Ardha Uttanasana Yoga Pose

Yoga in the Narayana tradition – the Vaikhanasa-smarta-sutra

Sanskrit literature from the third century AD describes the worship of the god Narayana (a Vishnu branch) in combination with yoga and asceticism. Scholars call this the Vaikhanasa tradition: a mixture of Vedic rites, asceticism and image devotion.

In the Vaikhanasa-smarta-sutra, which dates to 400 AD or later, Vishnu or Narayana are at the centre of meditation efforts and rituals. (Colas 2005; Eliade 1958). As we recall orthodox Brahmins were supposed in different phases of their life to live in certain ways. The last phase was a life of renunciation. During the final renouncing phase of life this sutra accordingly instructs the Brahmins to live a life of Vishnu devotion combined with yoga.

Unlike the Yoga Sutra, this sutra does not say much about yoga, but instead gives an insight into the rich varieties of renouncer lifestyles. The sutra gives short overviews of these ascetic lifestyles. From this we gather that these ascetic renouncer groups of seniors seem to have very different methods and goals. Some meditate on Vishnu. others on the supreme self’ and so on. The sutra is however not neutral in its descriptions. Its aim is to sort out acceptable renouncer lifestyles from unacceptable. Several groups are rejected outright by the sutra. One group for instance is said to be on the wrong path because even if they practise yoga, they go against god. Clearly this sutra strongly expresses a monotheistic ideology. Like Krishna in the Gita, the sutra only approves groups aiming for union with Vishnu or Narayana. Also as in the Gita, yoga and renouncing are in themselves of little value. What counts in this discourse is the devotion to god.

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