Yogis are often interested in Buddhism, especially in the West. After all, our yoga practice has roots in Eastern spirituality and is associated with a major Eastern religion (Hinduism). So, it makes sense that at some point, many of us begin to wonder about the connection between yoga and Buddhism.
As a new yogi, I read a lot about Eastern spirituality and philosophy. I was especially drawn to the Buddhist teachings of Thich Naht Hanh and Pema Chodron, among others. On a meditation retreat led by Buddhist monk Bhante Wimala, I learned about mindfulness and many other forms of meditation. I also explored the eye-opening work of Buddhist psychologist Mark Epstein, whose book Thoughts Without a Thinker blew my mind at the same time I worked to stop relying on it!
What is the Connection between Yoga and Buddhism?
Yoga, which means union, is connected to everything. So, of course we can find a connection between yoga and Buddhism. I’m all about finding connections, whether between yoga and Western religion, yoga and Buddhism, and even yoga and baseball!
Since they’re both from the East, the connection between yoga and Buddhism is not surprising. So, how are the two traditions alike? For one, Buddhism teaches non-attachment, which is also a main teaching of yoga. Both yogis and Buddhists emphasize the practice of mindfulness, and both follow a somewhat prescribed path to enlightenment
The yamas of yoga and the eightfold path of Buddhism have striking similarities. For example, the fourth tenet of Buddhism—right action—is similar to ahimsa (kindness), the first yama. The third Buddhist tenet is right speech, which will remind yogis of the second yama—satya (truthfulness). Both traditions espouse minimizing the allure of the senses as well.
Karma is another concept yoga and Buddhism have in common. The idea of karma is that all actions have consequences, and we need to keep this in mind when we make choices in our daily lives. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions.
In Buddhism, following the eightfold path leads to liberation from suffering, which Buddhists call Nirvana. In yoga, following the seven limbs leads to liberation from ego, which yogis call samadhi. Samadhi is union with the divine. It is a state of being that occurs when we transcend the individuality of the small self (ego) and recognize our true nature as divine beings.
The Buddha taught that identification with ego causes suffering. A yogi’s quest for truth is also a journey away from suffering. The Buddha’s teachings on suffering often sound yogic. We’d expect that; after all, he was a Hindu and a yogi before he became the Buddha!
Self-Knowledge or No Self?
As an ascetic yogi, Buddha was a superstar. We know the stories of how he sat under the bodhi tree, determined to reach enlightenment by renouncing…well, pretty much everything.
But it didn’t work, so the mystic yogi first known as Siddhartha Gautama found a middle way, a more balanced approach to life. He didn’t necessarily stop being a yogi, but he did build upon the spiritual base he had studied for years after he left the palace he grew up in.
One main difference between yoga and Buddhism is that while yogis seek self-knowledge, Buddhists seek annihilation of self. That may not sound attractive, but for Buddhists, the self is an illusion. It tricks us into believing we are individual beings, and that is the root of suffering. This is a difficult concept for Westerners especially.
So, who is right? Are we divine beings or is existence an illusion? Or is it possible that both are true in some way? Like any spiritual tradition, the deeper you go, the less you can explain. The important thing is finding a path and doing the practice.
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) to learn more. I’d love to hear from you!