The Yoga of Haribhadra Virahāṅka’s Yogabindu

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The Yoga of Haribhadra Virahāṅka’s Yogabindu
By Christopher Miller, PhD

As I was preparing my new graduate seminar on Jain Yoga this year, I had the great opportunity to revisit a number of key Jain yoga texts. One of my favorites is the Yogabindu, likely written in the 6th c. CE, by an author by the name of Haribhadra Virahāṅka. 


Who is Haribhadra?


It is not certain who Haribhadra Virahāṅka was. The hagiographical narrative outlining his eventual adoption of the name Virahāṅka (as opposed to Haribhadra Yākinī Putra, another Jain author of yoga possibly dated by scholars to the 8th c. CE) describes a story of great loss.


As the popular story goes, Haribhadra had two nephews who disguised themselves to study in a Buddhist monastery. Upon being discovered, they were chased, one brother was killed, while the other escaped to tell his uncle Haribhadra the story of what had happened. Following the retelling, Haribhadra’s nephew died of grief, leaving his uncle then to debate the Buddhists. In his anger and grief, Haribhadra won the debate against the Buddhists, and following his victory compelled them to jump to their deaths in a boiling vat of oil. 


Nevertheless, since violence, anger, and grief are unacceptable actions and emotions for a Jain monk, Haribhadra undertook severe austerity in repentance for the evils he had himself committed. Following his austerities, he took the name “Virahāṅka,” coming from the Sanskrit word “viraha” meaning “separation from” to imply that he had been separated from his nephews. 


As the late Paul Dundas pointed out, the name Virahāṅka is significant because the last verse of the Sanskrit text titled Yogabindu ends with reference to “viraha” (cf. Dixit 1968, v. 527). As Dundas also pointed out, this is not necessarily a guarantee that Haribhadra Virahāṅka wrote the Yogabindu (Dundas 2020), though it does provide some supporting evidence that he may have. For this reason, many scholars today ascribe the Yogabindu to Haribhadra “Virahāṅka.”


Haribhadra’s Yogic Inheritance


Haribhadra builds his yoga in the Yogabindu on the foundations of both his Jain tradition as well as with borrowings from other existing yoga traditions, and most specifically that of Patañjali’s well-known Yogasūtra


As I was reading through the text recently, I noted for example how Haribhadra, after describing the attainment of omniscience (kevala) in the Jain spiritual system (guṇasthāna) in verse 420, equates this penultimate Jain stage with Patañjali’s notion of asaṃprajñāta samādhi, a form of meditative absorption:


By others (e.g. Patañjali), this [kevala] is indeed declared “asaṃprajñāta samādhi

asaṃprajñāta eṣo’pi samādhir gīyate paraiḥ (v. 421a)

(my translation)


In the commentary of the Yogasūtra, yoga is defined as “samādhi” (meditative absorption) and, as verse 1.2 indicates, “yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind” (yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ). The term “asaṃprajñāta” is a technical term used by Patañjali in the Yogasūtra to describe the superior of the two primary forms of samādhi (the other being “saṃprajñāta”). Notably, to achieve samādhi, one must restrain or control (nirodha) the fluctuations of the mind (vṛtti) in Patañjali’s text. 


The Tattvārthasūtra (5th c. CE), another text from which Haribhadra is drawing inspiration, will turn Patañjali’s notion of nirodha on its head. Indeed, in Umāsvāti’s canonical and authoritative text, we find that:


Yoga is the action of body, speech, and mind.

kāya-vāk-manaḥ-karma yogaḥ (6.1)


It (yoga) is the inflow of karma.

sa āsravaḥ (6.2)


Saṃvara is the restraint of yoga, the inflow of karma.

āsrava-nirodhaḥ saṃvaraḥ (9.1)

(my translation)


As we can see here, yoga is a term used in this classical Jain text in a pejorative sense to denote physical, verbal, and mental action (karman) that attracts the inflow of karma (āsrava). This “yoga” is precisely the process which ancient Jain texts had sought to restrain and eliminate (nirodha) through the various practices under the umbrella of saṃvara, which literally translates as “stopping” – i.e., stopping yoga, the inflow of karma, a process which required great restraint (saṃyama). 


And while Patañjali had himself used the term saṃyama to indicate the increasingly deeper dimensions of concentration (dhāraṇa), meditation (dhyāna), and meditative absorption (samādhi), we can see that the Jains, both before and in Umāsvāti’s text here, are using the term saṃyama as restraint to denote the embodiment of proper ethical conduct that will eliminate karma caused by “yoga”.


Umāsvāti is thus taking the term nirodha (restraint, control)which Patañjali had used to define his yoga, and instead uses it to say we need to stop yoga (conceived by him as action altogether). Umāsvāti is also using the Jain term saṃyama not to indicate the three practices leading to samādhi, but instead to indicate control of yoga, which is the activity of body, mind, and speech.


5-fold yoga of the Yogabindu


With this in mind, we can see how Haribhadra makes an interesting move in the Yogabindu, literally turning the ancient and classical meaning of the term “yoga” in the Jain tradition on its head. Now, for the first time, he instead uses “yoga” to denote a 5-fold spiritual path leading to liberation, rather than action we should avoid. He writes:


adhyātmam (self-reflection), bhāvanā (the act of cultivation), dhyāna (meditation), samatā (equanimity),and vṛtti-saṃkṣaya (destruction of the turnings of the mind) are yoga on account of being connected with liberation, wherein the last here (i.e., vṛtti-saṃkṣaya) is superior.


adhyātmaṃ bhāvanā dhyānaṃ samatā vṛttisaṃkṣayaḥ 

mokṣeṇa yojanād yoga eṣa 'śreṣṭho yathottaram (31)

(my translation)


According to Haribhadra, adhyātma “produces a destruction of the evil karmas, a high capacity to persevere, a concentration of the mind, a permanent enlightenment…,” while bhāvanā is merely “the daily progressing repeated observance of the adhyātma itself, an observance which on account of being repeated again and again has come to be accompanied by a concentration of mind.”  Moving on, dhyāna is “the state of mind whose sole object are the things auspicious, which is comparable to an unwavering flame of a lamp, which is accompanied by a subtle, penetrative thinking” while samatā denotes “the sense of equality developed as a result of avoiding [or: as a result of giving up] – with the help of right comprehension – those things in relation to which one had come to harbour a feeling of intense like and dislike owing to the machination of nescience.” Finally, vṛtti-saṃkṣayaḥ is the “cessation – brought about in various ways – of the mental states which are due to (a soul’s) connection with a foreign element (viz. body or manas), a cessation that will never be followed by a re-production of these states” (Dixit 1968, v. 359, 360, 362, 364, and 366).


While maintaining a commitment to dealing with the mind’s fluctuations (vṛtti) to achieve liberation, Haribhadra adds stronger language, using the word “saṃkṣaya,” which can also be translated as “destruction,” to describe what the final stage of yoga looks like. In doing so, he maintains a commitment to the Jain soteriological path described in earlier texts such as the Tattvārthasūtra while incorporating the well-known language used by Patañjali and other yoga traditions.


Haribhadra’s strategy here to make yoga a spiritual path rather than something to be avoided makes sense: Sanskrit texts describing yoga had already been written describing yoga as a path to liberation as Haribhadra does in the Yogabindu, and he was clearly adapting to his philosophical milieu, though without sacrificing his Jain soteriological path to liberation through the elimination of karma. 


Debates with other philosophical systems in the Yogabindu


We can clearly see here that Haribhadra is in dialogue with other religious and philosophical traditions. One particularly interesting strategy he uses is with regards to the Jain concept of anekāntavāda, or “non-onesidedness,” a philosophical tool traditionally used for both accepting but also subordinating other traditions to one’s own (cf. Cort 2000). Today, anekāntavāda has become popularly known as “intellectual ahiṃsā” (intellectual nonviolence), wherein one accepts the views of others without having to sacrifice one’s own.


Following John Cort’s insights, we can see that the contents of the Yogabindu both reinforce, but also significantly challenge, the popular contemporary notion of “intellectual ahiṃsā” (Cort 2000). As Dundas notes, the text is in many ways irenic, allowing space for other philosophical and religious worldviews. But as other parts of the Yogabindu clearly indicate, Haribhadra’s conciliatory approach would only go so far.


For example, we find that there are three levels of yoga practitioner. The first and lowest level belongs to the apunarbandhaka, which contains very broadly speaking those who do not want to be born again into the realm of bondage. Next, the second level, samyag-dṛṣti, is occupied by those who have a correct, non-deluded view of the world placing them at the fourth of fourteen total steps (guṇasthāna) toward liberation. Significantly, Haribhadra assigns Buddhist Bodhisattvas to this modest level, while reserving the highest levels beyond it which lead to full liberation for the cāritrin (pathgoer), a third path tread by Jains alone. 


In these and other ways, Haribhadra’s approach to other religions is both conciliatory and respectful as well as subordinating. He accepts other paths as valid to a certain degree, without sacrificing the preeminence of his own tradition’s soteriological path.




Haribhadra Virahāṅka provided a unique and novel Jain yoga system that both changed but also retained particular commitments to the Jain tradition. Yoga was used, for the first time, to denote a spiritual path capable of eliminating karma, rather than just the mere “action” or “vibration” that causes karma to inflow (āsrava) as found in previous ancient and classical Jain philosophy. 


In reformulating the term yoga in this way, Haribhadra Virahāṅka performed an inversion of sorts, though of the philosophical, rather than physical type that we are probably accustomed to encountering in contemporary forms of yoga. Most importantly, he did so without losing sight of the Jain path to liberation, which remained intact in the Yogabindu despite his innovations.


Are you interested in learning more about the Jain Yoga tradition? If so, you can complete a concentration in Yoga Studies with special focus on the Jain Yoga tradition in our Engaged Jain Studies graduate program with top scholars in the field from around the world. 





Cort, J. E. 2000. “‘Intellectual Ahiṃsā’ Revisited: Jain Tolerance and Intolerance of Others.” Philosophy East and West, 50 (3): 324–347. 


Dixit, K.K., translator. 1968.The Yogabindu of Ācārya Haribhadrasūri. Ahmedabad: Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Bharatiya Sanskriti Vidyamandir.


Dundas, Paul. 2020. “Haribhadra”. In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Jainism. Cort, John E., Paul Dundas, Knut A. Jacobsen, and Kristi L. Wiley, editors. Leiden: Brill.


Christopher Jain Miller, the co-founder and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Arihanta Institute, completed his PhD in the study of Religion at the University of California, Davis. His current research focuses on Modern Yoga and Engaged Jainism. Christopher is the author of a number of articles and book chapters concerned with Jainism and the practice of modern yoga.


In addition to the MA-Engaged Jain Studies graduate program, Professor Miller teaches several self-paced, online courses at Arihanta Institute, including: