Considering the shared terms, histories, and desirable outcomes of Buddhism and Yoga, it’s not surprising that their similarities are clearer than their differences. They share many commonalities, particularly because of Yoga’s inextricable history with Hinduism from which it was born. “The Buddha”, born Siddhartha Gautama, was born a Hindu and considered an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu for a time. Like other great spiritual leaders of varying traditions, Hindus and Yogis acknowledge Buddha as a great teacher whose wisdom is worth consideration, even if it is not a part of their system.
The Vedas a large body of texts from ancient India and are considered the oldest records of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Depending on who you’re asking, the Vedas are divided into four or five texts that are then subdivided, but Yoga can be traced back to the first of all of these texts: the Rig Veda, which speaks about yoking (yoga) our mind and insight to the “Sun of Truth”.
The Buddha was born a prince and left his royal life to discover the cause and cure for humanity’s suffering, and while he was exploring, he became very familiar with the yogic practices of Tantra: mantra meditation, kundalini awakening, asana practice, fasting, and the smearing of the body with ashes. Yoga practice at the time included Vedic practices such as animal sacrifice and a strong hierarchy of priests, and the Buddha saw it as an insufficient system to ease suffering.
Yoga, as most of us understand it is a system set forth by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, and Patanjali was a part of the Vedic philosophy. He wasn’t the creator of yoga, but was the sage (or sages, again depending on the scholar) who first set down the historically oral teachings. The eight limbs of yoga practice according to this oral history, and set down by Patanjali, were ethical disciplines (Yama and Niyama), postures (Asana), breathing exercises (Pranayama), control of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and absorption (Samadhi).
Patanjali also set down the Yoga Sutras, which are arranged in four chapters, or padas, and describe the basic teachings of yoga in short aphorisms called sutras. They aren’t quite moral prescriptions, but more a spiritual guidebook that describes the cause and effect of certain practices. For example, if you steal, you cause pain, and you will suffer.
Similarly, Buddha’s teachings were set forth in the Four Noble Truths:
- All experience is dukkha (suffering).
- The cause of dukkha is craving.
- The cessation of suffering comes from the cessation of craving.
- There is a path that leads away from craving.
The path is, similar to the eight fold path of Patanjali, the individual’s responsibility.
- Right Understanding (Samma ditthi)
- Right Thought (Samma sankappa)
- Right Speech (Samma vaca)
- Right Action (Samma kammanta)
- Right Livelihood (Samma ajiva)
- Right Effort (Samma vayama)
- Right Mindfulness (Samma sati)
- Right Concentration (Samma samadhi)
The eight fold path of Patanjali is not necessarily meant or required to be practiced in linear progression, but some yogis say that the first four limbs are required preparation for the second four. The Noble Eight Fold Path of the Buddha are not intended to be practiced in progression.
Join us for the Master Class
The histories and concepts of the two the paths of buddhism and yoga can be intimidating given their age and complexities, but should you be interested in knowing more, an excellent teacher is a necessity at the heart of each practice. Michael Stone is both a yoga and a Buddhist scholar, and he joins us at PranaShanti this December 4-6, 2015, for an evening workshop and weekend Master Class looking at integrating these two practices. You can purchase tickets here.