Important, Essential, And Life Changing Stories, Poems, & Texts In Yoga History That You Will Love
Commonly Known And Not So Commonly Known, Or Read, Suggested Texts In Yoga (From The Indian Canon And Beyond)*
*DISCLAIMER: Always read everything (yes, even the beloved, and suggested, texts in yoga history) with discernment of place, time, sentiment, author, and so forth…noting, for example, that due to historical occurrences that shape the minds and psyches of people over time, the Vedic Age had a very different view of women’s place in society, and even reality, than later periods in history. Even today, to take our example further, many women–globally and (possibly for you) locally–do not enjoy much of the social freedom and reverence that women in Vedic times experienced. Views and opinions change with time and collective and individual psyches.
Please, therefore, read everything with the intention of discovering unchanging Truths based on any shared understandings’ validity verified from your direct (undistorted) experience gained from insight/knowledge through practice/lived awareness, free from historical context. Fortunately, in this realm of study, most direct texts (especially the ones listed below when read in translated and not just interpreted forms) offer primarily, or entirely, undistorted expositions or explorations of Truth, so you can relax while you focus on simply understanding/verifying.
(This List Is In No Particular Order. For Some Historical Context, See The Timeline Below…Dates Are Debatable…)
- The Vedas (Rig [praise]-Principles Of Creation, Sama-Songs, Yajur [worship/sacrifice]-Rituals/Mantras, Atharva [firmness]-Daily Practical Application Of Knowledge, Spells, Magic, Etc.) – Books Of Songs/Hymns Composed of Mystical Revelations Expounding the Knowledge of Higher Wisdom And The Human Connection To The Spirit World
- Upanishads (Last Commentaries From The Vedas)- Philosophy On Life/Self
- Nyaya Sutras – Nyaya Philosophy
- Vaisesikha Sutras – Vaisesikha philosophy
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – 196 Aphorisms On Yoga Sciences and Practice
- Yoga Vasishta (Full Text) and The Yoga Sara (The Essence of Yoga Vasistha) – For Those Who Have Developed Dispassion For The World As They Rise Out Of Ignorance And Transition To Enlightenment
- The Siva Samhita – A Passionate Dissertation on Renunciation
- The Brahma Sutras – 555 Aphorisms On Vedantic Knowledge
- Mahabharata (of Vyasa) – Classical Indian Epic
- Ramayana – Classical Indian Epic
- The Bhagavad Gita – An Epic (Part Of The Larger Epic Mahabharata) Discussing Yoga Sciences/Understandings And Its Application To Difficult Lived Experiences (Like War/Fighting For What Is Right)
- Purva Mimamsa Sutras – Interpretation of the Vedas that formed the Mimamsa School of Indian Philosophy.
- Gita Govida – Love story of Radha and Krishna
- The Puranas – An extensive set of ancient Hindu literary works covering a wide range of topics from devotion/Love, to cosmology, etc
- The Gheranda Samhita – Yoga Philosophy
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika – Most Popular Instruction On Hatha Yoga Practice – Discusses Pranayamas, Shatkarmas, Asanas, Mudras, And Samadhi
- Light On Yoga – “The Bible On Modern Yoga” – Discusses Asana, Bandha, Kriya, Pranayama
- Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha – Discusses The Topics In The Title And More
- Panchatantra– Book Of Animal Fables With Philosophical Lessons (For Children And Young Adult Introduction To Some Yogic Concepts/Principles)
- Any Book That Serves As The Cornerstone For Any Spiritual Sect On Earth, In Its Essence And At Its Core, Contains Yogic Wisdom To Varying Degrees (From The Abrahamic Religions To Lesser Practiced Sects Of Spirituality), But Please Be Mindful Of Our Opening Disclaimer At All Times While Reading Any Text That Falls Into This Category With The Intention To Gain Undistorted Knowledge.
Contextual Timeline Of Some Important Texts In Yoga
A Historical Timeline Of Several Of The Key Texts
Vedic Era (~6000/4000-1500 B.C.E):
Rig Veda | Sama Veda | Yajar Veda | Atharva Veda
Pre-Classical Era (700-500 B.C.E):
Classical Era (~400 B.C.E-200 C.E):
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali | Yoga Vasishta | Panchatantra | Purva Mimamsa Sutras
Post Classical Era (1400 C.E-1500 C.E):
Hatha Yoga Pradipika | Brahma Sutras | The Siva Samhita | The Gheranda Samhita
Modern Era (1800s-Now) | A Period Of Actively Spreading Indian Knowledge (Via Yoga Texts And Practices) To The West (Since The Knowledge Was Always Arguably Spreading):
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha | Light On Yoga, Etc…
Contextual Frame Of Reference: What Inspires The Different Texts In Yoga History | Indian Schools/Systems Of Philosophy
Indian philosophy, which is also the foundation for the Indian religion Hinduism, is traditionally organized into six primary schools, or systems, of philosophy (or Darshans–meaning “vision,” often specifically meaning to look at something holy or sacred when used in the typical sense).
The Six Primary Schools/Systems Are:
- Nyaya– School that is focused on right knowledge and logic. Believed that our existence came about randomly and that the soul exists. Held that liberation can come from complete right knowledge and overcoming one’s delusions about the self and the world, which can only come from God’s Grace not directly by personal choice/effort, among other things.
- Vaisheshika– “Naturalistic” school focused on the idea that the physical universe and all things are made of atoms and interconnected, among other things. Believed that liberation can come from a full understanding of the natural world.
- Purva Mimamsa– “Reflective” school of practice based on the rituals and mantras from the Vedas. Believed in the eternal soul, social rites/Dharma/duties to society, and the power of accurate language, but not concerned with a God/Higher Self, among other things.
- Samkhya– Dualistic school that believed in human experiences and reality being composed of the merge between consciousness (Purusha) and material form (Prakriti), and that one can come to knowledge directly through reason, did not believe in a Creator, God, or Higher Self outside of the personal soul (Jiva), among other things, but held a belief in the ability of the soul to be liberated from bondage.
- Vedanta– School with many subdivisions based on their belief in duality or nonduality, etc–for example, Advaita (non-dual–one is divinity/one and the same “Brahman/God/” all that is), Dvaita (dualistic–a part of a divine creation in which individuality is maintained under one Creator), Vishistadvaita (non-dual–everything/everyone is one part of divinity). Founded on the teachings of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. Means “End of the Vedas.” School focused on knowledge of (similar to Jnana Yoga), and devotion to (similar to Bhakti Yoga) the Brahman/Ishvara (Absolute Reality), discernment of the individual higher Self/Soul (Atman/Jiva), and awareness of Prakriti and the illusions (Maya) of the ever-changing world. “The spiritual requisites…are: (1) discrimination between things permanent and transient, (2) renunciation of the enjoyment of fruits of action in this world and in the next, (3) the six treasures, as they are called, viz* not allowing the mind to externalize and checking the external instruments of the sense organs (Sama and Dama), not thinking of things of the senses (Uparati), ideal forbearance (Titiksha), constant practice to fix the mind in God (Samadhana), and faith (Sraddha); and (4) the intense desire to be free (Mumukshutvam)” (according to Brahma-Sutras, by Swami Vireswarananda).
- Yoga– School founded on a philosophical perspective that consciousness and material form merge in the individual soul (Jiva), and that knowledge, and the requirements for Liberation, can come directly and through concentrated effort/focus, meditative states of consciousness, and other practices that create the right conditions for spiritual fitness. Maintains the belief in a higher form of the soul/Self known as Ishvara, among other things. Often misinterpreted as being “dualistic” in “scholarly” circles, while being far from dualistic in practice/when correctly understood. Likely existent in practice and understanding before all Indian “schools” emerged from it (including the one compiled under its name). It is theorized that Yoga, in practice and understanding, inspired the more detailed studies that all schools formed to specialize in, essentially all studying different aspects of the phenomena of “Union,” and Liberation. In its “modern” form, same as it arguably was in its “ancient” form, Yoga serves as a conglomeration of a wide range of Philosophical, and other, thoughts and practices. Today the subject has also naturally merged with Western Science, among other things. Currently colloquially seen in many different ways, including still being viewed as a practical personal development system (emphasizing one or more aspects such as Asana, Pranayama, and/or Meditation, for example), Yoga has many subdivisions, like Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and so forth, including Raja Yoga, which was systematized in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
The two currently “living” (meaning that they are still in practice today in their orthodox [traditional] form via their continuation through monks, priests, pundits, Swamis, Teachers, etc, and practiced by “laypeople” and “householders”) schools from the six primary schools/systems of Indian philosophy are Yoga and Vedanta. Yoga has been widely circulated in the West, and Vedanta makes up the major foundation of Hindu philosophy in modern times within India (according to some word-of-mouth reports), although countless school of Yoga still currently exist in India, with most popular “public spiritual figures” being self-proclaimed Yogis.
Each school/system of Indian philosophy is distinguished by its foundational orientation toward the Vedas, whether–like the six primary schools/systems–it is supporting (Astika–knowing that exists), or–as in the case of the Buddhist, Jainist, Charvaka/Lokayata, Ajnana, or Ajivikas schools–it is refuting (Nastika-knowing that does not exist) the teachings of the Vedas (which, when supported, are not held to be teachings–of humans–at all, but direct transmissions from the divine “channeled” by humans).
Each school also has its own distinct metaphysics (view on the fundamental nature of reality beyond physics), epistemology (theory of knowledge and ways of coming to knowledge/knowing), ethical/moral codes of conduct/practice, soteriology (theology on salvation/liberation), and so forth. These differences are what “separate” the schools/systems of philosophy (which are intrinsically tied together and connected historically and fundamentally), that often have overlapping beliefs in some areas, opposing ideologies in other areas, or more or less expanded areas of focus when it comes to explaining life, the self/Self, nature/Nature, truth/Truth, and reality/Reality (or certain aspects of these “things”) in detail and/or in general.
The Popular Divergent Schools/Systems Are:
Ajivikas (a “dead” school of practice known primarily through historical refutation from other schools) believed in predestination and no ability to attain liberation by freewill since things were preordained, among other things. Charvaka/Lokayata (a “dead” school of practice) believed in hedonism (centered on behaviors fueled by personal desires to increase pleasure, decrease pain) and did not believe in a supreme being/God or the afterlife, among other things. Jains (a “living school of practice in existence before the Vedas were composed) believe in Ahimsa (non-violence), Anekantavada (many-sided, as opposed to an Absolute, Truth), Aparigraha (non-attachment, non-greed/non-possessiveness), a separate soul, and the afterlife, among other things. Buddhists (a “living school of practice that came after the Vedas and spread widely to the North and the East of India to places like China, Nepal, Tibet, and so forth) believe in the Buddha’s teachings on liberation (Nirvana) from the cycle of death and rebirth, the Four Noble Truths, and live by a moral/ethical code of conduct called the Noble Eightfold Path (which consists of right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right Samadhi), among other things. Ajnana (a “dead” school of practice) was a “skeptical” school that rivaled Buddhism, and did not believe that the metaphysical nature of reality/Reality could be known or that knowledge itself (since humans have limited intellect) was useful for/to liberation, among other things.
A Quick Point About How We See/Contextualize The Texts/Schools In Yoga History In This Community: Here, we use a blended, and open, philosophical, and scientific, approach/framework, and use the Yogic Eightfold/Eight-Limbed outline as a practical guide to creating the foundation for successful pathways to Liberation (based on/shaped by each individual who walks it). Here, naturally, you will find an “unorthodox” approach to Yoga, that honors the tradition and history of Yoga philosophy and its place in Indian and global history and Science, shaped by the Teacher’s direct experience, ontological perspective, and multidisciplinary education and teaching approach. Here, Yoga is defined, studied, practiced, lived, and understood as a natural phenomenon, reflecting the Truth/Reality, above all else, of which all traditions and understandings (including those outside of the Indian Canon–since the Teacher here came to Yoga through independent Self/Reality study before using the Yogic framework as a contextual means of communication) support one to understand and merge into the Absolute Reality and the full, Joyful, Liberated, Self. Yoga, by a basic definition here can be broadly looked at as the study of Existence and how to understand and fulfil its “purpose” and/or full potential individually and collectively.