Buddhism & Yoga
the Buddhistic doctrine the Yoga was connected from the beginning, because it
was the way by which The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, had found Deliverance.
Professor Erich Frauwallner
As elsewhere stated, I learned the Art
of Classical Thai Yoga-Tantra (or Yoga Sri Tantra) from Guru Chod of Bangkok (1900-1988),
modern Thailand's premier yoga master. His crucial rediscovery and personal restoration
of the classical elements of Khmer-Thai religious culture is seen to have ushered
a veritable Renaissance of Southeast Asian asceticism and spirituality. Recognizing
Guru Chod's momentous findings and his single-handed re-indigenization of yoga
to the region, is tantamount to grasping his saintly magnitude. It was my greatest
life-fortune to have met this man.
Religion of the Heart
Chod's more than forty-year career, he initiated thousands in the Timeless Yoga.
He furthermore imbued his precious teaching with a cogent appraisal of the ancient
Buddha-Dharma, the religious culture in which he was born. For the Guru was by
no means a divisive rebel. It is in fact incumbent on any individual who has managed
that leap beyond the quagmire of nescience, to stand as a glowing illustration
of the clear-cut fact that the whole of humankind belongs to one great religion,
the religion of the heart.
"In actual fact," the Master explained,
a yogi, or yogini, is just one type of religious ascetic who is searching for
an end to suffering. Speaking metaphorically, the goal of all religions is to
reach the summit of a glorious mountain. Yoga is just one path among many. Though
yoga is not a religion in-itself, it has always been adopted, adapted, and applied
by all religions."
Broadly speaking, the Vedic term yoga pertains
to any form of asceticism or meditative technique, including prayer. Though methods
and philosophies differ greatly, the various paths approach the same goal. To
embrace all religions is to fully comprehend that you are not alone in your need
to surmount human suffering, such nostalgia being, in effect, universal.
In Yoga, one of Guru Chod's three published books in Thai, he explains
why people generally - and Thais especially - hold many vague and incorrect ideas
about yoga. He makes it clear why people in Thailand think that a yogi is the
same as a hermit. This is because in the Thai language a hermit is called a reusee,
(Khmer, rosei) from Sanskrit rishi, that is, "a forest dwelling visionary."
Writes the Guru,
Due to customary Thai folklore, people commonly picture yogis
as bearded, unkempt and unclean ascetics, living naked and alone in the forest
depths while subsisting on gathered herbs and vegetables. Through piercing concentration
and arcane sorcery, they imagine that yogis can lie on beds of nails, be buried
alive and withstand extreme temperatures while standing on their heads. They believe
that yogis can perform marvelous feats, such as flying about on magic carpets,
or creating goddesses out of thin air and making them their spiritual consorts!
"But don't be misled," the Master warns,
A practitioner of yoga
is by no means required to retire from the secular world, sever all relations
with human society and dwell in the seclusion of a comfortless cave. He can go
on leading a fully active mundane existence, and when he walks down the road he
can be quite sure that nobody would take a second look at him, or find in him
As a matter of fact, in the oldest surviving Buddhist scriptures,
the Buddha himself is referred to as the "Rishi" in the Pali form Isi.
While undergoing training at Wat Suan Mokh, the famous
forest hermitage of Maharishi Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, the present writer was exceptionally
honored to have gained private meetings with the age stricken patriarch of Southern
Thai Buddhism. Our talks were wide-ranging but consistently centered on the topics
of Buddhism, Vedanta and Yoga. Buddhadasa said, "It is proper for monks to
practice yoga. But in private."
One cool morning as I sat on the pebbles
among the rich foliage and towering trees, the venerable sir confided in me, saying,
"Anyone that understands the essence of his own religion understands the
essence of all religions."
The Maharishi's progressive view greatly moved
me. Later in Bangkok, I related this to Guru Chod. He paused in deference and
lowered his tone. He said, "Of course there should only be one world religion.
I know that and you know that. But be careful. If you go around trying to tell
others of that, you're liable to get shot."
The Royal Eight-Fold Path
Throughout Guru Chod's long and illustrious career, he stove to reveal
the great similarities between the two remotely ancient systems of Buddhism and
Yoga. In fact, both Guru Chod and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu openly spoke and wrote on
what they knew as Raja-yoga. Raja-yoga represents the oldest known school of Classical
Yoga. It dates back more than two thousand years. In the Sanskrit language, raja
means, "king." This Kingly Yoga was first given shape by the time-honored
Indian sage Maharishi Patañjali in his classic work Yoga Sutras (Yoga Aphorisms).
It is also known as Ashtanga-yoga. In Sanskrit, ashta means "eight,"
anga means "part." This is why Patañjali's Raja-yoga is also
referred to as The Royal Eight-Fold Path of Yoga.
Buddha as a Yogi
great similarities between Buddhism and Yoga have led many scholars to accept
their common pre-historical source. We know for a certainty that as a fledgling
ascetic, Gautama thoroughly steeped himself in the pre-classic Indian philosophy
of his revered teacher Arada Kalama "living midst the forests and cave rich
hills of the Vindhya Mountains" near Vaishali. It was his second guru, the
"Thera" Udraka Ramaputra, who taught the Bodhisattva the principles
As early as the year 1900, the esteemed French savant Emile Senart
arrived to a singularly momentous conclusion,
It was on the terrain of Yoga
that the Buddha arose; whatever innovations he was able to introduce into it,
the mould of Yoga was that in which his thought was formed.
have expressed the same idea. "How could Buddha, possessor of an intelligence
without peer, spend six years of his life fruitlessly?" Japanese writer Kanjitsu
Iijima asks. "It is an undeniable historical fact that Yoga played a part
in the origin of Buddhism." Sri Lankan writer Ananda Guruge concurs, "Though
the self-mortification implied in [early Indian asceticism] was not approved by
the Buddha, the yogic element...formed a basic feature in the course of training
by the Buddha. Now, Austrian Professor Erich Frauwallner is by far the most
incisive in declaring Yoga's role in the formation of early Buddhism. In his two-volume
History of Philosophy of Indian Philosophy, Frauwallner writes,
With the Buddhistic
doctrine the Yoga was connected from the beginning, because it was the way by
which The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, had found Deliverance.
spent six years undergoing yogic training. But after he reached the highest plane,
he still felt the urge to go beyond. Conventionally, yogis have approached the
goal of emancipation by two principal paths. One is the path of metaphysical knowledge;
the other is the path of ascetic practice. The first of these approaches is often
called viveka, or "the razor's edge path of sage discrimination." The
second approach is usually distinguished by its penchant for exploring the myriad
states of human consciousness through yogic practices. Now, as for yoga and the
majority of the Buddhist schools, greater underscoring is normally given to the
ascetic path of yoga practice. The Buddha choose a path very similar to this.
'During his period of yoga training, the Buddha experienced such powerful
feelings of happiness and joy that he began to regard them as dangerous and something
to be avoided. Then he overcame this fear and decided to strengthen his weakened
body, to prepare the ground for his re-discovered remedy, which was joy (ananda).
He had previously believed that the heightened agony of self-mortification was
the only valid way to liberation. Yet now in contrast, the Buddha understood that
the peaceful joy of a concentrated mind was a better path for him to follow' (Lama
It cannot be over-stressed that in the Buddha's own
quest he achieved his renowned Illumination while actually practicing yoga; that
is, while seated in padma-asana, otherwise known as the "lotus pose."
When this pose is performed, it gives the appearance of a lotus flower. In the
Sanskrit language, padma means, "lotus." Yogis regard it as the king
of yoga asanas and the most suitable posture for practicing the higher forms of
yoga, that is, concentration, absorption and composure (unification).
The Buddha has desired to keep his yoga-marga [lit. yoga-path] free
from anything that is fanciful, severe or unnecessary to the concentration of
the mind...The Buddhist path of meditation is thus a simplified process in which
the elements of the yoga exist sometimes with slight modifications but which has
been kept clear of what was looked upon as unnecessary, extraneous or dangerous.
It is suited to whoever joins the monastic order, provided by sila, he had succeeded
in developing frames of body and mind in which he could launch himself on an attempt
at concentration of mind leading to the ultimate wisdom.
Buddha As Hindu
Siddhartha Gautama, later called the Buddha, was born to a family leading
pastoral lives in the then richly forested Himalayan foothills near the present-day
Indian-Nepalese frontier. His father was a local chieftain named Suddhodana. But
we need to bear in mind that from his birth until his death, the Buddha was a
kshatriya or warrior-caste Hindu. In fulfillment of his duties as an Indian youth,
he studied under various brahman gurus and learned the basics of Indian knowledge;
or as much, that is, as may have been divulged to a child of non-brahman birth.
Fulfilling his commitment to the chaste student life (brahmacharya-asrama),
Gautama then entered the second of the four obligatory stages (ashrama) for a
male caste-Indian. This is the grihastha-ashrama or householder-stage when
a young man agrees to accept a wife and assume the duties as the head of a household.
For the sake of posterity, he was to father a son. Now the third life-stage, known
as vanaprastha-ashrama (lit. "forest-dweller stage"), is reserved for
the time when the hairs on a man's head begin to turn gray, and when his eldest
son is himself well established with a wife and son of his own.
But it seems
the Bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be, was to gloss the second and third stages over
and scarcely discharge his caste obligation to the minimal extent of stealthily
peeping through the door of the chamber where his wife lay recovering from their
first born child. And there she slept, the enchanting Yashodhara, suckling her
newborn son, Rahula, the very night "that fetter" appeared. This
was also the night when out of paramount disgust for the decadent life he had
hitherto led, the prince absconded from the prison of his palace and plunged headlong
into the fourth and final stage - sannyasa-ashrama - of a male caste-Hindu's life.
Sannyasa-ashrama marks the severing act of complete and total renunciation in
the quest for self-realization.
Now, some years later when the Fully Enlightened
Buddha learned that his father had fallen gravely ill, he hastened to the town
of his parental home and remained steadfast at his dying father's side. Later,
in accordance with the Hindu custom, he conducted the rites of the funeral pyre.
One cannot be blind to the obvious fact the Buddhist religion
was born in India, that epochal land of world renunciation where philosophers,
ascetics and a vast array of religious visionaries have long set their sights
on a pristine spontaneity called nirvana. Nor can one forget that in its primacy,
the Buddha's Doctrine was not conceived as a new religion. What is widely regarded
today as "Buddhism," should actually be viewed as the natural outgrowth
of a great cenobitical heritage dating back roughly 3,000 years. It is also apparent
that the Buddha himself foresaw and feared the eventual error of his yogic movement
transforming itself into a full-blown religious cult. Attempting to forestall
this inevitable distortion, Gautama strongly forbade his followers to fashion
images of his human form. We know from history that for many generations following
the Buddha's physical demise, a tremendous reverence was maintained among his
devotees to observe this important prohibition.
Yet slowly and steadily as
adherents grew, they began to commemorate him - not directly, but implicitly,
first through memorial stupas, later by cut stone bas-reliefs of the figurative
Bo tree. At Sañchi, for example, to handle the Buddha's ineffable being,
carved expanses of sea and sky was suggested, around which adoring devotees were
shown with their palms pressed together or prostrate. Sometime later at Bharhut
and Amaravati as well as at Sañchi, a significant thematic advance was
made and the patrons of the arts dared to go a step further and began to hint
at the Buddha's presence through an empty chair or throne. Other typical representations
were a lotus flower, a single pillar, or a juggernaut wheel (dharma-chakra). Now,
the final stage of this circumscribing urge to worship the forbidden image of
the Savior expressed itself through his hallowed footprints as impressed upon
a lotus-shaped pedestal.
In 326, BCE Alexander of Macedonia entered the
region of Northwest Pakistan, known in those times as Gandhara. Gandhara's chief
city, Takshashila (also spelled Taxila), was a wealthy, prosperous and well-governed
cultural center from the 5th century BCE and an important meeting place of Indian
and Mediterranean cultures. Taxila (not far from present-day Islamabad) was also
ancient India's most prestigious seat of learning and a place for rich families
to send their children to be taught by famous teachers. The Greek philosopher
Anaxarchus, together with his protégé Pyrrho of Elis, traveled to
this region in the train of Alexander's overland invasion. There they mixed with
the odd appearing gymnosophists, or "naked philosophers," plus a whole
menagerie of other ascetics. It is curious, however, that returning to Greece,
they founded not a school of meditative mysticism, as one might readily expect,
but the first Greek school of Skepticism.
From the time of this early Mediterranean
influence, Indian monarchs and patrons of the arts acquired a passion for Greek
sculptural genius. But it still took centuries before Buddha-statuary received
large-scale commissions. It was here at Gandhara that the world's first anthropomorphic
representations of the Buddha appeared, strongly redolent of Apollo the Orator.
This Gandharan school of Buddhist sculpture evolved its own artistic style by
infusing the prevailing Indian Naturalism with the spirit of Greco-Roman Realism.
Immediately following this Gandharan breakthrough, the older Mathura school of
Indian sculpture, whose center was located on the banks of the Yamuna River at
Mathura, also succumbed to the irresistible urge to fashion the corporal form
of Gautama as the embodiment of nirvana.
In conclusion, it is crucial
to grasp the fact that "the representation of the historical Buddha in human
form first took place about the 2nd century of the Christian era" - that
is, about six hundred years after Gautama's death. It took six long centuries
for the Buddhist faithful to finally transgress their founder's prohibition. But
in the end, the sentiment of bhakti (faith) prevailed and the Buddha-bhaktas or
"devotees of the Buddha" surrendered en mass to the huge pan-Indian
religious urge to enshrine the mortal form of The Immortal, The Embodiment of
Enlightenment, "The Supreme Personification of Divinity" or purushottama.
Buddha as Brahman
Nirvana is the goal, indeed, the summum bonum of all
ancient Indian spiritual systems. From the post-Vedic period to our present day,
it is important to grasp that throughout this long three-thousand-year history,
all sincere Indian seekers of the truth, whatever their sectarian persuasions
may have been, pursued one thing and one thing alone: a consummate reality beyond
human pain. What is more, they sought this by means of yoga. Ernest Wood, an Englishman
who spent 38 years studying yoga in India, has explained that the Sanskrit term
nirvana is not at all confined to Buddhist scriptures or Buddhist philosophy.
For it was plainly used in pre-Buddhist India and therefore plays a part in all
Gautama never denied the existence of an unconditioned
reality or naked truth, the knowledge of which could usher the boon of emancipation
to ignorant man. It was just that he showed extreme discretion by declining to
openly speak on this in fear that discussion would only obstruct a person's passage
to the goal itself. This is why the Buddha categorically denied the possibility
of either discussing or experiencing Absolute Truth so long as man was not yet
Now, if we were allowed to unquestionably assume the veracity of
the ancient Pali scriptures and bar the possibility that the Buddha may have said
things unrecorded therein, we could also infer that the Buddha denounced neither
doctrines of Atman (self) nor Brahman (ultimate reality). Rather, the Buddha only
aimed to reproach such professors for their unrestrained loquacity in regards
to themes that he felt ought rather be treated as ineffable. Maintaining that
Atman "exists, is real and permanent," was for the Buddha a false assertion.
Conversely, to assert that Atman "does not exist, is unreal and unlasting,"
was equally regarded as a false assertion. Yet trying to determine what Buddha
did hold as the ultimate goal of the spiritual seeker, it could only be "freedom"
in this very life. Such a man is known as a jivan-mukta, a "liberated being"
who in the scriptural words of the Buddha himself, "[is] even in this life
cut off, nirvan-ized, aware of happiness within himself and living with his soul
identified with Brahman (God).
The Cosmic Axis
Buddhist India was a
very different world a millennium after Gautama's death. A baroque revolution
of vast dimension was in full cultural swing. Yogis preached a new alchemical
philosophy that was based on the notion of a "cosmic body." Their philosophy
also laid tremendous importance on the mystical implications of prana as "life-force."
This tantric philosophical advancement is seen to have exerted a profound influence
on every aspect of Indian cultural life. The varied Buddhist schools were by no
means aloof from this amazing pan-Indian revolution. In the esoteric text of Hevajra-Tantra,
the Buddha, called Bhagavan, is made to extol the virtues of physical fitness.
He says, "Without a perfectly healthy body, one cannot know bliss."
Furthermore, in the compelling symbolism of Buddhist Tantra, the body of the
Buddha is identified with the cosmic universe. His spinal column, called the merudanda,
is said to be a single bone that represents a reality beyond time and space, "a
withdrawn, autonomous zone of nondifferential Void" called shunya. This mystical
backbone is further described as a secret cavern within Mount Kailas. Here esoteric
truth is revealed to the yogin while absorbed in the unexcelled state of meditation.
This also explains why, according to a legend, the Buddha was unable to turn his
head, but had to turn the whole of his body because his spinal column was fixed
motionless, like the Cosmic Pillar.
As referred to elsewhere,
the spinal cord plays a crucial role in the techniques of yoga. Tremendous emphasis
is therefore placed on the 33 bones called vertebrae that make up the human spinal
column. In Classical Thai Yoga-Tantra, as well, keen attention is placed on
developing an elegant posture. 'Why?'
At the bottom of the spine lies the triangular-shaped
sacrum. Sacrum comes from the ancient Latin medical term Os sacrum (lit. "holy
bone"). This shows that the ancients held special regard for the hand-size
base of the vertebral column. Sacrum thus denotes a "sacred place" in
the human corporal structure.
Actually, the present writer finds the human
backbone a highly attractive structural design. If extracted from the skeleton
and carefully examined, its slim configuration from the tip of the coccyx as it
gently curves upward through the sacral, lumbar, dorsal and cervical vertebrae,
shows amazing likeness to an up-raised cobra. But this is only if a person's posture
is correct. If the posture is slouched, then it doesn't look so elegant. With
posture well poised, the linear curve has a striking resemblance to a magnificent
Perhaps this is why the symbol of the cobra has always played
an important role in the ancient cultures of Egypt, India and other Asian countries.
It is the naja of Egypt, the naga of India. It is also known as kundalini, a "the
coiled little she-serpent" sleeping at the base of the spine. With its dilated
neck taking the shape of a hood, the cobra has always been a royal emblem, feminine,
majestic and deeply mysterious. The cobra is therefore an archetypal symbol for
the transfigurative power of primordial nature.
Though generally unacknowledged
in Buddhist traditions, this Universal symbolism nonetheless emerges in the well-known
legend of the Mucalinda Buddha. We relate the episode as follows. In the sixth
week after his Illumination, The Blessed One, the Buddha, dwelled in resplendent
bliss beneath the Mucalinda Tree near Gaya as a violent storm broke out. So fully
absorbed in meditation, he did not realize that the nearby waters of Lake Mucalinda
were about to swallow him up. But the naga of the lake, called also Mucalinda,
coiled his giant body protectively around the Buddha and shielded him with his
Now an esoteric reading of the ancient legend reveals two interesting
points. It first implies that the Buddha wasn't finished with his psychic metamorphosis
six weeks after his Grand Illumination. It secondly shows that the rising serpent
is unquestionably related to the yoga technique of arousing the cosmic energy
called kundalini. One is not alone in ones interpretation. The writer Wibke Lobo
has also considered how
Given the great significance that yoga must have had
for the initiates, it would be strange if the image of the erect serpent had not
been brought into association with the awakening of cosmic energy. In this connection
it would also be possible to recognize a system of mystical numbers in the seven
heads and three coils [of the naga], for they can be linked to the set of seven
centers of energy (chakras) in the human body and to the three highest of these
in the throat and head, where Enlightenment takes place.
Nowhere has the
profundity of this esoteric yoga been more passionately expressed than through
the stunning image the Buddha protected by the Naga. It may also be referred to
as Kundalini Buddha. The Khmer in particular have shown great passion in expressing
the trance-like nature of this motif with extraordinary sculptural genius. Elegantly
adorned with diadem, earrings and necklace, the Buddha sits splendidly with his
hands folded calmly in his lap in the posture of Dhyana-yoga. Three thick coils
of the naga's body form the Buddha's throne while the serpent's dilated seven-headed
hood rears up behind the Buddha's head in a protective, almost cocooning manner.
It is also worth noting that during his lifetime Gautama the Buddha was actually
not known as "The Buddha" at all, but Shakyaputra Shramana. And while
shakyaputra designates the Buddha's ethnic origins (lit. a "man of the Shakya
clan"), shramana denotes his ascetic vocation, vis-à-vis, a primitive
pre-Aryan mode of ascetic. This furthermore suggests that the Buddha be regarded
not only as history's seminal shaman  but a highly developed Tantra-yogin.
In those days, however, the conception of "tantra"
was certainly different than what it is today. In what may be its earliest usage,
a tantric practitioner denoted a "weaver" with the strong connotations
of making magic. Indeed, a basic facet of the tantric conception is that of the
cosmos as a boundless fabric of magical filament. What is more, this magic may
be spun within the human body, precisely through the mystical techniques of yoga.
The tantric conception is therefore based on an alchemical understanding of
the human corporal structure as a "continuum of energy." This energy
or "life-force" is essentially pure as it issues from a metaphoric "matrix-loom,"
a "unified-field" interwoven, as it were, with the backdrop of infinity.
Phenomenologically, existence is perceived as the panoply of thing-events pervaded
by a "force-field" of homogenic resonance.
Tantra means tapping
this resonant source and entering the fabric of life altogether. And in this way,
every bit of thread and scrap gets turned into a privileged moment and inducement
to contribute to this seamless continuity of being. Through giving, which is "faith,"
one is ushered to the fringes where the antipodes eclipse in a paradox of inexplicable
Stretching the Lute Strings
As Tantra evolved into a historical
movement, it assumed the vast proportions of a baroque revolution and achieved
far-reaching and sustained effects in the cultural fields of philosophy, science,
literature and art. It was during the third-century advent of Tantra that an explicitly
sexual idiom emerged together with an openly erotic iconography. This highly provocative
meta-sensual approach has continued to arouse public interest to our day. This
is currently reflected in a market driven climate of tabloid spirituality that
has managed to recast the basic conception into a celebrated New Age commodity
fetish apparently intent on the comprehensive tantrification of the masses.
Tantra is very rich in meaning, but it can also be frustratingly vague and elusive
- hence compelling. But truthfully, sex plays a very small role. It is just that
everyone is so interested in sex! But for some the mere mention of "sex"
makes them blush because religion has taught them that sex is indecent and opposed
to the spiritual life. Tantra sees it differently. Tantra views the action of
the libido as the primal human urge. So, sex is the ground base; sex is step one.
If you miss step one you miss it all. Where religion has wedged opposition and
dichotomy, Tantra has sought to cordalize polarities. Tantra is the place where
two become one. This is succinctly espoused in the linga-yoni motif signifying
universal unity. More literal themes are, again, the Buddha protected by the Naga,
and the candidly erotic Maithuna icon where man and woman - yogi and yogini -
are depicted as conjoined in mystical-erotic embrace.
Now, it needs to be
restated and boldly underscored that in the remotely pre-Tantric time of the Buddha,
Tantra held a very different set of meanings. In its earliest usage, it is interesting
to note, Tantra signified the gentle pull and stretch of the tendons. A tendon
is, of course, a sinewy cord that attaches a muscle to a bone. And while etymologically
derived from the Latin teneo, tendon is also related to tantra. Poetically Tantra
means, "stretching the lute strings," the lyrical subtitle of the present
After years of experience, I have come to the conclusion that it
is best to support people through the body. Everything is stored there anyway.
Sex only represents a small part of Tantra, but it still plays and very important
role. And presuming that you are a sexual being, then sex is something that needs
to be affirmed. And since you can't avoid sex, why not use it correctly. Why not
use the force of sex as a force of meditation. Learn how to harmonize the sexual
energy with your broader "eyes-open" meditation. For many it's the only
way to enter inside. Throughout your day you can think to yourself, "My body,
...my meditation." Sex is a cardinal aspect of yoga. Through yoga, sex becomes
a current of higher understanding.
Angirasa - the proto-Tantric Buddha
for an even more compelling illustration of the tantrification of the Buddha sect,
I will turn to the earliest Buddhist scriptures that depict the Buddha as "Angirasa,"
the Master of kundalini.
Angirasa is a Sanskrit-Pali epithet applied now
and then to Gautama the Buddha. It debuts in a highly intriguing scene from the
early passages of the Vinaya-Pitaka. The Buddha is wandering alone through the
countryside shortly after his celebrated awakening. Without a place to sleep one
night, he asks the head of an ashram for accommodation. The director agrees and
gives him the key to the sauna, the only place available. There, says the scripture,
Angirasa passes the night in the yoga of psychic heat "with brilliant flames
streaming forth from his body." In fact, the Buddha generated so much
heat that smoke started spewing out the roof of the sauna. The resident hermits
all rushed out and remarked to each other, "That shaman must have done himself
"At the end of the night" the text declares,
"when the flames of kundalini were finally extinguished, the multicolored
flames of him of psychic power remained ever radiant, ...dark green, crimson,
yellow, red and the colors of crystal all shone from Angirasa's body."
Here we have proof that the yogic technique of producing psychic heat or kundalini
tapas, is by no means a mere baroque innovation. I have studied the ancient Majjhima-nikaya
with intent. Though expressing itself in an archaic and ill-defining idiom, it
describes nonetheless the heat or tapas obtained through the practice pranayama.
In this way, the Buddha is made to explain, "As two big men might grab hold
a weaker one and hold him over a barbecue pit, when I finally stopped my kumbhaka
practice a terrific heat arose in my body."
In the scriptural Dhammapada,
as well, the Buddha is described as "burning."
As I have discussed in detail elsewhere, the important starting point
of this yoga of inner-transformation is pranayama. Pranayama has its foundations
in the control of prana. At the beginning stage, one attempts to control the physical
manifestations of this extraordinary life-force within ones body. At the more
advanced stage, the practitioner attempts to gain control over all external nature.
Said Guru Chod,
Let there be no vague idea as concerns the potential of
the subject at hand. A person can acquire absolute control over the entirety of
nature through the practice of yoga.
- Troy Harris (revised September 2002)
 Promporn Pramularatana, "Confronting Life's Problems
Through Yoga," Bangkok Post, Sunday supplement (12 July 1987).
seen that the Isi had entered...." See I.B. Horner, trans., Mahavagga (I,
15, 6), The Pali Text Society (1951), 34.
 Suan Mokh, literally suan, "garden"
of mokh (Skt.: moksha) "release," "liberation." The monastery
(wat) is in Chaiya district, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand.
Emile Senart, "Bouddhism et Yoga" (1900).
 Kanjitsu Iijima, Buddhist
Yoga (1975), 21.
 Ananda Guruge, The Society of the Ramayana (1991), 289,
 Erich Frauwallner, History of Indian Philosophy (1973),
 Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional
 Nalinaksha Dutt, The Spread of Buddhism and The
Buddhist Schools (1980), 10, brackets mine.
 Having elsewhere discussed
the etymology of "Hindu" and arrived to the conclusion that is simply
means "Indian," my current usage is obviously rhetorical. For the very
idea of "Hinduism" existing at the remotely historic period of the Buddha
would be, as Gombrich rightly states, "wildly anachronistic." We should
therefore not be bothered by it. See Richard F. Gombrich, How Buddhism Began (The
Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings) (1997), 15.
 The four Indian
social castes, or varnas, are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and sudra.
Ashrama literally means "stage" or "station" and refers to
the recognized stages of life that affect Indian males of the three higher castes.
There are four such ashrama. They are brahmacharya-ashrama (student-stage), grihastha-asrama
(householder-stage), vanaprastha-ashrama (forest-dweller stage) and sannyasa-ashrama
 In the Pali language rahula means "fetter."
 Parivrajaka is the broad designation for early Indian "wandering
 See John Burnet, "Sceptics," Encyclopaedia of
Religion and Ethics (1920).
 Scholarly debate is actually not settled
over which of these two schools, Gandhara or Mathura, was the first to fashion
the anthropomorphic Buddha. Leaving this question to future research, we can certainly
remark that each school evolved its own independent artistic mode of rendering
of the image of the Buddha. See E. Dale Saunders, Mudra (A Study of Symbolic Gestures
in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture) (1960), 13.
 Ernest Wood,
Great Systems of Yoga (1967), 25.
 See I.B. Horner, trans., Gradual Sayings
III (Anguttara-nikaya) (1994), II, 206. The equation here implied is, "He
who sees Buddha, sees the Truth," or Buddha = Brahma = Dharma. In this way,
the Buddha is not like Brahma, but is Brahma, "the Lord of the World"
the omniscient master of Dharma, "Natural Law." The Vedic term dharma
means, "to hold" or "support" - it is that which forms a foundation
and upholds. Dharma thus represents the Universal form or infrastructure. Dharma
is the interpreted order of the world. In theological parlance, Dharma equals
God. Epistemologically, dharma indicates the scaffolding of human thought and
conception intent on the knowledge of ultimate things. The knower thus becomes
the incorporation of the knowable, "a self-enlightened being" (samma-sambuddha).
 This is also known as the axis mundi, the primordial symbol that is always
placed at the center of the world, and which supports and connects the three cosmic
spheres of heaven, earth and underworld. As a "pillar" it insures support
of the universal order. It is also identified with the spinal column so that the
center of the universe is located as a point located at the center of the heart,
or as an axis traversing the chakras.
 The vertebral bones are piled one
upon the other thus forming a pillar for the support of the cranium and trunk.
They are connected together by spinous, traverse and articular processes and by
pads of fibro-cartilage between the bones. The arches of the vertebrae form the
hollow cylinder of a bony covering for the passage of the spinal cord (Swami Sivananda,
 Wibke Lobo, "The Figure of Hevajra and Tantric Buddhism"
(1997), brackets mine.
 How else are we to interpret the story of the
Buddha returning to his native city, Kapilavastu, the first time after his Grand
Illumination? He is said to have demonstrated "miraculous powers" in
order to win his kinsmen over. Before the eyes of his astonished audience, he
rose into the air and cut his body to pieces. All of the pieces fell to the ground,
and then he put them back together. Linguistically, "shaman" seems to
have entered our European lexicons by way of Russian, but only subsequently as
received from the language of the Tungus, a Mongolian people widely spread across
Eastern Siberia. But associations with the word may be derived from the Aryan
languages of Northern India where the Sanskrit term shramana pertains to a movement
of ascetic wanders that developed in India from the 6th century BCE. See Mircea
Eliade, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964), 311-41.
to the distinguished Indologist George Thompson:
Though the verbal root shram-
appears to have good Indo-European roots [cf. Greek kremamai, kremnos; Old German
hirmen, and discussion in Mayrhofer, EWA II.664], shramana itself is unattested
in Old Vedic [although Rig Veda hasashramana, but in the sense 'untiring,' not
'monk']. First attestation of the meaning 'monk' is the middle-Vedic text Shatapatha
It appears that Sanskrit shramana is an old Indo-European word
that developed in India a novel semantics to convey a novel cultural institution,
that of the monk. This is not to say that similar notions did not precede this
one. Shramana as 'monk' became a much-traveled culture-word, accompanying the
Buddhist migrations. The Greeks knew the word [Samanaioi, Sarmanoi, etc]. It shows
up in Buddhist Sogdian texts, in Khotanese, as well as in Modern Persian. It is
found in Tocharian, Chinese, and Altaic [Tungusic]. It eventually turns up quite
early in the languages of Europe... I am about to publish [in the Journal of the
American Oriental Society] a paper on an old Indo-Iranian word *drigu, 'poor,
dependent, faithful' [a term of self-designation used by Zoroastrians, including
Zarathustra himself], from which eventually emerged the word which in English
surfaces as 'dervish.' In fact, in some Iranian languages, derivatives of *drigu
were used to gloss the term shramana.
See George Thompson, "Re: zramaNa,"
email, Indology (Yahoo Group), an academic list for the discussion of classical
India, msg # 1917, 12 Feb. 2002 [editing and modified transliteration mine.]
Cf. Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (1964), 216: "In the tantric
conception, the cosmos appears as a vast fabric of magical forces; and the same
forces can be awakened or organized in the human body, through the techniques
of mystical physiology."
 Alchemy is an Arabic/Egyptian word: al,
"the" + chemy, "transformation." Indian alchemy is known as
rasavada or rasayana. Its science centers on performing certain operations and
concocting drugs, most of which are taken from plants, in order to obtain the
"elixir of life." Its practical aims are restoring health, regaining
youth, and extending longevity. See Edward C. Sachau, trans., Alberuni's India
(1910): I, 188-89, cited in Eliade, Yoga, 278, n.
 Albert Camus, The Myth
of Sisyphus (1942).
 Compare. Latin teneo with English ex-tend and with
Vedic feminine form tanti, 'a string made of tendon,' and with Sanskrit tantri
(Thai, dontri), which means "music," hence the clear allusion to stretching
the lute strings. Compare also sutra.
 Angi means "limb" or
"body." Rasa lends itself to broad interpretation and is variously translated
as 'essence,' 'brilliance,' 'fluid,' 'semen,' 'sap,' 'living water,' 'ambrosia,'
'seed of life,' 'Shiva's essence (semen).' In Indian aesthetics rasa alludes to
beauty, flavor and taste, to 'that which distinguishes a work of art from mere
statement.' See Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (1973), 396,
 Angato rasiyo samaranti. See discussion in Edward J. Thomas, The Life
of Buddha as Legend and History (1952), 22.
 This is my interpretive translation
of Majjhima-nikaya (I, 244). The text clearly speaks of the magical "heat"
produced by holding the breath. Here we see the ancient and widespread notion
of "magical sweating" and "inner light" that was found among
various shamanic peoples. Among Tibetan yogins, the equivalent to this "psychic
heat" is gtum-mö (pronounced "toumo"). See I.B. Horner, trans.,
The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-Pitaka), vol. 4, and Mahavagga, 35, n. See
also his trans. of Gradual Sayings III (Anguttara-nikaya), 175: "Lo! See
Angirasa, illuminant/As the midday sun, all radiant." For the Buddha "burning,"
see also Eliade, Yoga, 331.
 I.B. Horner, trans. The Collection of Middle
Length Sayings (Majjhima-nikaya) I, 244 (1954-59).
 The Dhammapada, verse
387, trans. Juan Mascaro (1973). For more on the subject of 'psychic heat' or
tapas, see N.J. Allen, "The Indo-European Prehistory of Yoga" (1998):
1-20. In his article, Allen approaches the subject of tapas from the standpoint
of an 'Indo-European cultural comparativist.' He compares the heroic ordeals of
Odysseus with ascetics from pre-historic Indian traditions. Hence when "he
sleeps in his pile of leaves, the Greek hero is likened to a firebrand (dalon)
carefully kept alight under a heap of ashes (5.487)." Allen then points out
a series of Svetambara Jain scriptural stories where a king that becomes an ascetic
similarly "undertakes intense austerities and is likened to 'fire confined
within a heap of ashes.' If accepted, writes Allen, "the rapprochement has
bearing on the history of the notion of tapas (literally 'heat')," n. 12.
 See my "Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (Alternate Breathing)."
A draft of the present article first appeared in German translation as "Buddhismus
und Yoga," Der Mittlere Weg (Hannover, Autumn 1997).