I have always loved Buddhism. When I began my Yoga quest I often pondered on teh differences and similarities. Here is a bit of what I have discovered...
Yoga and Buddhism have overlapped since the beginning. It is no wonder we are now dropping into the ever-expanding Yoga classes and being dosed with a Buddhist-Yoga Mash-Up.
This is understandable partly due to the fact that Yogic Philosophy and Buddhism spawned out of similar geographic regions. Yogic Philosophy, came from India, and the great Buddha himself was born as a Hindu in Nepal and realized Enlightenment, through what we now call Buddhism, in India. While the two took paths to the Truth that echo one another, they also contain many differences in beliefs and practices.
Yogic Philosophy, which originated from the Hindu and Vedic Traditions , was further defined by a sage named Patanjali. Patanjali taught an Eight-Fold path that outlines the key elements that lead one to Yoga, Union with the One Source. The Eight-Fold Ashtanga Yoga includes; ethical disciplines (Yama and Niyama), postures (Asana), breathing exercises (Pranayama), control of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and absorption (Samadhi).
The Buddhist Religion has many similarities to Yogic Philosophy, depending on which branch of Buddhism, as some are more similar to Yoga than others. Buddhism can be broken into two varieties: the northern, Mahayana, and the southern, Theravada. Mahayana of the North is probably the most well-known and includes Chan, Zen, Buddhist Tantra, Vajrayana, and Dzog Chen. Theravada, the southern is a bit smaller and the most common practice of this type is Vipassana Meditation. Of the two, Mahayana has the most similarities to Yogic Philosophy in its uses of breathing practices (Pranayama), Mantra, visualizations, and dieties.
The overall similarities of Yogic Philosophy and Buddhist traditions are, in my opinion, so beautifully spot on. The first major similarity is the observance of Dharma. Dharma can be best defined as the universal law and the alignment with right action, to which both traditions hold true. Meditation, allowing time to sit in the stillness and embrace it all, is the second practice adhered to in both traditions. Another theme that is accepted by both is the idea of suffering and impermanence which can be alleviated through higher awareness. Both Yoga and Buddhism are extremely devoted to being liberated from the mental constructs of a separate self. They both agree that the resolve of this can be experienced through the practice of Inner Illumination in Meditation, and this is the beginning of the end for our beloved Ego.
Having so many key similarities, it seems that the two are the same. However, when we look deeper into the philosophies and how they view the Universe and the self, we begin to see the variances.
In the Yogic Philosophy, the Universe is believed to be created by our energies that overlap, push and pull, and weave together to create the tapestry that we experience as reality. In the Buddhist tradition, the universe is believed to be an illusion, a non eternal entitity that only exists only because it is perceived to exist. This view has more similarities to the Vedic Upanaishads who see the universe as Maya, or Illusion. Other notable key differences between the Buddhist and Yogic Philosophy arise when we look at the view of self. Yogic Philosophy looks at the self as eternal, unchanging, essence nature. Whereas the Buddhist Tradition holds the view that there is no self. This is a stark contrast with the meditations on inner light, higher self, and eternal essence focused on in Yoga classes.
Today you will find many “Yoga” classes that incorporate Buddhist teachings. They overlap enough that for a beginner, either tools can be used interchangeably to get the peaceful results that our sought. However, when getting to the heart of the philosophies and seeking to understand the deeper questions of reality and existence, discrepancies begin to arise. I enjoy entertaining both Philosophies, but I do not seek to take them on as a religion in a dogmatic matter. I honor and appreciate each tradition in that they offer a platform for which to practice and actually experience the answers that arise when questioning the cause, meaning, and experience of this life.