This blog contains an Email that my teacher, Yoganand, sent out to some of his friends and students. Enjoy!
Thoughts about the Origin of Sun Salutes
A couple of years ago Mark Singleton wrote the book, Yoga Body. In the book he describes practicing Ashtanga Yoga and hearing his teacher say that the Ashtanga practice is described in the Vedas. He doubts that this is true and has his doubts validated by a Vedic scholar. Wondering what else he has been told that might prove false, he writes the Yoga Body book tracing the history of the Ashtanga Tradition.
Recently, I saw where another well-known yoga teacher has written that Surya Namaskar is described in the Rg Veda, the oldest of the Vedas. Often statements made in the field of yoga are simply quotations from our teachers and not based on research into original sources. I wonder how many people have actually read the Vedas. It just so happens that I have a searchable English translation of the Vedas on my computer so I did a search for Surya to see if I could find anything that could be construed as Sun Salutes.
The Rg Veda is composed of 1,028 hymns praising Vedic gods. Most of the hymns are to: Agni, Indra, Soma, Surya, Maruts, Ashvins and few others. I found no references that I could connect with our modern Surya Namaskar.
In Sanskrit, a hymn to a god could be called a ‘namaskara,’ a greeting or salutation, and this title could be retrofit onto the mantras/hymns of the Vedas. The hymns were sung in front of a sacrificial fire with offerings of rice, ghee and other things. I’ve included in this email a hymn to Surya (see below) so you can see what they are like. They are all very much the same in style and content. In the Rg Veda, an asana was only a seat in front of the fire or on a war chariot. ‘Yoga,’ in the Rg Veda means a chariot and a journey, nothing else. It did not become a philosophy and practice until much later. References to yoga being illustrated in seals from the Indus Valley or Harappan Civilization have been been clearly disproved by several very reputable scholars.
The yoga I learned is ‘a search for truth.’ And, more often than not, truth is not what I would prefer it to be. Again and again, I have the choice to look for what I want to see, or to see what is really there.
In the modern world of ‘fake news,’ let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Let me know if I am wrong.
Rg Veda 10th Mandala
- Do homage unto Varuna’s and Mitra’s Eye: offer this solemn worship to the Mighty God,Who seeth far away, the Ensign, born of Gods. Sing praises unto Surya, to the Son of Dyaus.
- May this my truthful speech guard me on every side wherever heaven and earth and days are spread abroad. All else that is in motion finds a place of rest: the waters ever flow and ever mounts the Sun.
- No godless man from time remotest draws thee down when thou art driving forth with winged dappled Steeds. One lustre waits upon thee moving to the cast, and, Surya, thou arisest with a different light.
- O Surya, with the light whereby thou scatterest gloom, and with thy ray impellest every moving thing, keep far from us all feeble, worthless sacrifice, and drive away disease and every evil dream.
- Sent forth thou guardest well the Universe’s law, and in thy wonted way arisest free from wrath. When Surya, we address our prayers to thee today, may the Gods favour this our purpose and desire.
- This invocation, these our words may Heaven and Earth, and Indra and the Waters and the Maruts hear. Ne’er may we suffer want in presence of the Sun, and, living happy lives, may we attain old age.
- Cheerful in spirit, evermore, and keen of sight, with store of children, free from sickness and from sin, Long−living, may we look, O Surya, upon thee uprising day by day, thou great as Mitra is!
- Surya, may we live long and look upon thee still, thee, O Far−seeing One, bringing the glorious light, The radiant God, the spring of joy to every eye, as thou art mounting up o’er the high shining flood.
- Thou by whose lustre all the world of life comes forth, and by thy beams again returns unto its rest, O Surya with the golden hair, ascend for us day after day, still bringing purer innocence.
- Bless us with shine, bless us with perfect daylight, bless us with cold, with fervent heat and lustre. Bestow on us, O Surya, varied riches, to bless us in our home and when we travel.
- Gods, to our living creatures of both kinds vouchsafe protection, both to bipeds and to quadrupeds, That they may drink and eat invigorating food. So grant us health and strength and perfect innocence.
- If by some grievous sin we have provoked the Gods, O Deities, with the tongue or thoughtlessness of heart, That guilt, O Vasus, lay upon the Evil One, on him who ever leads us into deep distress.