Although yoga has innumerable facets, its fundamental teachings are based on philosophical and spiritual principles. Its development has taken place gradually in many phases of time, beginning from the previous knowledge stored in ancient Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the basics elaborated by Patanjali in his monumental work Patanjali Sutras.
It has travelled and got enriched through the wisdom and thoughts of several Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sufi philosophical thinkers, as well as of the modern sages and saints like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Pandit Sampurnananda and Mahatma Gandhi. Several scientific studies have been carried out on yoga in association with modern basic and medical sciences. Even after continuously changing scenario, the basic spiritual principles of yoga are still valid and acceptable to one and all.
Yoga Darshan and Sankhya Darshan are so much vividly descriptive that most of the principles (sutras) revealed there are very much valid even today. There are however certain basic differences, for example, Sankhya is sceptic whereas yoga is theistic, because it accepts the existence of almighty God (Ishwara). According to Sankhya metaphysical knowledge is the only path to salvation, whereas according to yoga it may be achieved by precious techniques of meditation. Patau jab’s effort was directed especially to coordinate the philosophical material, taken from Sankhya, around technical formula for concentration, meditation and ecstasy. In fact Patanjali converted the mystical thoughts of yoga into a systematic system of philosophy, by giving it proper shape of technique, which is under reach of a human being, if tried honestly.
Both Sankhya and Yoga agree that the world is real: and if it exists and endures, it is because of the ignorance of spirit; the innumerable forms of the cosmos as well as their processes of manifestation and development exist only in the measure to which the Self (purusha) is ignorant of itself, and by reason of this metaphysical ignorance, suffers and is enslaved. At the precise moment when the last self shall have found its freedom, the cjeation in its totality will be reabsorbed into the primordial substance.
It is here in this fundamental affirmation that the cosmos exists and endures because of man’s lack of knowledge, that we can find the reason for the Indian depreciation of life and the cosmos — a depreciation that none of the great constructions of post – Vedic Indian thought attempted to hide. From the time of Upanishads, Indians denounced the world as it is and treated life as it reveals itself to the eyes of a sage — ephemperal, painful, illusory. Such a conception leads neither to nihilism nor to pessimism. This world is rejected, this life is depreciated, because it is known that something else exists, beyond becoming, beyond temporality, beyond suffering.
In religious terms it could be said that India rejects the profane cosmos and profane life, because it thirsts for a sacred world and a sacred mode of being. Again and again Indian texts repeat that the cause of soul’s ‘enslavement’ and consequently the source of its endless sufferings lie in man’s solidarity with cosmos, in his participation, active and passive, direct and indirect, in nature.
Dukhmeva Sarva Vivekinah, recalls Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Human being himself, with all his experiences, undergoes suffering. Aniriuklhu in “Commentary on Sankhya Sutras” has stated that “The body is pain, because it is the place of pain; the sense, objects and perceptions are suffering, because they lead to suffering; pressure itself is suffering, because it is followed by suffering.” Basic principle of Sankhya is man’s desire to escape from the pains of celestial misery, terrestrial misery and inner or organic misery.
Emancipation from sufferings remains the goal of all schools of Indian philosophies and mysticisms. This may be achieved by either means and ways. It may be obtained directly through knowledge (as directed by teachings of Vedanta and Sankhya) or by means of the techniques mentioned in Yoga Sutras and Buddhist scriptures. One fact remains very clear that a knowledge has no value if it does not seek salvation of man. (M. Eliade in Yoga — Immortality and Freedom).
“In Indian philosophy metaphysical awareness always contains soteriological aim, and only metaphysical knowledge — the knowledge of ultimate realities — is valued and sought, for it alone procures liberation” . (M. Eliade in Yoga — Immortality and Freedom). It is only the knowledge that enables a man to be ‘awakened’ by casting off the illusions of this world of phenomena. By knowledge is meant the practice of withdrawal, whose effect will be to make him find his own centre, to make him coincide with his true spirit (Purusha — atman). Knowledge is transformed into a kind of meditation, and metaphysics becomes soteriology. In India not even ‘logic’ is without a soteriological function in its beginning.
The importance that all these Indian metaphysical and ascetic techniques and contemplating methods that constitute yoga accord to ‘knowledge’ is easily explained if we take into consideration the causes of human sufferings. The wretchedness of human life is not owing to a divine punishment or to any specific sin, but due to ignorance. It however does not include every and all kinds of ignorance but only the ignorance of true nature of spirit, the ignorance that makes us attribute ‘qualities’ and predicates to the eternal and autonomous principle. Hence naturally it should be the metaphysical knowledge for leading us to the threshold of illumination, that is to the true ‘self. And it is this knowledge of one’s self, in its ascetic and spiritual sense, that is being pursued by a majority of Indian speculative schools; the school of yoga being one of the most effective among them.
For yoga the problem is clearly defined. Since sufferings have their origin in ignorance of spirit (on confusing spirit with psychomental state), emancipation can be obtained only if this confusion is abolished. For that yoga (a state of asceticism) and techniques of meditation are indispensable to obtain liberation. In yoga philosophy it is pointed out that human sufferings are rooted in illusion, for man believes that his psychomental life — activity of the senses, feelings, thoughts and volitions — is identical with spirit, with the self.
In such a way he mixes two autonomous but opposite realities, between which there is no real connection but only an illusory relation. Psychomental experience does not belong to spirit, it belongs to. nature whereas states of consciousness are refined products of the same substance, that is at the base of the physical world and world of life. Between psychic states and inanimate objects or living beings there are only differences of degree. But between psychic states and spirit there is a difference of an ontological order; they belong to two different modes of being. ‘Liberation’ occurs when one has understood this truth, and when the spirit regains its original freedom.