Two (or three) different narratives on Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta etc.

Some authors tend to think that once upon a time there was one Yoga and that later this has been “altered” or has at least “evolved” into many forms. According to their own stand, they might look at this developments as meaningful adaptations or as soulless metamorphoseis.

Other authors tend to think that there were several trends of Yoga prior to a given point (usually identified with the Yogasūtra (YS) if you agree with Chapple, etc., or with the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra (PYŚ) if you agree with Bronkhorst, Maas, etc.) and that they have been unified into a single system by the author of one or the other text. A long time after that, the same authors claim, new tendencies developed out of this unitary Yoga, much like in the way described by the authors of the fist group.

A minority group of authors contests the idea of a unitary Yoga at all and says that between the various things called Yoga in Classical and Post-Classical India there are at most family resemblances and at least nothing common at all. For these authors, it does not really make sense to host a conference on Yoga with people discussing Buddhist Tantric Yoga, Pāñcarātra Yoga, the Yogasūtra’s, contemporary Yoga practices and so on.

Who is right? Difficult to say. The point is that what we have are only fragments of the whole picture and that our interpretation of it will make us interpret some scattered pieces as belonging to the same puzzle or not. Accordingly, if we assume the first perspective, we will consider a form of Yoga which is far away from Patañjali’s YS (or PYŚ) as still somehow connected with it and detect slight similarities. If we assume the third perspective, we will rather notice the differences between the two.

Similar differences in approach can be detected in the case of Sāṅkhya (where the first scenario is ruled out by the data and scholars either subscribe to the second or to the third approach), Buddhism, the two Mīmāṃsās (Parpola embraces the first scenario, Bronkhorst the third one, there are no clear data in favour of the second one), the two schools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and so on. In the latter case, in fact, I only know scholars subscribing to the first scenario. Mumme (1988) is aware of the fact that there were differences between the two schools even before the official split, but still calls them both Śrī Vaiṣṇava and says that they were “complementary”.

Am I forgetting some further example or some further approach? And which approach do you subscribe to in the cases mentioned?

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

5 Replies to “Two (or three) different narratives on Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta etc.”

  1. I think, the choice of an attitude is mainly based on the intention of the scholar. Those, who study psychotechniques in comparative perspective, will designate as yoga a huge variety of traditions, from YS to Buddhist Tantra. But a scholar, who studies the origines of Yoga in Gita, Mokshadharma or early Buddhist and Jaina texts, will most probably disagree with the idea of unique Yoga. So, I don’t think it makes much sence to choose the only one position in advance.
    We may find a similar example in the history of epic studies, i.e. in the arguments between analytic and synthetic schools in the 19th century.

    • Thanks, Evgenija. I do not think that one should choose one or the other position in advance. My goal was just to become aware of the way one (unconsciously) reason about those topics. For instance, at least in Western Europe, the myth of the origin (call it the primus movens or the Big Bang) is very influential and scholars are unconsciously inclined to think that every phenomenon (be it language or the Indoeuropean, Yoga or “Philosophy”) must have a single origin.

  2. Elisa, I’m perhaps biased* and must rely on the expertise of others, but I’ve found the introduction to the volume (XII) on Yoga in the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies by Gerald James Larson and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (2008) to be an extremely helpful guide by way of saying what can be reliably said on the subject (the introduction was written by Larson). What do you (and/or others) think of his treatment?

    * Gerry was one of my teachers.

  3. Elisa, while this does not answer your question, you and our readers might be interested in this podcast on a new book focused on *modern* yogic practices and their relationship to the Yogasūtra, Buddhism, and Western capitalism:

    The focus is on contemporary practices and a history leading up to their current incarnation. The author addresses your question in a way that suggests to me she is in the minority group you describe, but I have not read the book yet. If anyone has read it, perhaps they can say whether the scholarship is more directly relevant to your question.

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