Yoga and Buddhism

by Sharon Gannon |
April, 2001
Buddhism and Yoga the Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month

By looking for similarities between yoga and Buddhism, rather than differences, we have an opportunity to further expand our understanding of the quest for enlightenment. The search for relationships within related practices develops intuitive skills and insightful wisdom.

A mind that can focus and become concentrated is a better tool for enlightenment than a mind easily distracted and fragmented.

In contemplating the relationship of yoga and Buddhism, we must not forget that the Buddha was Indian, was well-versed in Vedantic philosophy, was a practitioner of yoga, and sought an experiential understanding of the philosophy. The Buddha was such a devoted and serious practitioner of the yogic arts that he attained the fruits of the practice: enlightenment.

The heart of the Buddha’s teachings lies in the Four Noble Truths, expounded in his very first sermon following his enlightenment. The first noble truth proclaimed by the Buddha is Dukka: Life is suffering and suffering is a reality. The second truth, Samudaya, is that the cause of this suffering originates in our own minds. The third noble truth, Nirodha, offers hope: liberation and freedom from suffering is possible. The fourth noble truth, Magga, gives one the method to attain liberation, known to Buddhists as the path of the “Middle Way.”

Both Buddhism and Yogic schools of thought recognize that enlightenment arises when there is freedom from the dualistic mindset. Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-Gita the importance of equanimity of mind. “Delusion arises from the duality of attraction and aversion, O Bharati; every creature is deluded by these from birth.” (7:27).

The compassionate Buddha was noted for saying, “When we don’t have what we want, we are unhappy; when we do get what we don’t want, we are unhappy. Freedom comes when we are free from our wants, our preferences.”

Patanjali’s definition of yoga is “Yogash Citta Vritti Nirodha” (1:2), which means when you cease to identify with the fluctuations of mind, then there is yoga, identity with Self, which is Samadhi, happiness, bliss, and ecstasy.

The yogic text Astavakra Samhita states: One who thinks he is free is free, one who thinks he is bound is bound, as we think so we become. When one identifies with that which is eternal, one eventually becomes eternal.

“If you seek enlightenment, go to the root cause. Nothing exists without a cause. The root cause of enlightenment is compassion.”
-H.H. XIV Dalai Lama

Compassion is the core teaching of Buddhism and yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra states that the practice of ahimsa (non-harming of others) will result in good karma, which eventually will result in the experience of happiness and peace.

Chapter 2:35 states, “Ahimsa Pratisthayam Tat Samnidhau Vaira Tyagah” (to the one who causes no suffering to others, no suffering will be caused to him.)

Every thought, word, and deed that we do will come back to us; knowing this, be kind and compassionate toward all other beings.

Buddhism and yoga are aimed toward enlightenment. What is realized in the enlightened state is the absolute Oneness of Being. Knowing this, then “otherness” is the obstacle to enlightenment, and compassion is the cure. Compassion is the ability to see yourself in others, (all others), to see so deeply and clearly that otherness disappears. When otherness disappears, Oneness remains. In Buddhist terms, this is described as emptiness of form.

Buddhism as well as yoga recognizes that there is suffering, and that freedom from suffering is possible. These ancient teachings hold that compassion is a vehicle for liberation. Meditation is a yogic practice used by Buddhists and yogis alike to go beyond the fluctuations of the mind (the dualistic thought process), to realize the Oneness of Being. Buddhists may call it emptiness. Yogis may call it the absolute self. Shakespeare said, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”