Updated: Dec 3, 2019
When I first started exploring yoga philosophy, my husband routinely misquoted singer Edie Brickell, stating that philosophy was the smile on a dog. Actually, in her hit song, What I Am, Edie croons that religion is the smile on a dog…philosophy is talk on a cereal box. But let’s not split hairs – the real point is…what’s the point?? Right? Why study a bunch of ideas written before they had twitter or even the internet? Well, good question.
My interest in philosophy predates my interest in yoga. In college, I nearly minored in philosophy – by accident! Decartes, Socrates, Plato – I found their theories fascinating. How could human beings who lived centuries before my life so accurately describe circumstances of modern life??? Well, when I recently rekindled my love for philosophy, I found the following quote by S. Radhukrishnan – which I think sums it up. “Human nature…remain[s] sufficiently constant to justify the study of ancient classics. The problems of human life and destiny have not been superseded by the striking achievements of science and technology. The solutions offered, though conditioned in their modes of expression by their time and environment, have not been seriously affected by the march of scientific knowledge and criticism.”
While circumstances change and humans evolve, they have not yet evolved to the place that historic ideas and paradigms are irrelevant. In fact, the yogic texts discuss many ideas that are directly applicable to modern life. It is true that the yogic texts often have references to Hindu ideology – same as American fables often have Christian overtones, but the “morals” of the story supersede any particular religious ideals. Or perhaps it is more correctly stated to say that the ideals of any religion can be supported by many of the concepts within the yogic texts. But perhaps the most correct is that the ideals of yogic philosophy do not negate any of the other religious beliefs. The yogic perspective states that divinity lives within each of us individually and allows for personalization of religious beliefs without judgment or solidarity of religion. Personally, I recommend that students of the texts choose to adopt the ideals that resonate with them, and encourage them to set aside those which do not ring as true at this time. If something rings with the sound of truth – listen to the lesson.
In yoga, there is knowledge which is known as “śruti“ – which means that it was revealed through deep meditation and is stated as “known.” Each of us has this discernment available to us. We “know” when something rings as true and when something rings as false. Using this discernment is valuable in the study of ancient texts.
So, ready to study some philosophy? Try the Yoga Sutras of Pataljali, the Taittiriya Upanishad, or the Bhagavad Gita. All texts that I have found illuminated my path through this life – proof of the true, slow evolution of mankind.
Heather Anastos, RYT
–In January 2011, Heather is starting a series of yoga philosophy workshops at Yoga Community. The first is scheduled for Jan. 21, and will look at the Taittiriya Upanishad – The five sheaths, or koshas of the subtle body.