There is no ascertainable history of the ancient beginnings of yoga. We are aware of traditions of esoteric practices in ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, Persia, India and of other similar traditions. There was no doubt an age of Mysteries; there was, undoubtedly, even a pre-Vedic age and a pre-Chaldean age, during which there seemed to have developed experiences and explorations leading to discoveries which were important to the developments of yoga. The results of these discoveries seem, however, to have been lost in some developments of the past, or they seem to have been assimilated - probably very much diminished in the content and import - in some traditions of religion or of philosophy. It is thus difficult to determine what exactly was the knowledge that the ancients possessed, as also their real achievement and contribution to the advancement of humanity.¹
There is, however, available in India the most ancient record, known as the Veda,² a composition of a unique and accomplished character, the language of which is mysterious and ambiguous, betraying some possible secret. There is no doubt that the Vedic Samhitas preceded the Upanishads, which are themselves very ancient. There is no doubt also that the Vedas speak of Pitarah, of the forefathers, and of their achievements in glorious terms. It seems, therefore, that we have in the Veda a record of some very ancient times (supposedly of 10,000 B.C. or of 5000 B.C. or of 2500 B.C.?) which might give us a clue of at least the Indian age of
mysteries,³ and it might help us also in imagining or inferring what might have been the mysteries known and practised in other parts of the world.
There are, of course, historians who would like to convince us that the ancient times were barbaric, and that it will be in vain to look for "knowledge" or "wisdom" or any yogic shastra in the traditions or records of those barbaric times. They would, of course, grant that these barbarians had some kind of religion, but this religion, they would maintain, had no profundity in it. They treat the history of religion as a kind of logical development, of a gradual refinement and clarity, starting from animism, spiritism, fetishism, totemism and superstitious magic to the present day universal religions of monotheism, or theism or of existentialism. They would refuse to grant that there could have ever been in those ancient times anything better than any animistic or spiritist practices of beliefs or anything better than tribal polytheistic cults or traditions. According to them, a hierarchical and systematic polytheistic religion was itself a later development, parallel to the political developments of early kingdoms or early pre- national empires. To find, therefore, among the ancient records, beliefs comparable to civilized and developed notions of pantheism or deism or theism were, according to them, impossibility.
This interpretation of ancient history is being proved to be inadequate as larger data are being increasingly brought to light. It may be that the very ancient man was a barbarian and an infra-rational being, dominated almost exclusively by the needs of the physical, unillumined impulses and mentality subject to physical senses. But at the same time, it is being increasingly conceived that the infra-rational man was not wholly infra-rational or that he had some kind of implicit
power of reasoning and a more or less crude supra-rational element. It has also been argued that it is not unlikely that at a certain stage of development, the infra-rational age may arrive at a lofty order of civilization.4 It may have great intuitions of the meaning of general intention of life, admirable ideas of the arrangement of life, a harmonious, well-adapted durable and serviceable social system, and a religion which may not have been without its profundity. It may be granted that in that stage, pure reason and pure spirituality would not have governed the society or moulded a large body of humanity. But it can be imagined that there might have emerged individuals, at first few, but growing in number in due course, that might have developed meaningful rituals of religion, secret doctrines of occultism and even some disciplines of mysticism or practices of spiritual disciplines and yoga. It is not unlikely that the mystics of that time may have been able to influence the surrounding atmosphere of society, as a result of which they could have created enough room of secure places where psychological disciplines would be pursued and developed. It may be granted that the circumstances favourable to these mystics had great limitations, and that they were not able to influence any large number of people. In that circumstance, they may have been required to keep their deeper discoveries secret and impart them only to a small number of initiates. It is only in such developments that the vast literature that is available in the Vedic Samhitas could have been developed. It is not impossible that mystics of profound knowledge of yoga could flourish as a secret minority of initiates in the midst of an overwhelming population of the barbaric mentality. For the secrets of the Veda which are now being studied and understood are found to be so profound that there does not
seem to be any other way of explaining the emergence of the composers of the Veda and the astonishing degree to which they were able to give a peculiarly and uniquely spiritual turn to the whole future trend of the civilization.
Admittedly, the ancient barbarians looked upon the universe with some kind of animistic or spiritist feeling. It is true that to them the most important things were the phenomena of Nature, the sun, the moon, stars, day and night, rains and storms and lightning. To them, the world must have seemed to be peopled by unseen powers and by the earthly animals and birds and creatures of various kinds. It was perhaps natural, therefore, that the wise ones living in the company of the primitive people, wishing to keep a safe line of communication with them, were led to express the results of their profound quests in a symbolic language. This would happen more imperatively, if the wise mystics knew that there was no fundamental contradiction between the real truth of the universe and the apparent manifestations of these truths through the physical phenomena of Nature. Some such thing again seems to have occurred in the age in which the Vedic Samhitas must have been composed.