by Freddie Tubbs,
Contributing Author, Conscious Reminder
In the past two decades, yoga has picked up an enormous following in the West. The numbers of people engaging in Yoga weekly, even daily has ballooned with figures of over 20 million people partaking in yoga in the United States alone.
Whilst yoga has adopted a new identity in the west it’s important to remember its deep-rooted connections to the traditions of the east, the traditions of Buddhism.
At their roots, Buddhism and Yoga are inextricably linked, the teachings of Buddhism frequently aided by the practices of yoga. With that being said, here are a few of the specific areas in which yoga and Buddhism are connected.
The Buddha is the figure head and original teacher for the faith of Buddhism. He came upon his teachings, or the Buddha-dharma, many of which make up the foundations of Buddhism today. It is understood that in seeking the path to his own enlightenment, which would in turn inspire millions of followers for generations and generations, the Buddha practiced an early form of yoga.
His meditations and self-realization were guided by yogic forms of meditation. There has been, naturally, a lot of evolution to the form of yoga between then and now. But, nevertheless, it is already quite a connection that the founder of Buddhism could have been considered a yogi for a while.
It may surprise you to know that yoga and Buddhism are, in quite a few areas, explicitly different from one another. Yoga is very often connected much more smoothly with the Hindu traditions.
This particularly relates to the ideas of the yoga asanas or postures which are preserved so obsessively even in Western variations of yoga. The postures associated with yoga are not actually related to Buddhism at all, but are preserved most in the Hatha Yoga, one of the six schools of Hinduism.
Instead, Buddhism and yoga share their strongest link through the art of meditation. Yoga is a sort of physical answer to the problems of suffering. “It was the Buddha’s sense that the avoidance of suffering was crucial and that it could only be achieved by the calming of the mind: no expressions of a particular emotion, no active thoughts, just mental stillness.
The side of Yoga which can be considered meditative is the side embraced by Buddhism, as practitioners meditated to achieve that state where they are finally free from torment,” says Ryan G. Bayer, a health blogger at Paper Fellows and Studydemic.
The Five Kleshas
Both yoga and Buddhism do agree on the threat of the five kleshas. Klesha is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘poison’ and in yoga and in Buddhist teachings there are five kleshas which poison the mind with the roots of suffering. These are the five traits which can warp the mind and induce suffering:
- Asmita: The Ego
- Raga: Attraction
- Avidya: Spiritual Ignorance
- Dvesha: Aversion
- Abhinivesha: Fear Of Death
Both yogic and Buddhist teachings warn against the power of these five traits and the direct pathway they carve towards human suffering. “In yoga they also use the poses as a combatant to the dangers of the kleshas, whereas in Buddhism it is a purely mental and spiritual battle. But both traditions would agree on the threat that the kleshas pose,” explains Paula E. Villicana, a spiritual writer at State of writing and Ukwritings.
Some yoga poses require a lot of concentration to perform. But, in all likelihood, if your concentration is entirely on staying upright then you haven’t even scratched the surface of the degree to which true yoga requires concentration. Buddhism, with its focus on the mind, requires an intense level of concentration as well.
Buddhism calls its concentration path the jhanas (absorptions) whilst the yogic tradition has its own names for the stages of focus, finishing up with dharana and Dhyana (concentration and meditation). For both traditions, the end goal of the intense concentration is clear: samadhi or enlightenment. But it is only after intense concentration and focus that this final step can be achieved.
Yoga predates Buddhism and finds itself mostly attached to Hinduism, particularly in relationship to its poses. But for a true yogi, the physical aspects of yoga are only in place to better access the calm meditation required to approach enlightenment. All of these later concepts are widely explored in Buddhism and a very strong common ground is formed.
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