Beginning as far back as the Muslim conquests of India in the 12th century, and continuing through the era of British rule, a general trend towards universalization of various Indian philosophies and traditions has taken place, along with several notable attempts at reformations. Historically the different schools of Indian Philosophy and the different denominations of Hinduism stood often in opposition towards one another, but as Hindus have become more unified as a nation, this historical combativeness has often lessened under the banner of a more unified Hindu identity.

Leading up to and during British rule western “orientalists” began to investigate the treasure trove of Indian philosophy and spiritual traditions. In doing so, a distinctly western view of what constituted “Hinduism” began to develop. Simultaneous to this, several individuals and groups native to India made efforts towards a more unitarian or universalist view of Hindu doctrines, several of these being inexorably connected with rising Hindu nationalism and the Indian independence movement. What has resulted are various new movements and doctrines, and some unique approaches to the traditional schools.

The overall synthesizing effort is in many ways in line with the theosophical approach that the different schools of Indian philosophy ultimately represent facets of one and the same doctrine and ought to be able to be unified. However, not all efforts at synthesis are created equal. Several of the attempts at synthesizing Hindu teachings introduced ideas originally foreign to Hindu thought, or brought together elements without necessarily exercising great discernment, or presented (especially to the west) watered down or “Christianized” versions of the original philosophies. Students must exercise their own discernment when exploring any modern presentation of ancient doctrines.

19th Century Reform Movements

The following are two movements that had important influences on 19th and 20th century India.

Brahmo Samaj

Founded by Ram Mohan Roy along with Debendranath Tagore in Bengal. Blavatsky refers to Roy as “one of the purest, most philanthropic, and enlightened men India ever produced.” Some of its main tenets include: monotheism (directly influenced by the Christian conception of God via missionary education), the rejection of the authority of scripture, denouncement of idol-worship, rejection of doctrines of salvation, and opposition to caste distinctions. During Blavatsky’s time in India the Brahmo Samaj was experiencing division and controversy, largely due to the activities of Keshub Chandra Sen, who Blavatsky was highly critical of. Sen formed the “New Dispensation” after meeting Ramakrishna (see below), through which he spread the teachings of Ramakrishna along with his own ideas. (Note that Blavatsky and others comment quite negatively on the “New Dispensation” in early volumes of The Theosophist.) One key feature of Sen’s activities (and of the Bengal Hindu community overall) is the blending together of Hindu, Muslim and Christian ideas. While the Brahmo Samaj exercised an important influence on 19th century India, its own popularity waned considerably in the 20th century. However, due the activities of Sen and the Brahmo influence on individuals such as Swami Vivekananda (see below), the Brahmo Samaj can be seen as instrumental in the development of Neo-Vedanta.

For some views of H. P. Blavatsky on the Brahmo Samaj, see: “The Brahmo Samaj,” Theosophist, March, 1881; and “Hindu Theism,” Theosophist, June, 1882.

Arya Samaj

Founded by Swami Dayanand Sarasvati. The Arya Samaj began as an educational reform movement. Its central tenet is the infallibility and authority of the Vedas, and it sought to return Indian to Vedic values, culture and practices, though refined and reformed. “Among the reforms supported are eradication of child marriage and untouchability; reform of the caste system to be based on merit rather than birth; opposition to idol worship, animal sacrifice, and temple offerings; and equality of women. Adherents believe in one supreme being of whom Aum is the proper name, and in the equality of all human beings.” (see Arya Samaj.)

The pinnacle of Dayanand’s work is his approach to and explanations of the Vedas. His interpretation is along the lines of the most ancient sages and follows the approach of Yaska and his Nirukta. Essentially, Dayanand’s approach is that the true meaning of the Vedas cannot be found by utilizing the conventional meaning of Sanskrit terms, but must be sought in their root-meanings. In doing so, an entirely different picture of the Vedas emerges. See Dayanand’s Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhumika, his commentary or introduction to the Vedas.

The Arya Samaj had an intimate relationship with the early Theosophical Society, beginning in 1878, even to the point of temporarily merging the two entities into one. Swami Dayanand was highly praised by HPB and others, and for four years the Theosophists and Arya Samajists worked together. In contrasting the Arya and the Brahmo Samajes, H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

“While the members of the Brâhmo Samâj may be designated as the Lutheran Protestants of orthodox Brâhmanism, the disciples of the Swami Dyanand should be compared to those learned mystics, the Gnostics, who had the key to those earlier writings which, later, were worked over into the Christian gospels and various patristic literature. As the above-named pre-Christian sects understood the true esoteric meaning of the Chrêstos allegory, which is now materialized into the Jesus of flesh, so the disciples of the learned and Holy Swami are taught to discriminate between the written form and the spirit of the word preached in the Vedas. And this is the principal point of difference between the Ârya Samâj and the Brâhmos who, as it would seem, believe in a personal God and repudiate the Vedas, while the Âryas see an everlasting Principle, an impersonal Cause in the great “Soul of the universe” rather than a personal Being, and accept the Vedas as the supreme authority, though not of divine origin.”—“The Arya Samaj,” 1878

Unfortunately, the promising relationship between the Theosophists and the Aryas came to a swift and resounding end in May of 1882 when Swami Dayanand attacked Blavatsky and Olcott in his magazine, stating that “the alliance between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society has been broken off because the head Theosophists are now converts to Buddhism and no more for the Vedas.” On this topic, see “A Mental Puzzle,” Theosophist (Supplement), June, 1882, p. 6.

Mahatma K.H. provided A.P. Sinnett with some details of what had been occurring behind the scenes:

“D. Swami was an initiated Yogi, a very high chela at Badrinath, endowed some years back with great powers and a knowledge he has since forfeited. . . . And now see what has become of this truly great man, whom we all knew and placed our hopes in him. There he is—a moral wreck, ruined by his ambition and panting for breath in his last struggle for supremacy.” [The Mahatma then cites the true cause of his ruin:] “. . . his ferocious ambition that he mistakes for patriotism; his once alter ego has no excuse but his desire to harm those who exposed him. And, to achieve such results he is prepared to do anything.” (Mahatma Letter No. 92)

In October, 1883 Swami Dayanand was assassinated at the hand of his cook. Over the decades after his death the Arya Samaj continued to foster educational programs and engaged politically, thus continuing to have an influence in the development of India as a nation. It is still active today.

Neo-Vedanta, Neo-Hinduism, and Modern Yoga

For the lineage of Sankaracharyas and the Dasanami Sampradaya (Swami Order), see Advaita Vedanta.

Note: we do not use terms like Neo-Vedanta, Neo-Hinduism, or Neo-Advaita pejoratively, but simply to contrast the modern resurgence, spread, and reinterpretations of Hindu systems of thought with the old traditional Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy and branches of Hinduism.

Vedanta has long been the most dominant school of Indian philosophy, so much so that many people mistakenly view Vedanta, or its dominant sub-school Advaita Vedanta, as fully representing Hindu philosophy itself. This would be akin, in some ways, to mistakenly thinking that every Christian is a Catholic. But, nonetheless, Vedanta (especially Advaita) came to its position of dominance largely because of the soundness of its philosophy. Sankaracharya, the founder of Advaita, is considered by Blavatsky and other early theosophists, as the greatest initiate-philosopher to appear in historical India, and his non-dual system has become the cornerstone of much of modern Hindu philosophy.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, several Vedanta-related movements gained widespread popularity, and these have had a profound influence on the way in which Vedanta is presented and understood. At the same time, the western interest in Vedanta brought about some uniquely western interpretations. The theosophical movement also contributed to some unique views on Vedanta philosophy, in particular see the writings of T. Subba Row and Charles Johnston.

One element to note is the profound influence exercised by the Bengali Hindu community in the development of Neo-Vedanta, in particular the developments that occurred during the Bengali Renaissance. The Brahmo Samaj (see above), Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Yogananda, among others such as Aurobindu, Prabhupada (Hare Krishnas), etc. were all Bengali Hindus. A seminal feature of the most prominent efforts that came out of this community is the blending together of eastern and western ideas, most notably the infusion of Christian ideas and iconography into interpretations of Vedanta and Yoga.

The following are some of the more popular and influential Neo-Vedanta teachers and movements.

Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

Ramakrishna was born in Bengal in 1836. As a young man he exhibited some form of a “trance” type state, which were interpreted as epileptic seizures, but by Ramakrishna as spiritual ecstasy. These trance conditions would become more pronounced as he aged and formed a central characteristic of Ramakrishna as a teacher (some modern scholars have suggested that Ramakrishna may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy). At age 19 he was appointed priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Following the customs of Bengal at the time, and urged by his family, he married a 5 year old girl when he was 23 years old. The girl would become known to his followers as Sarada Devi, who they viewed as an incarnation of the Divine Mother.

Ramakrishna had teachers from several branches of Hinduism, as well as from Islam and Christianity. One of the central tenets of his teaching is the truth and unity of all religions, an idea that would come to influence much of Neo-Vedanta. Other quintessential teachings of Ramakrishna include his focus on “Kama-Kanchana” (lust and gold) as primary means of bondage, along his particular approach to Māyā (illusion) as twofold, i.e. Avidyamaya and Vidyamaya—illusions that further bind us vs. illusions that help lead to the ultimate dispelling of illusion. At the forefront of his teachings is the emphasis on “God-realization” as the ultimate goal. His conception of God, however, is not solely the traditional view of Brahman, but rather a more universalized idea, equating Brahman with the “God” of western religions: “Different people call on [God] by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman.” This approach is central to much of modern Neo-Vedanta.

As noted above, the Brahmo Samaj, and in particular Keshub Chandra Sen and his “New Dispensation” played an important role in spreading awareness of Ramakrishna and his teachings, with many of his early followers being Brahmos. Sen and the Brahmos also exercised influence over Ramakrishna’s most noteworthy disciple—Vivekananda—in his early exposure to spiritual ideas (Vivekananda first met Sen and the Brahmos, and through them came into contact with Ramakrishna). One element shared in common between Ramakrishna and Sen is the blending together of traditional Hindu ideas with those of Islam and Christianity. The influence of both the Brahmo Samaj’s and Ramakrishna’s interpretations of God is evident in Vivekananda’s approach to Vedanta and Yoga doctrines. In addition to the influence of Sen and the Brahmos, Vivekananda’s early education included training in both eastern and western philosophy, which also impacted his interpretation of Vedanta.

Vivekananda became one of the first disciples of Ramakrishna’s monastic order, shortly before Ramakrishna’s death. After years of monastic life in India, Vivekananda became famous worldwide when he represented Hinduism at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. In the years that followed, he engaged in several speaking engagements and became so popular and admired that he was offered the job of chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard university, which he declined. Instead, Vivekananda spread his teachings in the west by founding Vedanta centers. These centers—and the organizations called Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission—are the most influential organs for the spread of Vedanta in the world today (see, for instance, the work being done currently by Swami Sarvapriyananda). Vivekananda’s teachings are not only responsible for spreading Vedanta worldwide, but his particular approach to Vedanta and Hinduism has had a large influence on how Indians themselves understand their traditions. The degree to which Vivekananda has influenced the world’s interpretations of Vedanta and Hinduism cannot be overstated.

The version of Vedanta taught by Vivekananda and the modern followers of Ramakrishna is Advaita (non-dual), but is also somewhat of a reinterpretation or rephrasing of some aspects of Advaita Vedanta along with synthesizing ideas from other traditional schools and branches of Hinduism. For instance, the particular approach in regards to Brahman as “God,” who is both immanent and transcendent, or, as phrased by Ramakrishna, that “God” is “both impersonal and personal,” is a kind of reinterpretation of Advaita, with somewhat of a Brahmo twist or a Christian spin. It is more proto-typically monotheistic than traditional Advaita Vedanta. Part of the success of the Ramakrishna lineage is their ability to present Vedanta ideas using western language, and by infusing some western conceptions into their brand of Vedanta. It is for these types of reasons, however, that the distinction between Vedanta and Neo-Vedanta becomes important.

One may very well say that the foundations of Neo-Vedanta were laid primarily by Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. Other disciples of the Ramakrishna order have also had great influence, including Swami Nikhilananda, with his translations of Upanishads, Gita, etc. and his translation of the Gospel of Ramakrishna into English, as well as Swami Gambirananda, who also translated the Upanishads, etc. A great deal of early western exposure to these fundamental Vedanta texts was through the Ramakrishna lineage.

Paramahansa Yoganada

Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, was an elder contemporary of Swami Vivekananda. Both were raised in Calcutta, and like Vivekananda, Yukteswar’s early education included time in a Christian Missionary College. Yukteswar became the student of Lahiri Mahasaya, and afterwards took his vows into the Swami order. A decade later, at the request of his Paramguru, Yukteswar wrote a book comparing Hindu scriptures with the Christian bible. Just as we see with Roy, Sen, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and other Bengali Hindus, Yukteswar embraced the blending together of Vedanta and Yoga with western ideas and themes. This would become even more apparent in the teachings and writings of Yogananda. It is worth noting in this light, that Sri Yukteswar’s ashram was but 20km from that of Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna order. One should not underestimate the influence of the cultural infusion of Christianity into Calcutta by missionaries and their schools on the formations of Neo-Vedanta and modern Yoga.

Yogananda met Yukteswar and began training under him as a disciple in his ashram. In time he took his vows into the Swami order. Yogananda, like Vivekananda, became known internationally after having been invited to a religious congress, in this case in Boston in 1920. Yogananda then set up his Self-Realization Fellowship and began teaching across the United States. He became even more widely famous upon the publishing of his book Autobiography of a Yogi in 1946, which has gone on to become a classic of spiritual literature. Two posthumously published books—God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita and  Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You—demonstrate Yogananda’s view of the oneness of teachings underlying Hinduism and Christianity.

The central teaching of Yogananda and his guru is the practice of Kriya Yoga, with the fundamental goal being that of “Self-Realization,” which Yogananda defines as realizing one’s oneness with “the omnipresence of God.” His interpretation of God is monotheistic, and more similar to the conceptions of Christianity and classical or orthodox Yoga Darshana than with a strictly Vedantic approach, in much the same way as with Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, i.e. God as both impersonal and personal. His doctrinal teachings, like that of Vivekananda, infuse together elements of Yoga and Vedanta with western (primarily Christian) ideas.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta

Another Bengali Hindu, contemporary with Yogananda. Bhaktivedanta was raised in Calcutta and also educated at a Christian missionary college. He became a Vaishnava sannyasin or monk and became very influential in his later years, in particular in his connection with the western counter-cultural movement through his International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, aka the Hare Krishna movement). His translation of the Gita called Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, has had a wide influence in the west. The Hare Krishnas focus heavily on Bhakti Yoga and view Krishna as a personal “Godhead.” The teachings of ISKCON are that of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, which centers its teachings around the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana. Through its connection with the Gita, it has also influenced how many westerners understand Vedanta and Yoga.

Sivananda Saraswati

Another contemporary of Yogananda, Bhaktivedanta and others (early 20th century). He founded the Divine Life Society, with its headquarters near Rishikesh, known in modern day as the “yoga capital of the world.” Sivananda’s teachings focus on the practical, with an emphasis on Sadhana, and various forms of yoga (karma, bhakti, raja, hatha, etc.), and with the ultimate goal viewed as “reuniting the individual soul with the Absolute or pure consciousness.” As with many of his contemporaries, he recommended the study of classic Hindu, Vedanta and Yoga texts alongside the religious texts of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc.

Sivananda’s disciples have played a significant role in spreading yoga throughout the world. In addition to the work done through the DLS, this also includes the work done by Chinmayananda Saraswati, one of Sivananda’s disciples, who formed the Chinmaya Mission.

Ramana Maharshi

A somewhat unique instance among reformers is that of Ramana Maharshi. At the age of 16, Ramana had what he referred to as a “death experience,” in which he became aware of a “current or force” which he identified with a personal God (Isvara), but also as an impersonal Self, or an all-inclusive awareness. Some modern scholars have suggested that this experience was an temporal lobe epileptic seizure, as Ramana’s description matches well with those who suffer from this condition (Ramana is known to have suffered epileptic fits after this initial “death experience”). Ramana referred to his experience as “sudden enlightenment” (akramana mukti). After the experience he spent some years seeking solitude and silence and almost completely neglecting his body and any concerns of life. Eventually he drew the attention of followers and an ashram was built, in which he lived and taught his disciples until his death.

As is the case with many traditional gurus in India, Ramana’s main method of teaching was through Darshan. Ramana’s darshan often consisted of sitting in silence with those who sought his company, but he would also answer their questions. His approach of sitting in silence together became somewhat of a central feature in the ideal of Ramana as a teacher. He referred to this silence as the true Upadesha (teaching or instruction). The main method of realization of truth and reality promoted by Ramana is simple self-enquiry, or inquiry into the nature of the sense of “I.”

In several ways, the example of Ramana may be compared to that of the mythos of Huineng in early Chan/Zen Buddhism, who was also said to have awakened in a single moment. This contrast between sudden awakening and the gradual path of awakening defines much of Zen Buddhism, and likewise defines much of the approach of Ramana’s followers. Thus, while several elements of Ramana’s explanations are along the lines of Advaita Vedanta philosophy, the “sudden enlightenment” aspect has led to it being referred to as Neo-Advaita to contrast it with traditional Advaita teachings about the path. Ramana himself was not well educated in Hinduism, Vedanta, Yoga, etc., but drew almost entirely from his own direct experiences; it was primarily his students who translated his teachings through the lenses of texts like the Gita, which Ramana himself had not read. His connection with Vedanta or Shaivism or other schools of thought is, therefore, somewhat nominal, and he may be best viewed as a non-denominational teacher.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Another influential figure, Radhakrishnan was an Advaita Vedanta philosopher, who also served as vice-president and president of India after independence. He was educated primarily at the Madras Christian College, during which time he wrote a bachelor’s degree thesis on “The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions.” Radhakrishnan viewed his philosophic work as defending Vedanta against “uninformed western criticisms,” and though he himself made efforts to bridge the divide between eastern and western teachings, his presentation of Advaita Vedanta is rigorously philosophical and logical, the work of a philosopher rather than a mystic or yogi.

Some of Radhakrishnan’s interpretations of Advaita are quite in-line with theosophical interpretations, in particular his view that the doctrine of Maya does not indicate pure or strict idealism, but rather that Maya represents a kind of “a subjective misperception” of reality. His focus on the Ethics of Vedanta is relatively unique among Neo-Vedanta presentations, and highly valuable. His approach is also less theistic than the Swamis who have spread Neo-Vedanta—his approach is rather that Brahman represents an impersonal Absolute, and that interpretations of a personal God are ultimately a lower representation of that reality.

Radhakrishnan’s explanations of intuition as a means of direct perception of fundamental truths is an important contribution made to modern philosophy. It emphasizes the ancient Rishis as “seers” who then formulated that which they perceived through their developed intuition into the texts of the Vedas, Upanishads, etc. This teaching of Radhakrishnan is not new, but his presentation of it in modern philosophical language has made the idea more accessible, particularly for those more intellectually inclined.

In philosophical and scholarly settings, Radhakrishnan is without a doubt the most influential modern Vedanta philosopher. He wrote extensively, including his monumental work on Indian Philosophy and his translations of the Prastanatraya (three central works of Advaita Vedanta), i.e. the Principle Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras.

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Perhaps the single most widely known Indian reformer of modern times is Mohandas Gandhi, who came to be referred to as a Mahatma (“great soul”). Gandhi’s focus was primarily on the practical application of central concepts such as Ahimsa (non-violence) and Truthfulness (Satya), along with forms of “Selfless Action” as drawn from the teachings of Krishna. The popularity and effectiveness of his approach to the ethics of Hindu and Vedantic teachings has had a major influence on the way Indians and non-Indians interpret these central ethical injunctions. It would not be a stretch to say that Gandhi almost re-wrote the meaning of Ahimsa, applying to it at once a wider idealism and a more practical basis for action. Our modern day understanding and interpretation of Ahimsa is almost solely through the lens of Gandhi’s own experimentation and explanations. His approach was instrumental in the Indian Independence movement, through his development of Satyagraha, a form of non-violent civil disobedience—a self-devised system based on the firm foundation of Ahimsa and Satya. Followers of his methods have also impacted the nature of civil discourse and protest in nearly every nation, most prominently and well known perhaps being that of Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement.

Gandhi’s own spirituality drew from both traditional Indian and western sources, primarily the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Christ in the Gospels, which he interpreted along the same lines as did Tolstoy. Gandhi placed the teachings of the Gita at the forefront of his own philosophy, and interpreted it along the lines of its practical bearing on civil and social life. He also translated the Gita himself, which was aptly subtitled “The Gospel of Selfless Action.”

Gandhi was a prolific writer, and his writings have since been gathered as a set of Collected Writings totaling around 100 volumes. His autobiographical “Story of My Experiments with Truth” shows the gradual development and experimentation of his philosophy into action. For a detailed summary of Gandhi’s politics and ethics, see The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi by Raghavan Iyer.

Sri Aurobindo

Aurobindo was born in Calcutta, but raised speaking English and educated in the English manner, eventually studying at King’s College in Cambridge. Upon his return to India he began writing against British rule and promoting militant nationalism, becoming a central figure and organizer of that effort. This culminated in his involvement in a trial for conspiracy related to a bombing that killed two people. Ultimately, Aurobindo was acquitted of the charges against him, following which he changed almost entirely his direction in life. Having settled in Pondicherry, Aurobindo founded an ashram with Mirra Alfassa (referred to by followers as “The Mother”). There Aurobindo engaged in long stretches of solitude, but was continually engaged in correspondence with his disciples.

Aurobindo’s philosophy has several aspects in common with Theosophy, in particular his views on the evolution of humanity, which he sees as having intrinsic purpose, and the possibilities of individually quickening that evolution; his explanation of “Supermind” may be compared to theosophical teachings on Mahat or Universal Mind; he also approached Manas as exhibiting itself in a twofold manner, in much the same was as did Blavatsky and early theosophists; and his teaching of the “Intermediate Zone” is essentially the same as the theosophical approach to the Astral plane as one of potential danger that must be passed through. Similarly to Radhakrishnan, Aurobindo also recognized intuition as a valid means of knowing, which he viewed as a kind of knowing by identity.

Aurobindo’s approach is a kind of “middle-way” between the two extremes of Materialism and Pure Idealism, and in that sense is also in tune with theosophy as a form of “Objective Idealism.” He placed the Rig Veda, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita at the forefront of his explanations of ancient wisdom, and viewed them as representative of genuine intuitive knowledge on the part of the ancient Rishis. The rationalistic interpretation of such texts is interpreted by him as a later growth, and his synthetic approach aims to direct one back to that intuitive understanding. In this sense, Aurobindo’s teachings are somewhat “pre-Vedantic,” or one might say that he attempts to point to an original intuitive Vedanta as contrasted against either a too-rationalistic (materialist) or the too-theistic (ascetic) approach to Vedanta. His approach to the Vedas was influenced by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati (see above) and follows along the same lines (see “Dayananda and the Vedas”). Thus, as with Dayanand, Aurobindo’s teachings often move in the opposite direction of many Neo-Vedanta teachers and movements, as he attempts to interpret the ancient Vedanta as it was, rather than reforming the later Vedanta or Advaita Vedanta schools for a new era.

Aurobindo was a prolific writer, most notably his correspondence with his disciples, his book The Life Divine, and his epic poem Savitri. His writings have been collected into a 36 volume set. He developed a system called Integral Yoga, based on his unique approach to Vedantic teachings, in which the lower nature can be transformed into the divine nature through a three-step process.

Modern Yoga

Many of the above reformers have had notable influence over how the world understands the nature and meaning of Yoga. This is particularly true when it comes to yoga in the west, but is also true in terms of how Indians themselves understand their own tradition. While several somewhat unique forms of yoga practice have come about from the above-mentioned reformations, along with others such as Iyengar yoga, etc., one must be careful not to mistake any of these for yoga per se. Many modern formulations of yoga base themselves on Vivekananda’s explanation of the Four Yoga model—i.e. Bhakti, Karma, Jnana and Raja yoga—but most also incorporate elements of Hatha yoga. In the west in particular, yoga is widely misunderstood to be mostly, if not solely, Hatha yoga—i.e. the physical aspects of modern yoga practice are very often seen as primary. Many specific techniques of meditation, from various teachers and traditions, are also incorporated into modern yoga teachings, many of these from Neo-Vedanta schools, but also blending in elements from modern Buddhist schools.

While many proponents of modern yoga draw from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as the key text of yoga practice, interpretations on its meaning vary and lead to widely differing approaches to practice. H. P. Blavatsky recommended to “read Patanjali’s Yoga Philosophy; but with caution, for it is very apt to mislead, being written in symbolic language,” and students of theosophy are encouraged to use this same caution along with careful discernment when approaching the study or practice of various modern yoga systems.


Bhagavad Gita by S. Radhakrishnan
Brahma Sutra by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
The Principal Upanishads by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

The [Principal] Upanishads by Swami Nikhilananda:
Volume 1: Katha, Isa, Kena, and Mundaka
Volume 2: Svetasvatara, Prasna, and Mandukya with Gaudapada’s Karika
Volume 3: Aitareya and Brihadaranyaka
Volume 4: Taittiriya and Chandogya

Eight Upanishads, with the Commentary of Sankaracharya by Swami Gambirananda:
Volume 1: Isa, Kena, Katha, and Taittiriya
Volume 2: Aitareya, Mundaka, Mandukya & Karika, and Prasna

Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya by Swami Gambirananda

Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.