The evidence of Yoga is mentioned in the oldest Vedic texts – The Rig Veda where the presence of Yogi-like ascetics has been mentioned. It’s only in the late Vedic age, the practices that can be related to classical Yoga have been described in texts – The Upanishads.
The Upanishads place a greater emphasis on the mystical & philosophical discourse in particular the quest for Brahman, present in living beings as atman(& move away from the sacrificial rite, which is referred to as an inferior form of Yoga as described in the Vedas). The Upanishads also criticize the Vedas. For instance, the Mundaka Upanishad calls the performers of sacrifice – deluded & ignorant.
The Gita also criticizes the rituals as “less intelligent” since any boons occurring from such practices do not solve the human suffering inherent in the cycle of birth & death.
Why are the early Vedic texts criticized?
The earlier Vedic texts that talk about Yoga refer to the sacrificial & ritualistic aspect of it, which is criticized in the later Vedic period.
- There are texts, which mention sacrificing animals & offering food items to gods
- Purpose of these rituals can help in gaining worldly boons i.e. offspring, victory over enemies etc.
During the later Vedic, the discussion is on the cause of human suffering and Upanishads move towards understanding the absolute truth, the Brahman. There are no systematic practices mentioned even in the Upanishads. However, there are detailed descriptions about the practice of Yoga.
The Katha Upanishad
When the control of senses is fixed, that is Yoga, so people say. For then, a person is free from distraction. Yoga is the becoming & the ceasing Not be worlds, not by the mind, not by sight, can he be grasped; how else can he be him as he really is, his real nature manifest. When all desired lurking in the heart is removed, then a mortal person becomes immortal and attains Brahman in this world. When the knots in the heart that bind one to this world are all cut, then a mortal becomes an immortal, such is the teachings. A purusa the size of thumb dwells always in the hearts of men.
The Katha Upanishad, is one of the primary Upanishads, embedded in the last eight short sections of the Kaṭha school of the Krishna Yajurveda. The Upanishad is the story of a little boy, Nachiketa – the son of Sage Vajasravasa, who meets Yama (the Hindu deity of death). Their conversation evolves to a discussion of the nature of man, knowledge, Atman (Self), and moksha (liberation).
The Svetasvatara Upanishad shares more specific details on Yoga & the practice
The Svetasvatara Upanishad
When he holds the body steady, with the three sections erect, and withdraws the senses into his heart with the mind, a wise person will cross over all the frightening rivers by means of the boat of Brahman. His breathing restrained here, and his energy under control, he should breathe through one nostril when his breath is depleted. A wise person should control the mind, just as one would a wagon yoked to unruly horses... and engage in the practice of yoga... when, by means of the true nature of the atman, which is like a lamp, a person perceives the truth of Brahman in this world, he is freed from all bondage, because he has known the divine, which is unborn, unchanging, and untainted by all things.
The Maitri Upanishad
The Maitri Upanishad has a much more extensive discussion on Yoga, including more specific references to the limbs of Yoga. It mentions six limbs of Yoga, including Panayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dhyana (Meditation), Dharana (Concentration), Taraka (Inquiry), and Samadhi (Absorption in self). The Maitrayaniya Upanishad is embedded inside the Yajurveda.
The Compiler of all Practices – Patanjali
All the mentions of Yoga during the Vedic period and their mentions along with practices were compiled by a great Sage – Patanjali, whose compilations of all the Yoga practices came to be known as The Yoga Sutras. These Sutras form the orthodox schools of Yoga from which multiple schools and practices have evolved.
So circling back to our original question i.e. Which Veda Mentions About the Elements of Yoga?
The answer to that is the Rig Veda is one of the oldest texts that refer to Yoga. As the Vedic period progressed and later on in the Upnaishads there are more detailed descriptions of Yoga (elements of Yoga) specifically the Maitri Upanishad (which is embedded inside Yajurveda), However, Yoga in the form it became known and practiced came from the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, which is a very concise & exhaustive description of Yoga. It became one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy namely Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta.
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