Buddhism & Yoga
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.
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
Throughout Guru 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."[1]
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.
Enter the Rishi
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 anything peculiar.
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.[2]
Maharishi Buddhadasa
While undergoing training at Wat Suan Mokh, the famous forest hermitage of Maharishi Buddhadasa Bhikkhu,[3] 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 of Yoga
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
The 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 of yoga.
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.[4]
Other writers 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."[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]
The Buddha 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 Anagarika Govinda).[8]
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).
In a nutshell,
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.[9]
Buddha As Hindu[10]
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),[11] Gautama then entered the second of the four obligatory stages (ashrama) for a male caste-Indian.[12] 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.[13] 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.
The Forbidden Buddha
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.[14] 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.[15]
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.[16]
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.[17] 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 Indian philosophy.[18]
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 awakened.
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).[19]
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.[20]
The Cobra
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.[21] 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 up-raised cobra.
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 seven heads.
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.[22]
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 [23] but a highly developed Tantra-yogin.
The Tantric Conception
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.[24] The tantric conception is therefore based on an alchemical[25] 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[26] 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 bliss.
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.
Actually, 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 work.[27]
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
Now, 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.[28]
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."[29] 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 in!"
Not so.
"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."[30]
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."[31]
In the scriptural Dhammapada, as well, the Buddha is described as "burning."[32]
The Starting Point
As I have discussed in detail elsewhere,[33] 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)[34]

[1] Promporn Pramularatana, "Confronting Life's Problems Through Yoga," Bangkok Post, Sunday supplement (12 July 1987).
[2] "...having seen that the Isi had entered...." See I.B. Horner, trans., Mahavagga (I, 15, 6), The Pali Text Society (1951), 34.
[3] Suan Mokh, literally suan, "garden" of mokh (Skt.: moksha) "release," "liberation." The monastery (wat) is in Chaiya district, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand.
[4] Emile Senart, "Bouddhism et Yoga" (1900).
[5] Kanjitsu Iijima, Buddhist Yoga (1975), 21.
[6] Ananda Guruge, The Society of the Ramayana (1991), 289, brackets mine
[7] Erich Frauwallner, History of Indian Philosophy (1973), 1:321.
[8] Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness (1976).
[9] Nalinaksha Dutt, The Spread of Buddhism and The Buddhist Schools (1980), 10, brackets mine.
[10] 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.
[11] The four Indian social castes, or varnas, are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and sudra.
[12] 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 (surrender-stage).
[13] In the Pali language rahula means "fetter."
[14] Parivrajaka is the broad designation for early Indian "wandering ascetic."
[15] See John Burnet, "Sceptics," Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1920).
[16] 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.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ernest Wood, Great Systems of Yoga (1967), 25.
[19] 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).
[20] 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.
[21] 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, MD).
[22] Wibke Lobo, "The Figure of Hevajra and Tantric Buddhism" (1997), brackets mine.
[23] 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.
According 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 Brahamana.
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.]
[24] 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."
[25] 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.
[26] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942).
[27] 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.
[28] 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, n.
[29] Angato rasiyo samaranti. See discussion in Edward J. Thomas, The Life of Buddha as Legend and History (1952), 22.
[30] 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.
[31] I.B. Horner, trans. The Collection of Middle Length Sayings (Majjhima-nikaya) I, 244 (1954-59).
[32] 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.
[33] See my "Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (Alternate Breathing)."
[34] A draft of the present article first appeared in German translation as "Buddhismus und Yoga," Der Mittlere Weg (Hannover, Autumn 1997).