Russell Jack of Southland Explains: Do Buddhist Monks do Yoga?

The popularity of yoga continues to grow among the general population. Since there are many different styles of practicing yoga, confusion sometimes arises regarding yoga’s historical roots. Many people associate yoga with Buddhism but question if Buddhist monks perform yoga. Here, Russell Jack, a Southland-based yoga teacher, demystifies this question.

The practice of yoga has its roots in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. It was first mentioned over 5,000 years ago in Rig Veda, an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns.

The eight limbs of yoga are best thought of as technologies of consciousness. They are intended to awaken awareness and enhance creativity, intelligence, and energy. While yoga has deep spiritual roots and connections, many modern yogis focus more on folding themselves into downward dogs or stretching backward into camels than they do the practice’s meditative aspects.

One of the eight limbs of yoga, dhyana, is thought to be the inspiration for Transcendental Meditation (TM) techniques, and many believe that dhyana produces the essence of yoga. Many Buddist monks use TM to bring the mind’s attention effortlessly, naturally, and very directly back towards restful alertness. Meditation is an essential element of both yoga and Buddhism.

Buddhism is not, in the strictest sense, a religion, in that it does not directly promote the concept of worshipping a god or gods. It is, however, generally categorized as one of the world’s five great religions. Buddhists are taught to focus on achieving enlightenment — a state of inner peace and wisdom — to reach a state of nirvana by following the path of the Buddha. Buddha was Indian. He was well-versed in Vedantic philosophy, and many believe he was a practitioner of yoga. At the very least, he sought an experiential understanding of the philosophy.

There is nothing mutually exclusive between Buddhism and the practice of yoga. There is no more conflict between Buddhists and yoga than between yoga and Catholics or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yoga is not a religion and therefore presents no conflict of ideology with religion.

There is arguably a synergy between yoga and all religions — maybe even more so for the Buddhist faith. Buddhism and yoga recognize that there is internal and external suffering and that freedom from suffering is a preeminent quest of human existence. These ancient teachings hold that compassion is a means for rescue. Meditation, an essential element of yoga, is used by both Buddhists and yogis.

Yoga and Buddhist monks have a symbiotic relationship. Yoga provides the techniques, science, tools, and skills used by monks to achieve nirvana. Not all monks practice yoga, but many do, and even those that don’t probably unintentionally employ some of the same techniques to heighten their awareness.

About Russell Herbert Jack

Russell Herbert Jack, a yoga and mindfulness teacher from Southland, New Zealand, is passionate about spirituality, the vegan lifestyle, animal rights, and living in sync with nature. Russell specializes in Vinyasa Yoga, Qigong, and guided meditations. Vinyasa yoga, or flow yoga, heightens consciousness by moving from one position to another seamlessly, using breath. Just like Vinyasa Yoga, Qigong has many healing properties to the body, mind, and spirit. He enjoys learning and writing about spirituality, meditation, and vegan lifestyle and sharing these valuable insights with his clients.