Is Western Yoga Indian VII

“I like your intrigue in China. You may want to delve into the siddhas of Tamil Nadu for your answer. Bhoghanathar in particular whose guru Kalingi Natha lived in China got Bhoga(natha) over to China to take over his mission. There remains a great following of Bhoga in China where he is known as Bo Yang Lao Tse and seen as the founder of the Tao religion in China. Before Bhoga arrived in India there was no Yin & Yang in China. Bhoga brought alchemy to China which was subsequently banned by the emperor as it gained so much in popularity. Bhoghanathar later returned to India and settled in Palani Tamil Nadu.”

Conversation continues on May 28, 2015:

Gideon Enz I don’t necessarily think of yoga (referring to practice) as Indian. But I also do think of it as India. Though the word “yoga” and the practices that have stemmed from it are steeped in thousands of years of Indian traditions, I also consider what the hermits in ancient China were doing two and three thousand years ago to be yoga. Characterized this way, all of the deliberate personal practice traditions that stem from central-ish Asia 10,000 – 30,000 years ago and have been solidified into various regional cultures without losing their integrity of personal experimentation and navigation of states of being and the resulting fluency in BOTH awareness and ability (siddhi) could be called yoga. This is stretching the word “yoga” beyond the textual traditions of India, but I believe gets closer to a shared ancestry of the way in which nomadic shaman traditions have been maintained to be passed on and morphed into regionally and culturally specific skillsets that have strikingly similar contexts and means all across central, east, and south Asia. In this sense I think of Yoga as Asian – more specifically as Himalayan. If you look at the actual practices, processes, methods, and goals of these systems you find a deep and practical commonality. So even before there was clear cross-cultural influence between India & China (=before 500 B.C.E.) there were yogis in China. That they weren’t using Sanskrit does not denigrate their efforts or achievements. Yoga is in the doing. But it would also be correct to say that they weren’t doing yoga, but rather something similar to yoga, because “yoga” was something that came out of India. That does bring up the gnarly question of where in time do you freeze a flowing tradition to take a snapshot and then measure everything else against it? This is where the textual traditions completely miss the point. Then there is the question: where did they get it? This is harder to answer, because it seems that the yogis in ancient China were practicing in a context that had already been indigenous to China for millennia. So, while it is possible that they got it from the Indus Valley Civilization, and very likely that there was at least some communication between ancient China and India, those connections are unclear. That there was a connection reaching back at least that far, however, is clear. My contention is that it went back further, probably in a pre-neolithic shaman system developed – or just somehow preserved – in ancient Asia.

Vik Zutshi Have you read David Gordon White on Yoga? Kiss of the Yogini, Sinister Yogis, Alchemical Body etc? He has some interesting historical details to share but NO understanding of the metaphysics. I read a fascinating interview with him which really brought out the emic vs etic issues involved in the discourse..

Pankaj Seth I read part of that article until I got the point of how White’s method of scholarship is confirmation bias. I did not read any of White’s books, and I don’t think I will due to understanding what is to be found there due to reading the article.

Vik Zutshi I’m not referring to Jim Mallinson’s article but an interview conducted by Priya Thomas on her blog. She does a really good job, gives him enough rope to hang himself. LOL He basically admits he doesn’t have a clue and the historical approach is inadequate.

Pankaj Seth Ah… not seen that… that could be useful to watch.

Gideon Enz That does not take away from yoga as Indian. I’m just following the threads that seem to reach back to something pre-Indus. Identifying yoga with the practice and efforts of practitioners of this larger and more ancient stream. Yoga, was indeed, the name given to such practices in the Upanishads. So if we stick to the texts, then practitioners (of whatever) during vedic civilization were not yogis. If we reach back far enough, we find unity. If we remain steadfastly in the present, we find unity. It is in the in between areas that we find conflict. But conflict sharpens. As in this thread, I do no see it breeding hatred and dissonance, but sharpening and deepening. Very nice line of inquiry. Thank you John Weddepohl, Baba Rampuri, Jason Schwartz, Pankaj Seth, Christopher Wallis and others. I was wondering whether I would find an intelligent discussion of yoga again on facebook.

Vik Zutshi…/yoga-in…

shivers up the spine: Yoga in Practice: In and Out of the…


Pankaj Seth The historical approach is inadequate… finally!!!

Like · 1 · May 28 at 10:08am

Vik Zutshi It’s a fascinating interview because of the way she corners him without appearing to do so. Read it.

John Weddepohl Gideon hi I like your intrigue in china. You may want to delve into the siddhas of tamil nadu for your answer. Bhoghanathar in particular whose guru Kalingi Natha lived in China got Bhoga(natha) over to China to take over his mission. There remains a great following of Bhoga in China where he is known as Bo Yang Lao Tse and seen as the founder of the Tao religion in China. Before Bhoga arrived in India there was no Yin & Yang in China. Bhoga brought alchemy to China which was subsequently banned by the emperor as it gained so much in popularity. Bhoghanathar later returned to India and settled in Palani Tamil Nadu.

Pankaj Seth Yoga goes back to the era when protons became conscious!!!

John Weddepohl Vik – I had the book somewhere but lost interest in reading it as he seems to have his opinion which suggests an agenda. I personally look for tradition when reading which can be seen clearly if someone has been exposed to it or not. If it is philosophical I feel the fellow is still philosophising (read speculating) and has yet to discern the truth. Also I find it hysterical listening to fellows reading sanskrit slokas without without raga. if they’d learnt in the tradition they’d be reciting with raga.

John Weddepohl I have a suspicion that there was a siddha influence in south africa too. I was alerted to this by the tradition but then on arriving at a particular place in Ficksberg in the Orange Free state I was introduced to a valley where all the shamanic traditions have traditionally gathered for graduation. At the centre of the ceremonies is what used to be an old cave with a spring of water whose roof has since caved in. There I was told to speak to the spirit by placing my head in a rock. The sangomas (shamans) told me that since time immemorial a song has been sung ‘When the child is ill the physician must take the child to see Lamaoutse.’ this seems to be the person who lived in the cave. The valley is subsequently known as Lamaoutse (spelling). I strongly believe this person to have been a siddha.

Gideon Enz John, I have heard of the Siddha Bhoghanathar traveling to China. It seems possible, but it also seems like a justification for asserting the superiority of the South Indian Siddha tradition. In the same story, it is said that since Bhoga was Indian, no one in China took him seriously, so he had to change bodies (para kaya privesh) and enter into that of a Chinese man. But this man’s body was so impure from eating the Chinese diet (which included meat) that it took Bhoga 10,000 years to purify it using yogic means. With exaggerations like that, it is hard to sort out probability from cultural myth. My guess is that this is an example of Tamil cultural enthusiasts trying to appropriate Chinese culture as being due to Tamil influence. There were hundreds of Chinese thinkers, philosophers, and ascetics during Laozi’s time (literally – it is called the “hundred schools” period), and odds are he was indeed Chinese.

John Weddepohl his disciple called Yu i believe now Pulipani was from china. Bhoga however was not. he is also responsible for installing the Sri Vidya at Kadirgama in Sri Lanka. I hear you on Tamil enthusiasm and exaggeration but would disagree in the appropriation of chinese culture. My information is that it is the other way round. Chinese medicine for instance bears a striking resemblance to siddha medicine and alchemy.

Christopher Wallis From the practitioner point of view, it’s fair to say that David White’s agenda is desacralization. From the academic point of view, it’s just poor scholarship. I studied with him for a year before I left UC Santa Barbara in favour of Berkeley. …if you read the works of really great scholars of yoga and Tantra, you’ll notice that they never cite him approvingly.

Gideon Enz John, perhaps I misused the word “appropriate” – I was trying to come up with a term that means “take credit for the development of someone else’s work”. That’s what I meant about certain aspects of the South Indian traditions taking credit for the development of Daoism. My view is that the degree to which Siddha and Chinese medicine are closely related before 500 B.C.E. is more likely to be due do a common ancestry of the two traditions than to one being the product of the other. Similarities since 500 C.E. are another story – a huge cross cultural intercourse through tantra and mahayana. That’s the problem I have with researching the South Indian traditions – there are too few scholarly works, and too many religious “my tradition is the best”. It’s difficult to find a middle ground there. John Weddepohl, Christopher Wallis, or Pankaj Seth: Do any of you have any good resource suggestions on the ancient South Indian Traditions? I am familiar with the Kriya Yoga Press, but am looking for something else. I would appreciate some more sources.

Yar Pal came across this and it reminded me of this exchange,… .. and Gideon Enz, at this point there are a few journal articles, zvelebil, kyp (which my phone autocorrects to ‘joy’ smile emoticon ), and learning tamil/finding someone dear to learn from. tapasyogi nandhi might also be of interest.

The Four Dignities

Offering a fresh perspective on immediate presence and embodied spiritual practice, The…

Pankaj Seth There is a mess to be cleaned up. What is the mess? Half the population considers themselves Yoga teachers, and the other half ‘Yogis’ but without enough of a clue as to what they are talking about. Yoga pertains to a liberating knowledge, not to do with New Agey, wishy washy BS that means nothing in particular but is slick enough to sell ‘classes’ on how to stand on your head, attune your ‘frequencies’ or ‘balance your chakras’ and other assorted made up on the spot stuff. Whatever sells…

Pankaj Seth Yoga and Yogi are honorific terms, and do not magically apply after studying anatomy and headstands for 200 hours. Who wants to disagree? Judith Mintz, there may be some things here on this long and very rich post/thread for your research project.

Judith Mintz Yes yes!!! I’m listening deeply. I’m also refraining from commenting in any significant way for now.

Ekabhumi Charles Ellik When I was in Haridwar a couple years ago, I had a sadhu look me in the eyes and say, “No one in America is doing Yoga.” I wasn’t interested in debate then, but I did argue with the guards in Kerala who barred me from Ma’s temple when they said, “You are not Hindu.” They looked embarrassed when I began chanting Her names, but still would not let me in. Pankaj, the problem isn’t simply Westerners avoiding vocabulary, or colonialist appropriation. There is also dismissive skepticism to folks who weren’t born Hindu and to those who claim to be practicing Yoga. Perhaps it is well-founded skepticism, but this is why I avoid announcing myself as Hindu, though I have no aversion to claiming it in private. As Baba said elsewhere, it’s debatable whether Hindu is a culture one is born into, or a set of beliefs. Can we say the same of “Yoga”? I think so. My own teacher has openly questioned whether it is possible for modern urban Americans to legitimately practice Yoga in the fullest sense while paying rent and working at a conventional job. If we take the narrow view, who can actually be Hindu Yogi in America? A desi kid living on a farm supported by a trust fund? It may take a thousand years for there to be a legitimate “American Yoga” that produces light-body masters.

Pankaj Seth Ekabhumi I was myself barred from some temples in Kerala. And I might be in Orissa and maybe elsewhere because I walk and talk like a non-native Indian. I also spoke of deities to prove myself but to no avail. Again I would say that Dharma is a better description rather than Yoga for what is happening in the West, and of course for the most part in India too. Yoga and Yogi are not much used in India either because that is the realm of the Sadhus. If Westerners said ‘Dharmic’ rather than Yogi, that would fit imo. When Indians do not say Yogi to describe themselves because that is the realm of the sadhus, then it is unlikely that Westerners will get away with it as judged by Indians.

Pankaj Seth Ekabhumi, my last comment was rushed. Here I will say more: In southern india, northern indians such as myself are viewed with suspicion and only speaking Hindi are spotted as such and due to the AIT, are viewed as not real Hindus because the north was invaded (or northerners are seen as the invaders themselves!!!) and orthodox Hinduism destroyed, but which is seen to be preserved in the south where the Muslim invasions never fully reached. So temple entry is barred for such people, as it was for me. My response was that that’s ok, because the temple served ritual functions for locals and outsiders are more like tourists, so I was happy to comply and leave the local scene to its own devices. I expect that you had a welcome into temples in every other part of India (Orissa would likely be an exception due to its orthodox nature), as did I.—Now, the Indian kid on the ranch would be seen as Hindu but never as a Yogi, as again that is reserved for sannyasins. There is virtually no sanyassins in the West, so at most they could be seen as non-Indian Hindus and be welcome as such in most of India, including in temples. Most Indians, not being sanyasins do not call themselves Yogis, but only Hindus. Yogi is a term reserved for those who have left the householder class for ashram life, and so most Indian Hindus do not claim that. And Westerners who at most would merit the term ‘Hindu’, certainly are not given the title ‘Yogi’.

Ekabhumi Charles Ellik Pankaj: Because we are speaking of popular perception, we agree. Yet I feel it is worth pointing out here that householders may also practice Yoga and be Yogis.

Ekabhumi Charles Ellik And yes, I am familiar with the North/South split, as well as the reasoning behind the exclusive nature of the Southern Temples. This is why I mentioned the sadhu in Haridwar (the North). I hoped to bridge what I saw as a link in PERCEPTION between the term “Hindu” and “Yogi” related to a culture one is born into versus a system of beliefs. My point was that if we want folks in the West to start calling the “Yoga” that they are doing “Hindu”, then we need to actually open up both terms to even allow for Westerners to actually PRACTICE either. What it sounds to me like you are advocating is that folks in the West abandon the term “Yoga” and “Yogi” entirely. Is this correct?

Pankaj Seth Ekabhumi, I think its a Gordian Knot, and I have no real solution that I would advocate in any firm way. Maybe time will give clarification, because the same terms (Yoga, Yogi) is used differently in the two cultures that I belong to and I don’t know what to suggest really at this point in history. I want to raise awareness of this multiple usage type which places sadhus and asana at the gym in the same category. If I do that, then people can think about it and see what they would do. Mostly the feedback I get is that ‘ok, I will be less casual about my use of the term Yogi than I have been.’ Since Hindu refers to a religion in most people’s minds, I understand why that is not apt for many, and I don’t advocate for that anyway. I am hoping that the term Dharma/Dharmic is accepted by those with a practise of Yoga (asana or more than that, in the West) as the larger context of what their belief system is becoming. Hindu seems a cultural term to me personally, but there is also a belief system aspect to it. Gordian Knot. As for the Haridwar Sadhu, I wonder how much awareness he had of what is happening in the West. There are different levels of practice in the West, with your level of knowledge and commitment not that common imo. I would’ve defended you had I been there, but would’ve agreed with him about his general perception about the West, but would’ve told him that he goes too far to say “No one”…. I am going to tag you in a thread which is relevant to this conversation over at Judith Mintz’ FB feed, where Vik Zutshi’s article is also being discussed.

Judith Mintz I’m glad you tagged the article on my FB feed; the cross posts are becoming confusing, and I”m not even into my data collection yet!

Pankaj Seth Yup… I am enjoying all the buzz but its getting more and more difficult to contain logistically. I cherish conversations such as the ones on this post and am making new friends… great to see such a relevant article making the rounds so well!

Gideon Enz Judith, what is your research project on?

Gideon Enz While it would be accurate to say that yoga is Indian, it would be inaccurate to say that yoga is Hindu. The practices of yoga have, from at least the time of Gautama, been used by people across a wide range of disciplines. So, while most stumble with MPY, there is hope for us westerners to enter into the stream as “authentic” yogis. This, I believe is the aim of this conversation, is it not?

John Weddepohl Gideon who gives a f…k about authentic yogis? gautama shankara – people that lived 1000’s of years ago mean shit today. The world is a whole lot different today. who knows what it was like to live 5000 even 1000 years ago? who cares. What matters most is does this mean anything to me now? This is what this conversation is about.. and yes – it does mean something. the truth 5000 years ago or 10 mlseconds remains the same truth. Timeless. What is that which is timeless, nameless and ever existing which cannot be objectified?

John Weddepohl I like this Pankaj – I find the term yogiraj being bandied about as a sort of medal in western yoga nauseating. My experience of this naming in the tradition (Bharat) is that the community sees these traits in someone and calls them yogi or yogiraj, yogirani, kavi mahatma etc. out of respect. In the west however a word like yogi or yogiraj is personalised and arrogated. I see women being called yogiraj too in western yoga. Has there ever been a women king? Yogirani would be the correct term. But again this would come from the community by way of acknowledgment in respect of a person not from the person themselves or even a teacher.

Pankaj Seth Exactly John. And I wasn’t aware that such terms were being bandied about here. I have been in a somewhat hibernating state for several years away from what has been happening, and this is first I am hearing of what you’re saying. It sounds ridiculous, and arrogant in the extreme.

Todd Daniels even calling oneself a yogi when they just go stretch in an oven seems a bit rich

Pankaj Seth John, I have often thought that there should be a debate component to Western Yoga culture just as there is in India. I wonder how that can be begun. I will think on this. I wonder how the debate culture in India operates as I have no personal knowledge of such.

Todd Daniels yoga in india has been a service industry to westerners too..

Todd Daniels most of it is actually..ring in those tourism dollars

Pankaj Seth And it is getting worse, yes, more like tourism… get your 200 hours on the banks of the Ganga. Well, I’m glad that people go for these course, but the instant designation of yoga teacher is unfortunate, but that barn door was opened some time ago. I can only hope that people continue with their studies and keep learning more and arrive at greater humility at what they are seeing and learning about.

John Weddepohl Pankaj – I thought about this yesterday too as a result of this whole conversation. Rather challenging for any western thinker I would imagine purely on the basis that most of us when it comes to conversations involving self are habituated to thinking of ourselves as being our thoughts and ideas. However a start would be a good panel discussing these issues and ideas. i.e. whats been happening here on the key points in this thread. Perhaps a good open debate on a chosen topic by some of the participants in this thread would be cool. The forum or medium would have to be decided.

Gideon Enz I’m definitely in support of more open forums, debates, discussions on yoga and the practice traditions of Asia. Do keep me in the loop.

Todd Daniels loop it up..

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