What is the first occurrence in Pāli Buddhism of the term "yoga"?

As the title of the thread says, I’d like to know in which text of Pāli Buddhism there is the first use of the term “yoga” to denote certain meditative techniques. According to my knowledge, the most ancient occurrence of the term is contained in the Milindapañha. Is there a previous use?

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Yoga is a term used both positively & negatively in the earliest texts (suttas):

That’s why you should practice meditation to understand: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.”

Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, ‘idaṁ dukkhan’ti yogo karaṇīyo, ‘ayaṁ dukkhasamudayo’ti yogo karaṇīyo, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodho’ti yogo karaṇīyo, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti yogo karaṇīyo”ti.

SN 56.1

[Alternate translation] Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the origin of suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the cessation of suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

[Alternate translation] Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.’

“Mendicants, there are these four attachments.

“Cattārome, bhikkhave, yogā.

What four?

Katame cattāro?

The attachment to sensual pleasures, future lives, views, and ignorance.

Kāmayogo, bhavayogo, diṭṭhiyogo avijjāyogo—

These are the four attachments.

ime kho, bhikkhave, cattāro yogā.

The noble eightfold path should be developed for the direct knowledge, complete understanding, finishing, and giving up of these four attachments.”

Imesaṁ kho, bhikkhave, catunnaṁ yogānaṁ abhiññāya pariññāya parikkhayāya pahānāya …pe… ayaṁ ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo bhāvetabbo”ti.

SN 45.172

In fact, the term ‘yoga’ is found in the Buddha’s 1st Sermon:

“Mendicants, these two extremes should not be cultivated by one who has gone forth.

“Dveme, bhikkhave, antā pabbajitena na sevitabbā.

What two?

Katame dve?

Indulgence in [devotion to] sensual pleasures, which is low, crude, ordinary, ignoble, and pointless. And indulgence in [devotion to] self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and pointless.

Yo cāyaṁ kāmesu kāmasukhallikānuyogo hīno gammo pothujjaniko anariyo anatthasaṁhito, yo cāyaṁ attakilamathānuyogo dukkho anariyo anatthasaṁhito.

SN 56.11

New Concise Pali English Dictionary


  1. connection; bond; endeavor; conjunction; attachment; effort; mixture




In general simple equivalence cannot be assumed between Hindu and Theravada techniques. The Buddha used Hindu terms that people were familiar with as a pedagogic strategy, but altered their function to a new system. ‘Yoga’ in Buddhism means yokes, referring to the asavas. In practice they are classified as ten fetters. Majhima Nikaya 2 shows the means by which these corruptions are overcome:

“He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at precepts & practices. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by seeing.”


@CurlyCarl Thank you! But in these suttas the term “yoga” doesn’t have the technical meaning of meditation in the sense of samatha or vipassanā, such as in the Visuddhimagga. I think that the term used stricto sensu is posterior. What do you think?

I recommend reading this encyclopedia entry by B. Analayo on ‘Yoga’:

Occurrences of the term yoga in the early discourses fall into these two main categories, where yoga either assumes a positive sense as an application to something that should be undertaken, or else carries a negative sense as a form of bondage that needs to be overcome.


This is very helpful and clarifier, thanks!

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