The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.
According to Jacobsen, “Yoga has five principal meanings:
- Yoga, as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;
- Yoga, as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;
- Yoga, as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darśana);
- Yoga, in connection with other words, such as “hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga;
- Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice.”
According to David Gordon White, from the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of “yoga” were more or less in place, and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time:
- Yoga, is a meditative means of discovering dysfunctional perception and cognition, as well as overcoming it for release from suffering, inner peace and salvation; illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Yogasutras, in a number of Buddhist Mahāyāna works, as well as Jain texts;
- Yoga, as the raising and expansion of consciousness from oneself to being coextensive with everyone and everything; these are discussed in sources such as in Hinduism Vedic literature and its Epic Mahābhārata, Jainism Praśamaratiprakarana, and Buddhist Nikaya texts;
- Yoga, as a path to omniscience and enlightened consciousness enabling one to comprehend the impermanent (illusive, delusive) and permanent (true, transcendent) reality; examples are found in Hinduism Nyaya and Vaisesika school texts as well as Buddhism Mādhyamaka texts, but in different ways;
- Yoga, as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are, states White, described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta; James Mallinson, however, disagrees and suggests that such fringe practices are far removed from the mainstream Yoga’s goal as meditation-driven means to liberation in Indian religions.
White clarifies that the last principle relates to legendary goals of “yogi practice”, different from practical goals of “Yoga practice,” as they are viewed in South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, in the various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools.
The so-called Raja Yoga refers to Ashtanga Yoga, the eight limbs to be practiced to attain samadhi, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali. The term raja yoga originally referred to the ultimate goal of Yoga, which is usually samadhi, but was popularised by Vivekananda as the common name for Ashtanga Yoga.
Due to the influence of Vivekananda, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are nowadays considered as the foundational scripture of classical Yoga, a status which it only acquired in the 20th century. Before the twentieth century, other works were considered as the most central works, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha, while Tantric Yoga and Hatha Yoga prevailed over Ashtanga Yoga.
Yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refers to Ashtanga yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered as a central text of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy, It is often called “Rāja yoga”, “yoga of the kings,” a term which originally referred to the ultimate, royal goal of yoga, which is usually samadhi, but was popularised by Vivekananda as the common name for Ashtanga Yoga.
Ashtanga yoga incorporates epistemology, metaphysics, ethical practices, systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, mind and spirit. Its epistemology (pramanas) is same as the Samkhya school. Both accept three reliable means to knowledge – perception (pratyākṣa, direct sensory observations), inference (anumāna) and testimony of trustworthy experts (sabda, agama). Both these orthodox schools are also strongly dualistic. Unlike the Sāṃkhya school of Hinduism, which pursues a non-theistic/atheistic rationalist approach, the Yogaschool of Hinduism accepts the concept of a “personal, yet essentially inactive, deity” or “personal god”. Along with its epistemology and metaphysical foundations, the Yogaschool of Hindu philosophy incorporates ethical precepts (yamas and niyamas) and an introspective way of life focused on perfecting one’s self physically, mentally and spiritually, with the ultimate goal being kaivalya (liberated, unified, content state of existence).
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svātmārāma (15th century)
- Shiva Samhita, author unknown (1500 or late 17th century)
- Gheranda Samhita by Gheranda (late 17th century)
Many scholars also include the preceding Goraksha Samhita authored by Gorakshanath of the 11th century in the above list. Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today.
Core techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana.[note 3] The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā[note 4] and jhāna/dhyāna.[note 5]
Main article: Jain meditation
Jain meditation has been the central practice of spirituality in Jainism along with the Three Jewels. Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attain salvation, take the soul to complete freedom. It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure conscious, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (Gyata-Drashta). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to the auspicious Dharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana and inauspicious Artta and Raudra Dhyana.
Samuel states that Tantrism is a contested concept. Tantra yoga may be described, according to Samuel, as practices in 9th to 10th century Buddhist and Hindu (Saiva, Shakti) texts, which included yogic practices with elaborate deity visualizations using geometrical arrays and drawings (mandala), fierce male and particularly female deities, transgressive life stage related rituals, extensive use of chakras and mantras, and sexual techniques, all aimed to help one’s health, long life and liberation.