How Relevant Are The Ancient Yoga Texts?

Question.

I came across your website www.discover-yoga-online.com, and I have some questions about some points. In the historic part of your side, you said that “The period from about 7000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. was an era in the history of yoga when the teachings were written down.” Please could you give some information about written texts in the early 7000 BC? I read yesterday in Wikipedia that the earliest Upanishads were written approx in 900 BC … I am studying Yoga and Naturopathy Ayurveda and I really struggle some times because there is not enough information in English.

~ Marisel

Answer.

You’ve asked a really good question, and I’ll give you my thoughts about it.

As you’re probably aware, yoga, along with other the ancient traditions, whose origins can be traced backed millennia, began as an oral tradition. When we talk about historical dates such as “the period from about 7000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. was an era in the history of yoga when the teachings were written down,” we’re not necessarily referring to any specific books, but rather to the period when yoga began to move from an oral tradition to one where masters and students began to record these teachings in one way or another other than just by memory.

Many people consider The Rig Veda, the earliest of the 4 books of the Vedas, to be the oldest extant piece of writing, and it can be attributed to this ancient period. The Ramayana is also considered to be upwards of 7,000 years old, with The Mahabharata following in 2-3000 years BC.

As you mentioned, The Upanishads are attributed to a period much later that this. The Upanishads are the principle texts of the field of Vedanta, which literally means “the end of the Vedas (… or after the Vedic period to be more precise). But dates this far back are always hotly contested, and the fact is that it really is impossible to say with any certainty when exactly something was written when we are looking so distant into the past.

Personally, I found the reading of both the Ramayana and The Mahabharata to be the things that have given me some of my greatest insight into the science of yoga. To be sure, for the keen student of yoga, the lifelong study of these ancient texts will prove to be one of the most illuminating and profoundly inspirational pursuits along their yogic journey.

I understand your frustrations at finding good English translations. It’s not easy, and often there aren’t any. That’s why learning Sanskrit is almost essential if one really wants to delve deeply into this ancient body of wisdom. Even many of the texts that have been translated, were translated by academic scholars who may have translated the words, but did not have the deeper cultural or spiritual foundations of understanding to properly interpret their meaning.

This field of study can certainly be difficult at times. That’s why so many people today prefer to just ignore the spiritual and cultural aspects of things like yoga, and just relate to them on a purely physical and more utilitarian level.

But when you have glimpsed the astounding Universe that lies deep within this cultural heritage of India, as I think you have, then you know that there is no greater challenge to be taken up than to dig deeply into it. Patience and resolve will definitely be your strongest companions.

I’m very happy to see you doing this work, and I wish you all the best in your journey. Thanks again for asking this question. Maybe our readers here will have some other thoughts to share on the subject too …

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Yogacharya is Director of International Yogalayam and Editor of “The Yoga News

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3 Comments so far

  1. Melissa on September 28th, 2009

    Great post! The ancient texts have much to teach us today.

  2. JimmyBean on October 1st, 2009

    I don’t know If I said it already but …This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  3. Tracing the History of Yoga on October 6th, 2009

    [...] How Relevant Are The Ancient Yoga Texts? « International … [...]