[Advaita-l] Yoga and Advaita Vedanta - 4

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 16 18:57:46 CDT 2006

In the last three posts on this subject, we saw that Sankara bhagavatpAda 
sets apart yoga and vedAnta in BSBh 2.1.3, while quoting YS and referring 
positively to the actualization of powers obtained by yoga practice in BSBh 

At this juncture, one can ask, why is there so much ambiguity about all 
this? Is Sankara for or against yoga?

It is also possible to say, as some academic scholars have done, that 
Sankara misunderstands/misinterprets yoga.

A third argument is to say, there is really no difference, yoga is the same 
as advaita, because ultimately the Oneness of brahman is to be experienced 
through yoga practice. In this thinking, advaita is theory and yoga is 

A fourth argument is to say, Sankara bhagavatpAda teaches nothing other than 
knowledge (jnAna) as the means to moksha, so there is ultimately no place 
for yoga in advaita vedAnta.

That all the above are mistaken in various ways will be the thesis of this 
and subsequent posts in this subject. To begin with, a question as to 
whether Sankara is for or against yoga is meaningless. He is neither "for" 
nor "not for" nor "against" nor "not against" yoga. This is acknowledged by 
Sankara himself and resolved very clearly in his works. Both yoga and 
sAMkhya are accepted partially, where they do not conflict with the veda. 
Both yoga and sAMkhya are rejected partially, where they do conflict with 
the veda. The same logic, acceptance as per agreement with the veda and 
rejection as per conflict with the veda, is applied to all other smRti 
traditions too.

As Sankara bhagavatpAda says towards the end of BSBh 2.1.3, "upakurvantu" 
(let them help) - as far as helping the mumukshu to realize the truth, any 
system of thought may be helpful, but the vedAnta texts remain the deciding 
factor on what vedAntins accept or reject. To overlook this and to claim 
that Sankara misunderstands or misrepresents sAMkhya and yoga is quite 
wrong. Such a position reveals only one's own misunderstanding of both the 
thought and the history of the sAMkhya, yoga and advaita vedAnta systems.

To say that advaita is theory and yoga is practice, with the experience of 
brahman to be obtained through yoga, is another fallacious argument. It 
constructs a false unity around what are actually two distinct systems of 
philosophy. It achieves this false unity only by devaluing both advaita 
vedAnta practice and yoga theory. After all, there are both theory and 
practice within advaita vedAnta and there are both theory and practice 
within yoga.  Yes, within advaita, there is a clear culmination of knowledge 
(jnAna) in one's own experience (anubhava), but this personal experience 
does not guarantee the truth or otherwise of the advaita nature of brahman. 
There can be a wide spectrum of experience, depending on each person's 
eligibility (adhikAra). The true vedAntin therefore relies primarily on 
Sruti pramANa and then adduces logical arguments (yukti) around it. One's 
own anubhava is not a sure basis for building a philosophical argument, but 
at the same time, this anubhava is not something that another person can 
question. We will see in later posts where yoga fits in this context.

All the above discussion also is enough to set aside the fourth argument 
described above. On Sankara bhagavatpAda's own acknowledgement, there is 
partial acceptance and partial rejection of yoga. Hence, there is indeed 
some place for yoga within advaita vedAnta. In various places, he explains 
how various practices generally associated with yoga help towards 
realization. In the next couple of posts, I will cover all the remaining 
important references in BSBh that help us understand how and where exactly 
yoga fits in with advaita vedAnta as taught in the sUtra and the bhAshya.

SrI gurubhyo namaH,

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