Yoga and Buddhism are vast subjects, spanning many thousands of years, and they are amazing philosophies. But, are they philosophy or religion? They both certainly have significant religious overtones, and are considered to be religions by many people. Actually, however, they are styles of life that developed in order to help people be more in tune with their religion and with God. Yoga, which means unity, was a practice that developed within the Hindu religion to help Hindus achieve unity with God. So it developed as a practice in one’s daily life that led to religious fulfillment. The Buddha was a Yogi, and did not consider himself to be different than other people. His followers, however, have so fervently held to his teachings that the practice of Buddhism is often viewed as a religion, and over time it became mixed with religious stories and myths, as people tried to fit Buddhism into their traditional culture.
We will look at Yoga and Buddhism as lifestyles, which lead individuals toward a healthy psychological development. We will not be able to avoid the obvious religious and metaphysical overtones, nor should we try. It will actually be quite interesting to compare Yoga and Buddhism to the lifestyle philosophies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (which cover at least the traditional religions of most American students), since Judaism, Christianity, and Islam certainly have no shortage of guidelines for living one’s daily life in the service of God. Indeed, Alice Bailey (1927), who has offered an inspiring commentary on the earliest teachings on Yoga, suggests that in order for students to have a complete picture of the fulfillment of the soul they need to have read three books: the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, the philosophy of which will be covered briefly in this chapter, and the New Testament, covered in the next chapter.
Before beginning this chapter and the next one, however, it should be noted that there are many translations of the classic books on Yoga and Buddhism and terminology varies from translation to translation. One must simply accept this, since the only alternative is for each one of us to learn all of the languages in which these books were written. In this chapter, we will only be exploring the basic concepts of these different perspectives on human nature and intentional personality development.
Toward the end of each section we will take a look at how Yoga and Buddhism have influenced America and Western psychology. Quite a lot has been written on this topic, including works by some of the most famous personality theorists (Freud, Jung, Fromm, James, etc.). However, only recently has there been sufficient interest in the field of personality for these discussions to start becoming more common. Since religion and spirituality are an important aspect of positive psychology, which is itself a rapidly growing force in psychology, it is likely that knowledge of the overlap between Yoga, Buddhism, and other spiritual aspects of human nature and personality theory will continue to grow.