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Preclassical Yoga

This category covers an extensive period of approximately 2,000 years until the second century C.E. Preclassical Yoga comes in various forms and guises. The earliest manifestations were still closely associated with the Vedic sacrificial culture, as developed in the Brāhmanas and Āranyakas. The Brāhmanas are Sanskrit texts explaining the Vedic hymns and the rituals behind them. The Āranyakas are ritual texts specific to those who chose to live in seclusion in a forest hermitage.

Yoga came into its own with the Upanishads, which are gnostic texts expounding the hidden teaching about the ultimate unity of all things. There are over 200 of these scriptures,though only a handful of them were composed in the period prior to Gautama the Buddha (fifth century B.C.E.). These works can be likened to the New Testament, which rests on the Old Testament but at the same time goes beyond it. One of the most remarkable Yoga scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gītā("Lord's Song"), of which the great social reformer Mahatma Gandhi spoke as follows: When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies-and my life has been full of external tragedies-and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita. (Young India, 1925, pp. 1078-79) In its significance, this work of only 700 verses perhaps is to Hindus what Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is to Christians. Its message, however, is not to turn the other cheek but to actively oppose evil in the world. In its present form, the Bhagavad-Gītā (Gītā for short) was composed around 500 B.C.E. and since then has been a daily inspiration to millions of Hindus. Its central teaching is to the point: To be alive means to be active and, if we want to avoid difficulties for ourselves and others, our actions must be benign and also go beyond the grip of the ego. A simple matter, really, but how difficult to accomplish in daily life!

Preclassical Yoga also comprises the many schools whose teachings can be found in India's two great national epics, the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata (in which the Bhagavad-Gītā is embedded and which is seven times the size of the Iliad and Odyssey combined). These various preclassical schools developed all kinds of techniques for achieving deep meditation through which yogis and yoginis can transcend the body and mind and discover their true nature.

         

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