Monday, December 5, 2022

Yoga in Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads

Statue of Patanjali, (Haridwar)

The Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads contain some of the oldest descriptions of the philosophy and the methods of Yoga. The Katha Upanishad recommends Yoga as the path for attaining self-knowledge and focused mind. The verse 2.6.10-11 of this Upanishad says: 

“Only when Manas (mind) with thoughts and the five senses stand still,
and when Buddhi (intellect, power to reason) does not waver, that they call the highest path.
That is what one calls Yoga, the stillness of the senses, concentration of the mind,
It is not thoughtless heedless sluggishness, Yoga is creation and dissolution.”

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad gets more specific and gives advice on the practical methods of conducting Yogic exercises. The verse 2.10 of this Upanishad makes the following recommendation about the place where Yogic exercises can be performed:

“In a clean level spot, free from pebbles, fire and gravel,
Delightful by its sounds, its water and bowers,
Favorable to thought, not offensive to the eye,
In a hidden retreat protected from the wind,
One should practise Yoga.”

The Maitri Upanishad contains a more extensive discussion of Yoga. Between sections 6.18 and 6.30, the six limbs of Yoga for self-knowledge and a healthy mind and body are described. These are: Pranayama (regulation of breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses inwards), Dhyana (meditation), Dharana (concentration of mind on one idea), Tarka (creative, contemplation of idea), Samadhi (absorption with the idea, a state of being one with the idea).

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which came after the Katha, Shvetashvatara, and Maitri Upanishads, eight limbs of Yoga have been described.

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