Ancient India

Contemporary Hindu culture originated primarily with the Aryans who invaded India about 1500 B.C. bringing with them the Sanskrit language and the Vedic religion. However, for at least 1000 years prior to this invasion, there existed a culture in India about which we know very little.

The cities of the Indus river valley left no large monuments and although they did have a written language, it has not yet been translated. From some fragmentary evidence that does remain, scholars conclude this early culture contained within it many elements that were later incorporated into the Hindu religion.

The Language of Consciousness

The exploration of consciousness has developed to a remarkable degree in the Hindu culture. In fact, the Sanskrit language has shown itself to be sufficiently precise in describing the subtleties of consciousness exploration that many Sanskrit words, with no adequate English equivalents, have become commonplace in our own contemporary culture. Consider for example these terms:

asanas: postures used to stimulate flow of life-force through the body and to aid meditation.

atman: The human soul or spirit -- the essence of the inner being.

ahimsa: The doctrine of non-violence toward sentient beings.

akasha: The ether; primordial substance that pervades the entire universe; the substratum of both mind and matter. All thoughts, feelings, or actions are recorded within it.

Brahman: Hindu god who represents the highest principle in the universe; the essence that permeates all existence. Brahman is the same as atman in the philosophy of the Upanishads.

dharma: One's personal path in life, the fulfillment of which leads to a higher state of consciousness.

dhyana: The focusing of attention on a particular spiritual idea in continuous meditation.

guna: A cosmic force or quality. Hindu cosmology maintains that the universe is composed of three such qualities: satvic, meaning pure or truthful; rajasic, meaning rich or royal; and tomasic meaning rancid or decaying.

Ishwara: Personal manifestation of the supreme; the cosmic self; cosmic consciousness.

karma: The principle by which all of our actions will effect our future circumstances, either in the present or in future lifetimes.

mantras: Syllables, inaudible or vocalized, that are repeated during meditation.

maya: The illusions the physical world generates to ensnare our consciousness.

moksha: The attainment of liberation from the worldly life.

mandala: Images used to meditate upon.

nirvana: The transcendental state that is beyond the possibility of full comprehension or expression by the ordinary being enmeshed in the concept of selfhood.

ojas: Energy developed by certain yogic practices that stimulates endocrine activity within the body.

prana: Life energy that permeates the atmosphere, enters the human being through the breath, and can be directed by thought.

pranayama: Yogic exercises for the regulation of the breath flow.

samadhi: State of enlightenment of superconsciousness. The union of the individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness.

sadhanas: Spiritual disciplines. Practical means for the attainment of a spiritual goal.

samsara: The phenomena of the senses. Attachment to samsara leads to further rebirth.

siddhis: Powers of the soul and spirit that are the fruits of yogic disciplines.

soma: A plant, probably with psychedelic properties, that was prepared and used in ritual fashion to enable men to communicate with the gods.

tantras: Books dealing with the worship of the female deities and specifying certain practices to attain liberation through sensuality, particularly through the heightened union of male and female energies.

yoga: This is the Sanskrit word meaning union and refers to various practices designed to attain a state of perfect union between the self and the infinite. 

The Discipline of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali prescribe a system of eight stages, or limbs for one's higher development. The first two limbs are known as yama and niyama. They involve a highly ethical and disciplined lifestyle -- control, indifference, detachment, renunciation, charity, celibacy, vegetarianism, cleanliness, and non-violence. The third step involves the development and care of the body through the use of exercises and postures called asanas. The fourth stage involves pranayama breathing exercises. The next stage, pratyahara, involves meditation, by means of which one withdraws consciousness from the senses.

The fifth limb of yoga is called dharana which means concentration. An object of contemplation is held fixedly in the mind; it must not be allowed to waver or change its form or color -- as it will have a tendency to do. Often the yogi will concentrate on different chakras or focal points within the body. Self-analysis is used to observe breaks in concentration. Often he will carry a string of beads and one is pulled over the finger every time a break begins. The next stage of dhyana occurs when the sense of separateness of the self from the object of concentration disappears and one experiences a union or oneness with that object. In the final stage, samadhi, one experiences an absolute, ecstatic cosmic consciousness. This does not, as some suppose, entail a loss of individuality. "The drop is not poured into the Ocean; the Ocean is poured into the Drop." The self and the entire universe are simultaneously experienced.

In the past decades, Western scientists have begun to study the abilities yogi practitioners can achieved. Body functions such as heartbeat, temperature, and brainwaves, that which had been previously thought of as totally autonomic, have been shown to be under the conscious control of some yogis. This research has paved the way for the newly emerging science of consciousness which will be discussed in Sections III and IV.


. A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India. New York: Grove Press, 1959. A fascinating and scholarly account of ancient India.

. The English word yoke is derived from the same proto-Indo-European root word as yoga. Thus we can see the close linguistic connection between spiritual freedom and physical bondage.

. Rammurti S. Mishra, Yoga Sutras. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1973. Linguist, yogi, physsician Mishra has been one of the most articulate representatives of the Hindu tradition in the West.

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