June the 21st was declared to be International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December the 11th 2014. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his UN Address suggested the date of June 21, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and shares special significance in many parts of the world.
While the spiritual teachings of modern day yoga differ significantly from Buddhism the meditative practises of both traditions share a common root in the India of two and a half millennia ago.
In contrast to Buddhism Yoga tradition asserts the existence of an Inner Self or Atman thought to be our true nature as consciousness, authentic self or soul and a God as the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. Self-realisation according to the yogic path requires complete faith in the Atman and surrender to this God.
Buddhism teaches that we are the sole masters of our destiny.
Siddhārtha Gautama, the man who was to become the Buddha studied with the two greatest teachers of yogic meditation of his time. His first guru was Alara Kalama, a teacher who taught a kind of early samkhya at Vessali. Alara taught Gautama Jhāna meditation, a series of cultivated states of mind, which lead to the “state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhii-sati-piirisuddhl).”
Gautama eventually equalled Alara, who could teach him no more, saying, “You are the same as I am now. There is no difference between us. Stay here and take my place and teach my students with me.” The Buddha to be, however, was not interested in staying and after leaving Alara found a new teacher, Uddaka Ramaputta.
Uddaka taught refined states of meditation known as the immaterial attainments. (The immaterial attainments have more to do with expanding, while the first to fourth Jhanas focus on concentration. The enlightenment of complete dwelling in emptiness is reached when the eighth jhāna is transcended).
Gautama then explored extreme aestheticism before, after pushing his body almost to the point of death, he decided to adopt a “middle way”. Then he remembered that once as a boy, while sitting under a rose apple tree on a beautiful day, he had spontaneously experienced great bliss and entered the first Jhana.
He realised then that this experienced showed him the way to realisation. Instead of punishing his body to find release from the confines of the self, he would work with his own nature and practice purity of mental defilements to realise enlightenment.
On the night of the first full moon of May Gautama awoke to the reality of the universe and became the Buddha.