Friday Discussion: Yoga & Buddhism

This was prompted by a conversation on the topic with Dainuri.

My contention that there are major differences between Yoga and Buddhism (with Zen Buddhism sitting a little bit in the middle between the two):

  • Yoga is procedural whereas Buddhism is teleological. Meaning in yoga, the focus is the practice (Yoga Sutra 2.1), whereas with Buddhism the goal is nirvana/enlightenment. How you get there is not the focus of Buddhism. In contrast, Patanjali asks us to devote ourselves to Ishvara, through tapas and swadhyaya, which are practices.
  • Buddhism begins by asking us to accept the 4 Noble Truths. Yoga does not ask us to accept any truths, but to make a choice: either control and manage your thoughts, or identify with them (Sutra 1.2, otherwise 1.4).
  • Yoga assumes an essential self, and the path of yoga is to discern that this self is separate from the world/circumstances, and the most authentic part of us – purusa (Sutra 2.25). Buddhism says the self is a process, and if you look close enough it’s an illusion (anatman). Also for Buddhists, suffering is caused by our experience in that the self is real and has desires.
  • The way to nirvana in Buddhism is to get to a place of no self, and no desires. The path of yoga is to embrace the beneficial desires, distance from the harmful/selfish desires, and continuously improve the choices we make as purusas (Sutra 2.26).
  • Buddhism takes ahimsa, non-harmfulness, to mean that one should not harm sentient beings. In yoga, ahimsa is a more active stance, in that the yogi stands for the disruption of harmful patterns where ever they may be found (Sutra 2.33).


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