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Yogic Philosophy

Introducing Patanjali's Yoga Philosophy.





Eastern philosophy as a whole accepts the ideas of the endless continuity of existence. Evolution not only of form but of consciousness is taken for granted. This means that to the Darwinian picture of the evolution of the complex from the simple in terms of physical structure there is added the idea of an evolving consciousness, at first vague and instinctual, but gradually becoming more alert, responsive and specialized, and by its own development compelling the evolution of new and subtler physical vehicles for its expression. The potentialities of this expanding life are illimitable: hence the future of the human race is to all intents unpredictable. This conception of the gradual evolution of consciousness involves for the Hindu a vast time scheme. The origin of the human race is placed in a much earlier geological age than that accepted by the western geologist. The Hindu has therefore a different standard of measurement as regards the progress of human evolution.

There are six great schools of Indian Philosophy, ranging from pure materialism, with matter the determining factor, to the mysticism of the vedanta; but only two, the sankhya and the vedanta, need concern us here.


The samkhya has for its fundemental concept the idea that the universe is a duality. Purusha, spirit, is eternal, and prakriti, matter, is co-eternal with spirit. Purusha and prakriti are inseparable and are inherent in the manifested universe. Prakriti has three modes or aspects;

  • Rajas: activity,
  • Tamas: inertia,
  • Sattva: rhythm, balance.

These three, called the three gunas, combine in an infinite variety of manifestations, which constitute the universe, and the student will notice recurrent trinities of classification due to this underlying conception of the threefold nature of matter.

There are two variants of sankhya philosophy, one which is entirely atheistic, and the other which accepts the idea of a deity, Ishvara. This last is usually called the 'sankhya with God', and is followed by Patanjali.


The Vedanta philosophy accepts the samkhyan cosmogony, but cannot rest content with the duality of spirit and matter, purusha and prakriti. It seeks the cause of the manifested universe in the unmanifested and formless Brahman, and holds that all but Brahman is maya, The One Mind, illusion. All that changes is illusory, and the One that is permanent is the only reality, the changeless substratum beneath all appearances.

In the yoga sutras, Patanjali accepts as self-evident the idea of the continuous existence of the individual human being, who is assumed to have had other lives before the life which he studies yoga and who envisages further lives ahead; but he suggests to his students that they accept the idea of God as merely the most convenient hypothesis. This point of view is to him essentially logical.


Patanjali holds that the entire universe is part of a vast evolutionary scheme, that every human being passes through life after life, slowly progressing by an age-long process of evolution through re-birth toward ineffable heights of spiritual happiness.



He envisages for every human, an ultimate literal realisation of Christ's dictum 'Be ye perfect'. From this it follows that there must exist at any given time not only those below us in achievement, but in an ascending scale beings so infinitely higher than ourselves as to be, from an angle of vision, gods.


Another idea accepted by Patanjali is the cosmic law of cause and effect - The Law of Karma. According to this conception, chance is non-existent. Every circumstance, every smallest happening has had its cause in the past and will have its result in the future.

Man, in the earlier stages of his evolution is under this iron law, 'bound to the wheel of samsara'. He cannot escape the results of the past and must again and again meet the results of mistakes made in past lives until he learns to deal with similar situations adequately - that is creatively rather than mere reflex reaction.

By his actions man can control his future - individually and, of course, collectively. We can create in the present what will produce the desired effect in the future.

In our earlier phases, however, our ignorance is such that we do not understand these laws. There are many methods of mastering karma completely, of being in a position to make it a tool rather than a fetter. For instance, the spiritual law 'Give and so ye shall receive'.


Yoga Sutras of Patanjali




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