Defining yoga depends entirely on the context in which the word “yoga” is used.
Modern western discourse (outside some pockets of the academy) is mostly not about thinking at all-its about control and commodification- modern “yoga” is trying to make up for the fact that this is becoming, by any historical standard, a declining society that is pathologically sick and dishonest and in which most human effort is wasted.
Conversation on May 24, 2015
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik Friends, a parallel discussion occurred on the same article when I posted it on my own page. I would like to cross-post something that I feel contributes to the discussion here.
—–My teacher emphasized an an aspect of Modern Postural Yoga’s history that I feel might contribute to Baba Rampuri’s point about the ‘weaponization’ of culture: He taught us that Krishnamacharya was part of a Nationalist movement that sought to revive traditional practices indigenous to India. These nationalists took up the term Hindu and Hinduism to help unite people behind the cause. This completely aligns with the point Baba made on my page of MPY arising from Hinduism. I have read that part of the point of the patronage Krishnamacharya received in Mysore was to teach as many young boys as possible. To this end, he simplified the practice and taught large groups of students in a single class.
—–According to my teacher, this is very different from the traditional relationship of one guru and a few carefully vetted disciples. According to another teacher, my Jyotish instructor, transmission cannot happen without Sangama: right time, right teacher, right student, right teaching. So why did Krishnamacharya dispense with the traditional model? I think we agree that Krishnamacharya was brilliant and well-informed, so it must have been a conscious decision. It seems to me that he was doing exactly what Baba deplored in the other thread: weaponizing culture. He was fighting the cultural influence of British colonial rule with a weaponized form of Yoga Asana practice.
—–The warning given to us was that Modern Postural Yoga, disseminated in classrooms to random groups of people by poorly-trained instructors, is a massive global experiment. Millions are practicing, but how many are becoming self-realized? It remains to be seen if it functions as a an enlightenment path.
Pankaj Seth It seems to me that MPY is a Trojan horse for the Dharma, which will uproot monotheism and materialism. The current default epistemic orientation of Positivism will give way to Dharmic Epistemology where Vigyana (science/causality, psychology, historicity) will be shown its place, alongside Gyana which is the goal of Citta Vritti Nirodha. It seems that we must watch as the West slowly moves towards understanding the Dharma on its own terms, as its 19th century epistemology and worldview continues to unravel. Messy, transitional time…
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik I hope so! At least one of the scholars I have discussed this with, Eric Shaw, agrees with you. Oh, and the fundamentalist Christians here in America who are banning their flocks from practicing Yoga totally agree. http://praisemoves.com/…/yoga-banned-from-public-schools/
Yoga Banned from Public Schools? | PraiseMoves Laurette Willis is a Christian fitness expert and…
Pankaj Seth She’s concerned about this getting out!!! — if she knows… LOL:
Pankaj Seth What is Christmas?
The pre-Christian Indo-European world had a festival which in the Christian era became known as Christmas. Prior to this imperialistic, forced changeover, this was a day to greet the Sun, a Surya Namaskar. The Festival honoured Sol Invictus Mithras, the Invincible Sun called Mithras. Mithras is from the Persian and goes back to the Rg Veda’s Mitra, which is a solar deity with many names including Indra, another name for the solar deity in the Rg Veda.
Indra is also the dragon slayer in the Rg Veda and this motif is also commonly present in pre-Christian Indo-European cultures. There are two days when the Sun’s course in the sky marks a unique point in its trajectory, around June 21 and Dec 23 (the summer and winter solstices). June 21 is now International Yoga Day and Dec 23 was once something similar.
Surya Namaskar refers to the Sun in the sky and the great light arisen within in enlightenment. What is seen outside via the senses, the sun, moon, stars and earth also have inner equivalences, seen as oneself.
Baba Rampuri Pankaj Seth – I love your optimism. I wish I could share it.
Pankaj Seth Baba, we need your energy, along with your knowledge and wisdom. For some of us, that is very important as to whether or not we do something. Pranams.
John Weddepohl Pankaj Seth – I would change that last ‘seen for oneself via Yoga’ in your linked post to ‘seen as ones Self’ not via Yoga but as a result of a teacher and teaching. प्रमाण pramana
Baba Rampuri Thank you, Pankaj Seth. I do believe we live in very dangerous times, and the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. BUT, I’m a secret optimist, and I believe if we reach into our own Speech, and our own cultures and collectives, we have a lot to work with. So if I can do my little bit to shake people up a bit, and get them thinking out of their boxes, I feel rewarded.
Pankaj Seth Thank you John. I will make that change. That is accurate, but missed in my current wording.
Pankaj Seth Thank you Baba Rampuri. I will with your blessings soon place this film in the mix… http://somatheyogicquest.com/SOMA_The_Yogic_Quest.html
Baba Rampuri I send you love, light, and blessings, Pankaj.
Pankaj Seth With folded hands… thank you very, very much!!!
Mary Hicks Ekabhumi, Just curious. Who is the unnamed individual that you identify as your teacher? It’s pertinent because you cite him/her as an expert in the subject area.
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik Mary: my apologies – the guru who initiated me says he does not want to be a ‘public guru’ for the time being. I am happy to answer in a private message.
Mavis Gewant Dwain Dolan this is an interesting discussion!
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik Christopher Wallis: I think you might enjoy this discussion. Or Christopher Hareesh Wallis
Todd Daniels I am much more skeptical… it seems everywhere one looks people are getting more superficial and dumber….I am the most hated guy on one of the facebook yoga teacher pages because I try to bring about conversations of this quality… I have also been known to call people on their bullshit.. MPY as it stands seems to be the blind leading the blind and they don’t actually want to see.. it’s safer to be blind than to have sight.
Todd Daniels I wrote this one the yoga teachers page in response to a talk about yoga therapy and yoga practice and the difference …..I have a teacher who looked at the yoga therapists organizations publications and looked me right in the eye and said “ what has anything in here got to do with yoga” he then said that all the results they were claiming were due to yoga practice could be achieved by any well planned exercise therapist , including stretching…or swimming…so then, he asked what is yoga? I do see the value in the training for sure but it is just more of what has been called the medicalization of a former spiritual practice..this medicalization began in india with some very famous people and has progressed from there. While again I do see some value in this as I do love science, is it yoga?
Christopher Wallis I really cannot bear to debate this in the context of the Facebook thread. But I will say that I felt profoundly uncomfortable reading Vik Zutshi’s piece, in which he speaks as if he is handing down gospel truth to the unenlightened masses, when in actual fact he is not a professional scholar of the tradition that he claims to represent (mostly by right of birth). From a scholarly point of view, the article is simply filled with errors but evinces none of the corresponding humility that one would like to see from a non-scholar. Vik knows how it is and he’s telling you how it is. But in fact it would take me a good solid half hour of speaking (at least) to explain the historical errors that he makes and why his critique of popular yoga culture has no sound basis, although I am personally emotionally sympathetic to such critiques. What Western yogis are bastardizing never was really very Indian in the first place, it was a product of globalization, as @Mark Singleton and others have ably shown. As a professional scholar of premodern yoga, I don’t share Vik’s concerns because most of the practices of original yoga are not even in evidence in the American marketplace. (Only “Kundalini Yoga” gets my goat.) lastly, to my disappointment, Vik reduces the category of yoga to Pātanjala Yoga, ignoring the incredible diversity of Tantric/Agamic forms that nuance the picture of things so completely that one is forced to realize that one can hardly point to any given form and say “this is the real yoga”. At this point I have no real sympathy with claims to exclusive authenticity with regard to a constantly reinvented incredibly fluid tradition like yoga. Jason Schwartz might have further comments on this point…?
Pankaj Seth Christopher, the use of the term ‘yoga’ for what is anything and everything in form and aims is the problem.
Christopher Wallis Well, the Indian tradition did that first.
Pankaj Seth The Indian tradition has kept within certain bounds, for example never forwarding Yoga within/as the context of Materialism. I had a discussion with Matthew Remski where he said that since many interpretations were present within the Indian tradition, this meant that any and every sort of interpretation was therefore valid. This is standard Post Modernist claptrap which our modern era is steeped in. One needs to define the bounds within which various point of views exist, and beyond which they never go. Then one can go ahead and see if in the modern era these boundaries are breached. Surely ‘RockStarYoga’, Vik Zutshi’s example and its likes cannot be said to be valid interpretations of Yoga.
Towards Defining Yoga
Christopher Wallis Well, the word “yoga” is being used in English to denote activities (such as RockStarYoga, say) that are not bastardizations, because they simply have NOTHING to do with the Sanskrit word Yoga, and therefore they need not be addressed, Pankaj.
Christopher Wallis Here’s my definition:
“YOGA means joining oneself (yoga) firmly to a spiritual discipline (yoga), the central element of which is the process (yoga) of achieving integration (yoga) and full connection (yoga) to reality, primarily through scripturally prescribed exercises (yoga) characterized by the meta-principle of repeatedly bringing together all the energies of the body, mind, and senses in a single flow while maintaining tranquil focused presence (yukta).”
Pankaj Seth But Christopher, why should they not be addressed? They are now being called ‘Yoga’. If they are not called out for misuse, appropriation of the term ‘Yoga’, then the meaning of the word in quantitatively substantive usage changes. It is important to address them if the term ‘Yoga’ is to have the kind of relevance that you suggest, and I agree with.
Todd Daniels maybe there could be a better word than yoga then?
Jason Schwartz use dhyāna-
Todd Daniels stretching
Jason Schwartz if yoga is now a branded stretching exercise-use a different word for what actual yogis do-
Christopher Wallis The English word ‘yoga’ has its own life now, governed by socio-cultural forces bigger than any of us. Do you really think that you or I or anyone can stop semantic drift? It’s like trying to control the changing price of gold. But the Sanskrit word योग is unaffected by whatever happens to the English word. Acceptance of reality, people!
Christopher Wallis Abhinavagupta liked bhāvanā, I think that’s better than dhyāna due to broader application.
Pankaj Seth Christopher, it may be that the english word Yoga is a Trojan horse for the Dharma as a whole. Certainly, the modern West which is still trying to get away from its 19th century epistemology and worldview is looking at India. Its too early to call it o…See More
Pankaj Seth Better word: Ayurveda.
John Weddepohl The comment I made on this at the outset when posting this article (see: for yogaphiles) may be of interest Christopher Wallis. If what we are interested in is in fact yoga the use of the word matters little. In the end all yoga and the teachings are a…See More
Christopher Wallis Pankaj, we should talk in person.
Christopher Wallis Kinda too oversimplified for me, John Weddepohl. I agree that reinforcing ahankāra is antithetical to yoga, but would say that ultimately it’s more about TATTVA than ātmā—that way we can include the crucial findings of the Buddhist yogis. it’s about Reality.
John Weddepohl And that reality is? Reality is very simple – the simplest of the simple. We as human beings complicate everything. There being nothing but reality how difficult can it be to understand?
Vik Zutshi Christopher Wallis, the tone of my piece was a social experiment in subverting the role of privilege and entitlement in America, which IMO succeeded admirably. I have commented on it in my original statement above. Please go back and read it. Regarding MPY, you may not be aware that several hundred postures, anticipating so called ‘modern’ hatha yoga (as taught by Krishnamacharya et al) have been unearthed recently in ancient Sanskri texts. This cutting edge work is being done by Jason Birch, Jim Mallinson and ironically Mark Singleton, as we speak. I have corresponded with Singleton via email for a couple of years, and he has conceded to many of the points I made (which is why he agreed to take on the project with Mallinson, to question his own assumptions). I believe a correction is forthcoming. Variegated asanas have always been an integral part of a certain type of ‘yoga’, though not for all aspirants. As you know there is no ‘one-shoe-fits-all’ in yoga. I still maintain the primacy of the oral tradition in indigenous wisdom traditions over documentary ‘evidence’, and this very much applies to physical yoga practice, kriyas, pranyama, bandhas, shatkarmas and so on. We all know the difference between this and Raja yoga, but that is not the issue under discussion here. Christopher I would not be cocksure about being the sole repository of academic ‘truth’ in Indic traditions, just because you have a degree from Berkeley,as only a small portion of the Sanskrit corpus has been translated (you noted this yourself). Lastly, Frawley and Eliade are by no means ‘frauds’. They may not be classically educated Sanskrit scholars but they do have very, very interesting things to say, which can only come from the light of genuine insight and first hand experience – always better than dry academic analysis. The same goes for Laxman Joo maharaj. I’ve heard you claim that you ‘grok’ the Vigyan Bhairava Tantra better than Swamiji. Is your understanding superior because Swamiji did not attend UC Berkeley? I’ve also heard you claim that Shaivism is a different ‘religion’ altogether.To a Kashmiri Pandit, like myself, who can trace this lineage back a thousand years in my own family, it sounds patently ridiculous.
Jason Schwartz Vik, you are almost certainly right that haṭhayoga goes back into the early modern period and likely does include things that are older still and part of oral tradition. The Śaiva as a seperate religion, until about the 13th century- if we can even use that word, argument however has a vast amount of documentary evidence in support of it-especially from the side of Brahman scholastic tradition which explicitly treats Śaiva dīkṣā as both falling outside the Veda and serving no human or ritual purpose. Kashmir was eccentric precisely because the Veda arrives in Kashmir extremely late in the history of the culture compared to everyone else, so there was not the type of entrenched anti-theist brahman establishment with institutional power that existed elsewhere on the ground.
Vik Zutshi Jason this was prior to Shankara’s grand unification, if I am not mistaken? He made no bones about his adoration of Siva.. And yes, the word ‘religion’ is very iffy in this context. Baba Rampuri has some interesting things to say about it.
Like · 1 · May 24 at 12:03pm · Edited
Pankaj Seth The word religion cannot be used here, and without that the argument fails. Sectarianism within a grand tradition that shares the same goals? Yes. The height of it was King Harsha (if I remember correctly), but then his son who assumed the throne reversed the sectarianism which had led to vandalism and violence. But we are not talking about warring armies against each other, but rather about debate for the most part.
Pankaj Seth K. Elstt has written on Harsha here… http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/…/harshakashmir.html
Harsha of Kashmir, a Hindu Iconoclast?
Whenever the history of the many thousands of temple destructions by Muslims is discussed, the secularists invariably come up with the claim that Hindus have done much the same thing to Buddhists, Jains and “animists”. In particular, the disappearance of Buddhism from India is frequently explained a…
Baba Rampuri Jason Schwartz, of course, as you acknowledged, the word “religion” in this context is a can of worms, reducing a tradition beyond recognition. But, I am very curious what precisely you mean by “Saiva diksa” and what informs you of the late ‘arrival of the vedas’ in Kashmir. By Brahmin scholastic tradition, are you referring to those who have left manuscripts, or the sort of “greater” tradition?
Christopher Wallis Vik Zutshi, a conversation in person would be more fruitful I think. I know Jason, and Jim Mallinson, and Mark Singleton, and their work, and it is not the case that more than about 100 of the postures of MPY have a premodern origin (so that’s about 100 out of about 600). Of course, that’s a substantial number, but the point is less quantitative than qualitative — when those 100-odd postures were made the basis of MPY, their whole context and purpose was radically altered. MPY, in Krishnamacharya’s hands, was already a completely globalised cultural phenomenon, as European as it was Indian. I’m sure Jim and Mark would agree. If we look back more than 500 years, āsanas simply had very little significance in any version of yoga; the many many yoga manuals found in the Tantrik tradition never give more than a few verses attention to them. Here you invoke the oral tradition, and that’s where I cringe because it’s obviously an argument resorted to by someone who doesn’t read Sanskrit fluently — because you see the Indian tradition was always incredibly textual, and innovations in practice always had to be legitimated by the composition of a scripture or śāstra documenting them. It’s not for nothing that vyākarana is always the first of sciences, the prerequisite to all others! So any significant innovations not attested in the textual record are recent ones. (This is NOT a critique of oral transmission per se, which has been hugely important in my own spiritual life.) What I’m saying is common knowledge in the professional scholarly community. It’s ironic that you describe me as ‘cocksure’, having assumed such an authoritive stance in your article without the adhikāra of having fluent Sanskrit, which is the primary adhikāra required to represent a tradition with a massive literary output in that language, of which only a small portion is translated, and mostly poorly.
My degrees from Berkeley mean nothing in and of themselves. It’s reading widely and deeply in the original language that grants adhikāra. Saying I (sometimes) get the Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra better than Lakshman Joo is not exalting myself overmuch, since he frequently made mistakes (but due to be the “last living guru” of the Trika he has been exalted to near god-like status and wrongly considered infallible). Someone can give powerful shaktipāt transmission and still not translate Sanskrit well — they are just totally different things. But only my colleagues can judge whether my readings of the VBT verses are better than LJ’s, since only they have the adhikāra. I’m being blunt here.
As for Shaivism being a different religion, that all depends on one’s definition of religion. To put it briefly, before the Muslim conquests, Shaivas and Vaishnavas did not see each other as belonging to the same religious tradition, and certainly Vaidika brahmins did not see Shaivas as being part of their tradition — they called the Shaivas “Vedabahya” or “outside the Veda”, unless the Shaivas in question upheld the varṇāśramadharma and the brahminical deśācāra as well. I can provide proof of all this.
The only way to know your own history in correct perspective is to read a LOT — because only wide reading shows you what the general trends are (were) and what are the exceptions to the rule. And for that you need Sanskrit. QED.
I only bother replying at length because I do respect you, Vik. You’re a smart guy. But none of this will be resolved in this forum.
Christopher Wallis Baba Rampuri, the questions you ask above would be most fully answered by reading the first 100 pages of my dissertation, if you have time for that.
Christopher Wallis I’ve put the first three pages of my dissertation into a Note and posted it on my page—these pages provide ample evidence of why it’s correct to consider Shaivism as a religion largely separate from Brahmanism in the pre-Muslim period. Baba Rampuri, Vik Zutshi, Pankaj Seth. I’m not allergic to the word ‘religion’ and not sure why some of y’all are. Spirituality grows out of, and almost never separates from, religious traditions.
Jason Schwartz This may be “common knowledge” but it is wrong. -“Here you invoke the oral tradition, and that’s where I cringe because it’s obviously an argument resorted to by someone who doesn’t read Sanskrit fluently — because you see the Indian tradition was always incredibly textual, and innovations in practice always had to be legitimated by the composition of a scripture or śāstra documenting them. It’s not for nothing that vyākarana is always the first of sciences, the prerequisite to all others! So any significant innovations not attested in the textual record are recent ones. “-Two examples will suggest this is not actually how śāstris let alone other people thought. One is from Mīmāṃsā, from where it is transferred into law-from Śabara onward having a prefabricated standard set of precedents for what you do in x situation with a ritual was actively rejected-the reason being that each individual case or instance was seen of as throughly unique and demanding it’s own complete adjudiciation through a careful application of a set of rules that were to be tested each time against the features of this discrete issue. When this idea is transferred into the realm of law, the focus is not on any given rule-but rather the embodied critical intelligence of the figures trying the case and their ability to think skillfully within the system-legal texts basically serve as providing dictums for structuring thought. 2-in the realm of law, dharmaśāstra (ie written texts) is subordinated to two things which have greater authority- actual critical legal judgement in a court-and, most importantly, ācāra -as early as Āpastamba within a single community ācāra always takes precedence- ācāra is only roughly entextualized-and then mostly only in terms of issues where the state may be called in to resolve a dispute between two or more communities governed by different rules. succinctly, if your community owned the land they were based on, or wandered about on the margins, nobody interfered in your affairs and the community governed itself according to its own norms.
Christopher Wallis WHOA, yeah, I totally should have clarified that I greatly respect oral transmission, and it is a key part of my spiritual life. But the examples you give, Jason, don’t invalidate my main point—that the yoga tradition, especially in the context of the Tantrik period, was very textually productive and we have a massive body of textual evidence that bears all the hallmarks of rapid and frequent textualisation of innovations in practice. Thus my point is that when people claim a centuries- or millenia-old oral transmission with no textual counterpart, they are simply seeking legitimation for what are usually recent innovations.
Christopher Wallis In other words, Jason, it is definitely true that the words of the guru are usually seen as more authoritative than text—indeed, they are that which gives scripture its life—but that doesn’t invalidate my point above. It’s a different point.
Baba Rampuri Christopher, your point, “when people claim a centuries- or millenia-old oral transmission with no textual counterpart, they are simply seeking legitimation for what are usually recent innovations…” is very valid, and “textual counterpart” is necessarily a vital component, at least in the lineages of my order. In Oral Tradition, Sastra is continually invoked in all the various issues of practice, ritual, even ordinary conversation. Any stand one may take must in some way be justified with an application of Sastra. What distinction are you making between oral texts and written texts? It’s certainly not an issue of vyakarana, as vyakarana and its implications is always a substantial component of debate in Oral Tradition. The Academy must privilege the written text as there is really little else to go on for the researcher. But, I think you might agree that the vast amount intellectual activity and its resulting intellectual capital, the thinking, practices, etc., were primarily oral until fairly recently. Since you are also involved with an oral tradition how do you compensate for the privileging of the written text?
Vik Zutshi Thanks Christopher Wallis Ji. I appreciate your thoughtful reply and look forward to meeting you. No doubt we live in very interesting times! Your field of study has always been deeply fascinating to me, though I’m far from being a Sanskritist. I’m sending you an article I wrote on the subject which may explain my position a little more clearly. I’m still not convinced about the use of ‘religion’ in the above context, but you have made excellent points in your dissertation and there is much food for thought there. I maintain that there is a numinous quality and timelessness to postural yoga, like Tai Chi, Qi Gong and the martial arts. I believe we will all find out a lot more about this as time goes by. Maybe I’ll get around to attending one of your retreats someday. I want to discuss the translation project with you at the right time, with the right confluence of energies. Pranaam.
Christopher Wallis What a wonderful reply Vik! I’m impressed that you can receive critical reflection and not take it personally! My heart warms toward you. The disagreements are intellectual, we both love the tradition.
Eveline Kaner Oh my God John Weddepohl you have just verbalised everything that my teacher led me to accept and that I practice as Yoga – for 46 years – I thank you form my heart – this pupil (me) was again ready this morning to find her teacher(you) as I physically had to say farewell to me SA teacher. Thank you John – I salute you with love – Shakespeare wrote – a rose by any other name will smell as sweet – so yoga by any name can be practiced and or bastardised but yoga will always be the rose with the smell of a rose (I’m not putting this very eloquently – until we are in our self (ATMA )we use physical movements or asanas to still and focus our minds so that we may find an infinitesimal peace and enlightenment within ourselves to bring forth the indefinable “goodness/wholeness/love/compassion” that is in us. The concentration of holding the pose and concentrating on the hold focuses the mind on our body and if we lose the focus we lose the pose – neither is bad or good – it is just a practice (as the word describes practice – not perfection) and after a long time of focus on practice you may feel peaceful enough to move you mind inwards…..if Yoga has not spirit it is just an practice of the muscles of the body – call it what you will – but the Yoga I practice cannot exist in my life without the spirit and essence of Yoga meditation and teaching- and the older I get the more the spirit fills me body and soul and the practice helps me to carry my body through this life in the healthiest way it can. Thank you for You – the goodness in me salutes the goodness that is you. xx (PS have a drink for remembering Giaco while in Italy)
Christopher Wallis (Of course having said all that, if some of the authentic practices of my own lineage were to get out there and get bastardized, I would doubtless be at least as upset by it as Vik is, even if he’s wrong to believe as he does that modern postural yoga is a distortion of an ancient tradition. So, in all fairness, I have to say that I can’t escape personal bias in this matter…)
Todd Daniels what is your personal lineage?
Christopher Wallis Trika and Krama branches of Tantric Shaivism.
Christopher Wallis Which is why my eyes bugged out in horror when Vik put names like Paul Muller and Ravi Svoboda next to David Frawley and Mircea Eliade. No discerning scholar-practitioner would group them together as equally meriting praise (in this context).
Jason Schwartz Since I’ve been warmly invited here, first let me say that it is a honor to share a thread with Baba Rampuri for whom I have the deepest respect. In one fashion or another, if we accept that children meditate, I’ve been meditating, visualizing and doing devotional practices for roughly thirty years. Throughout all of my adult life I have spent a good portion of virtually every day, reading, and thinking with and about sanskrit sources, editions manuscripts and the like, many of them dealing with yoga and tantra, but also things like dharmaśāstra and its subcommentaries and the textbooks used to train kings. After all this study, I am not sure I really know” what I am talking” about, but for what it is worth the sense I have is that if yoga is about any one thing, there is something of a consensus that it is about disciplining a mind that is perceived to be just a slightly more subtle extension of the physical body. Should the mind be snuffed out like a candle in a windless place? Should we just retract it into our being a turtle pulling in its limbs? Should we feed it to powerful beings? Should we make it stop? Should we make it flow? Should we sever its connection with our physicality-master the body enroute to attaining mental clarity-or, expand its scope so that we see through the eyes of all living beings? Should we merge it in mantras? Should we blur it out with hashish? Still the mind slow the breath? Slow the breath still the mind? Experts differ, as they do even more so when it comes to how we should explain the relationship between yoga and “learned discourse-the tools smart people use in making sense of their world and justifying their place in it.” Where everyone basically seems to agree however is that, before you can accomplish much of anything, one has to start with disciplining the mind. This attitude interfaces with a more general notion that runs across most of Sanskrit technical literature which assumes that people who do not know how to control their emotions and use their mind to make conscious choices in the service of learning a skill or achieving a goal are little better than animals or children. Very little of what passes for Yoga in this country is remotely invested in doing this kind of work. For good reasons, because extremely, disciplined adults who make conscious choices in deliberate alignment with actualizing their values, and have no need to fill a gaping whole in their being with commodities, and lack the insecurities, neurosis, self doubt and need to prove themselves that are part and parcel to advancing through a corporate hierarchy are the exact opposite of the sort of people our society aims to manufacture.
Pankaj Seth Without Samadhi as aim, disciplining the mind cannot be called Yoga (of course, anything be called yoga but that does not make it so). The aim is quite clearly stated, but your description makes it sound like psychotherapy. And the mind being an extension of the body is a form of Materialism, which is not entertained in the Dharma. You have removed all important planks here and I cannot understand why.
Jason Schwartz for Sāṅkhyā, for Vaiśeṣīka, for Vedānta-heck even in the early Upaniṣads-, for the Śaivāgamas, citta, manas, buddhi, are a kind of stuff- a substance-the mind and emotional body are treated as constructed things produced by the interface of forces, operating at slightly subtler level than that which makes the body, even if the witnessing agent is something different. That is the idea of pañcakośa or Kañcukas- most of what you think makes you “you” is the emergent phenomena of a range of forces interfacing with each other-and there is no need to identify with that. This is not “materialism,” though that was also quite popular in India, especially among Mīmāṃsakas and Cārvakas.
Pankaj Seth You said earlier that the mind is an extension of the body. That is why I said Materialism. Now what you’ve written is different. You’ve now made the distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘the witnessing agent’ and that is not Materialism as you’ve stated things now.
Jason Schwartz Pankaj, Yogis, and people, used Yoga in India for all different reasons- and they became yogis for all different reasons-there is a wonderful section in the Mataṅgapārameśvara, which overlaps quite a bit with what we find in the Yogācārabhūmi of the Buddhist vijñānavādins, and when it goes to give a list of “why do people become yogis or renounced the world” it rather non-judgementally includes such things as, bad inlaws, grief at the death of a child, seeking to cure an illness through learning yogic bodily practices, making the body limber and beautiful, not having an inheritance, wanting a community, and so on and so forth- seeking samādhi and liberation from saṁsāra, even in the 6th-7th century, was a deeply respected but somewhat atypical aim. Textually speaking, something like a ṣaḍaṅga yoga, where the breath is used to still the mind because, so the texts argue, the subtle breaths are in fact the lifeforce that make up and arrange our thoughts is probably the “mainstream” of yoga for much of its history. I think White has gone a bit far in deflating Patañjali, but only as a matter of degree and not in terms of the core claim (though practice traditions filtered through Vedānta seem to be hugely important to Sringeri and some other such orders well into the 20th century)
Jason Schwartz the mind and the witnessing agent are not the same thing-I think for every tradition I can think of-incidentally, they weren’t in the commentarial tradition in the west on Aristotle either
Pankaj Seth Jason, but now they are the same in the modern West’s imagination. And this is one thing the West can unlearn by looking at India and its happening. The modern West has got to bust out of the Newtonian worldview, which comes nowadays with Materialism and a matching epistemology called Positivism. Today, the West is moving away from this, and towards India.
Jason Schwartz modern western discourse (outside some pockets of the academy) is mostly not about thinking at all-its about control and commodification- modern “yoga” is trying to make up for the fact that this is becoming, by any historical standard, a declining society that is pathologically sick and dishonest and in which most human effort is wasted.
Pankaj Seth Too reductive for me Jason. There has been a lot of intellectual effort to preserve Materialism in Western academia. But I think its mostly been to ward off Monotheism, but as scientists and philosophers make a distinction between religion and dharma, they are warming up to the Dharma.
Jason Schwartz we were healthier when we were positivist and newtonian-even if such models have major limits-what neoliberalism is creating is a total fantasy epistemology founded upon the active denial of empirical reality in favor of a vision of centerless world constituted out of flows of capital-complete with assumptions about the complete malleability of the human body psyche and nervous system-which like every institution has to constantly market and reinvent itself in response to waves of creative destruction-it is a bunch of gnostic dangerous nonsense produced by group think in which concrete material referents and constraints are simply ignored
Pankaj Seth When Newtonianism and Positivism rule, there is no sighting of Moksha, and that is not good. I am happy to add neoliberalism and its economic models to that list though.
Jason Schwartz when people are being trained not to focus on anything but to flit from stimulus to unfulfilling stimulus, and when they live in a state of heightened anxiety because their job could disappear at any moment, and when the mere act of working entails following a script under surveillance or getting fired-you get human beings who can’t concentrate or center themselves or experience much joy-to say nothing of people who are hardwired to not be any good at meditating or engaging in real inquiry.
Pankaj Seth Due to Materialism and Positivism, there is ‘me’ in a tiny now… this is not conducive to calm reflection. Being in an unknowing/delusion which results in me, me me is part of the problem. The Dharma is the cure for what ails the modern West. The Dharma does not specifically comment on economic models definitively as far as I know, though Yogis do live communally, but the majority of the people do not. So I think the Dharma can be useful against Materialism, Positivism (and Monotheism), three things that blind individuals and who then poison the world.
Jason Schwartz traditional Hindu thinking about property law and responsibility is basically fundamentally in conflict with modern post-capitalism- go read Chandrasekhara Bharati decrying the very idea of making profit in business as undharmic if you have any doubts
Pankaj Seth I am not surprised to hear that, though I did not know that. The other thing that is powerful about the Dharma is the sacralization of Nature, Geography due to its Seers having the foresight to protect these in the best way possible. Thank goodness that this still exists in India and will probably help a lot with environmental issues. But in the modern era, mountains, rivers etc are named after businessmen and generals, and this can only lead to their destruction compared to when they are sacralized. I love this aspect of the Indian civilization.—Edited to add: I wonder if people had Yatras to go to to fill their ‘spiritual’ needs if they would take so many selfies while leaning over the Grand canyon so much. I do feel that more than the Yoga Sutra, people need the Ramayana. The YS should be left to those who are serious about Moksha. But things are not that way yet. But with kirtans etc. and Yatras to India becoming more popular, we may be seeing the movement from people associating with the word ‘yoga’ to the word ‘dharma’. That will help, but staying with Yoga for the avg. person is unrealistic, and thus unsustainable. Let’s see what happens…
Baba Rampuri Jason Schwartz, thank you for taking this conversation where it should be going. This is articulate and relevant. I am so relieved that there are serious people out there thinking & speaking about these things with a sense of discipline and vision.
Jason Schwartz an honor sir- i will respond to the rest of your inquiries later-have a family to attend to (my three year old is showing me that it is wet outside)
Jason Schwartz so-one quick piece of evidence-albeit highly technical that shows just what a learned Brahman legalist circa 1100 thought about the category Śaiva (suggestions to this rough translation are most welcome) nanu ca yathaiva niyatān kāṁścid adhikṛtya vedādiśāstraṁ pravṛttaṃ, tathaiva jātimataḥ śaivādīn prati śaivādiśāstram astu / na /
neṣakādiḥ śmaśānānto mantrair yasyodito vidhiḥ
tasya śāstre’dhikāro’smiñ jñeyo nānasya kasyacit//
ityādinā manvādibhiḥ svaśāstreṣv adikārasya dvijānām eva pradarśitatvān na śaivādiśastre śaivabrāhmaṇādīnām / astu tarhi śaivādiśāstre śūdro’dhikṛtaḥ / na / smṛtyādiśāstreṣu tathā’nabhyupagamāt / api ca śaivo nāma jātyā na kaścid apy asti yaṃ prati śaivādiśāstraṃ syāt/ api tu “tena proktam” (Pāṇini Sūtra 4.3.101) ityaṇi kṛte śivena proktaṃ śāstraṃ śaivam/ punaś ca śaivaśabdāt “tadadhīte tadveda” (Pāṇini Sūtra 4.2.63) ityutpannasyāṇaḥ “proktāl luk” (Pāṇini Sūtra 4.2.64) iti luki kṛte śaivaṃ vetty adhīte vā śaivaḥ / evaṃ pāśupatādiḥ/ yasmād evaṃ svabhāvato niyatān kāṃścid anāśrityeva śaivādiśāstraṃ pravṛttaṃ tasmāt tadākāśācitram iva prāptam / tathā ca saty anuṣṭḥāne tad dheyam eva /
Now one might object, just as it is the case that the Śāstras and the Vedas operate in regard to some certain limited group of people, the Śaiva Śāstra should be taken in that same way as pertaining to ones having a certain caste. No.
That one of whom the injunction which has arisen, By means of the mantras beginning with the anointing, And ending with the cremation ground, Of him here is eligibility in regard to that śāstra and not of any other.
Thus by this statement and so forth it is shown by Manu and others that only twiceborns are eligible in regard to their own śāstras, and not so for Śaiva Brahmins with regard to the śāstras of the Śaivas and so forth.
Let it be the case then, that, a Śūdra is eligible with regard to the Śaiva and other śāstras. No.
Because this is not understood to be the case with regard to Smṛtis and other śāstras. And moreover, according to Pāṇini’s sūtra (4.3101), by applying the suffix aṇ, “Śaiva” means the śāstra that has been spoken by Śiva. And from the same base word “Śaiva,” one reapplies the suffix aṇ, thus “Śaiva” means “one who studies that [i.e., the śāstra of Śiva.] Then by applying luk (which erases the previous function only in this particular case), one who knows or studies the śaiva śāstra is a “Śaiva.” Thus we have the Pāśupatas and others.
Since, thus the Śaiva śāstra does not by nature refer to a certain delimited group of people, it is obtained like seeing pictures in clouds. That being the case, it is to be abandoned with regard to practice. And furthermore, there is no such thing as a Śaiva by caste towards whom might be addressed a certain Śaiva śāstra.
Jason Schwartz the short version is the, based on the particular way the Vṛddhi is formed, the commentarial tradition treats Śaiva discourse not even as a bad religion-as is the case with its treatment of Buddhism-but as a technical craft that people acclimate themselves to-but where the skills acquired have no value at all because they attempt to do impossible things.
Christopher Wallis Well said Jason. Thank you.
Todd Daniels nice one jason
Todd Daniels jesus, these are good talks. thanks guys
Baba Rampuri Christopher Wallis & Jason Schwartz – thank you for joining this conversation, and breathing fresh air into this. The academy provides a certain discipline to a very complicated discussion like this (not that I am always in agreement with how issues a…See More
Christopher Wallis Well said Baba Rampuri. I would like to meet you. Though it is absolutely true that words like yoga have their meaning only in specific contexts, I attempted to formulate a definition that encompasses as many (scriptural) usages of the word as possible:
“YOGA means joining oneself firmly to a spiritual discipline, the central element of which is the process of achieving integration and full connection to reality, primarily through scripturally prescribed exercises characterized by the meta-principle of repeatedly bringing together all the energies of the body, mind, and senses in a single flow while maintaining tranquil focused presence.”
Hope you like it. My agenda is simply to represent the tradition as accurately as possible, which I found requires spiritual practice, since without it, one’s transparency is insufficient.
Baba Rampuri Christopher, I look forward to our meeting. I understand well what you are writing, because we share similar goals (and probably similar angst). Because of my Western birth and upbringing, and having spent my life in India, I found myself standing on the intersection of worlds. Representation and Agency became two areas of great interest to me because their issues have always stared me in the face. I enjoy your definition, and perhaps one day face to face we may discuss some of the more subtle issues in your definition.
John Weddepohl Baba & Christopher Yoga is simply knowing ones true nature. To join together with reality one needs to know what that reality is. The clouds of our ignorance clutter and cover that which is ever present and ever existing as truth. Does doing more practices reveal more of that reality, give a clearer cleaner picture of reality? Or is it just momentary glimpses? Practices can leave you momentarily with your self or can cloud the truth further. To be with yourself completely you need to know your Self and the truth of what Self is. Beyond definition – attributeless, the seemingly indefinable Self is that which defines everything and that to which everything is attributed. Self alone is. OM
Christopher Wallis John, are you a spiritual teacher? I notice you use an authoritative voice instead of talking about your own experience. Just curious about that. I happen to agree with much of what you say here, but agreement is neither here nor there. “Words a meaningless shuffle” when it comes to knowing the truth beyond mind. However, I would dispute this: that “to join together with reality one needs to know what that reality is”. At a bare minimum, if one simply has the conviction that something must be true, and diligently sets about stripping away all that is false, he will in the end be left with the truth (directly experienced) even without any prior conception of what that might be. This is what I have observed. Orientation to right view is a great thing, but is very rare to find these days in a clear and pure form.
John Weddepohl experiencing nothing but the Reality 24/7 365 – nothing in our experience informs or tells us anything about the nature of what we are experiencing. Nor does our experience tell us anything about the nature of ourselves – the experiencer. So go figure. Yes Christopher I teach what I was taught by my teachers, specifically ATMA GNANAM – self knowledge.
Christopher Wallis What do you say to this proposition: “true self is no self”.
John Weddepohl words. there is only truth. whether you call that truth self or not self for purposes of communication is up to you.
Christopher Wallis Yes, I just wanted to see what you would say, and I’m satisfied enough with that answer. Since there is only truth and self alone is, how do you assess a statement like “I am only this body and nothing more” were you to hear it from a real person or student? Do you call it falsehood for pedagogical reasons? Or how do you assess it?
John Weddepohl it depends on the person asking the question. we shouldn’t disturb a persons perception of reality unless they themselves want the truth and are ready. Then we need to be able to offer the absolute answer answering which there are no longer any questions.
John Weddepohl I agree with Baba Rampuri. However without us does anything have meaning? ‘What informs our search for meaning?’ – Rampuri. I would suggest everything is only meaningful because we are meaningful. Therefore it follows that we are the meaning. Know the meaning of the word ‘I’. Then the search for meaning stops immediately. This is what Patanjali means by ‘Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha’ When all thoughts and their modifications cease to have any meaning. (not because thoughts cease and ideas stop.) Because the thinker is meaningful thoughts and ideas are still meaningful. But once the thinker of the thoughts and ideas is known and understood as THE MEANING itself, i.e. knowing this ‘I’ – then the thoughts and ideas cease to have any more meaning for us. Then – ‘Tada drashtu swaroope avasthanam’ – the seer abides in Self. Reality ‘I’. Yogam. Its not thoughts that die. Thoughts never cease, or die – Its the meaning that dies. Meaning we attach to our thoughts and ideas. This dies because – knowing oneself as the meaning in and through every thought and idea – every belief – everything – you no longer look for, find, or attach meaning to anything anymore – least of all a thought!!! Then at peace and at one. – one is in yogam – SATCHITANANDAM. Ultimately journey, journeyer and destination all one and the same. OM
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik John Weddepohl would it not also be possible to abide in a state of complete meaninfulness, completely full of meaning, pregnant with meaning, radiant with meaning? Meaning in the sense of effulgent being-ness, not in the sense of story or narrative. There is no seeking or looking to attach meaning in this state, it’s true, because everything is inherently meaningful: Sat, truthful, at the root. I don’t believe (nor is it my experience, or the teaching of my teacher) that the void state of Shunyata is the the All. Perhaps we are talking about the same thing with different vocabulary? Or the thing you are trying to describe is impossible to put into words like “meaningful” or “meaningless”? Both and neither…
John Weddepohl Ekabhumi – Beautifully put. The reality is that meaningfulness in abundance is being experienced constantly – pregnant radiant meaningfulness, nothing but effulgent being-ness. We just don’t know it. Why? Through habit we personalise all our experiences falling asleep in our identification with our experience. SAT truth alone exists and is ever present and ever existing as Self – Only SAT (SHIVA) exists. This ‘I thought’ (AHAMKAR) being ignorant, has nothing else to do but to personalise all our experiences questioning everything until it finally brings us to the truth of the questioner the experiencer – where it discovers itself as the meaning in every question.