Join Dr. Karen O'Brien-Kop, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to study the parallels between classical Yoga and Buddhism.
This online course will introduce students to the interconnections between the classical Yoga of Patañjali and the systems of mind-body practice that are described in Buddhist texts of the same period. In particular, we will consider early Buddhist expressions of Yogācāra (Discipline of Yoga) and some key schools of Buddhist Abhidharma from the early first through fifth centuries CE.
The presence of Buddhist terms, ideas, and practices in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (the Yogasūtra and its Commentary, the Bhāṣya) has long been noted and discussed by scholars and practitioners of yoga. Over four weeks, we will pull together key strands of scholarship and also dive into close readings of passages in early Hindu (i.e. Brahmanical) and Buddhist texts on meditation and the discipline of yoga. In particular, we will look comparatively at the parallels between the Pātañjalayogaśāstra, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, and Asaṅga’s Yogācārabhūmiśāstra.
Some familiarity with the Yogasūtra of Patañjali will be useful. No Sanskrit is required; some key glossaries will be provided to students.
In this first module we will take an overview of some key scholarship on the Buddhist elements in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. We will examine terms, concepts, practices, ideas and arguments in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra that have been identified as Buddhist and identify some relevant Buddhist textual sources for this discussion. We will also evaluate some theories on the authorship of the Yogasūtra and its first commentary (bhāṣya) in relation to the controversial argument that part or all of these texts were composed by Buddhists.
The Pātañjalayogaśāstra also has some connections to a key text from the Buddhist scholastic tradition of Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya presents both orthodox views on Abhidharma and more dissident ideas, which appear to have some echoes in Patañjali’s worldview. We will trace some passages from Vasubandhu’s text that appear with revisions in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and ask how the shared passages arose.
This session will introduce students to the background of early Buddhist Yogācāra – key thinkers, texts, ideas and practices. We will consider debates on what Yogācāra is in the early period in relation to meditation, forest asceticism, bodily discipline, and yoga. We will also differentiate some key features of early Yogācāra from the later, more crystallized Yogācāra school of philosophy. The key focus in this session will be on the relationship between yoga and Yogācāra.
To finish the course, we will think about Asaṅga’s voluminous śāstra on Yogācāra, and what it has to say about Yogācāra, yoga and meditation. Given that this text is dated to approximately the same period as Patañjali’s text, some understanding of its key ideas supports us in decoding Pātañjala yoga and the environment in which it was conceived and practiced. We will review the term ‘classical yoga’ in the light of the material discussed in this course.
Dr. Karen O'Brien-Kop is Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Roehampton, London, UK. She received her PhD from SOAS University of London, is a specialist in the historical study of meditation and yoga within Asian religious traditions, and analyses early Hindu and Buddhist meditation manuals in Sanskrit.
She has taught on the MA Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at SOAS University of London, and at the University of Roehampton she has designed a new BA module 'Yoga, Meditation and Health'. Since 2018, she has served on the committee for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies, an academic research and teaching centre focused on public engagement. In the American Academy of Religion, Karen is a committee member for the Yoga in Theory and Practice Unit and co-chair of the Indian and Chinese Religions Compared Unit. She has published peer-reviewed articles in Religions of South Asia and Journal of Indian Philosophy and is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (2020), an interdisciplinary volume of 34 chapters from global contributors. Karen is currently working on a book project on rethinking classical yoga in relation to Buddhism.
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