Each of us spends only a short time on this earth. But the functioning of the human mind and body and our relationships have hardly changed in a few thousand years. The insights that our ancestors developed through inward practices and observation are no less profound or valid than what we can derive now.
From the land that is now called India, we find several such systems of thought, broadly termed darshana in Sanskrit. This word literally means “to see” or “a view.” Sankhya and Yoga numbered among them, as did Buddhism, Vedanta, Nyaya, Jainism and so on.
Ultimately, these views had a shared purpose: to improve the quality of life of those who follow them. They guided us to decrease suffering and increase happiness and peace.
These systems are expansive—they have a view about life, the self, the Divine, the origin and functioning of the world, and the connection between all these. But the darshanas were not just talk. That is a distinction between philosophy as an academic study now and the darshanas of ancient times. The darshanas proposed concrete action, practices based on their postulates: ethics, meditation, rituals, mantras, exercises and more.
Various traditions and pathways have branched from these darshanas over time. Buddhism has different schools of practice, so does Vedanta, and in recent times, yoga seems to be following that path with many traditions and styles.
As the distance between the original insights and their current application widens, that gap obscures understanding. Considered action becomes a codified custom. Practice draws more heavily on belief than direct experience. Blind faith masks personal inquiry in the path of students.
But fortunately, all the ancient insights are still available to us now. They are waiting to be reinvigorated and applied in our lives.
Yoga is a natural and practical foundation for this journey of life-enriching rediscovery, uniting the most valuable threads of these darshanas. Then and now, yoga is special!