Indian religion gave birth to two great spiritual tradition: Hinduism and Buddhism. India yoga or psychology is normally associated with the Hindu tradition. But there is an equally profound tradition of yogic psychology in Buddhism.
In fact regarding Buddhist Yoga, we can say with much more certainty and accuracy than Hindu Yoga that it is nothing but applied psychology. As a modern exponent of Buddhist Psychology points out “Anybody with a good knowledge of psychology and its history who reads the Pali Nikayas must be struck by the fact that the psychological terminology is richer in this than in any other ancient literature and that more space is devoted to psychological analysis and explanations in this than in any other religious literature”.
The Hindu Yogic tradition gave an equal emphasis to psychology as well as metaphysics. This is because Hindu mind has a natural inclination for philosophy. The Hindu spiritual mind, intellectually well-developed, tends towards intellectualizing its psychological and spiritual intuitions and experiences into coherent philosophical systems and concepts. This has advantages as well as drawbacks. The first advantage is that it helps reason in assimilating the higher knowledge revealed by intuition – as much as it can – and creates a harmonious relationship between Reason and Intuition. The second advantage is that it helps in forging a link between spirit and life through reason and create not merely a narrow and specialised religious or Yogic systems but a broad and expanding culture of thought and practice, a system of ideals, values are ways of living, Dharma. In otherwords, it creates a culture which spreads into every activity of life – in Arts, Science, Literature and Social and Political Life – and therefore can inspire the collective life of a whole nation for many generations. The disadvantage of philosophising is that the original spiritual institutions and experiences gets indistinguishably mixed with the mental idea and concept and with the passage of time was almost lost in the complex mental forms. The other drawback of the philosophic mind in the path of yoga is that it gets inordinately attached to metaphysical speculations about God and the Soul and the Absolute and tends to forget the fact that yoga is the path of living and realisation and not just thinking and dreaming.
When Buddha entered the religious landscape of ancient India, the religious life of the nation was in the grip of degenerate Brahminism. The philosophic temperamental of the Hindu mind had degenerated towards its negative side. This was possibly the reason why Buddha discouraged all metaphysical speculations and tried to found a religious tradition based predominantly on practical ethics and applied psychology – first for the layman and the other for the spiritual aspirant—rather than on mystic revelations, metaphysics, mythology and theologies.
Budha’s teachings proceed from such a practical, scientific and psychological approach to Religion. We can see this very clearly in Budha’s life and teachings. First, there is a actual and deeply felt observation of human suffering. In the second stage there is a long, determined and persistent enquiry into the cause of suffering; then in the third stage, the great enlightenment. And finally, preaching of the eight-fold path as the way out of suffering; When the Hindu philosopher was trying to explain the human predicament in sophisticated metaphysical terms like Avidya, Maya, Ahankar etc. which even the learned scholar found difficult to understand, Buddha talked in a simple and direct language understandable even to the common man, pinpointing clearly the psychological rather than the metaphysical cause of human suffering. Buddha laid a much greater emphasis on Desire rather than on “Ignorance” or ego as the root cause of human suffering because desire is a more psychologically concrete, nearer and easily perceptible experience to an ordinary man than “Ignorance” or ego.
Even a cursory and superficial glance at the Budha’s eight fold path will show the practical and psychological nature of the teaching: right thought, speech, action, effort, livelihood, mindfulness and meditation. Here the stress is on right action proceeding from the right exercise of the psychological faculties of the human being. But the spiritual core of Budha’s teachings lies in the last two factors of the eight-fold path: right Mindfulness and right Concentration which are purely psychological disciplines for knowing, liberating and mastering the human kind. To understand clearly the role and significance of these last two factors of the eight-fold path in Buddhist Yoga, we have to examine them in the background of the philosophy and aim of Buddhism.