Michael lays out his purpose in conceiving and editing this book in his very first sentence where he says that it is written for those who find themselves “compelled by the teachings and practices of both Yoga and Buddhism” who are “moved to better understand the porous border between them.” He goes on to affirm their “interdependent history,” and their shared goal of “recognizing suffering and bringing it to an end.”
Before going any further, we again need to clarify what it is that we are referring to by the term “Yoga” in this passage. If one is referring to what I call the “ocean” of teachings and practices originating in the sub-continent of India, I’d say to speak of “Yoga and Buddhism” is already inaccurate as Buddhism is a form of Yoga. If, however, one is referring to the so-called “Classical Yoga” of Patanjali, then we can most certainly compare these two Yoga traditions, but for accuracy, I’d write “Classical Yoga and Buddhism” for greater clarity. And, from this perspective, it is certainly true that the Yoga teachings of the Buddha and of Patanjali share both an interdependent history AND are their respective traditions are incredibly porous!
Michael makes a point that I find both important, and personally frustrating at times in its having to be necessary at all: Yoga has been reduced in the contemporary mind to being all about body practice, and Buddhism has been equally restricted to being an exclusively mental practice! Nothing could be further from the truth!
Michael makes an interesting analogy with trees, comparing (Classical) Yoga and Buddhism to an oak and a maple tree. They share many commonalities, and of course have many differences. He takes it through three levels of comparison. I too often make use of the tree analogy, but I have one tree: the Tree of Yoga. And one branch of this tree is Buddhist Yoga, and another is Classical Yoga (and others include Vedanta, Tantra and from that in turn Hatha.
What do you think? Does either of these models seem more relevant to your own understanding?
What may come as a surprise to many readers is just how little we know of the Buddha and Patanjali as individuals. Do you think this makes any difference as to how we should receive their teachings?
Finally, I would love to hear from any of you regarding what may be the most pertinent issue raised in the Introduction: Michael asserts a “fundamental affinity between mind practices and body practices.” What do you think of this statement? How does it relate to your own experience of meditation and/or sitting meditation? Is it accurate to conceive of meditation as being about the mind and hatha-yoga-asana to be about the body? Or do you agree that this is a simplistic reduction at best, and perhaps a broad misperception?