Many yoga students look to Patanjali as the father of yoga – however Patanjali was a sage who compiled the Yoga Sutras and took from various ideas on Yoga that had existed before such as the Ashtanga or eight limbed path. It is more useful to look on Patanjali and his teachings as a gateway to older, more ancient teachings.
The ancient texts tell us that the original founder of Yoga Dharshana (yoga vision or philosophy) was Hiranyagarbha meaning the gold embryo in Sanskrit. This is stated most importantly in the Bhagavad Geeta which is the most important text of the Mahabharata.
According to certain lineages, the principle disciple of Hiranyagarbha is the sage Vasishta who is responsible for the Yoga Vasishta, said to be one of the greatest scriptures written on yoga philosophy.
The Yoga Vasishta takes ideas from Yoga philosophy, Samkhya philosophy, Jain Philosophy, Buddhism and Vedanta. The text is a discourse between Vasishta and Rama and is said to have been written before the Ramayana. It is also said to be one of the most important scriptures relating to Yoga.
There is a specific belief that by simply reciting the verses of the Yoga Vasishta one can achieve spiritual enlightenment.
The dialogue of the book is Rama as a spiritual seeker on his way to achieving enlightenment speaking to the great enlightened sage Vasishta. By reading the conversation one is also reading the direct path to truth.
A very important concept – Vairagya in Sanskrit – or detachment is used as the starting point for the explanation of the philosophy.
The Yoga Vasishta describes seven stages to enlightenment. The first is Subheccha or yearning for the truth. The second is Vicarana or right enquiry. The third is Tanumanasa or slowing down of mental activities. The fourth is Sattvapatti or the attainment of truth. The fifth is Asamsakti where the yogi performs his duties or dharmas without any sense of attachment to them or expectation from them. The sixth is Padartha Abhavana where the yogi sees Brahman and unity everywhere. Finally the yogi reaches Turiya or permanent Samadhi or enlightenment
Coming back to the founder of yoga now, some say that the ancient texts – the Vedas, the Upanishads and so forth refer to Hiranyagarbha as God himself.
In the Rigveda, Hiranyagarbha is described as the God of Gods and mentions that there is none accept him. Ancient scriptures also name him as Brahman or the soul of the universe.