The word Dharma has it’s origin in the sanskrit texts of the Vedic Brahmins (priests) and has acquired numerous meanings over the millennia. The two most important definitions for Dharma in the study of yoga are ”law or order” and “practice” as found in the following terms.

• Sanatana Dharma - “universal, cosmic, or natural law or order” is a term used in most Indic philosophical and religious systems. It refers to the functioning of reality and our place in it. It includes concepts such as karma and reincarnation and also includes scientific principles such as the law conservation of energy and quantum physics.

• Buddha Dharma - “awakened practice” refers to teachings and practices used and propagated by awakened beings in order to awaken to an experiential knowledge of the nature of reality, our mind, and our place within the natural order. This term includes the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the Vidyadharas, Mahasiddhas, Sages, Rishis, and Tulkus that can lead beings toward awakening.

The word Ashtanga comes from the roots astau for “eight” and angani meaning “limbs, components, steps or fold” as found in the systems below.

• Arya Ashtanga Marga - “noble eight-fold path” the teaching of the historical Buddha (c. 563 BCE to 483 BCE)

1. Right view - samyak-dṛṣṭi

2. Right intention - samyak-saṃkalpa

3. Right speech - samyag-vāc

4. Right action - samyak-karmānta

5. Right livelihood - samyag-ājīva

6. Right effort - samyag-vyāyāma

7. Right mindfulness - samyak-smṛti

8. Right concentration (samadhi) - samyak-samādhi

• Ashtanga Yoga - astavangani yoganga, “eight limbs of yoga” is the codification of yoga practice found in the ‘Yoga Sutras’ by the Brahmin sage Patanjali, a text on yoga practice and philosophy written in “buddhist hybrid sanskrit” between (100 CE - 400 CE)

1. yama - moral don’ts

2. niyama - moral dos

3. asana - body posture

4. pranayama - breath control

5. pratyahara - sense withdrawal

6. dharana - single pointed focus

7. dhyana - meditation

8. samadhi - concentration

• Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - a method of yoga practice popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois with a focus on the first four limbs of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama. The lineage is traced through Jois’s teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharia to the Mahasiddha Ramamohana Brahmachari who lived in a Himalayan cave above lake Manasarovar in Tibet. A signature feature of it’s asana practice is the practice of vinyasa which is to link the breath with the transitions between postures. This is remarkably similar to yantra yoga, a tibetan lineage that is the oldest recorded system of postural yoga know to exist.


After Siddhartha Buddha began teaching and before the Muslim conquest, the indian subcontinent was in a golden age of Awakening and propagation of Dharma. It is said there are 84,000 dharmas, for all the myriad types of people. In the great University of Nalanda, for example, all the students studied the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) as well as the works of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism, in addition to Vedanta (Vedas), Hetuvidyā (Logic), Shabdavidya (Grammar and Philology), Chikitsavidya (Medicine), the works on magic (the Athar- vaveda), Samkhya (rational examination) and Yogacara (Yoga). In villages, outside of the great learning centers, Tantric Yogis practiced their sadhanas with little distinction between Hindu or Buddhist Yoga. When the muslims invaded they succeeded in stamping out the Indic religions and philosophies. The lineage holders where able to preserve the teachings by fleeing to the Himalayas where they continued to share and perfect their knowledge of the Dharma. The greatest became known as the Mahasiddas (great adepts).

Our curriculum of the Mahasiddha Yogacara Sadhana continues this tradition of a comprehensive study of Dharma by rooting in a Pure View of the three Ashtangas united in one Awakened Dharma.

John Cooke