Yoga in Buddhism


Yoga in Buddhism

Mar 16, 2016

Yoga In Buddhism By Swami Rajarshi Muni

Mircea Eliade, in his book "YOGA: Immortality and Freedom", writes as follows: “During his period of study and asceticism, Sakya Muni had come to know both the doctrines of Sankhya and the practice of Yoga. Arad Kalam taught a sort of pre-classic Sankhya at Vaishali, and Udrak Ramputra expounded the basis and goals of Yoga.” 1

“The Buddha himself proclaimed that he had ‘seen the ancient way and followed it.’ 2 The ‘ancient’ timeless way was that of liberation, of non-death, and it was also the way of Yoga.”

“As Emile Senart wrote as long ago as 1900, the Buddha did not repudiate the ascetic and contemplative traditions of India in Toto; he completed them: “It was on the terrain of Yoga that the Buddha arose; whatever innovations he was able to introduce into it, the mould of yoga was that in which his thought was formed.” 3

“Let us note that the preliminaries of Buddhist ascesis and meditation are similar to those recommended by the Yoga-Sutras (of Patanjali) and other classic texts.”

There are two definitions of Yoga given by Lord Krishna, in the Bhagvad Gita:

  1. ‘Evenness of mind’ is called Yoga
  2. ‘Skill in action’ is called Yoga.

Apparently these definitions seem to be different, but it is not so. We all know that the evenly balanced mind is the essence of yogic meditation. But such mental equilibrium becomes attainable only when the yoga of skill in action is practiced. In other words the yoga of skill in action leads to evenness of mind. It means that the practice of yoga should begin with skill in action during meditation.

In Avatamsak Sutra (Book 21), while describing ‘ten practices’, it is said: “The Enlightening Being Forest of virtues, imbued with the Buddha’s power, entered into absorption in skillful meditation. At that time, the Buddhas from many lands appeared before him and said: ‘Very good it is, O child of Buddha, that you are able to enter this concentration in skillful meditation. It is the collective empowerment of the Buddhas and also the power of the past vows and the spiritual force of Vairochan Buddha that enables you to enter this concentration and expound the teachings.’ ”

Yogic meditation is concentration of mind on a single point. But such concentration cannot be obtained without practicing physiological exercises and techniques which play a role of primary importance in making the body stable and comfortable. Commenting on Vyasa’s interpretation that ‘posture becomes perfect when the effort to attain it disappears’, Vachaspati Mishra writes: “The effort of attaining the posture consists of the natural efforts of the body.”

This natural effort is spontaneous and all the movements of the body are caused automatically by the inner life-force (Prana). That is why the discipline of Pranayam goes hand in hand with body posture (asan). Such spontaneous movement of the body is called ‘skill in action’. This can be realized not by thinking but by personal experience. Such personal experience comes only to the true aspirants who surrender to the spiritual master (Guru) and seek Shaktipat initiation, involving the transference of spiritual energy.

The Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsak Sutra) says: “The treasure of this scripture does not come into the hands of anybody except true offspring of Buddha….If there are no such true offspring of Buddha, this teaching will scatter and perish before long.” This indicates that the Flower Ornament Scripture is difficult to penetrate. It can be explained only to those who seek the truth and nothing else. Vimalkirti Scripture says: “Those who seek the truth shouldn’t seek anything.”

The seekers of truth can realize it only by their own experience. Personal experience leads them into the avenue of truth. Realizing the truth is seeing the Buddha.

The Vimalkirti Scripture says: “Seeing the Buddha is like seeing the true character of one’s own body.” This means that the body should be considered not merely as source of pain but as an effective instrument for attaining salvation (Nirvana).

Therefore the Gherand Samhita 4 says: “Like an unbaked earthen pot thrown in water, the human body soon decays in this world. So bake it well in the fire of yoga practice in order to strengthen and purify it.”

In Hevajra Tantra, the Buddha himself proclaims that without the perfectly healthy body, one cannot know bliss. In Sahajiya literature Sarah says: “I have not seen a place of pilgrimage and an abode of bliss like my body. Buddha himself is hidden in the body.”

The Sanskrit word ‘Sahaj’ means spontaneity. Sahajiya school of Buddhism believes in spontaneous practice of meditation. This spontaneity is very important and serves as a useful key on the spiritual path.

Mahayan Buddhism teaches: “nothing exists, neither Bhav (living or existence) nor Abhav (non-living or non-existence). Even Nirvana does not exist. The only truth is Sahaj (Spontaneity).” Willful karmas (actions) performed with some desire bind an individual to the worldly existence, but the spontaneous actions performed without any desire or attachment are considered as ‘the play of pure spontaneity’ which is free from the weight of worldly karma and its bondage.

In the Hevajra Tantra it is said: “The whole world is of the nature of Sahaj, for Sahaj is the quintessence of all; this quintessence is Nirvana to those who possess the perfectly pure consciousness (Chit).” Like the Nirvana of Mahayan, the state of Sahaj is indefinable. It cannot be known dialectically. It can be apprehended only through actual experience. According to Mahayan Buddhism the practice of meditation helps to bring about the transformation of the eight consciousnesses into the four wisdoms. The first step in the practice is to turn the mind–consciousness into Pratyavekshan-jnan or Discriminative wisdom. This wisdom is pure from the beginning, uncreated, self-luminous and all-pervading. It is not concerned with intellectual analysis but with intuitive clear vision. It is pure spontaneity of inner vision, uninfluenced by logical thinking. It is the direct awareness of spiritual vision, surpassing mere ratiocination of Vitark and Vichar. On the basis of such spontaneous visions the ego-bound karma-creating volition is converted into the activity which is karma-free. Such activity is no more motivated by desire or attachment. In this manner during the spontaneous meditation, sense–perception and intellectual understanding are converted into higher faculty of inner vision and spiritual discernment. This marks the beginning of the investigative discrimination of Pratyavekshan– jnyan.


1 Ashvaghosh, 'Buddha charit', XII, 17ff. Majjim-nikay, I, 164ff.

2 Samyutta-nikay, II, 106.

3 'Bouddhisme et Yoga', XLII (1900)

4 A Sanskrit text on Yoga in the Sanatan Dharm.

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