The Philosophy of Classical Yoga

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Item Code: NAP989
Author: Georg Feuerstein
Publisher: Inner Traditions, Vermont
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 9780892816033
Pages: 151
Other Details 8.50 X 5.00 inch
Weight 200 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

One of the first comprehensive studies of the philosophical concepts of classical yoga, The Philosophy of Classical Yoga details the key concepts used by Patanjali in his Yoga-Sutra to describe the enigma of human existence and to indicate a way to escape the perpetual motion of the wheel of becoming. Feuerstein’s study differs from previous ones in that it seeks to free Patar'1jali?s aphoristic statements from the accretions of later interpretations; instead, the author places the Sutra in its original context and sees it as the source of the whole edifice of classical yoga and not just as a summary of previous developments. A lucid exposition of an essential yoga doctrine, this book will appeal to comparative religionists, Indologists, and practitioners of yoga who wish to deepen their understanding of its philosophical basis.

Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., has written a number of books on yoga and related topics, including Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy, Wholeness or Transcendence?, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation and Commentary, and the award-winning Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga.


The study of oriental philosophical-religious texts, especially of the Indian genre, presents considerable and particular difficulties. In many instances there is a lack of adequate historical and chronological data, and frequently all that remains are the name of the author and a few vague and more or less legendary reports about him. Further- more, the terms which confront one are so polyvalent and stratified as to constitute often a very real challenge to anyone who seeks to gauge their full meaning.

In the face of all these difficulties it is of primary importance to develop a valid methodology in order to determine the parameters necessary for the most correct interpretation of eastern texts. I t gives me, therefore, great pleasure to preface this book by Georg Feuer- stein, who has been researching into Yoga for many years with investigative passion and has already given us several works of capital importance for the comprehension of this subject. His previous books A Reappraisal of Yoga, Till Essence of Yoga and Textbook of Yoga testify to an increasing appreciation of Yoga, which is considered each time from a different angle, always enriching our understanding of this phenomenon.

In his methodology Feuerstein adopts an approach to research in which accurate linguistic analysis is inseparable from the analysis of the various contexts in which a given term or concept appears, thus ensuring that all possible meaning values are identified. This particular question has been treated in some depth in the companion volume to the present work entitled Yoga-Satra.' An Exercise in the Methodology of Textual Anaysis.

The central premise of this methodology is the rejection of all simplistic unilateral interpretations. For this reason Feuerstein also correctly criticises in the aforementioned work E. Conze's reduction of Yoga to a mere assemblage of techniques, whereas what we are in fact dealing with is a 'theory-practice continuum'. Hence, again, his refusal to blindly trust the interpretational keys proffered in the exegetical Sanskrit literature postdating the Toga-Sutra as he points out there is a considerable intervening chronological and ideological distance. Although taking due note of the commentaries, Feuerstein prefers to concentrate on an immanent critique of the original text itself.

In contrast to the approach adopted by many Orienta lists who a priori tend to deny the unity of the text under examination, fragmenting it into so many parts or heterogeneous strata until nothing remains, Feuerstein rightly asks in his methodological study whether this compulsive search for incongruencies and textual corruptions is not the expression of an ethnocentric rationalising mentality which inclines to project everywhere its own need for abstract and absolute logic, and hence is particularly prone to misinterpret paradoxical expressions so common in eastern thought, which has a penchant for transcending dualism and therefore in part also rational language as such.

The principal merit of the present volume lies in that it provides us with a highly original overall picture of Classical Yoga. Instead of giving a contracted description of this school of thought - which would be at least partly second-hand - Feuerstein undertakes a thorough analysis of the key concepts, arranging his findings in a systematic fashion so that in the end there spontaneously emerges a complete picture of the entire spiritual iter of Classical Yoga. His detailed semantic examination demonstrates once again - if that should still be necessary - that the meaning of the complex and poly- valent Sanskrit terms (hardly ever translatable into our languages by a single word) must be sought through an accurate comparison of the various contexts in which they occur.

The other great merit of this work is that it never loses sight of the psycho-integrative and experiential matrix of a great many key concepts of Classical Yoga. Thus isvara, considered by a number of Orientalists as a later superfluous interpolation added from the outside to a system already complete in itself, is here linked up with the yogin's profound experience of the archetypal yogin, i.e. the macrocosmic reflection of the purusa innate in everybody, which in its turn is not an abstract concept but a concrete numinous experience whose connections with the conditioned mental complexes (the punctum dolens of many exegetes and scholars) are here analysed with considerable precision.


Yoga, in particular Patanjali's variant of this great Indian tradition, has capitivated my professional interest over many years, and my published findings and thoughts on the subject reflect the various stages of this protracted research. The present volume consists of a series of detailed analyses of the key concepts mustered by Patanjali to describe and explain the enigma of human existence and to point a way out of conditioned existence, to stop the perpetual motion of the 'wheel of becoming' (bhava-cakra = samsara).

I have adopted an historical approach combined with a system- immanent interpretation founded on my own rigorous textual studies on the structure of Patanjali's work, the Yoga. Satra (see my 1979 methodological study). This book differs from previous publications in that it seeks to wrest from Patanjali's aphoristic statements them- selves the philosophical edifice of Classical Yoga and thus to combat the overpowering influence exercised by Vyasa's scholium, the roga-Bhasya, on all subsequent efforts at exegesis. By contrast, I have tried to tentatively relate Patanjali's conceptions to earlier epic teachings from which, after all, he must have drawn some inspiration. In fact, there appears to be a far greater continuity between Classical Yoga and antecedent (pre-classical) formulations than is normally thought. However, the present work does not develop this point further, and the parallels introduced have the chief purpose of illuminating Patanjali's teachings.

There are naturally many details of this intricate darsana which, of necessity, had to be relegated to a secondary place, although they could profitably form the substance of further problem-specific studies. My principal aim has been to present a reinterpretation of the main bearings of the metaphysical framework of Classical Yoga. The single most important finding of this piece of research is the fact that Patanjali's system cannot be subsumed under the heading of Samkhya. Classical Yoga is exactly what its protagonists claim: an automonous darsana with its own characteristic set of concepts and technical expressions. The popular scholarly impression according to which Classical Yoga is some kind of parasite, capitalising on the philosophical efforts of Classical Samkhya, is shown to be in need of urgent and radical revision. The concluding chapter is a thumbnail sketch of the crucial differences between these two schools which should set this whole issue into the proper perspective.

Some readers may be puzzled by the sparing treatment afforded to the famous schema of the 'eight members' (~,a-ang(l) of Yoga, frequently misinterpreted as 'stages'. The reason for this is twofold. First, I have dealt with this aspect of Classical Yoga fairly extensively in a previous book (see my 1974 publication) and second, I have come to regard this particular systematisation of the yogic path as of subsidiary importance in the overall structure of 'Patanjali's school of thought. In fact, it is highly probable that he adopted this eightfold classification from earlier sources for the sake of expositional convenience, whereas his own view seems to be that kriya-yoga, which can be equated with Classical Yoga per se, is essentially the combined practice of ascesis (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya) and devotion to the Lord (lsvara-pranidhana) (see aphorism 11.1), which leads to the cultivation of the enstatic consciousness (in samadhi) and consequently to the abrogation of those factors which are the true causes of human bondage and man's mistaken self-identity.

The observations, thoughts, suggestions and speculations presented in this fascicle have all matured on the soil prepared by previous researchers, and my criticisms of some of their contributions, though necessarily committed, in no way seek to detract from the merit of their valuable labour. I am particularly indebted to the work of the late Professor J. W. Hauer, which first introduced me to the exciting possibility of a text-immanent interpretation of the Yoga-Sutra. To what degree I have succeeded in achieving this programmed, future studies will undoubtedly evince.

**Book's Contents and Sample Pages**

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