin. Nakamura, Hajime (1983) A history of early Vedanta Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Padhi, Bibhu (2005) Indian Philosophy and Religion: a readers guide. Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Logic in indian philosophy

Idealism in indian philosophy

Monotheism in indian philosophy

Atheism in indian philosophy

The Six Schools of Indian philosophy

– Sankhya

– Nyaya

– Vaisheshika

– Yoga

– Mimamsa

– Vedanta













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Written by John Witzen (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


Born and raised in South India in 1017 CE, Ramanuja was a philosopher and a theologian whose ideas and writings have had a lasting impact on Indian religious practices. Ramanuja is attributed with the theology of qualified non-dualism, which can be contrasted to Sankara’s radical non-dualism and Madhva’s dualism (see Rodrigues 373-379). Ramanuja belonged to the Vadama caste, within the Brahmin class, who are claimed to uphold the scholarly study of the Vedas (Carman 28). As a result, he was very learned in the Vedic texts and as such left his first guru early because he could not follow his teaching (Carman 29). He later attempted to become a disciple of two non-Brahmin gurus before he was finally able to find another non-Brahmin guru who would take him as a disciple even though he was a Brahmin (Carman 30-31). He became a samnyasi fairly early in life and established a monastic house but soon became very prominent in the Srirangam temple where he started out and came back to many years later (Carman 34, 44).Ramanuja was a devout follower Visnu; furthermore, throughout his life he was very adamant in promoting devotion only to Visnu (Carman 34, 37-44).

The most widely known text that Ramanuja wrote is the Sribhasya, which is a comprehensive commentary on the Vedanta Sutras (Carman 49). However, Ramanuja is also credited with writing a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, a work titled Vedarthasamgraha (“The Summary of the Meaning of the Vedas”), two commentaries on the Vedanta Sutras, three Gadyas (prose hymns), and the Nityagrantha (a manual of daily worship) (Carman 49). All of these writing were in Sanskrit although Ramanuja’s native language (and the one he taught in) was Tamil (Carman 49-50).

Ramanuja is most widely known for his philosophical and theological teachings. He taught a philosophy called Visistadvaita, which means qualified non-dualism. Sankara taught that the only thing that is real is Brahman, and Madhava taught that there are three entities, Brahman, the soul, and matter (see Rodrigues 373-379). Ramanuja, by contrast, taught that the universe is the body of Brahman, which is the unchanging foundation of reality (Edattukaran 179). He also describes the body as a substance completely controlled by the soul (Iturbe 42), however, they are inseparable (Edattukaran 185). Ramanuja uses the concepts of prakrti and purusa to explain the link between the body and the soul. He says that the body, which is linked to the primordial matter (prakrti,) is governed by purusa (the sentient soul), in a relationship where prakrti is entirely subordinate to purusa (Iturbe 42). The existence of these two related but distinct entities is the grounds for qualified non-dualism. This is also classified as qualified non-dualism because Brahman is not identical with the universe even though it is real (compared to illusory objects as identified by Sankara) and thus remains the eternal changeless single reality while the souls and matter – which are the modes and expressions of Brahman – are constantly undergoing modifications (Edattukaran 190). Ramanuja thus assigns qualities to Brahman, which makes his philosophy qualified non-dualism (see Rodrigues 376-377). Ramanuja has fused some of the previous traditions together by explaining “the body as the essential mode of Brahman’s being” (Edattukaran 187).

Ramanuja also talks about God as the activator while humans are the activated (Iturbe 49). This happens by God seeing humans’ good efforts and granting grace so that humans can properly perform their actions (Iturbe 49). Actions are primarily dependent on humans’ own efforts, but God needs to grant permission for those actions to be performed (Iturbe 48). God allows humans to make their own actions; however, he is favourable to those who are devoted to him (Singh 159). As well, God must choose to reveal himself to someone, and has to be invoked to do so (Raghavachar 388). Ramanuja says that bhakti (loving devotion) is the path that leads one to invoke God to reveal himself to you (Raghavachar 388). This can be accomplished through spending time meditating (dhyana) on God (Raghavachar 388). Through dhyana and bhaki, one can achieve moksa, which is liberation from the cycles of samsara.

Yoga, according to Ramanuja, is the way to attain moksa (Vadakethala 36). Through the practice of yoga, one can learn how to lovingly devote him-/herself to God and how to meditate on God (bhakti and dhyana). There are three types of yoga that are the way to final release, karmayoga (the yoga of work), jnanajoga (the yoga of knowledge), and bhaktiyoga (the yoga of loving devotion) (Vadakethala 36). Karmayoga means to do actions of spiritual detachment, which is a renunciation in action but not of action (Vadakethala 40). This means acting dispassionately and renouncing all attachment to material things and performing the action without becoming attached in any way (emotionally, for example) to the act of performing the action (Vadakethala 42). Jnanayoga means achieving the knowledge of the self; Ramanuja only prescribes jnanayoga to those who already have advanced knowledge (Vadakethala 43-45). Higher than these two yogas is bhaktiyoga, which leads man to a “blissful communion with God” (Vadakethala 45). This loving devotion to God (bhakti) is what draws one away from the material world (allows for someone to detach from the world) and achieve union with God (Vadakethala 49). Bhakti is thus the means of achieving moksa, however through bhakti all three yogas are interrelated because bhakti is shown through karmayoga and jnanayoga (Vadakethala 43). In other words, loving devotion to God is demonstrated through one’s actions and one’s knowledge, however a person’s prime motive should be to lovingly devote his-/herself to God and thus detach his-/herself from the world.

However, if someone does not have the knowledge required for bhakti, or the ability to wait for its progressive maturation (for example, he is from a lower class), he can resort to prapatti, which is the “surrender or taking to God for refuge” (Raghavachar 389-390). This means that anybody has the means to be freed from samsara because if he cannot practice bhakti, he can resort to prapatti and still attain moksa. Thus, Ramanuja claims that because class distinctions do not touch the nature of the soul, anybody can attain moksa (Singh 157). However, there is a weakness in prapatti because the person will desire knowledge, the power of action, and spiritual patience (Raghavachar 391). This desire will draw that person away from the purpose of the trying to attain moksa because it will keep them attached to this world (where the main goal is to detach from the world). However, it is ultimately God who decides who gets liberated, which means that in prapatti the person must stop human initiative in order to prepare for passing the initiative entirely to the Divine (Raghavachar 391). In this way, someone who is using prapatti may attain moksa.

Ramanuja’s theology is one of qualified non-dualism in which Brahman is the ultimate reality in which humans strive for union with, but Brahman has qualities that make this theology qualified (see Rodrigues 376-377). According to Ramanuja, God chooses who he wants to liberate from samsara based on their karma, jnana, and bhakti (Raghavachar 388, 391). Yoga is the means of attaining union with the divine, and bhaktiyoga is claimed as superior to karmayoga and jnanayoga (however all three types of yoga are interrelated) (Vadakethala 36, 45). Ramanuja also states the prapatti is another path that can lead to liberation, however it is a weaker path (Raghavachar 391). Ramanuja’s ideas have made a significant impact on Hindu religious practice and have thus been compared and contrasted with the ideas of many other great thinkers.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Carman, John Braisted (1974) The Theology of Ramanuja: An Essay in Interreligious Understanding. London: Yale University Press.

Edattukaran, Wilson (2002) “Consciousness Incarnate: Concept of Body in Merleau- Ponty and Ramanuja.” Journal of Dharma, 27, no. 2: 178-192.

Iturbe, Mariano (2003) “The Concept of Human Action in Ramanuja and Thomas Aquinas.” Philosophy, Culture, and Traditions: A Journal of the World Union of Catholic Philosophical Societies 2: 39-55.

Raghavachar, SS (1978) “Concept of Moksha According to Sri Ramanuja.” Vedanta Kesari, 65: 384-391.

Rodriques, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Singh, Abha (2004) “Social Philosophy of Ramanuja vis-à-vis Professor Sangam Lal Pandey.” Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 21, no. 1: 153-164.

Tsoukalas, Steven (2006) Krsna and Christ: Body-Divine Relation in the Thought of Sankara, Ramanuja, & Classical Christian Orthodoxy. Milton Keynes: UK.

Vadakethala, Francis (1977) “A Yoga for Liberation: Ramanuja’s Approach.” Journal of Dharma 2: 35-52.

Related Research Topics:












The Bhagavad Gita



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Article written by Kelsey McMullen (Spring 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Madhvacharya (Madhva)

Sri Madhvacharya (Madhva) was born in approximately 1238 CE. During his lifetime, he influenced various philosophical aspects of Hinduism, through diverse means. Beyond being a Vedantic Acharya [Acharya is the last name of some Brahmins, meaning teacher] (Acharya, 2009), mountain climber, great debater, and large supporter and follower of Vaishnava Hinduism, Madhva began the Dvaita School of Vedanta and the Brahma Vaishnava Sampradaya. His devotion to Hindu philosophy began at a young age (Armstrong 2). According to tradition, as a prodigious boy, he already thoroughly understood the Vedanta. Furthermore, by 7 years of age, Madhva meticulously memorized the Vedic texts. At that time, the expectation was to begin learning about the texts with his peers, at the prominent Totanillaya in India, rather than already fully understanding them. In addition to being very intelligent, he also had supernormal powers (siddhi), as per stated in tradition. Madhva made numerous intellectual advancements throughout his life, and possessed powerful inner strengths, which caused him to contribute his philosophical insights to the Hindu community (Armstrong 3).

Madhva’s accomplishments continued past his childhood years. As a young man, with great insight towards his true inner self (Atman), the world, and divinity, he entered into Samnyasin (renunciation stage) at the age of 16. This was a very early age to enter into the typical final stage of life, according to traditional Hindu practices. Samnyasin is also a stage in which few actually ever experience. Typically, the average 16-year-old Hindu boy would be in the midst of his Brahmacarya (student) stage, although Madhva was not a typical 16-year-old boy. Because of that characteristic, Madhva became an Acharya and Sannyasin renouncer in the Ekadandi Order (Armstrong 5-7).

Like Madhva, Ramanuja and Sankara were also great Acharyas, with conflicting views (Sharma 345-354). During his teenage years, Madhva began his on-going debates with Sankara institutions about Atman, in addition to various other ideologies that Sankara possessed. First, Madhva believed that is was essential to understand the Rg Veda in order to grasp the Brahman concept. Beyond the Rg Veda, Madhva stressed the importance of thoroughly understanding scriptures as a part of religious devotion and practice. He also expressed that he did not favor Sankara’s idea that “the ultimate reality of Brahman is nirguna” (Stoker 31). Many of Madhva’s arguments with Sankara were supported in his belief of Visnu’s supremacy, which Sankara did not adhere to (Stoker 47-77). He also contrasted with Ramanuja, who was also a monotheist and a supporter of Vaisnava Hinduism. Madhva believed that there was only one agent whereas Ramanuja believed that God and human were both agents. The on-going debates with the other Acharyas led to greater public awareness pertaining to the different philosophies within Hinduism (Yandell 544-561).

Madhva also spread his values and beliefs through various pieces of literature. He wrote approximately 37 books in his lifetime, including the Tattvodyota and the Laksna Granthas (Sangha 25), as well as commented on various types of Hindu literature including the Karmanirnaya and the Chandogya Upanishad Bhasya (Sangha 24). His main literary goals were to contest monism, which was extensively promoted by other sages, such as Ramanuja (Yandell 544-561). Madhva also believed that theism should be taught through experiencing, reasoning, and thoroughly understanding Hindu literature. This was expressed through his 4 main beliefs in his writings, which included “a determination to remain true to experience above all, in the spirit of science, a commitment to sound reasoning, a fervent devotion to a personal God [Ista-Devata] that drove all of his actions, and a fearless tenacity in expounding his vision in the most hostile environments” (Varghese 121). Madhva believed that research and experience were important aspects within spirituality (Varghese 118-131).

Many of Madhva’s opinions and teachings were depicted in his commentary on various Hindu scriptures. Specifically, he added insight to the Paramopanishad as per the following (see Varghese: 119):

“The difference between the jîva (soul) and Îshvara (Creator), and the difference between jada (insentient things, e.g., matter) and Îshvara; and the difference between various jîvas, and the difference between jada and jîva; and the difference between various jadas, these five differences make up the universe.”

Within the 5 principles, Madhva highlighted 3 main areas. The 3 main areas were based around the following concepts: “How We Know,” “God and the World,” and “Matter and Spirit” (Varghese 119-120). The first, “How We Know” ideology, was explained as achieved through “experience, reason and divine revelation.” The second ideology of “God and the World” was based around the thought that the entire world relies on God, and that He has no imperfections, and controls everything (prasada). Moreover, the third ideology, “Matter and Spirit,” focused on the reasoning that the world is composed of things that are concrete, such as material goods, while still maintaining/balancing one’s spiritual side. The third ideology took a critical look at the connection between both the spirit and material items (see Varghese: 118-120). Furthermore, Madhva continually incorporated his idea that beings “cannot infer anything without the evidence of [their senses]” (Armstrong 45). That is, the highest sense being Sakshin, and using Sakshin to become more self-conscious. Madhva went beyond ancient Hindu literature to gain further insight and express new ways of interpretation and thinking with not only his students, but the Hindu community as a whole (Armstrong 45).

As Madhva aged, he began to spread his knowledge further. His intellectual abilities, along with his siddhi, led him to attain moksa (liberation), and to also expand his theories regarding the achievement of moksa. In contrast to leading Hindu philosophies, Madhva believed that some members of society would never achieve moksa (Krishnananda 9). Madhva’s expressions of his differing ideologies were crucial components of his teachings, while travelling. In addition to sharing his beliefs, he travelled extensively through India and surrounding countries to further his knowledge on the Vedanta, which led to Madhva creating his own Vedantic philosophy—the Dvaita (binary) Vedanta. He also completed pilgrimages that connected him with Vyasa, at Uttara Badri, to further his understanding of Hindu literature, which led Madhva to special religious insights. At that point, he had a few loyal followers and disciples who accompanied him and assisted in spreading his philosophies (see Armstrong: 38-53).

From few to many, Madhva’s philosophies became very popular among the Hindu community. This was especially apparent after the philosophical convention, in Rajamahendri, which occurred in approximately 1270CE. While travelling, Madhva partook in the convention. There, he shared his philosophical ideologies, which led to him winning a debate over Puri Swami Shastri, who was a famous Sanskrit scholar (Armstrong 48). The following summarizes Madhva’s 9 major philosophies, which were developed throughout his lifetime, as summarized in the Prameya Shloka by Sri Vyasa Tirtha (1460-1539), as follows:

1. Hari (Visnu) is Supreme.

2. The world is real.

3. The differences are real.

4. The various classes of jivas are cohorts of Visnu.

5. They reach different states (lower or superior) ultimately.

6. Mukti, liberation, is an experience of one’s own nature.

7. Mukti is achieved by pure devotion.

8. The triad of perception, inference and testimony are the sources of valid knowledge.

9. It is Hari alone who is praised in the Vedas.

These philosophies were the guiding principles behind Madhva’s arguments and teachings. They were primarily taught in his schools, which were included in the 5 schools of Vaishnavism. The exceptional schools were highly influential in the northeast provinces in India, including Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. The philosophies have since expanded geographically and continue to be practiced throughout Hinduism (Armstrong 44).

Madhva contributed greatly to Hindu philosophy, and education systems. He left the physical world approximately in 1317 CE (or Kali Yuga 4418), at the age of 79. The last known existence of Madhva was high up in the mountains of the Himalayas—a place where he learned, then developed many of his philosophies (Armstrong 44, 53). Madhva left Hindu scholars and worshippers new insight regarding the presence of God, Sanskrit writings, Vedic knowledge, and spiritual insight. In addition to philosophical contributions, Madhva’s established temple, the Udipi Sri Krsna, not only stands as a devotional area for those who worship Krsna, but also now serves to commemorate Madhva’s contributions to Hinduism. Many of Madhva’s ideas, written works, commentaries, and religious structures have greatly influenced to Hinduism today.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Acharya, M. (2009). Personal Communication.

Armstrong, J. (2008). “Difference Is Real.” Hinduism Today, 30(3), 38-53.

Krishnananda, S. (n.d.). “An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra.” The Divine Life of Society, ch. 9

Sangha, V. (1999). “Beginner’s Guide to Sri Madhvacharya’s Life and Philosophy,” pp. 21-25.

Sharma, A. (1977). “For a Sociology of India: The place of conversion in Hinduism.” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 11(2), 345-354

Stoker, V. (2004). “Conceiving The Canon In Dvaita Vedanta: Madhva’s Doctrine Of ‘All Sacred Lore’.” Numen: International Review for History of Religions, 51(1), 31, 47-77.

Srivastava, P. (2008). “Sri Madhva’s Challenge.” Hinduism Today, 30(4), 12.

Varghese, R. (2004). “The Wonder of The World.” pp. 118 -121.

Vyasa Tirtha. (1460-1539). “A summary of the tenets of Tattvavada.” Prameya Shloka. Tyr Publishing. pp. 118-131.

Yandell, K. (1999). “Faith and Philosophy.” Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers, 16(4), 544-561.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Brahma Vaishnava Sampradaya


Chandogya Upanishad Bhasya

Dvaita School of Vedanta

Ekadandi Order






Laksna Granthas







Puri Swami Shastri



Sannyasin Renouncer


Sri Vyasa Tirtha



Udipi Sri Krsna

Vaishnaiva Hinduism

Visnu Vyasa Noteworthy

Websites Related to the Topic

Written by Kasey-Leigh Martin (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.