The origin of yoga in the Upanishads
There is no systematic and comprehensive yoga doctrine outlined in the Upanishads. There are only a few fragments on yoga, and yoga was not the main subject of the texts. Rather the Upanishads were occupied by intellectual and theological discussions. They were not reports derived from yogis sitting in deep meditation conceiving their wisdom, as we so often hear in popular histories of yoga.
Further we do not know whether a given text mentioning yoga had been compiled over generations, or if some original yoga text fragment had been massaged by later editors in order to conform with later theological assumptions. We should bear in mind that the Upanishads are collective works compiled over generations according to fluctuating ideological and intellectual purposes.179 Below is a map of the Upanishads with indications of where to find the texts mentioning yoga and the related karma discourse.
According to the American Sanskrit scholar S. Cohen Text and Authority in the Older Upanishads (2008), the two first Upanishads mentioning yoga – the Katha and the Svetasvatara – both emerged from the same Brahmin recitation branch called the Black Yajur-veda (priestly manuals for performing rituals of sacrifice). This tradition belonged geographically to the area where the Sramanas emerged. It was very critical of the old Rig-veda tradition (verses and songs in praise of the gods)180. The last of the Upanishads to discuss yoga – the Maitri, which also is a text exposed to significant editorial changes through time – also had a very strong influence on the Mahabharata .
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