Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Eightfold system / Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali is no stranger concept to Yogis today. Is Yoga all about Ashtanga of Patanjali? I had a discussion with one of the students which led me to write this article.
Ashtanga Yoga i.e. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the eight limbs or the means to attain Moksha. This entire practice method is a Moksha Shastra – a tool to reach self-realization.
Read also: What is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?
Other methods differing Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga system (though the angas in Ashtanga would vary) predates Patanjali. Even Mahabharata mentions about Ashtanga system referring to the Vedas.
Perhaps, Ashtanga system can be called the most popular method among different systems. But is it the only system? Obviously No.
‘Sharngadhara Paddhati’ written by Sharngadhara in the 13th-century talks about Four auxiliaries/limbs of Yoga referring to Asana, Pranayama, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Vayu Purana refers to a five-fold system of Yoga practice while texts such as “Malini Vijayottara Tantram” “Vishnu Samhita” Goraksha Shataka” and “Viveka Martanda” declare a six system of Yoga practice.
Yoga Pada of “Mrugendra Tantram” explains the seven-fold system, the seventh one being Samadhi. Interestingly, there is an honourary limb which is Yoga itself the eighth one, all earlier limbs subservient to the main eighth limb. Yoga is a limb, a mean as well as the goal too.
Aparokshanubhuti, a famous text attributed to Adi Shankara lists fifteen fold system wherein 10 bahir-angas (outer auxiliaries) and 5 antar-angas (inner auxiliaries).
Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali – not a good system then?
Yoga like any other philosophy (the proper word would be “Darshana“) does not offer a hierarchy system where Patanjali being on the top of the system. It is a stream of knowledge that has grown over thousands of years.
There are many Rishis even before Patanjali. Yoga had been influenced by Vedanta, Tantra, Buddhist methods too.
Similarly, Yoga has been influential in refining other streams of knowledge too, over the years.
Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga is one of the methods (obviously the most popular now) to attain Samadhi/Moksha.
If you generalize “the Yoga of Eight Limbs” it is not true. Many gurus /Acharyas have tried to find their ways based on the experiences and tried to give proper methods.
However, one thing the most common among all these is yoga being the ‘Moksha Shastra” – it is a method of self-realization.
It is not a tool to make your everyday beautiful or healthier or happier. Fundamentally, Yoga offers waa way of life that can break the birth and death cycle and guide you to moksha.