The Pre-Classical Yoga period was kicked off with the creation of the Upanishads. These writings formed the core of philosophy within the Indian lifestyle, and are considered a continuation of Vedic Philosophy and the Vedic time period.
The word Upanishad translates to “sitting down near” or “sitting close to.” Suggesting the practitioner to sit closely to said guru, or spiritual teacher, to learn the fundamental truths and secret teachings. It reflects a time when students sat together in small groups with their teacher to read scriptures, discover new paths of knowledge and ultimately find liberation. The word Upanishad can also be translated to something like “sitting near the enlightened.”
Dating back between 800 BC – 400 BC, the Upanishads have since served as fundamental teachings to the Hindu lifestyle. Including writings over karma (action), samsara (reincarnation), moksha (nirvana), atman (soul), and the Brahman (look up). The Upanishads consist of three main teachings: 1) the ultimate reality, 2) the transcendental self, and 3) the correlation between the two. Teaching those who sought guidance principles of self-realization, yoga and meditation. Designed to influence practitioners to think outside of the earthly realm and expand past basic human thought and limitation.
Within the Upanishads blossomed a six-fold path to liberation. Possibly one of the most important written scriptures, the Maitrayaniya, contains a step-by-step guide to achieving a higher sense of living and ultimately reach enlightenment.
- Pranayama ~ breath control
- Pratyahara ~ withdrawal of senses
- Dhyana ~ meditation
- Dharana ~ concentration
- Tarka ~ contemplation
- Samadhi ~ absorption
Another prominent piece of the Pre-Classical Yoga period is by far the Bhagavad Gita. Evolving shortly after the practice of meditation came to strong fruition, the sacred Gita was written. The Bhagavad Gita translates to the “Lord’s Song,” and was directly based from teachings of the Upanishads. The ancient book serves as a sacred piece of Hindu literature and philosophy. Focusing strongly on sacrificing the ego through action, self-knowledge and wisdom. Teaching not only to sacrifice the ego, but to also practice the act of devotion through yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita contains many valuable yet challenging questions. How can we detach ourselves from the physical realm without completely withdrawing from society? How is it possible for someone to live a spiritually full life without becoming fully detached from friends, loved ones and the outer world altogether?
Expressed through stories of the Hindu Gods, the author(s) bring to light how to make it all work. How to achieve this seemingly impossible balance. In the book, Lord Krishna explains to the protagonist, Arjuna, multiple reasons why he need not worry about his situation. Krishna gives Arjuna five reasons to continue his journey without the stress of consequences. Within his fifth and final reason, Krishna describes three different ways to act and do what we must do without receiving any bad karma in return.
- Jnana Yoga (the way of knowledge)
- Bhakti yoga (the way of devotion)
- Karma yoga (the way of action) “acting without attachment”
Jnana yoga, which was based on the Upanishads, shares the knowledge of ultimate oneness and connection. Recognizing that the self and our perceptions of the world are an illusion. Once we realize and can accept that there is truly no separation between our life and death, we can escape the bad karma.
Bhakti yoga, the second way, was the practice of devotion. Through the act of surrendering ourselves to him (Krishna), and passing onto him our full trust through faith, would he graciously protect us from any negative karma.
Karma yoga, the idea of acting without attachment. Releasing any concern we may have from our choices, actions or emotions, and in turn being blessed with peace of mind by the Lord Krishna. Actively acting out of love, and avoiding making decisions out of fear or embarrassment.
Each of the ways Krishna shares with Arjuna might be suitable for each of us individually. Perhaps we decidedly practice one more than the others, or we consciously choose to practice all of the ways. Whatever we decide, the options are there to avoid bad karma and practice our pure and light-filled devotion to the universe.