Synthesis of Yoga in The Upanishads - Introduction



The yoga that we see in the Vedas and the principal Upanishads belongs to pre-historic times, and it is only because we have available to us the relevant texts connected with the yoga of these times that we are in a position to ascertain the knowledge related to this yoga and its . development. It cannot be supposed, however, that yoga developed only in the Vedas and the Upanishads. There was, indeed, yoga and yogic knowledge in ancient Egypt,1 ancient Greece, ancient Chaldea, ancient China and ancient Persia as also elsewhere as in ancient Mayan civilization. In ancient Greece, there was a religion of which we have glimpses through the Homeric poems2 where the Olympian Gods were described, and through the earlier, myths that were prevalent in those ancient times.

In Gilbert Murray's 'Five Stages of Greek Religion',3 we have a systematic account, and there is also a good account of Greek religion in J.E. Harrison's 'Prolegomena of the Study of Greek Religion'.4 The Greek religion was not connected only with the Olympians but also with Dionysius or Bacchus, who was originally a Thracian god. The worship of Dionysius in due course of time developed a spiritualized form, and this form is attributed to Orpheus. It is maintained that Orphic doctrines contained much that seems to have its first source in Egypt. The Orphics believed in the transmigration of souls; they also maintained that the soul can achieve eternal bliss, but that it could also suffer eternal or temporary torment according to the way they lead their lives on the earth. According to them, man is partly of earth and partly of heaven, and one can increase the heavenly part by a pure life. According to the elaborate theology that is available, Bacchus with whom one can be united by increasing development of the heavenly part that was twice born, once of his mother Siemele, and once from the thigh of his father Zeus. The Bacchic rites, it was believed, were capable of making man more nearly completely divine. At Eleusis, the most important part of religion consisted of Eleusinian mysteries. It appears that the Eleusinianism was impregnated with Orphism, and when the yogic development contained in the mysteries reached their highest point of development, Orphic communities began to be formed. The original home of these was Attica but in due course, they spread in southern Italy and Sicily with extraordinary rapidity. The Orphic communities believed in revelation and regarded it as the source of religious authority. The poems which contain their theology are symbolic, and they need to be interpreted with some insight in the processes of yoga.

According to Burnet,5 there is a striking similarity between Orphic beliefs and those prevailed in India about the same time. Historians differ among themselves as to whether there was any contact at that time between India and the Mediterranean regions. But there is a view, which is quite plausible, that there was widespread contact among the lands of ancient civilizations, and that on account of this contact, there were striking resemblances among the religious beliefs and their mysteries, which, in fact, contained secret knowledge of what is known in India to be the knowledge of yoga. As our scope does not permit us to deal with this extremely interesting subject of the history of yoga as it developed in different civilizations, we have concentrated here on the development of the earliest stages of the synthesis of yoga in India. 


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