Posted on: 23 June 2015

Yoga down the ages
A discussion by Sahana Singh with Raj Vedam

What evidence do we have of yoga being practised in ancient times? Do the Vedas, Upanishads, Jain/Buddhist texts, Arthashastra and other texts specifically mention yoga in the way we understand it today? What evidence do we have that it spread to other cultures? Raj Vedam from Indian History Awareness & Research answers these and other questions in this radio show featured on Voice of Sanatan Hinduism.

Listen in to get some gems of information:

 View Post on Facebook

Comments from Facebook

An important takeaway from this conversation: "Christianity encountered yoga along two paths – the Eastern path picked it up from Buddhism and Hinduism, whereas the Western path picked it up from Spain via the Muslims. The Eastern Orthodox Christians use a form of meditation called Hesychasm founded by Gregory (in Armenia) 6th century CE, where special postures and breathing rituals are used, accompanied by the repetition of a short prayer like a mantra. In Western Christianity, Aquinas in the 13th century CE declared that meditation is necessary for devotion, expanded upon by John in the 16th century CE and Theresa of Avila, who meditated for hours each day using the rosary and contemplating Christian symbols."

Sahana Singh can you please tell me from where you got that Muslims in Spain used to practice Yog? I appreciate if you can proof it with any authentic source, I prefer Arabic sources because their mother tongue was Arabic language. Thanks,.

Bahr al-Hayat (The Ocean of Life), translation of Hawd al-Hayat (The Pool of Life) by Muhammad Ghawth of Gwalior and the spiritual preceptor of Humayun Shah, is an Arabic translation of Amritakunda, a book on Yoga, written in Sanskrit.

Sahibe Alam Azami Nadwi: Could you clarify whether this document is the same Hawd al-Hayat that has been mentioned in the above comment? Title: Hawd al-Hayat (مرآة المعاني في إدراك العالم الإنساني) Author: Muhammed Al-Amidi al-Samarqandi/ محمد السمرقندي Year: 619 Hijri / 1222 Gregorian Language: Arabic Writing style: Naskh Number of pages: 53 pages

Rare Book Society of India I have all these images mentioned in Bahr al-Hayat of Muhammad Ghawth of Gwalior who was deeply impressed by the life and thought of the Yogis that he translated Amrit Kund into Persian under the title of Bha-u'l Hayat'. But we don't know whether he used Arabic version we well. Also we don't know who the real Arabic translator of the Amrita Kund is, and when it was translated into Arabic language. Kindly, note that there are at least 80 copies for the Arabic version. The Arabic text was first edited from 5 MSS by Husain (1928), but unfortunately this edition contains numerous errors and omissions. I have been working on the Arabic translation based on a superior text established by comparison of 10 of 15 extant MSS." Can I request you to send this copy to me?

I think Yoga came to hinduism far more earlier then Buddhism, and whether muslims of spain knew yoga is very debatable if not far fetched idea, for yoga has never been accepted by muslims since time immemorial.

Have you listened to the programme? It does mention that yoga would perhaps have been in vogue even before it got mentioned in Upanishads and other texts. As for "yoga not being accepted by Muslims since times immemorial", that is not what the facts show. Meditation techniques (which are considered as part of yoga) from India travelled far and wide, and got culturally appropriated by myriad cultures including Islam. For example, take the use of prayer beads. The earliest use of prayer beads was carried out by Hindus (japmaala) which was adopted by Buddhists and later in Islam (Misbaha, Tasbih) and Christianity (Rosary).

Sahibe Alam Azami Nadwi: It is indeed extraordinary that you are working on this book and are well versed with the details of Bahr al-Hayat. I do not possess a copy of this book, rather I came across this site where these 4 folios have been posted. It might be worthwhile to ask the admin of this blog for images of all the pages of the MSS:

This picture is a seal used during the Harappan culture.

Yes it is the Pashupati seal showing an ascetic like figure (perhaps Shiva) in a pose of yogic meditation.

Sahana Singh, another takeaway is that the orgins of yoga go beyond its first reference (say in the Vedas). In other words, the existence of a concept or idea generally often begins before its first mention. This could be an interesting area of research in itself!

Sahibe Alam Azami Nadwi: I don't have specific references for you, but there is scope to research it from the material below. From your question on proof of practice, it appears necessary to define yoga. Please listen to the program to know that Yoga is defined with much, MUCH bigger scope than Asanas alone. The Muslims of 9th-12th century were knowledge-consolidators/compilers. Compiling knowledge should not be seen as necessarily practicing that knowledge! Your question then should be what aspects of Yoga were practiced or known by the Muslims? Al-Biruni, in his "Bibliography of Razi" - "Risala fi fihrist kutub Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi", also lists a book on Patanjali in the 10th century CE, among the 184 books. Al-Razi's works were widely disseminated in Latin. In the program I also mention Al Ghazali who advocated yogic meditation (he wrote this in Persian in "Alchemy of Happiness"??). Al Biruni himself wrote on the Yogasutras. A second path for transmission: Ammonius Saccas (3rd Century CE), probably an Indian philosopher/yogi resettled in Greece, reconciled Plato and Aristotelian philosophies in accordance with Indian philosophy. His most famous student, Plotinus, founded the Neoplatonism school, where there is substantial influence of Vedanta - perhaps forming the bedrock itself, with "the One/Brahman". Neoplatonism which believes in reincarnation, sought philosophical contemplation - which is synonymous with "samadhi", to attain "perfection" and happiness, and believed that such souls would merge with The One, while lesser souls would be reincarnated. Contemplation/Hesychasm was seen as withdrawing from the senses, focusing inward, and repeating a short prayer, with the goal of spiritual union with "God". Neoplatonism greatly influenced early Islamic philosophy, till its squashing by Al Ghazali, a Sufi. Aquinas who was deeply influenced by Neoplatonism, sought to reconcile Aristotelian thought with Christianity, in his work, "Summa Theologica". In December 1273, he stopped writing this work, leaving it incomplete, after having a yogic experience of ecstasy/revelation. When asked why he wouldn't finish the work, he replied that it was too insignificant now, compared with what was revealed to him. Aquinas popularized meditation/contemplation in Europe in a Christian garb. What we have to show is how Aquinas encountered Aristotle and Neoplatonism. Plotinus was translated into Arabic in the 9th century CE, under the title "Theology of Aristotle", probably under the supervision of Al-Kindi (I don't have the Arabic reference), and subsequently rediscovered by Europe. There are supposed to be 42 sources for Aristotle in the Arabic and other sources translated to Latin. Aquinas who studied in Naples had access to these translated works. Aquinas was also influenced deeply by Al Ghazali, who is referenced in the radio program as advocating yogic meditation. Thus Yoga influenced the Muslims, and via Spain - in one path - influenced the Christians. There is no claim that asanas were practiced by Muslims, despite the recent attempts by a few to liken sajda/sajadat as asanas.

Here is a reference to Alberuni's translation of Yoga Sutras. He struggled to translate Sanskrit words like Klesa and had to coin new Arabic words!

Very enriching and enlightening discussion Thanks Tusharbhai Sahana Singh and Raj Vedam .


Thanks to people like you who appreciate such discussions!

I am admiring the very stimulating discussion here. Such things faith in humanity and the faith that each human being prefers to practice

Wonderful insights and very lucidly explained in the program. It is extremely important to stop secularization of our cultural heirlooms. India was trading with Arabian Peninsula, Indian Ocean Countries, Rome, Levant/ Anatolia region both by silk route and maritime routes much before the birth of Jesus not to talk of Islam which came much later. Sufis propagated universal brotherhood which was one of the reasons they were prosecuted in many countries. Yoga is very much a Hindu way of life and if others are not interested in it' s benefits so be it.

Raj Vedam: Brilliantly elucidated! Thank you. Would it be possible for you to tweak and redraft this comment so that I can post it as an 'essay' on this page?

Wonder how this can be researched, though. Perhaps, if they can find bodies of yogis who passed away during the course of their meditation which can be dated to times pre-dating the oldest scriptures? In the Himalayas, it might be possible for such bodies to be found.

Khajuraho may help us.

Yes, I can redraft this. Will get back on this.

Thank you!

Raj Vedam

I start with a line of your comment, which says:" Compiling knowledge should not be seen as necessarily practicing that knowledge." As a matter of fact, all what you mentioned in your comment regarding study of Hindu religion and their philosophy by Muslim theologians and philosophers is a positive evidence which shows and proves that they were good models for studying other religions; more exactly we can say that they were masters of the Comparative Study of Religions. Their books prove that they have collected the knowledge of other religions through the various channels of the books of travelers, their personal visits to other parts of the world as well as with philosophers and Sufis, etc. There is a long list of Muslim scholars who made a good contribution in the transmission of the knowledge of other religions. For instance, if you know, Abd al-Karīm ash-Shahrastānī (1086–1153), who is a known historian of religions and his book "Kitab al–Milal wa al-Nihal (The Book of Sects and Creeds) is considered one of the basic roles in developing a scientific approach to the study of religions, especially Indian religions. Ibn Hazm (994-1064), is another great Islamic scholar, philosopher and theologian. Among other religious books he compiled a very informative book of all religions and sects under the title " Kitab al-Fasl fi al-Milal wa-‘l-Ahwa' wa-‘l-Nihal". They are well known in Arabic sources as the father of comparative religious studies. Basically both of them as well Al-Biruni (973-1048) and other Muslim scholars and theologians complied their books in the field of Comparative Religion. And in their books they offer a critical survey of different systems of philosophical thought in relation to religious beliefs among the Skeptics, Peripatetics, Brahmans, Zoroastrians and other dualists, Jews, and Christians. Etc. And through their intellectual studies they did not only preserve the legacy of Hindu religion and philosophy, but engaged themselves to introduce them to others in Arab and western countries at that time. As you mentioned, that Arabic sources fairly discuss the Indian channel of influence on Arabic and Islamic literatures. But the question is how did it happen? During the Abbasid dynasty when Haroon Rasheed (Ruled 786-809) established the Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) in Bagdad, which developed during his son Al- Mamun (Ruled 813–833), he and his son invited a group of Indian physicians, theologians and scientists to contribute in the transmission of Indian knowledge to Arabic. And though we don't know the real Arabic translator of the Amrit Kund, it might be possible that the mentioned book was translated into Arabic at that time and freely used with other Muslim scholars. I mentioned all these information in detail to raise the question whether the Muslims in Arab countries even in India were affected by the Hindu philosophies to such an extent that they tried to practice it sufficiently? And actually why should they have practiced it? Even in Indian subcontinent if we take it as an example, because the Muslims lived with the Hindus and they were familiar with Hindu religion and beliefs and philosophies through intellectual books written or translated in Persian or Arabic languages. But when we go through their cultural history we do not find that they engaged themselves to practice Yoga or other Hindu believes, though some Sufis such as the Gaus Gwaliori Shattari who lived with yogis for more than ten years and influenced by them and practices yoga and other Sutras etc and then translated Amrit Kunk into Persian. But Shattari silsilah reliable sources do not give definite information that other Shattari Sufis used to practice Yoga following his death, though they had complied book on the subject. But no one can deny that some of them might be influenced with some physical exercise which they used to do during their Zikr or physical trainings. I don't know whether you know that even Hindus themselves used to read the Persian version of Amrit kund during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. When An Italian traveler "Pietro della Valle" visited India in 1624 and got opportunity to see a temple in Cambay, in which a large number of Yogis were staying. He was fascinated with their Yog practices and planned to write about it in his language. Upon asking about Yog he was provided by them a book on Yog translated into Persian entitled "Damerdbigiaska", no such record exists, so far as we know, of such a translation. Later in the seventeenth century author of Dabistan Al Mzahib described Amrit khund and other Yoga's book an important sources for the study of Hindu Yog and Yogaic practice. It proves that either the Yogis were unable to read the original Sanskrit texts or they did not have it in original form or they had become very familiar to read the Persian language. And when traveler "Pietro della Valle" translated the Amrit Khund into Italian language he for sure relied on the translated Persian texts. What I want to say that Muslim scholars translated religious books to just for their knowledge of other religion and creeds and to make comparative studies. Because they were not like Hindu scholars who according to Al-Bairuni's account were very conservative mind. They did not have any idea about other religions and philosophies. In below I mention his full account to get an idea that how Islam and Muslims are tolerant to other religions because our creed as it mentioned in the Quran very clearly says: " To you be your religion, and to me my religion". Another verse says:" There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error". This is the real Islamic Monotheism. And Muslims scholars' efforts in the comparative studies call upon Hindu scholars and theologians to do the same and engage themselves in the comparative studies especially in the Islamic studies. And such studies will make them a good example of interaction between Hindu and Muslim thought which is of some relevance in today’s troubled times. Al-Bairuni's account "The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, and no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind…" Then he mentioned his own story of his meeting with conservative mind Pandits, he further says:" At first I stood to their astronomers in the relation of a pupil to his master, being a stranger among them and not acquainted with their peculiar national and traditional methods of science. On having made some progress, I began to show them the elements on which this science rests, to point out to them some rules of logical deduction and the scientific methods of all mathematics, and then they flocked together round me from all parts, wondering, and most eager to learn from me, asking me at the same time from what Hindu master I had learnt those things, whilst in reality I showed them what they were worth, and thought myself a great deal superior to them, disdaining to be put on a level with them…"

As it was said in the programme, there seems to be a tendency to take the best parts of Hinduism, secularise it, and then you are left with the bad which is labelled as Hinduism and you can happily bash it.

Tagging Uttama Seshagiri

Yoga had Hindu origins But is universal

Yes it's problematic that the first written evidence is not necessarily the date of origin. By the time someone considers it worthy of notation, it could be quite well established for some time.

So much to learn. Thank you for sharing all this

Interesting how Alberuni is talking about the need for Hindus to engage in comparative studies of religions while his master Mahmud of Ghazni goes about ravaging the most revered of shrines in India and looting their wealth. He describes without a tinge of remorse how Mahmud breaks the "strongest pillar of religion", how he breaks the magnificent idol in Somnath, how the bronze idol of Chakraswamin from Thanesar is broken and placed in front of the mosque of Ghazni, so that people can walk over them and desecrate them.

Your this argument is totally baseless because we have not been talking about the contributions of the kings and rulers in humanities &cultures, who always misused the religions to achieve their political goals.... Whether they were Muslim or nonemuslims...and We never deny that Mahmud Gaznawis' invasions on India was only for the looting the wealths from the Mandirs as well as to collect the taxes & tributes from the Muslim and Hindu kings...he never thought to reside in India, instead his main purpose was to develop the Gazna with the wealths he looted from India... And by the way he had a good number of Hindu soldiers in his army and some of them were generals who always participated in his all 17 invasions on India...

Looks like you are missing the point and getting overly defensive. My observation was that Alberuni seems to find nothing wrong in his leader's breaking of idols and desecrating the very religion that he has come to study in detail (please don't make it seem like all kings were doing this). This is something that was also noted by Edward Sachau, who translated Alberuni's work on India.Sachau said that Alberuni "scarcely reminds the reader of the incessant war between Islam and India, during which it had been prepared, and by which the possibility of writing such a book had first been given."

Neither I am getting defensive nor missing the point. The question is whether or not al-Biruni wrote about his master's war activities or compiled a biography of his life? He just wrote about the subjects he was interested in. And he could certainly be accused of finding nothing wrong with his leader's breaking of idols, if he wrote about Mahmud's military activities and did not condemn or missed these points intentionally or unintentionally. As for Edward Sachau, he just tried to link Mahmoods' invasions on India to Islam. I recommend you all to read the book "The Life and Times of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna" by Muhammad Nāẓim who prepared it with the help of original Arabic and Persian contemporary sources. Detailed information is given in this book on Mahmud's seventeen expeditions into northwestern India and its real purposes which I have mentioned in my previous comment.

Sumedha Verma Ojha, this is the discussion of the radio show I mentioned.