Yoga came first! Yoga is about 7000-10,000 years old. Yoga is the earliest spiritual experiments by ancient Indian sages, seekers, or seers (rishis). They tried to explore their inner consciousness. They tried to answer the question: “ko ham?” – who am I? At that time there were no other rishis yet born to answer this question. They themselves became the first rishis. They also asked “kaha idam?” – what is this [whole world] and “Who created all this?” They trained themselves by developing various yoga and meditation techniques, self-control techniques, concentration techniques and a moral and ethical system they called “Dharma.” Literally it means ‘that which supports or sustains.’
These sages finally attained enlightenment. They realized their true self – the soul. They called it ‘Atma’ or atman. They realized that it is discrete from the physical body and mind. Body and mind are like the chariot. The Atma is the charioteer. They also realized their connection with God.
These sages attained great powers and noble character. Therefore people gathered around them. The sages taught the people what they experienced and encouraged them to follow certain principles and a way of life. Disciples wrote down these principles and ‘rules.’ These notes became scriptures named after the rishi or avatar.
The people following these scriptures gradually increased and places of pilgrimage and temples grew around them. Scriptures, temples, images, rituals, etc became the physical representation and extension of the original sage’s teachings.
These concretized experiences of yoga principles is called ‘Hinduism’ by westerners.
Buddhism is connected to yoga and Hinduism. There are many unmistakable connections between technical words used by the great Hindu Sage Patanjali who wrote the famous Yoga Sutras. Buddha was also important in re-awakening and strengthening Yoga’s belief in non-violence and reducing the use of animals in religious sacrifices. He also introduced a neutral philosophy of “no comment” in any matter that could not be directly proven. Only the present moment was 100% provable. The Buddha therefore made the present moment important in his teachings.
Because the existence of God is not directly provable, he refused to get into the debate of his existence, without ever denying his existence. Some people mistakenly assume this means he did not believe in God. Yet, the Buddha clearly DID believe in karma, re-incarnation, infinite life and death cycles, heaven and hell, supernormal powers etc. He describes them himself in the earliest Buddhist texts called the Tripitaka. The Buddha was very spiritual – whatever his beliefs about God.
Today, many people are oblivious of this. They think yoga or meditation is just a physical exercise. It is far more. It is a life transforming, physical, emotional, intellectual, scientific, and spiritual 24/7 way of life.
In the ancient scriptures such as Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharata, etc, the name of ‘Hinduism’ is actually referred to in very general terms. Nobody actually tried to give it an official name. Why? Because it was never a political faith. It was not a brand. It was a way of life. Nobody claimed to be its founder. It was described as an eternal principle that came from God. So the ancient sages referred to Hinduism as:
- Dharma (that which upholds or sustains)
- Sanatan Dharma (eternal dharma)
- Vaidic Dharma (dharma of the Vedas)
The word Hindu came from the Persians (Middle-Eastern Europeans). Some traveled to India. They saw some of our yogis worshipping in the Indus valley area near the sacred river Sindhu. When they went back home, they called them Hindu, incorrectly pronouncing the word Sindhu. Anyway, it caught on, and then westerners started using it. Unfortunately, even people in India started using it.
In my opinion, the word that most clearly describes our way of life and beliefs is ‘Yoga.’ And we are all yogis, or at least aspiring yogis.
No. Hinduism or Vaidic Dharma is the collection of thousands of religious, spiritual, or sampradayic traditions born in India across the last 7000-10,000 years. Many Hindu traditions also accept the western faiths in part. To this extent, Hinduism is the umbrella term for all religions in the world!
However, more technically, Hinduism consists of the faiths that recognize the legitimacy of Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas and others.
Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word. It first appears in the Upanishads which described some yoga postures called ‘asanas’ and some breathing techniques called ‘pranayamas.’ But the most detailed explanations appear in The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali and the Bhagvat Gita by Vyasa.
Patanjali defines yoga as “Stillness of mind” or tranquility. (yogash chitta vrutti nirodhaha)
Krishna in the Gita defines yoga in many ways like different facets of the same diamond. The most important one is “Equanimity” or seeing everything in the world and everything that happens in the world as equal. No judgment. No infatuation. No hatred. Nothing is bad, nothing is good. A Brahmin, a dog, elephant, gold, dust, honor, insult, failure, success – all dualities – are one. (samatvam yoga uchyate)
There is even a connection and oneness of out Atma and God. We are eternally connected. Because of ignorance or maya (illusion) we do not realize this.
Literally, the word yoga means “unity” or oneness, connectedness. Different yoga traditions (or ‘Hindu’ traditions) have various interpretations and experiences of this oneness.
Adi Shankaracharya’s school believes the oneness with God is actual. You are actually God – or Brahman, but you don’t know it. The belief is called Advait or ‘Not Two.’ Followers of this school often believe in the tradition of Shiva.
Followers of Vishnu traditions like Vaishnava, Iskon, and Swaminarayan believe in a version of Vishista Advait or ‘Different Not Two.’ They believe that the feeling of oneness with God is actual. But the difference between Atma and God is real.
There are many other schools with various beliefs.
In short, yoga means a belief of the oneness of literally everything. When you are a true yogi (or Hindu) you will experience 24/7 tranquility and never hatred of anyone or anything. You will be compassionate to all equally to the compassion you show yourself. Just as you do not like to hurt yourself, you will not like to hurt any other living creature.
That’s why yogi’s are usually vegetarians.
See separate sheet
The word God is western term. Its history is unclear but many believe that it originated in Germany.
We all need to be very careful when we use this word God. Because people have very different meanings inside their heads. If their meaning is different to your, you could end up getting into an argument. Not because one of you is right or wrong. But simply because you are referring to two different things.
Some people think God means a guy in the sky who is a hateful, jealous, megalomaniac who sends plagues and floods to kill mankind. This description is derived from the early Bible.
Other people believe God means the guy who is pure love and forgives all our sins and teaches us to forgive others. This description is derived from the later Bible.
Other people believe God is infinite, immeasurable, transcendental, immanent, pure consciousness, truth, bliss, the source and support of all things, and connected to your soul. This description is derived from Yoga scriptures. This infinite God also appears on earth and elsewhere in the universe as Avataras as a sadhu or king or even an animal. But in the original form, God is not a male or female or even neuter. God is beyond. Indescribable in human language and concepts or neti neti (not this, not this.)
No. It believes in 330 million ‘divinities.’ The whole misunderstanding has occurred because western translators have mistranslated the Sanskrit word ‘deva’ or devata. Scriptures say there are 33 karor devas. The word deva comes from the word ‘div’ or light. You may be familiar with the word ‘divo’ which means candle or flame.
These devas have the characteristic of light. They are luminous beings with special energy or powers. But they are a part of God’s creation. They had a beginning and they will have an end. They are not immortal.
But just because they had superhuman powers, western translators loosely called them ‘gods.’ It was a huge intellectual blunder by them.
In yoga scriptures you never hear the real Sanskrit words for God – Bhagavan, Brahman, Parabrahman, or Purushottama – used in plural. Only the word for deva is used in plural – ‘devaha.’
So Hinduism is not polytheistic. It is monotheistic (God is one) in the Vaishnava tradition and monist (everything is God) in the Shaiva tradition – generally speaking.
No. The misinterpretation has arisen out of Bhakta Tulsi’s translation of the original Ramayana written by Sage Valmiki. The Ramayana is about the King Rama and his epic battle with the King of Lanka, Ravana, who had ubducted his wife Sita. Rama was helped by a valliant group called ‘vanara.’
Bhakta Tulsi – who was a great Bhakta of Rama and we are in no position to criticize him – described these vanaras as monkeys leaping from tree to tree just like ordinary monkeys. It is was is known as a ‘romanticized’ depiction of the Ramayan.
However, Valmiki himself portrayed the vanaras more like human beings, with high intellect, culture, living on the ground and interacting with other humans.
The word Valmiki gave to them is very interesting: vanara.
It splits as “vaa” and “nara”. This translates as “or human.” Brilliant!!!
Valmiki is in a dilemma. They are just like humans but also different. He didn’t want to group them with monkeys or other animals. He rathered group them with humans. So he called them “or human.”
In my opinion, they were an ancient tribe of people – perhaps the southern India Dravids or some sort of Neanderthals. More research is required in India to establish the existence of Neanderthals in India. Latest findings show that Neanderthals had intelligence, language, culture, and music. They shared 98.8% of our DNA.
Hindus don’t worship statues or idols or paintings. They worship representations or images or symbols. In Sanskrit they are called murtis.
The earliest representation of God or divinity was fire or agni. It represented light, enlightenment, wisdom, warmth, and protection. Yogis also utilized the sun called “surya narayana.” They also used seashells as the symbol of the Vishnu chakra.
Today most commonly used are sacred statues and paintings. These objects become worthy of worship because:
- They represent something divine – God
- They are already pervaded by God – as are all things in the universe – eg fire and the sun
- They have been ‘energized’ by the touch and prayers of an enlightened yogi who requests God to enter the image in all his fullness and love and receive the worship and respond to the prayers of the devout.
Ancient yogis discovered that God appears on earth numerous times in many faiths wherever there are humble disciples needing help. Krishna tells Arjun in the Gita that he has appeared innumerable times. But the ignorant do not know.
The Sanskrit word avatara means ‘descended.’ In other words, God descended from the transcendental realm to the physical realm. On earth, though God has a body that looks fully physical, in actuality it is divine. The mortality of the body is a grand illusion created by the infinite power of God.
God’s avatar’s power and divinity can be full or partial, human or animal, male or female, animate or inanimate, visible or invisible or any combination.
Whatever the form, to the true devotee, the avatar brings peace and joy.
The word Avatar has become famous due to the Hollywood movie of that name. It is actually spelt avatara.
Hollywood uses reflections of yoga philosophy to create some of its blockbusters: Avatar, Matrix Trilogy, Interstellar, Star Wars series, Inception.
Spirituality is a very broad word that today includes even climate change and renewable energy! So it is difficult to define it precisely. But the very fact that it is such a broad word in affect defines it. Spirituality means you kind of mold your own version of religion, rules and regulations, and worldview. It means you are an independent thinker – not necessarily a good one or a bad one – but independent nevertheless. You don not always follow the authorities, though sometime you might.
Religion is a more narrow term. Usually it refers to particular faiths that have fixed beliefs and rules. Some of these rules might be very old. They might not even be relevant today. They could even be violent. But very few people who are religious believe in the violence. They reject it. Yet some people still follow it. They are called fundamentalists.
Sampradaya is a more rarely used term. It refers to the faiths that have a continuous succession of gurus. In this sense the Catholic Church with its popes and the BAPS Swaminarayan faith with its humble teachers can be called Sampradayas. True to the ancient yoga tradition of everyone being equal whatever your ashram or caste, one of the BAPS gurus was a married man. And he was of a ‘lower’ caste or shudra – a darji or tailor. His name was Pragji. Sadhus used to go to him to gain knowledge!
According to Yoga, all religions and perspectives are true. This is because they all contain some truth. So they all lead to God. They are like different rivers flowing towards one ocean.
But though all religions teach truth, none of them can teach all the truth. This is because God is beyond words. Therefore some yogis called God “neti neti” meaning “Not this, not this.”
They encouraged seekers to get the guidance of a ‘guru’ – an enlightened noble soul – to understand the ancient texts from a current standpoint. It is difficult for a yogi with lots of books but without a guru to achieve his or her full potential – just like a five-year-old surrounded by textbooks but no teacher.
The Sanskrit word guru derives from ‘gu’ meaning darkness and ‘ru’ meaning light or enlightenment. Therefore guru = s/he who takes one from ignorance to enlightenment.
Yes. This proof comes from ancient yoga texts. These 2000 year old texts describe deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These vents exist under 1.5 miles of water. They were only discovered in 1977 when scientists dived to the seabed in a state-of-the-art submarine names Alvin. Later studies revealed these vents released water that has had its salt removed. The briny water of the sea was being desalinated and in the hot seabed and was ejected from the vents.
This remarkable modern discovery can be found in ancient yoga texts. How did the ancient yogis know about hydrothermal vents and their chemistry without modern equipment? It is extraordinary.
The discovery is so scientifically robust, indisputable, and groundbreaking, it has been published in three international, mainstream PEER-REVIEWED scientific journals.
The yogis said they knew this and the whole world with their eyes perfected through Yoga! They had self-realization and God-realization that gave them extraordinary divine powers.
If these miraculous descriptions of hydrothermal vents were found in the Bible or Koran, they would be the most famous news in the world.
Read more about the exciting discoveries here.