Yoga Versus Vedanta

Dear Ted,

 

What is the difference between yoga and Vedanta? I know yoga says chitta vritti nirodhaha and Vedanta says that ignorance is the problem.

My understanding is this: yogis follow the path of Patanjali to reach samadhi, or destruction of thought waves. Vedanta says that the individual does not understand its identity as consciousness, and should do spiritual practice to rid oneself of this belief.

I was just wondering.

It seems to me that yogis have way more chance of being stuck in what they think is a state, namely samadhi. Which can leave these people zoned-out, walking around thinking they destroyed their minds, which can lead to adharmic behavior.

Vedanta, however, would say that the self is present before ignorance has gone, when ignorance has gone, and after ignorance has gone. Therefore, it is a matter of understanding, not experience.

To me it seems yoga is useful on the path, but is useless as far as full actualization is concerned.

It is something I’m simply interested in.

Can you help me out?

The best to ya,

Orion

 

 

Hi, Orion.

 

Your understanding of the difference between yoga and Vedanta is basically sound, but we should make sure that all the screws are tightened.

 

First of all, let it be said that most likely Patanjali was pointing to the same end as Shankara (not that Vedanta is Shankara’s brainchild, but simply to use a name that epitomizes the non-dual vision of Vedanta). In other words, while it would seem that the goal of yoga is samadhi, I’m pretty certain that the idea Patanjali was trying to convey is that samadhi is a state that affords one a “glimpse” of one’s true nature. Vedanta agrees with this. Samadhi is an experience that occurs in a mind that is sufficiently sattvic to “reflect”—i.e., afford the mind the apprehension of—the unmodified nature of limitless conscious existence, which one consequently recognizes to be both the fundamental reality of all that is and one’s own essential nature, for there can be only one fundamental reality and thus the fundamental reality of the total is the same fundamental reality as that of the individual.

 

Having said that, it is true that the goal of yoga is most often interpreted to be samadhi. As you rightly surmise, however, samadhi is a state, an experience, an object. Thus, the experience of samadhi neither comprehensively defines/represents the self nor does it in and of itself constitute self-realization. The word samadhi literally means “equal mind” (sama means “equal,” and dhi is derivation of buddhi, which means “mind” or “intellect”). It indicates a mind that has non-dual vision; a mind that understands that all objective phenomena are essentially nothing other that consciousness. Too often, however, samadhi is interpreted as indicating a mind that is void of thought, or perhaps equally silly a mind that literally sees everything bathed in an evanescent blue or white light or the world as a shimmering ocean of singular energy. Of course, both of these notions are ridiculous.

 

First, thoughts are not intrinsically problematic. We need thought not only to navigate through the apparent reality, but also to engage in self-inquiry. Suffering is a result of self-ignorance, and the only way to remove self-ignorance is by gaining self-knowledge. Thus, the problem isn’t thinking itself, but wrong thinking—which is what the idea that a permanent thought-free state of samadhi constitutes enlightenment is. How are you going to realize the self if you don’t register the thought, “I am the self; my essential nature is limitless conscious existence”? We don’t have to remove thoughts; we simply have to improve them.

 

Second, all experiences, whether thought-free or mystically mind-blowing, are objective phenomena, which are inherently ephemeral and thus neither represent nor define that which is by nature eternal (i.e., not of long duration, but rather totally transcendent of the limiting parameters of time and space). Limitless conscious existence is as present during the experience of taking out the trash, thinking about sex, or feeling angry as it is during the experience of oneness, contemplating some form of God, or feeling compassionate. It is not the character of the experience that establishes or defines consciousness, for consciousness is the substrate of all experience. It is the apprehension of the essential nature of all experience that allows one to recognize the non-dual nature of reality and thus “gain” freedom from experience, for once one has assimilated self-knowledge, one knows that one’s essential nature is neither enhanced nor diminished by experience.

 

This is not to say that yoga, or spiritual practice, is not necessary. But rather than being a direct means to moksha, Vedanta advocates yoga as a means of purifying the mind (i.e., neutralizing binding vasanas). In this regard, while spiritual practice is absolutely vital to gaining self-knowledge, it is ultimately an insufficient means, for action will only produce experiential results. And while the experience of a quiet mind is a necessary platform from which to conduct self-inquiry, only knowledge will finally remove ignorance. This is the reason that Vedanta emphasizes understanding over experience.

 

Hope that helps.

 

All the best,

 

Ted