The Yoga Upanishads


1) The Yoga Upanishads translated by T. R. Srinivasa Ayyangar, B.A., L.T. (Retired Head Master, Kalyana-sundaram High School, Tanjore) and edited by Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri, F.T.S.; The Adyar Library 1938)

2) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosphy and Practice by Georg Feuerstein (1999, 2001) and published by Hohm Press, Prescott, Arizona; Chapter 15 “God, Vision, and Power–The Yoga Upanishads”, pages 311-331.  Feuerstein offers his own translated excerpts of several of these Upanishads.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, possibly as old as 2000 years (written around the start of the Common Era), is a terse systemization of yogic meditation practices that developed over a large span of time predating the start of the Common Era.  Even though the text of 196 concise aphorisms is associated with the dualistic school of Samkyha and Classical Yoga, where the goal is liberation of the “soul” (atman and purusha) of a person from the “material” level of reality, the outlining of the basic steps in meditation practice have been adopted by non-dualistic schools’ teaching practices that liberate while one is alive and involved in this “material” reality.

The Upanishads, a body of literature consisting of 108 texts with the earliest written perhaps 800 years before the start of the Common Era, express the non-dualistic nature of Reality where “spirit” and “matter” are NOT two.  One, without a second.  Insofar as the Ultimate Reality, it is asserted: “You are That”; “I am That”; and “All this is That”.

Twenty of the 108 Upanishads are known as the “Yoga Upanishads” and, though precise dates for them are generally not known, the writings of these 20 texts likely occurred between 1000 and 1600 C.E., long after Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

These Upanishads expand on the simplicity of the basic practices in the Yoga Sutra with the development of more elaborate ways to focus one pointedly via mantra, internal sound, and internal light.  The practices are designed to awaken a realization of the ultimate Source of the mantra, sound, and light (which the practitioner had focused on).  These yogic meditation practices are meant to aid in transcending the mind by a focusing on the energetic aspect of our being, expressed via our esoteric anatomy through which the life force courses: energy centers called “chakras” that are located at key junctures along a central channel that runs parallel to the spine (and beyond, to the center of the head at the forehead and then to the crown of the head).  Therefore, “pranayama” or breathing related practices play a key part in many of these Upanishads as breathing is closely tied to the condition of the life force in the body.  Some of these Upanishads quote from a 14th Century text called the Hatha Yoga Pradipka which offers very detailed physical, breathing, and meditation practices serving to awaken the latent “kundalini” energy coiled at the base of the spine.  Awakened, and fully rising to the crown of the head, this energy is said to serve a practitioner’s awakening and liberation.

FIve of the 20 Yoga Upanishads have the term “bindu” in them, which refers to a concentrated point of latent power or energy.  In these Upanishads, mantras are used as the focusing tool.  The term “bindu” arises out of the Tantra tradition so that basicly places these texts in the 900-1200 C.E. time period.

Georg Feuerstein, page 312 of above reference:

In India, undoubtedly the oldest and most sacred sound or word (mantra) is the syllable OM, symbolizing the Absolute.  It is pronounced with a strongly nasalized or hummed “m”, which is indicated in Sanskrit by a dot (called “bindu” or “seed-point”) under the letter “m”.  Whereas the syllable OM by itself is said to represent the creative or manifest dimension of the Divine, the echo, or “bindu” of the sound “m” is thought to represent the Divine in its unmanifest dimension…..

The Yoga Upanishads that focus on mantras:

1) Amrita-Bindu-Upanishad

2) Amrita-Nada-Bindu-Upanishad

3) Tejo-Bindu-Upanishad

4) Nada-Bindu-Upanishad

5) Dhyana-Bindu-Upanishad

The Yoga Upanishads that use a focus on breath and the experience of internal sounds:

1) Hamsa-Upanishad

2) Brahma-Vidya-Upanishad

3) Maha-Vakya-Upanishad

4) Pashupata-Brahma-Upanishad

The Yoga Upanishads that use internal light phenomenon as the focus point:

1) Advaya-Taraka-Upanishad

2) Mandala-Brahmana-Upanishad

And, one that Feuerstein notes “epitomizes the essence of all forms of yoga”:

1) Kshurika-Upanishad

Finally, there are seven Yoga Upanishads that Feuerstein described as “comprehensive and textbook-like treatments of kundalini yoga”:

1) Yoga-Kundalini-Darshana-Upanishad

2) Yoga-Sikha-Upanishad

3) Yoga-Tattva-Upanishad

4) Yoga-Cuda-Mani-Upanishad

5) Varaha-Upanishad

6) Tri-Shikhi-Brahmana-Upanishad

7) Shandilya-Upanishad

Upanishads providing examples of a focus on internal light experiences: the Advaya-Taraka-Upanishad and the more elaborate (and latter) Mandala-Brahmana-Upanishad.

“Taraka” (part of the title for the first one discussed here) means literally “he who crosses” or “deliverer” and Feuerstein notes that it in fact references ultimate Reality, or the transcendental Consciousness revealed in these particular practices as “the unmanifest supreme Light”.  He also notes that in medieval times of India this term became associated with yoga practices utilizing a focus on internal light phenomenon.

The Advaya-Taraka-Upanishad may be only 19 verses long but it describes in detail three signs related to internal light experiences, arising out of the dynamics of the esoteric anatomy involving a central channel corresponding to the spinal line, the third eye region, and the crown (and a point above with a specific distance given).  In verse three (here as translated by Mr. Ayyangar back in 1938) Taraka Yoga is represented as a practice that “enables (one) to cross the great fear of undergoing the cycle of prenatal existence, birth, dotage and death, and is hence style as Taraka; having realized that the two entities, Jiva (individual soul) and Isvara (God), are but the results of Illusion, and given up all demonstrable things as ‘not this, not this’, what remains, that, is the non-dual Brahman”.

This form of Yoga became popular during the medieval period in India.

Georg Feuerstein provides (see reference two) a basic explanation of this yogic practice (page 320):

Experiences of inner light occur well before the yogin has reached the point of spiritual maturity where the encounter with the transcendental Light takes place, and to which the only viable response is self-surrender.  These experiences, known as photisms, can be looked upon as dress rehearsals for the great experience of the Light of lights.  They can be quite spectacular internal fireworks, though more often they are simpler experiences of localized or sometimes diffused nonphysical light or lights.  The experience of the ‘blue pearl’ (nils-bindu), often talked about by Swami Muktananda in his autobiography The Play of Consciousness, is such a preliminary manifestation of the Ultimate.


Just as Mantra-Yoga or Nada-Yoga make use of the vibrations of sound to internalize and transcend the ordinary consciousness, Taraka-Yoga avails itself of the higher vibrations of both white and colored light.  Moreover, it includes aspects of the practice of the inner sound (nada).


The three signs in this practice include internal, external, and intermediate based experiences and in verse 11 (as here translated by Feuerstein, page 323) the area of focusing is identified this way: “The sight [should be fixed] in the cavern at the spot between the pair of eyebrows.  By this means the radiance abiding above becomes manifest—this is Taraka-Yoga.”

The descriptions of the three signs are very detailed, colorful even!, and the reader can easily access this (and all of the Yoga Upanishads) in English by freely downloading the translation by T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar (who responded to the request of Ramana Maharshi for such a translation).  

You can access this translation by clicking on the viewing and downloading options on this page:

The Yoga Upanishads in English

There the reader can find the full 33 pages (with five chapters) of the second Yoga Upanishad in the “light” category, the Mandala-Brahmana-Upanishad.  This text expands upon the foundation practices identified in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, adding details to the various limbs of practices in that much older text, and also catalogues specific types of luminous experiences and “spaces”.

G. Feuerstein (page 325 from reference two above) describes a key point made in this Upanishad:

We can only guess at the experiential significance of these luminous spaces.  They are clearly supra physical and only vaguely analogous to the ether once thought by physicists to be the medium for the propagation of light.  It is easier for meditators than for non meditators  to appreciate what these potent radiance-spaces might be like.


This Upanishda, moreover, makes a distinction between two types of photistic experience.  First there is the “deliverer with form” (murti-taraka), which is within the range of the senses and consists in manifestations of light in the space between the eyebrows.  The second type is the “formless deliverer” (amurti-taraka), which is the transcendental Light itself.


The ultimate condition aspired to in this Yoga is called “transmentality” (amanaskata), or “rapture” (unmani), or  “yogic sleep” (yoga-nidra).  The unman state is the product of prolonged absorption in the formless ecstasy (nirvikalpa-samadhi).  This leads to the dissolution of the mind (man0-nasha), whereupon transcendental Reality shines forth in its solitary majesty.


Note: this dissolution of the mind means realizing that primary condition prior to the mind and seperate ego-I sense and not the loss of one’s mental faculties.