Between the academic rock and the traditionalist hard place: finding the open source for yoga philosophy today
(This post is a draft of a section from the introduction to a work-in-progress called Yoga Philosophy Digest: three core texts for students, in which I’ll be trying to present the most helpful reading and contemplative strategies for students who wish to navigate the Bhagavad Gītā, the Yoga Sūtra-s, and the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. Any and all feedback is appreciated.)
The feeling that yoga philosophy is an inaccessible practice is not only fostered by the current structural limitations of Modern Postural Yoga trainings (max. 20 hrs. within 200!), but by two deeper forces: the abstract academic study of yoga that seems to turn it into a lifeless artifact, and traditionalist teaching structures that demand faithful allegiance as the price of transmission. The forces are inimical to each other, in a tangible display of what anthropologists describe as the “outsider-insider” problem. Academics claim that insider traditionalists are too enmeshed in their practice to understand it objectively, and traditionalists claim that outsider academics lack the requisite faith that makes yoga comprehensible. At the center of the tension spins the vortex of the ambivalent value of “religion”.
The academic discourse has accused Indian philosophy in general, and yoga philosophy in particular, of being religious, and therefore unworthy of analytical study. As Richard King (1998) and Bina Gupta (2012) point out, this attitude has colonial and orientalist overtones that prejudge Indian philosophy as the exotic artifact of thinkers who had not progressed beyond magical spells and mythic stories. For example, the darśanas (“ways of seeing”, of which yoga is but one), categorized into different “schools” by many Western scholars, are often presented in professional academic literature dating back to the mid-1800s as if they are closed dogmas – stories of long ago – rather than living practical models, forged through vigorous debate, that change over time and support waves of innovation.
I can see two reasons for the academic-reductionist view. Firstly, Euro-American academics have generally relied upon the flattened textual presentations of the various schools to form their opinions, without access to the ongoing and vibrant oral commentaries that bring them to life. This betrays a profound ignorance towards the Indian ambivalence towards written sources (a topic I’ll explore in Chapter One) compared to personal instruction. Secondly, Indian philosophy in the academic world has been primarily under the jurisdiction not of creative philosophers, but of Sanskritists, whose core responsibility has been to generate accurate translations of root texts, rather than to engage the texts’ actual ideas in a vigorous way. The conservational task of many academics has lent a conservative and even reverential air to the process of transmission. But as Douglas Brooks points out in almost every talk he gives, the academic in general and the Sanskritist in particular occupy relatively small roles within a community of inquiry that demands broad skills and approaches. Practitioners who have not had the time for or access to Sanskrit studies can contribute to yoga culture in equally profound ways, by acting upon the inspiration of the old books, and continuing their dialogue.
The traditionalist position uses the meme of religion in the opposite way, claiming that yoga philosophy derives its validity precisely from a commitment to the authority of its transcendent sources, the Vedas, and to the methods by which they’ve been transmitted. (I’ll take up the question of whether yoga is in fact religious, along with the role of “revealed knowledge” in Chapter One.) This insider claim is often enshrouded within the language of hereditary exclusion. Traditionalists present the capacity to understand and engage with the concerns of yoga philosophy as dependent upon an apostolic or genetic linkage back to a cultural or geographical source. The apostolic linkage is forged through dīkṣā (initiation) or śaktipāt (direct physical transfer of spiritual energies. The genetic linkage recalls the father-son dialogues at the root of yoga literature, dating back to the Upanishads. Both apostolic and genetic linkages are combined within the notion of paramparā (“one following the other”).
Traditionalists claim that yoga philosophy, springing as it did from the ritual knowledge of ancestors who sat on the bank of a certain river or at the foot of a certain mountain, is powerful insofar as we can determine where it comes from, how it has been preserved, and who it has been transmitted by. It has integrity within the practitioner to the extent that s/he can make not only a matricular but an hereditary claim upon it. It is braided into the roots of a tribal memory, and protected by purity taboos. It is felt in the bones and sustained in the family temple. It cannot be exported to the libraries of the world’s universities without being diminished or corrupted. A translation of Patañjali in English on the shelf of a New York bookstore carries little if any of the tradition’s power, and could never enter the DNA of its reader. Unlike the academic, who derives his philosophical authority from the capacity for objective research, the traditionalist derives his philosophical power from his devotion to what he preserves. We see this attitude as a functional principle behind the dynastic influence of the most prominent Indian families on the religiously-inflected side of MPY: the Jois’, the Desikachars, the Iyengars and the Mohans.
This apostolic/hereditary structure of traditionalism is enriched through a self-reflexive relationship to the content it attempts to transmit. The notion that knowledge has a pristine, revealed origin, and that its meaning depends upon its devotional preservation and the ongoing purification of corrupting influences, makes knowledge itself an analogue for the ātman, which some yogic paths seek to extract from the devolutions of time and materialism (while some deny it exists at all). In this mode, knowledge is not conceived of as a cultural product, but as an eternal and unchanging essence, like the soul, contained discretely within the flesh of the lineage-holder, and by association throughout the initiated knowledge-tribe. Knowledge is neither purchased nor matriculated, nor made accessible through simple intellectual merit, but rather reincarnates in a traceable lineage, migrating from body to body through the unconditioned technology of Sanskrit: from teacher to student, from parent to child. Yoga philosophy, from the traditionalist viewpoint, is not something that one does, but rather something that one is given permission to hold and echo. It is seen not as something merely learned, nor something that one can teach oneself, but rather something that is given. Dīkṣā and śaktipāt are the rituals of a symbolic death and rebirth, by which ātman-like knowledge is authorized for transmigration in its “pure” form from the older teacher to the younger student. The structure of knowledge-transfer both mirrors and contains the metaphysics of reincarnation, illustrating Marshal McLuhan’s insight: the medium is the message.
Pointing out the mirroring of medium (paramparā) and message (reincarnation of the ātman) begs the ancient philosophical questions: do things really work this way? Do any objects of matter or knowledge contain eternal, irreducible essences? Does some part of a person survive her death, beyond the legacy of her children if she had them, her artifacts, and the memories of those who knew her? How is that part separate from the dying part? Similarly: does the essence of an idea exist separately from the person who holds it, such that it can be transferred whole if that person utters a mantra, or dies? While these questions survive as they must in songs and poetry, contemporary science, philosophy, and cognitive theory (not to mention various strands of that other pesky yogic path: Buddhism) have dismissed them. To believe in reincarnation today is to be willing to overlook the fact that there is not one shred of empirical evidence to support the survival of consciousness beyond organic death. Likewise: to believe today in the irreducible truth (rather than just the usefulness) of an apostolic or hereditary knowledge-stream is to be willing to say that knowledge is not the unstable product of contemplative, social, and cultural evolution, shared through oral and written language, subject to linguistic slippage, and shaped by innumerable competing forces over millennia in a continual act of construction. It is to believe that belief and believer are separate, that the belief is carried whole rather than continually interpreted and re-presented, that believers are carriers, as it were, of a sacred parasite, who uses its host for its own propagation. This religiously-inflected diminishment of creative agency in the process of yoga philosophy might do as much to ossify its will to evolve as academic reductionism does.
It’s unfortunate that while they strut at each other, the two strands of academic and traditionalist power can both discourage yogic experimentation through their shared proprietary and conservative attitudes. Both claim ownership over the access to knowledge: the academic through professional credential and the traditionalist through bloodline or initiation controls. Which means that both can overshadow the fact that most prominent yoga philosophers throughout history have been social and political outliers who have crafted their realizations as explicit rebellions to established modes of knowledge. The evolution of yoga – from the existentialism of Arjuna to the democratization of Patañjali to the taboo-smashing excesses of Svātmārāma – is a parade of challenges to entrenched social, physical, and psychological patterns. Yoga is not a conservative act. So when Jois’ hazy injunction to simply “practice, practice [i.e., whatever has been given]” is colluded with the conservatism of academic and traditionalist modes, the contemporary student – who is generally neither academic nor a traditionalist– is hardly encouraged to creatively participate in an evolving philosophical dialogue. This is a lost opportunity.
But with amazing speed the barriers of academic and traditionalist exclusivity are lifting. The global yoga community is now awash in an embarrassment of available philosophical resources. The transfer of knowledge throughout the Indian yoga diaspora has been broad and varied. Practitioners now have the hard work of generations of both Indian and non-Indian Sanskritists at our disposal. Every major text of the MPY canon is available online, for free, in various translations. There are dozens of brilliant new theorists of yoga philosophy whose current work in the margins between scholarly and popular modes – much of which is being published online – will surely be referred to in the future as a kind of renaissance of mutual learning and mentorship. Yogis and scholars of diverse backgrounds routinely swap perspectives in studios, universities, fitness clubs, community centers, at conferences, and over curries. Lineage allegiances are becoming increasingly flexible as people learn from each other. No generation in history has enjoyed such broad access to the panorama of yoga’s written materials and experiential transmission.
Traditionalists will often mourn the erosion of the top-down gurukula learning structure, accusing the modern practitioner who cherry-picks according to their interests and needs of being selfish, arrogant, and non-committal. “Find an authentic teacher” they will say. “Surrender to him.” (It’s usually a “him.”) “Choose one path and follow it to its end. Each path is complete.” Setting aside the issue of whether any script for personal evolution originating a millennium or more ago could possibly be “complete”, there are good points to consider here, including the lost intimacy of oral tradition, the banality of data overload, the superficiality of all consumerist agendas, and the potential neurological benefits of limiting one’s study paradigm to learn more by immersion than by comparison.
But our contemporary exposure to dozens of paths and their evolutionary relationships shows in itself that no single path has ever been complete, anymore than a single text can hold meaning without reference to surrounding texts. When we consider the breadth of yogic practices laid out in practical, non-denominational resources ranging from Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition to the tiny ‘zines published by Community Yoga Vancouver, to apps that instruct in basic Sanskrit pronunciation, to web-channels broadcasting instructions for vinyasa sequencing, to chapbooks of poetry published by the Center of Gravity Sangha in Toronto, to the incessant chatter scrolling out from the bottom of yoga blogs – it no longer makes sense to think of pathways of practice in isolation from one another, or even as singular unto themselves.
While the practice of yoga may once have demanded conformity to a particular set of controlled beliefs and practices administered by a recognized authority, it now involves learning how to dialogue with and participate amongst the beliefs and practices of many authorities in order to reclaim or be inspired to invent the practical and contemplative tools that are appropriate to immediate circumstance. Fuelled by technology, this implicit social rejection of the exclusionary paradigm of lineage elides with an emerging yogic ideal. Knowing that our species survival depends upon our capacity to protect and celebrate diversity, we are beginning to also understand that “my path” is meaningless without “your path”. My fulfillment depends upon your fulfillment, and it’s very likely that you’ll get there differently from the way I do, by applying yourself uniquely, using the tools we can now share across the divides of power, whether academic or religious.
Matthew, my friend. You have outdone yourself. I love, love, love this article. (Did I mention that I love this article?
You probably know what I’m going to say next. (Call me a “Gita-Thumper” if you wish.) Most of the ideas you express above are contained in the Gita itself. Here’s my case:
Yoga is Universal Truth, Embracing All Gods and All Paths.
Yoga calls for direct experience & straight-forward wisdom
(over scripture, dogma, and ritual)
Anticipating the complaint that I used Mitchell’s Gita, let me say that I also tested these same stanzas using Feuerstein’s (the ultimate historian)and Schweig’s (the ultimate Sanskritist/ personal practitioner)and the results are the same, no less modern and startling.
(Quick sidenote: I think you are unfair to lump T.K.V. Desikachar in the traditionalist camp, as he has written a translation of the Yoga Sutra as radically modern as your own “Threads of Yoga” in his “The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice” http://amzn.to/159mT6m)
Did I mention that I love your article?
Bob W. Editor
Best of Yoga Philosophy
Yep, Great Article.
— I have enjoyed the helpful words on offer here. Thank you Matthew Remski. You are brave.
What comes to my mind listening to your words –your ‘dichotomy’?–
‘Immersion’ vs ‘Comparison’. (insider/outsider; traditonalist/academic)
For the basic scientific ‘enter prize’, the -first step on the ‘path’ to knowledge will be to compare.
Basic science begins here. And it is through comparison that the ‘initiate’ is –immersed–. Grounded in the actual, to get to a place where insight leaps into the cross-hairs.
I may be full of it, But, this is my understanding and practice. As a cowgirl of science.
There are those who poo-poo the basic foundational behavior/method, believing it isn’t coveted upper level goods (‘valuable’).
— I’d like to see anyone proceed without putting the particulars first.
How do we know/speak about the particular?
I think, perhaps, that those who are deeply curious about the ancients, entering the stream can be challenging. We north-americans, europeans, and ‘others’ in the 1st and 2nd world (and beyond).
We little ‘scientists’ want to ‘vet’ what we are getting involved in. To do so, we must compare. This comparing often gets in the way of allegiance to an tradition/lineage. In this cloaked world: We are ham-strung to obtain even the basic science, unless we rebel from the get go. Rebellion (if only inside our heads) begins the moment we take the cracker and eat of it: The moment we truly begin the process of science/faith. –Just ask the apostles! (or the prodigal son).
Yes, let’s begin with the texts, and to deeply delve into the back and forth of all that text, with a trusted elder. But to be embodied!! To have a mind working like a well greased machine! There is a window in time to ‘advance’/evolve and to retreat/devolve. As an individual most certainly.
As a human enterprise? On this ‘scale’ of seeing the stakes are high.
I suggest that the ‘appropriation’ of deep knowledge is more than useful. –It is necessary.
PS: I guess I’m not of a mind to consider ‘academic’ as linked to ‘reductionist’.
I see both camps can fall into the pitfalls of reductionism.
Top down vs bottom up. Both are necessary.
I’ll have to meditate on reductionism/reductioist.
Thanks again. So helpful.
Matthew, I agree wholeheartedly with your thought that each of us needs to use the tools that, “are appropriate to immediate circumstances.” This idea is contained in the very old word “viniyoga”. And I also agree that yoga is by its very nature a profound rebellion against conventional experience and understanding. Every act of yoga is a revolution bringing us into our natural state. We’re in a time and place where standing in our own ground and simultaneously being connected to the world is very possible. How lucky we are!
I feel philosophy is “inaccessible” when it is separated from practice. Give me 20 hours to talk about philosophy amidst many more hours of doing it and I can do a good job. Yoga is by definition an immersion of mind into experience (Krishnamacharya’s translation of Y.S. 1.2 as written by Desikachar)., so academics don’t need “faith; they need to move beyond the confines of cognition into their own blood and bones.
I would argue that yoga has never been about, “conformity to a particular set of controlled beliefs and practices”. You don’t need to believe in reincarnation or in an inherited lineage in order to experience the power of human relationship to reveal yoga. The cultural container for the idea of shaktipat can be rejected and yet the actual experience will remain, if it is there to be had.
“Do things really work this way?” Yes, they do. You define the knowledge that yoga gives as a belief and it isn’t. My teachers have never asked me to believe anything. They’ve made it clear that I am responsible for my own experience and any meaning I may bring to it. What I have received from them though, has been complete. The route with each has been different but the destination identical. The Source is the source, consciousness and its expression in energy and matter, your beating heart and mine.
Real power isn’t found in either academia or religion but in actual yoga. The enormous gift/siddhi of yoga is something our social mind denies, an encounter that is true, mysterious and in the end unspeakable. Love. So while we have a million morsels of information at our fingertips now, we need each other, as you say.
Thanks so much for the note, Crescence. I think it’s safe to say that you’re not labouring under either of the influences I’ve described here… but we knew that! Just one point of clarification: are you saying that yoga gives knowledge of reincarnation or irreducible essence, and therefore there are not beliefs? I just want to be clear that I understand you.
I’m saying that yoga is necessarily a direct experience that has no relationship to any kind of belief, particularly not to any cultural or religious conception of what spiritual experience is. If a teaching structure demands any act of faith as the “price of admission”, it isn’t in the business of actual yoga. Yoga is to come fully into life, not to stay within the confines of thought’s parameters.
So yes, fully in life, our essence is completely obvious. We’re no longer in the realm of conjecture but in absolute participation with reality. That’s what I was referring to.
The concept of reincarnation is another matter. Life is indestructible but whether an individual life maintains something through time, I haven’t a clue, although it would conveniently explain many things for us all, wouldn’t it?!
Gotcha. I was trying to express the same sentiment in the article, by naming traditionalism and scholasticism as dual obstructions to the creative.
As far as reincarnation goes, I think “explain away” is more like it. The convenience of it is a problem.
I very much appreciate and agree with much of what is written here, it is a tightrope walk over calling out racism and calling out those who call for racism without any hint of any of these including the rope.
I do not see a tension between the religious and academics in the yoga world though, rather I see nationalists and other fundamentalists who (by definition) cannot accept any criticism and must rely on their own often spurious research to legitimate themselves and so feel called to insert themselves and their opinion as if it were the only one (Hindutvas being the main example, not just a congealed form of a want for a coherent identity where there isn’t necessarily one, but of an imagined history, revisionist and otherwise endeavor to be a vanguard for ignorance, but also western ‘traditionalists’ including those of Indian heritage who ignore Bishnu Ghosh, Swami Gitanada, Dharma Mitra and others who practiced “unyogic” commercialism, as well as the understanding that the teachings were offered as universals for humanity by those with “dynastic influence”), while from academics there is occasionally some of the same controversial/specious research.
To this end, I am wondering (and suggest fleshing out) which academics “claim that insider traditionalists are too enmeshed…” as there are a lot of issues around this, from criticism of (and occasional death threats on) “legit” academics like Doniger and Thapar, and others who operate from wholly different sets of motivations like Chopra and Broad. It is not especially the by-transmission folks who dislike the academics, but those who for their own reasons feel transgressed on, and so need to imagine history and rebuke any criticism to maintain whatever that is; academics only competes for legitimacy against living traditions when the latter relies on popular perception for legitimacy, rather than the informed experience of its collective. As you sort of mention (and is also in the background of the other comments), in addition to a not infrequent rejection of social barriers (castes, nations), yoga-tantra has a long association with medicine, physical sciences, and investigation not unwilling to eschew convention, in addition to the conversation/argument that is part of the larger culture.
Too, I think it is only the exceptional case that it has been “pathways of practice in isolation from one another, or even as singular unto themselves” except for the rare person; the transmissioners rely on the entrainment just as much as the more social, if not more so.
Finally, I don’t know the standards, and it’s love to see diacritics, but ‘vinyÄsa’ 🙂
What TKV Desikachar has often ‘suggested’, Yoga allows for ‘faith’ in oneself.
In the spirit of –yoga for all– faith in ‘you’ is an option.
What –you– is, well -that’s a matter for personal investigation.
Are you a meatbot? (as someone mentioned in another thread with mremski).
– Meatbot is an option in yoga. Special meatbot too. Meatbot with benefits? Sure.
It is a personal matter, the relationship of what ‘faith’ may offer while considering what may be ‘beyond’.
…What may be beyond any restriction/s felt by the individual regarding meatbot status.
If any part of being a meatbot is a ‘problem’ for someone, there are many options to form a working opinion on the matter, if ‘belief’ isn’t a word that rings true.
Here’s my way of reinforcing your main point above:
Will the Real Bhagavad Gita Please Stand Up?
Ok Bob, a longer but worth it introduction (or part of it) to someone’s introduction to what looks to be a great book. Especially love how the Hatha Yoga Pradipika has now made it solidly into the canon for Westerners!
I found in my 200 and now in my 500, much more than 20 hrs of philosophy as it oozes out of the teacher-trainers, whether they know it or not. But still, point taken. The 200 hr program was designed primarily, says Leslie Kaminoff, to “do no harm” by giving a person enough information to go beyond being dangerous to structuring a safe class within a single style. The idea being, instructors seek to become teachers by going beyond through a 500 and/or continuing education.
Another issue we have in the West: new converts are zealous! While the same people complain about “Bible thumpers,” they are just as bad “Gita thumpers” (present company excluded of course). My current teacher-trainer for the 500 will often pull this trump when one of us suggests an innovation to a Tantric Hatha Yoga practice: “This a 1,000 year old tradition! You can’t just change it!” The irony is rich as the Tantrikas were the ultimate iconoclasts, but you get the picture.
It’s a thorny deal for not only academics but also students, between “the fiddlers on the mat” and teachers that hide “the real meaning of the text until you’re properly initiated,” how can we use the Shastras to know if we’re being taken for a ride or worse? While I expand Sadhu to non-yogic practitioners, what about those students who stick with the more traditional definition? How do Westerners access the three-part checks & balances of Guru/Shastra/Sadhu?
Interesting thoughts, Sean.
I was going to ask Matthew why the Hatha Yoga Pradipika instead of the Upanishads. Probably just personal taste, I guess, but I found the uber-earthy Pradipika (in the uber-detailed Swami Muktibodhananda version ( http://amzn.to/1dV9Nvg ) to be nearly undigestible (so to speak), even after a couple of times through.
Meanwhile,the Upanishads made my spirits soar on the very first reading, and still do today.
HaHaHa. The mat-fiddlers ARE the sadhus!
Back to my point –about us ‘little scientists’ trying to understand what the heck we are getting into;
Be it a deep twist, or ?who/what is this teacher
and who/what is this ‘tradition’ anyway??
Are ‘they’ able to tell me who/what they are??
Are they even ‘willing’ to tell me??
Does the person speaking to me even know themselves??
Congratulations, this piece appears to have only one error. To equate a hypothesis of the structure of knowledge transfer with the doctrine of the transmigration of souls fails because knowledge clearly does carry over between generations in living organisms, specifically in DNA sequences. We as humans inherit our cognitive capabilities from the data contained in our genes, which is tantamount to having rights over certain categories of knowledge that remain hidden to say, tuna. In a similar way, IQ is a heritable property also, as are the characteristics of the various nervous systems and glandular networks which although do not admit anything about what the precise contents of our mind might be at any given time, certainly would be categorized as a pre-requisite for knowledge, and in some analyses they would also constitute a particular transitory function of the body-mind – such as awareness, stimulus processing and memory. To then invoke a logical positivist perspective on reincarnation is particularly inappropriate given the multiplicity of possible interpretations on such a teaching – all of which are held exclusively within a religious perspective and not an empirical one. The only other warning would be to caution against using the adjective ‘traditional’ since ‘traditional yoga’ is of course a retronym for ‘yoga’ mainly due to the imperatives of secular, corporatist society and prejudicial distaste for allegedly backward genres such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhim and Jainism.
Thanks Mat. This is really good to consider, although squeezing genetic heritability into jiva-based reincarnation theories is playing a Buddhist card. My analogy meant to highlight the atman-like sanctity with which the knowledge-stream is encapsulated in a supposed purity.
Good point about “traditional”. It seems I used it only in the title and once in the text, where mainly I used “traditionalist” and “traditionalism”, which I apply to anyone showing the exegetical attitude, regardless of faith heritage.
Matthew – thanks – 1) genetic heritability does not have to be ‘squeezed into’ anything does it? Surely it forms part of our current scientific understanding of the world? so I am not aware of having played any ‘Buddhist card’, but am intrigued as to where you think I have – v. specifically. 2)’Traditional’ *only* in the *title*? That’s quite an admission – so where do you feel the title’s meaning-making utility might be better located? perhaps as a footnote? It is possible to configure WordPress so titles are not made prominent, but a better approach might be to change the title? – BTW: the word *traditional* appears three times in the main text also and punctuates the entire piece to further your general iconoclastic attitude that suggests that established ideas and practices may not deliver on what they promise – so you may want to reveiw that too? I don’t think your argument is very convincing because you are merely overlaying your own western approach, lopsided towards hermeneutics and exegesis to privilege a perspective over another where in fact much, if not most of the literature (vedas are perhaps the only exception) are not held in the same way as the Abrahamic literature is – but I accept your point about traditional-ism and *traditional-ist* not necessarily mapping out the same ontology – still – invoking the *traditional* retronym is a high risk game to play – and for what outcome? to call out all ‘dharmic’ traditions as some of the worst tokens among many other, perhaps more ‘progressive’ approaches? The type/token distinction is crucial here – traditional yoga – let’s say hinduism or buddhism for the purposes of these crazy small boxes are TYPES not TOKENS whilst the tyranny of western universalism continues to wreak havoc in the public mind, yoga with adjectives is being put forward as new paradigms, or at least as being more progressive when in fact the so called ‘traditional’ types have dialectic, iconoclasm, polyvalence, progression and mutual respect written into them, that is, if anyone cares to look beyond the obvious cultural and historical difficulties with context, which of course, many it seems are not and are simply looking to build on their fragile conceit as to the superiority of a secular, democratic and mostly Christian worldview.
Hi Mat — what I’m saying is that naturo-scientific proposals for reincarnation/recycling fit the anatman models of Buddhist transmigration, in which no hard supposition is made about how the continuity of the person is preserved, whereas in atman-models of reincarnation, the continuity of the person is usually a much harder claim.
As for “traditional” — thanks for the sharp eye and analysis. You’re right, and i’ll tidy up the sloppiness.
First off, I agree with you about Swami Muktibodhananda’s commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP). I’ve done four years of graduate study in theology in the Christian tradition before jumping ship for a human services masters, so I’ve been trained to read commentaries & ancient texts (note: don’t claim “expert” status). However, commentary reading can be obtuse & we were taught to read a text-only version a few times through before checking someone else’s opinion.
Here’s a text only version of the HYP from YogaVidya.com (again, I got nothing for plugging them – http://www.amazon.com/Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika-Svatmarama/dp/0971646619/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374767553&sr=1-2&keywords=hatha+yoga+pradipika). It’s written by a non-pandit Sanskrit scholar. Quick down & dirty for reading an ancient text:
1) First read through, and do as much of a reading in one sitting as possible, is to learn how to read the text. Get a feel for the flow. Examples: Greek plays can have three characters & a chorus interact at one time. The Hebrew Scriptures only allow two parties to talk in each scene. The Christian Scriptures, written predominantly by Jewish persons, retained this stylistic convention.
2) Don’t confuse the “there & then” with the “here & now” (total transference fallacy [I believe]). A good example of this is the modern confusion that homosexuality in 1st century AD/CE is the same as 21st century.
Ok, here’s why the HYP needs to be in the canon: As the Christian Scriptures (CS) work with the Hebrew Scriptures (HS) for Christians, so the HYP works with the Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, and any other Shastra for Hatha Yogis.
The CS is quite small collection of writings compared to the HS. The early Christians viewed the HS as their Bible & the CS as their interpretative guide on how to read the HS. Same with HYP for Hatha Yogis, it’s the missing interpretive jump that Iyengar, Jois, etc. that we Westerners didn’t get when they whipped out the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras.
HYP has four limbs and are introduced to students in this order: Asana, Pranayama, Mudra (in this text it means Bandha + Pranayama + Asana = Mudra, it requires the whole body), and laya/nada-based Samadhi (which is a synonym for Raja Yoga, union, meditative bliss, etc.). Now all of a sudden modern Yoga classes make sense! By using HYP as an authoritative hermeneutical lens, Yama & Niyama come later and naturally are explored as the student goes deeper into the four limbs.
Let’s just say I had a big light bulb moment with this text. BTW you purists out there, the first verse is very out of character for ancient texts (i.e., they start with salutations, thanking people, etc.) and should be given greater interpretive weight do to its placing. That’s how ancients wrote IN CAPS.
Matthew, permit me if you will to go again because this aspect troubles me, the overtly Christian overtones of your analysis, and Bob W’s equally well-intentioned but I think ultimately misguided exegetical approach I find very troublesome – but not insoluble, so here goes:-
You say: The structure of knowledge-transfer both mirrors and contains the metaphysics of reincarnation, illustrating Marshal McLuhanâ€™s insight: the medium is the message.
In my analysis (w/respect to McLuhan) knowledge transfer/reincarnation is not the medium; consciousness is the medium, and the message is mediated by jiva, and much else beside – let’s say: ‘it’s complicated’ for now..
Then you ask: Do things really work this way?
Here you are asking a question like: Does a banana believe in dogs? or the next one: Do any objects of matter or knowledge contain eternal, irreducible essences?
All these are just such ludicrously enframed questions to be asking in the context of Dharma – but the western tradition is perhaps not so clear sighted in this it seems!
To condense the philosophy of ancient India to essentialism would be fine if you were to stop short of a verificationist attack, the ‘yoga philosophy’ you are seeking to downgrade misses some important context – in that it is first and foremost a pedagogy, and you would be hard pressed to refute that such means do not enhance our understanding of the physical and social worlds. Such teachings, although silent when it comes to any verificationist project, many psychologists will tell you such understandings are both instinctive and universal.
The key for a teacher is to recognise that yoga, like respect, empathy, kindness and so on cannot be taught like english or ayurveda, but all can be learnt, and the trick is to provide a safe and vibrant environment so that students will handg around long enough to catch on – some might resort to mysticism and self-aggrandizement and all sorts of other human foibles – such as Randomized Clinical Trials for the lower back and so on and so forth but they all serve the same purpose, they focus the mind on what might need to be done, all these things then are ritual consecration – the accreditation mills, the prayers, the retreats, the unravelling of an oblong piece of plastic vinyl ina an anti-intellectual pogrom of a contemporary yoga studio, it’s all about consecration, yoga is all about religion.
Contemporary science, philosophy, and cognitive theory (warning: this is rather an odd category of disciplines that don’t really go together at all well) do NOT dismiss essentialist thinking when it comes to anthropology, psychology and so on, (soft sciences some might argue but sciences nonetheless I think you will agree?). Essentialist thinking can explain many behaviours and phenomena and is closely linked to theory of mind. In any case, verificationism is hardly a more apt framework for questions concerning personal ethics and ones role in society, both bigger questions perhaps than whether essences really can be proven to exist in the same way as a hydrogen atom. Really I don’t think anyone is really interested in that except perhaps the Subalternists who have no interest in predicting the natural world like a contemporary physicists does, but in improving chances of social equity – so – very different projects with very different hoped-for outcomes, and different domains containing different theories and methods of research.
To believe in reincarnation today is NOT ‘to be willing to overlook that there is not one shred of empirical evidence to support the survival of consciousness beyond organic death’ but to be willing to accept that essentialism is a very good heuristic for a life well led.
Again: ‘to believe today in the irreducible truth (rather than just the usefulness) of an apostolic or hereditary knowledge-stream is to be willing to…’ does not exclude other categories of knowledge – but like a placebo, it only works if you believe in it, and like all religions – they don’t work unless you believe in something, and the key is not to give up believing but to get better at knowing when to use essentialist thinking and when it is best to wait for the evidence to come in.
You have clearly gone to far here in suggesting that to ‘believe that belief and believer are separate’ and the ‘diminishment of creative agency in the process of yoga philosophy’ is something I, and probably millions of Hindus, Buddhists, jains and philosophers probably won’t recognise.
Mat — I’m trying to digest the bulk of what you’re bringing up here, but I’m stuck on the first bit: what are the Christian overtones? I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but…
I’d be happy to talk more about my latent Christianity privately. You can take the boy out of the church, but…
I think you’ve de-analogized the McLuhan analogy to simply restate support for reincarnation. Saying that “consciousness is the medium” by which a knowledge artifact is passed between persons and generations of persons seems to suggest not only the separation from/continuation of consciousness beyond biology, but also its porousness between individuals. Both possibilities presuppose the vitality of something beyond us, the “sacred parasite” I referred to in the post: “dharma” existing beyond behaviour, “scripture” existing beyond its writers/readers, “soul” existing beyond the brain that dreams it, etc. So to resimplify: the exegetical attitude towards the given perfection of a text — a hallmark of traditionalist method — mirrors the devotional attitude towards the given otherness of the soul/Self. And when the content of that text is ABOUT the soul/Self, the approach and the content (medium and message) are mutually reinforcing.
As for essentialism, I have never reduced “Indian philosophy” to it, but rather pointed out an attitudinal strain within it (which adherents of any darsana can display). It was my contact with Buddhism that cracked my native essentialism forever, in fact. So while I do use essentialism in many modes — my favourite is the essentialist connections in Samkhya, so important in Ayurveda, between medium/message/organ i.e. fire/form/eyesight — I use it ironically, knowing that it won’t quite stand up in the end — kind of like the atman when Nagarjuna is through with it.
I agree with you that in the same way essentialism can be a moral and even emotional aid to a better and more passionate life. Of course I feel an essential connection to my partner and son and our parents, and then it evaporates in growing circles from there. But it compels me in ineffable, autonomic ways that make me wonder whether essentialism is simply the philosophical gesture that arises from certain biological imperatives that we come to call love. You’re right: in most cases of deep meaning to me, I am an essentialist until the evidence shows up to argue. An ended marriage is a good example: the default feels like essential love and allegiance until it becomes clear that the conditions and rules have changed.
I guess my limited impression is that across sciences both soft and hard essentialism is seen in the same way: an instrument of drive that can’t really be found or isolated upon analysis. Every discipline has seen its essentialism deconstructed, no? Anthropology after Margaret Mead, psychology after the advent of the intersubjective, history after Foucault, power after the subaltern, homeostasis after homeodynamism, and the atom after the new physics. But this is not to say that anyone in their hearts has been able to give it up. I even feel it now, driving the will to dialogue: “This must be useful, this must be good.”
Greetings from Portland. I’m on vacation for once and enjoying part of it by catching up on your work.
With respect to my own lineage, you are teetering on the edge of credibility, my friend.
1. The two sentences at the end of paragraph five are too well written. The young, smart, anti-authoritarian reader in teacher training is being led to a certain conclusion, it seems, about the nature of the knowledge held by House of Jois, House of Iyengar, House of Mohan, and (boy oh boy) the House of Desikachar.
But… go to India. It is in the ferment of industrialization, class differentiation, economic possibility. A materialist society, VERY unlike the society that surrounds MPY in Canada and the US. The nature of the family boundaries you describe – it is equal parts parampara and CAPITALISM. Family business, baby. A legitimate stage of development in its own way. A different sort of religion than you intimate.
2. Please, do a modicum of research on the injunction to “practice, practice.”
It’s not a dismissal. It’s not anti-svadhyaya. It is only the use of this term in straw man arguments that has reduced it to such. It’s actually a fascinating shibboleth at the historical threshold of east and west, Sanskrit and English. Here’s a snipped of how it really went down. There’s a lot more if you look around in that direction.
love and respect, AJ
Angela! So glad you’re on vacation.
Rats. Y’know that invocation of Sri PJ would have benefited from the context of an earlier part of the chapter, which reads, in part:
“Whenever his western students asked him questions about the philosophy of yoga, the late Patabhi Jois would famously say: â€œPractice, practice: all is coming.â€ Strangely impish and austere at the same time, the command concealed many tensions at the heart of yoga today. In one sense, Jois was distilling the impatience that the old Hatha yogis always showed towards speculative chatter, and would certainly show towards our data-saturated zeitgeist. More practically, he was acknowledging the gap between his own brahminical scholarship and the naivetÃ© of his western students. He seemed to be suggesting that yoga philosophy, especially as transmitted through a Sanskrit lineage and Hindu religious heritage, was likely to remain forever impenetrable to outsiders. But most importantly for the legacy of Modern Postural Yoga (henceforth â€œMPYâ€, cf. Nevrin, in Singleton, 2008), Jois was suggesting that the dedicated practice of asana and breathwork both encapsulates and leads seamlessly to ethical responsibility, philosophical acuity and spiritual awakening. Whatever youâ€™re looking for, he seemed to be saying, can be found on the mat, by the dawnâ€™s early light. Joisâ€™ framing of â€œpracticeâ€ has slowly become synonymous with â€œshut up and vinyasaâ€ in the yoga culture extending beyond his sphere. As modern disembodied humans who carry enormous complexity-anxiety, a lot of us might be understandably attracted to this simple directive.”
“But I donâ€™t think that Joisâ€™ dictum of â€œ99% practice and 1% theoryâ€ was meant to become a curricular limitation [upon the 200-hour YTT context]. Nor do I think it was meant to provoke the intellectual temerity or occasional outright anti-intellectualism we see within contemporary yoga. For Jois, we must remember, was a well-trained philosopher: the wisdom literature was not â€œtheoryâ€ to him, but a practice of its own. He grew up in a scriptural discourse that was its own sadhana: â€œthe gift of truth.â€ He would have been well aware, for example, that the fifth-century CE grammarian Bhartrhari â€“ whose work has inspired some of the figureheads of modern linguistics â€“ claimed that the contemplation of philosophy through the study of language was actually as valid a path towards liberation as meditation could be. Jois could as well have shouted â€œDialogue, dialogue, and all is coming!â€ Perhaps as an experiment, we could behave for a while as if he did, and see how this inspiration enlivens our sense of shared knowledge, and community.”
I do hope that sweetens the deal. I remember thinking specifically of our exchanges as I wrote. And I was actually going to send you the whole chapter for feedback!
As for parampara/proprietariness/capitalism, I’m on it, have written about it elsewhere, but can’t remember where.
Matthew, I know you are trying to digest it – but your finely honed intellectual utiliities that otherwise equip you exceptionally well both in your most ambitious and in your most humdrum projects seem to be something akin to prosthesis in the light of Dharma, and I am uncomfortable as anyone would be in bringing such a light to bear in a public forum. Please feel free to skip over the charge of Christian overtones since I would be more comfortable discussing that privately if you wish, in the meantime any further discussion on my other complaints might be useful for your audience too, so I am happy to bat that about a few more times with you if you think it would be of any use.
I actually understood most of that, Matthew!
Ironically, that’s all most rationally oriented religious people mean by God when pressed, which is why I never buy the athiest/believer dichotomy in most cases. Like I wrote earlier, an athiest believes in goodness & love, but doesn’t call it God, and a rational religious person believes in goodness & love and does call it God. Same-o, same-o. (And no, Julian, that doesn’t mean I’m justifying all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion down through the ages! LOL)
I suspect that when I used the “C word” it fired up someone’s prejudices/samskaras. There was nothing even implicitly Christian in what you wrote beyond what a reader would read into it. The long and the short of it is this, if I were still in hardcore academic mode I would give you a reading from the way the introduction is going. You throw down reincarnation as matter of fact…
(BTW, Christianity does believe in reincarnation but only a one time event in a changed form of the present body but the ego/ahamkara dies permanently. The goal is reincarnated earth & universe populated by physical people)
…then I’m going to be less willing to proceed. Even as a person of faith who is seeking mystical union with God in a similar vein, I would have to wonder if what you’re presenting is going to be something new or simply an argument for Buddhist Yoga. Are you really someone in the middle who can put on both the robes of the yogi as well as that of the academy? Postmodernity, akin to the atomic bomb, seems to have had a cataclysmic effect and softened everyone’s ability to make definitive statements in academia.
In short, I think you ran into a Buddhist apologist (as in the Greek “apologia”).
P.S., Dharmacology, I sincerely hope you can come to the place where you can say something akin to Thomas Merton like “I’m a Christian” while remaining a Buddhist.
Hi Sean, so great that you posted again. I was pondering last night about being a Buddhist and ‘having’ ‘ religion’.
We have a friend, a scientist in a discipline that is a (soft-centered?) hard science. And he is a practicing Mormon. He has no trouble whatsoever being a very good scientist. And then there are the wacky things he ‘believes’.
HaHa. [I don’t believe he really believes that stuff…. how could he??] But he says he does!
HaHa. –Enjoy the words from mremski on this wacky issue of familial circles of love.
Here’s something from the oldest known member of my lineage talking about this very subject & his critic of Western research as well (starts at 3:28 through 5:10):
All the relevant points: 1) Don’t do further experiments, 2) ancients have made a path that must be followed, 3) don’t stray from the path, and 4) further research – in any field – is just duplication.
When I get invited to the parties, I bring my own Kool Aid in a sealed container! 😉
M/ By posing an alternate analogy, and in my view a more coterminous one with Dharma re:McLuhan I was hoping it would allow you to parse the Gordian Knot of Mala beads you are playing with when you suggest that the knowledge you are describing is not something ‘merely learned, nor something that one can teach oneself, but rather something that is given… by which Ätman-like knowledge is authorized for transmigration in its â€œpureâ€ form from the older teacher to the younger student’. Yes, that IS one approach, but by no means do Gurus define the genre any more than a pastor defines Christianity. Even in its most chauvinistic form, Vedic tradition does not come close to the level of disembodiment and spectral hegemony of the non-Dharmic traditions, whose ground you generally proceed from in your various critiques of the alleged ‘backward’ Vedic system. I have not explicitly confirmed or denied that I believe in reincarnation but merely pointed out that some categories of ‘knowledge’ – although ‘data’ might be better – are passed between persons and generations of persons. My son has a small birthmark exactly in the same place on his body as I do, I did not transmit that knowledge to the cells in his skin through mind-control, or from reading the Vedas – and similarly we all have predispositions that are inherited from thousands of beings who went before us, I hear we all have a few percent of DNA from when we were fish? Can this not feature as being about as conceptually liminal as reincarnation? I think it can, so there are both strong and weak interpretations which will suit an evolutionary biologist to a raging spiritualist and everyone else in between – it needs no ‘belief’ in the disembodied, Nicene sense. This then is no more a ‘separation from/continuation of consciousness beyond biology’ than the thousands of neutrinos that pass through your eyeballs every second without you noticing. Without the benefit of the human genome project, I like to give these Indian sages the benefit of the doubt here, and tend to think more dimly of Christian apologists who try to shoehorn the more obvious deficiencies in their own culture into a critique which only ever critiques itself. PLEASE UNDERSTAND the ‘exegetical attitude’ found in Dharma bears very little correlation to that found in the Abrahamic traditions, and any attempt to make them analogous is disrespectful of the clear differences between them. You should stop doing that.
Little story. The first time I was handed a printed shastra to stumble through in a group class, I put it on the floor, and was sharply told to support it with something not floor-like, out of respect for the power of the text. I found some yoga blocks and made a little desk. At break time I stood up and stepped over my desk to head to the bathroom, and a senior student said “You must never do that, because the energy of your bum will drop down over the text.” I was amazed. In 20 years of conservative Catholic education, I had never encountered such a sacralized attitude towards sacred texts. And behind the text stood the guru, in a way that the priest could never stand behind the gospels as gatekeeper. The guru was the “holder” of the shastra, in the same way that the body is claimed to be the holder of the atman. The catholic priest was an explicator. No one seriously considered him coterminous with the text, which is why shaktipat, at least in the catholic stream, would be an absurd idea. So I find your analysis really misses the social power angle.
I’m not bringing this up to suggest that dharmic traditions don’t foster hermeutics, because they do, but to communicate my impression that exegetical preciousness is alive and well within them. To me, the text as fetish object and the message of essentialism are co-reflective. This is of course palpable in Abrahamic streams as well, and I didn’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t. Wherever it shows up, I wince. So maybe you could help me out and actually explain rather than accuse how a critique of text-fetish-essentialism in general is somehow coming from a Christian tilt? I would like to understand: how is Dharmic exegesis different from the Abrahamic, from your point of view? To me, there are substantial differences between authorless sruti and divine revelation, which I’m chewing through now while preparing another post. But what else would you have to add?
Bob W – don’t worry about Julian – he has already got himself into far too much hot water with that anti-faith rhetoric: http://dharmacology.net/dharmacologists/mat_witts/faith-politics-philosophy
Sean – with respect – before you cast aspersions on others who you do not know, it might be good to take a look to see if you have been suppressing your own prejudices for far too long so when someone pops up and is critical of a culture you are in love with you don’t end up just digging up all that buried stuff for them to rake over. There is of course, a massive Christian tilt on Matthews work, which would be fine if he did not try to analyse a different culture from only looking from one viewpoint and pretend that it represents a more superior analysis. Just because you can’t see it, or want to ignore it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, but I don’t want to air the details here because a persons personal beliefs are not for the crowd. Rest assured, I am not reading anything INTO it – it is not necessary because the tone, content and direction all illustrate a Christian worldview. You really must see the menace and disingenuity of suggesting Christians believe in reincarnation. Seriously – you need to re-evaluate the zeal you are showing here with this sort of naive and reckless acculturation. Next thing you’ll be telling us in Christians believe in Krishna, and we’re really all the same, it’s all one-ness…blahdy blah. With respect – I don’t think you don’t get it – seeking mystical union with God is a romantic idea of yoga with a Christian lens – where God is separate from humankind – original sin and Jesus as a product of virgin birth and so on. Hindus believe we are all divine – there is no separation – and this is why yoga is though of as being Satan’s work – then we get the accusations of idolatry, caste abuses, human rights – they are all trotted out by people that should know better, but frequently don’t – hard right and left-wingers in US and Europe. Thomas Merton? You can’t, in all honesty hold Christian beliefs and then become a Buddhist without giving up your Christian beliefs at some point, (as a hard-core academic you probably already know that Eubulides was great at this sort of thing) and you can’t be a Buddhist with Christian beliefs – because you will certainly wind up being a Christian. Same road, different directions. That’s one of the the paradoxes of unity through diversity. Same road, different directions – seriously – look into it.
The viewer’s a-gog –glance– at the marble statue of St. Theresa in the ‘throws’ of the spiritual? Shaktipat is where it finds you?
I have received several mailings from a Buddhist lineage that tells me I can’t throw away the images ‘it’ has placed in the envelope for my delight/edification/control. It would be disrespectful. I am informed.
I pause for a moment, the/my ‘past’ flowing through me, –and toss the stuff –in the can –along with the rotting peels and stench of fowl detritus.
I think about this sin from time to time, having been inculcated with ‘step on a crack break your mother’s back’ from way way long time ago.
I’m very concerned about the punishment issues in the various ‘systems’ of ‘control’.
Ha Ha Ha. Very concerned.
I’m grateful for the peace I have. I look forward to being –completely dead– when that time comes for me. I God has any respect at all for his creation, he will leave us in that glorious a.l.one
You bring up great points:
1) Have people running from the heat of Western religious jumped out of the proverbial pan only to find themselves in the fire of Eastern systems? Escaping one system of bondage only to land in another?
2) My great-great-great guru Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute, in another lecture series on the Yoga Sutras (also on YouTube), tells the audience to not believe the [Catholic?] priests about heaven and hell. After all, says Swami, what priest has fully died and come back to tell us there are such places. Then without batting an eye or missing a beat, Swami tells the audience they will have to hang around [and be reincarnated] because all their bad habits hold them down from merging back with the One. Makes you want to say, what swami has really died and come back to tell you this is absolutely so. 😉
After three years at Calvin Theological Seminary and a year each at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and [finally] Ecumenical Theological Seminary as well as doing four years of language study in Koine Greek and biblical Hebrew, my professors got through to me and I’m so much softer in my pronouncements about what I know is fact.
Having taught Yoga at MSU for two years now, when this comes up I tell the students, faculty, and staff participants that we could 1) die and go to heaven, 2) die and that’s it, or 3) die and be reincarnated and I have no idea which is true. From a research-oriented perspective, this is the only honest way to state it. I could say I prefer one of these options, but that’s a personal belief. It’s not only honest, but holds space for persons that are of any religious persuasion.
Matthew, your little story was charming. I have heard also that twitter can be used to threaten women with rape, so I suppose we ought to shut it down, no? This for me typifies yours, and very many other commentators perspectives and responses whenever they experience jeopardy – there’s this guru who… just goes to show how backward Vedanta is. No complexity. No nuance. No appreciation of the rich contribution Indian culture has made to the world. Just moral panic, harranguing gurus and myopic hermeneutics. I sympathize with your trouble, (I have been so tempted to be in that place) but really the whole project lacks a critical ingredient – circumspection. I would suggest you re-consider the weight you are giving to your own personal experience when compared to the far more grave, aggregated behavior of larger populations in order to get a more balanced view. We can all recount stories which are surprising and shocking – only last year I was physically attacked by an elderly first-aid volunteer at a public event and years ago had my ribs broken by a three year old!! but of course, the TOKEN is not the TYPE. Take a look at the history of the Catholic Church over the last few hundred years, maybe also Protestantism and Islam. Compare the level of involvement of those traditions in major acts of war, terror, conquest, violence and oppression around the world with the Dharmic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism and when you have a clear picture of all of that, and the differences in the ideology that drives them (in particular I would start with an analysis of the nature AND intellectual position of ‘god’ with respect to humankind in these genres of faith, but also the minimum standard implementation in order to be regarded as a member of each faith and the GENERAL IMPORTANCE the literature plays in each tradition) and you will see what the priests you refer to ARE ACTUALLY standing behind the history. I do not take sides myself – I prefer that people equip themselves with whatever evidence they need. The data speaks for itself, but such an understanding would never lead me to the conclusion that all Christians, Jews or Muslims are oppressive and violent, or all Hindus and Buddhists were non-violent. But you are happy it seems, to speak about an entire set of traditions based on your own anecdotal interpretations – fine – but you are limiting yourself to preaching only to the converted in doing that. Read some of the pronouncements from the last few popes on social reform, take a look at the structure of the church and COMPARE it to the Dharmic traditions. What ARE the ACTUAL differences? Social power angle? Ha, take a look at the modern history of India, the Middle East, the British Empire and American Imperialism (‘Gods Country’?) and I am sure you will find that zeal to denigrate what I admit is an imperfect Dharmic paradigm much less heady and cumbersome. In this sense Vedanta could be said to be very much like democracy, no one really likes it, but it is among the least worst options when it comes down to it. I think your lack of appreciation borders on the missionary, and it is menacing and frequently overblown.
The only Dharmic exegesis, strictly speaking has come from men from white, european extraction, and latterly a few indian academics who have succumbed to the western, academic (and predominantly therefore christian) worldview.
My recommendation would be to undertake a few weeks, months or possibly even years of serious Purva paksha before you post in a similar vein, otherwise you’ll do not much better than Sean, who feels his right to free speech (which I sincerely do uphold) also entails and extends to a moral obligation to tell us the contents of his mind on matters far beyond his undoubted fields of expertise, (which is of course I tend to argue against) and is one of the ways I see professionals and academics regularly failing when it comes to matters of Dharma.
It wasn’t an isolated story or token. Six years in two different parampara settings gave me the same message: the medium, whether in book or guru form, was coherent with the irreducibility of the message. Deconstruction did not penetrate there. A critical observation is not an accusation of backwardness, but an attempt to suss out difference. As for appreciating “the rich contribution Indian culture has made to the world”, that’s actually my job. I don’t actually do anything else with my time. And I’ve never defended or promoted my natal religion, anywhere, except to compare the relatively mature culture of social activism in the Catholic church to its relative lack in modern global yoga. I don’t critically engage with Catholicism because it’s relevant to me only as a memory, not as a living practice. I critically engage what I love and do. As for my subjectivism, I know I cannot deny it, and it irritates me that everyone else presumes to be able to sideline their own, so in everything I do I aim for emotional transparency. I don’t pretend to have a complete view but I try had to understand where I am blind.
With each comment, we get farther from the target of the post: dual conservative attitudes of exegesis on one side and curatorial abstraction on the other, both suppressing creativity in yoga philosophy, wherever it’s practiced. Pretty simple. Plus, you’re sounding more Hindutva and shrill with every turn. Because neither this post nor my experience is really your target, I’m done for now. Thanks for the chat.
I grew up with twice/three times weekly classes at church, my Greek-father-in law was a lecturer/teacher there with ‘the church’.
We did all our biblical study in the original languages/translated. Word by word, precept by precept…
Eventually I discovered the pastor of this church was a sexual deviant, having wooed both of my sisters-in-law, –and a molester of his own teenaged daughter!
(my sister in laws were merely teenage girls when he molested them, while counseling them in ‘chambers’).
To boot, the pastor liked to hit his wife.
His sons were brought up to become mercenary soldiers.
Newly divorced at 21, I began my college studies.
I studied Greek in college for a semester.
Then went on to study archaeology (science).
–Married another archaeologist.
Then: Fell out of a helicopter in Alaska, -and eventually began MPY with some fantastic teachers of yoga -to heal my body -and mind.
–Decided to help others with their broken bodies. Began a study of chant, and this led me to a deeper interest in the origins of these sounds.
I think we just die.
I think the ‘follow up’ to our lives is what we –leave behind, both genetically, and with our work and through our relationships.
Nice to meet you Sean!
PS: I did some homework on Swami Rama after looking over the video/s. I always wondered where that successor-of-his was coming from. ‘Course I’d heard of the Himalayan Institute, I just never got serious enough to research.
I have found the successor to be interesting, whenever I have read his commenting here and there.
I’m saddened by the story of the biological son of Swami Rama. And all that sordid scandal.
Something about your project occurred to me in reading your exchange with Dharmacology, Matthew. I’ll share it in case you enjoy the feedback and find it interesting. If it just seems like unhelpful critique, ignore it.
You introduced yourself to me with some care to clarify that you are an outsider to the academy. Your bio distinguishes socially legitimate sources of education from school-of-life sorts of education. And there is, on the other hand, this project of looking at traditional yoga knowledge streams as if from the outside.
So there is a lot of othering going on with academia, and with yoga.
FWIW, If you are on the path of neti-neti, I’m on the road of ‘I am that.’ I am a academic. Sure. Whatever. And I am a lineage-holder in a yoga tradition. Hard to avoid. NBD. Neither is a big part of my identity. What I identify as is a grassroots yoga teacher, if anything. But insofar as there are academia and traditional yoga in me, that’s just part of some greater whole. There is no conflict for me between the two. If anything, each stream of influence is much more valuable vis-a-vis the other.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
In other words (Lyotard’s), we should have a suspicion for meta-narratives.
In other words (mine), nothing is inherently anything.
Universities, Lineages. Just institutions. Hollow. No inherent conservatism, liberalism, tendency to corruption, or whatever. Just patterns in time. What they express changes from place to place, generation to generation, perceiver to perceiver.
Love and respect, AJ
Because I’m kind of outside both. More outside academia (multiple drop-outs) than yoga (years of wandering practice, but no lineage identification), but really: home is where the keyboard is. That you are, however marginally, more inside of both makes your process of integration fascinating to watch, and I always look forward to what comes next.
For me, nothing is hollow. Structures contain power, and they mete it out, and we accept power, or we rebel. Hopefully we always strive to see how they reflect our innermost structures.
Thank you for your comments Angela.
I have had a few moments in my life where I felt that universities, lineages, were somehow hollow, nothing ‘inherent’ so forth. For me it was more like those ‘institutions’ couldn’t answer questions ‘really’.
I sat down with my major prof/mentor. He is in the Academy. Big time amazing person, and the finest teacher I have ever had the pleasure to dialogue with both in the classroom and in out.
What he shared with me: It’s our job. To make sense of it.
And we were exactly speaking about the patterns in time (and space). Archaeology.
This is the job of science.
To tell from our best place of seeing, with the best instruments we have.
He counseled: Do not despair that the answers are not shaped just so. The shape will change. This is the work. We keep working. We do the best with what we have.
But we CAN.
And we will.
@Allise: Wow, what a terrible situation you described! :'( One reason I’m a stickler about going to the original sources (ad fonts!/back to the sources! – the renaissance war cry) is to prevent this abuse – or at least take one weapon from their arsenal. I find such persons can be Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jewish, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, etc., they will find a weapon – any weapon – because they’re bent on control & violence.
So glad to hear you’re healing wonderfully! I find I have to do it outside the institutional church as well. I’m reading lots of Pandit Tigunait’s books. I’ve learned a “pandit” is like a professor of biblical theology in Hinduism versus a secular Sanskrit scholar. So far the book I like best is “Sakti: The Power in Tantra: A Scholarly Approach.” In his other writings, much more devotional. In this one, more what I’m used to. Ironically, Swami Rama ordered him to get another PhD, this time in the West, for this very purpose! 😀
@Angela: I can see where you’re coming from & when I was part of an institutional church the basic philosophy was: whatever the local minister & congregation is like, that’s what the denomination is like for the local people. Often there’s positive correlation between the attitudes & outlooks of local ministers & their denominations, but not always. I don’t know, but my hypothesis is this holds for Yoga teachers – and gurus/lamas, if appropriate – and lineages.
With Westerners, however, there may be more drift as there aren’t larger lineage meetings every quarter at a regional level or annually at a national/international level. For example, my guru is about ready to relocate from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Miami, Florida shortly following the conclusion of our RYT500 program (last quarterly meeting ends May 3rd). As I’m a poor Yoga teacher & looking at going back to university for the MS & PhD in Kinesiology, chances are not going to be seeing her much anymore. Maybe last time in both of our lives. So unless I go to the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania I’m going to be on my own and “Tantric Hatha Yoga” (ParaYoga/Himalayan Institute traditions) is going to be “Sean” for most my students. My guru is not going to be jumping on me about “Tradition!” from Miami and so I can become as heterodox as I want to be.
@Matthew Remski: You will never make the other Matt happy unless you agree with him completely, that is his First Noble Truth. Your patience & long-suffering is commendable, but I’m not sure if responding to him helps either one of you. Time better spent on next installment than responding to someone bent on being adversarial rather than constructive.
@Matthew Thank you for the opportunity to reveal the boundaries of our interaction here, it has been instructive for me and also unexpectedly reassuring to re-learn the futility of meeting bigotry with an appeal to evidence and circumspection. I have no reason to trouble you vexatiously and fully respect your request not to want to continue the conversation in open forum. I appreciate these are not easy aspects to dissolve but by the same token, I have seen them dissolve in other settings so I am ever the optimist. I will continue to try and avoid your work as much as possible since as @Sean says – we both are really going in opposite directions – so it just goes to show – insight can come from the most unexpected places. You do seem quite effective at promoting your posts online and building mutual admiration in bottom half of the internet and so I think it best that I now formally withdraw from this conversation since I do not wish to stand in the way of that kind of progress. I will however write a valedictory piece about this since it typifies much of what I believe is wrong in the wider community at the moment. With best wishes.
I agree that I can always be more circumspect. And it’s good for me to have my feet held to the fire about generalizing from personal experience, which I try to avoid through transparency but am not always successful at of course. But while you appealed for evidence, you provided none — not one quote, not one reference — to support your repetition that finding an exegetical attitude within Dharmic pedagogy is somehow a western/Christian overlay.
I look forward to your post. But if you’re not just overexcited and you really are going to accuse me of bigotry, which is very serious, I’d appreciate it if you’d quote me directly, from any published source anywhere, to back it up. Cheers.
How does Deepak Chopra figure into your analysis of contemporary yoga philosophy? It would seem that he is both a counter-argument to your initial point about the inaccessibility of yoga philosophy and a shining example of your new paradigm of creative revolution outside the bounds of academia and tradition, but still rooted firmly in the ancient texts and ayurveda.
Matthew, I welcome your invitation to respond to your secondary query about my claim that ‘finding an exegetical attitude within Dharmic pedagogy is somehow a western/Christian overlay’, which you rightly point out has not been supported with any evidence.
You are right, and this was mainly because I thought it self-evident to someone like yourself who may be more or less, similarly acquainted with the foundational texts as I am but has also given more than just a passing thought to their actual provenance and authenticity – unlike many contemporary pedagogues it would appear.
So, the most obvious place to look is of course the language used in the literature being studied and I take it you rely as all non-native Sanskitians do, (and like your friend, Bob W.) on varied English translations of Sanskrit?
If we look at the development of these two languages from (somewhat controversially) the proto-indo-european model of development we immediately run into some difficulties of a linguistic sort. Can we really be sure that when an Indian speaks of Dharma, Brahman, Ishwara, yoga, Gita, Krisna these markers can be approximated to Law, Holy Spirit, God, Union, Bible, Jesus, or in fact anything other than what the Dharmic traditions have already nominated for themselves?
I am sceptical that such foundations in language (as you are) are axiomatic – but that discussion far beyond the issue at hand here – where we seem to diverge most extremely is on the effect of the well documented work of Christian missionaries and western imperialist forces over the Sanskrit and Pali influenced landscape in modern times – I am even cynical perhaps.
I believe that one of the most relevant schools of philosophy to a textual exegesis is MÄ«mÄá¹ƒsÄ and I am just embarking on a brief look into the part Sri Adi Shankara played in the reversal of Buddhist thought in India in his time, because it seems on first glance to have been a bit of a set up – but I am not going to write a story around a first impression – because that would be both hypocritical and tiresome.
But what are we presuming when we equate thousands of years of ancient Indian culture and peripatetic, oral transmission with the particular interpretations of highly visible european translators, orientalists and indologists working with a language renowned for its rich ambiguity and another one known for its almost obsessive attempts at precision?
After all, we can be precise but inaccurate, as well as accurate whilst being imprecise – dependant on the instrument we have at hand.
In short, are we being honest in this conversation about the true extent of western acculturation of Indian philosophy into ‘our own’ philosophy resulting in such unfortunate products as the ill-fated yoga 2.0?
Of course, the argument about whether or not Sanskit IS the language of enlightenment would also be a legitimate line of inquiry, but I personally do think it has a massive contribution to make – but that’s not for now either.
In many cases the Indian influence of our most cherished icons – Aristotle, Plato, Jung, Weber, Spinoza and many, many more, (perhaps most controversially of all possibly – even Jesus?) has been systematically derided, misaapropriated, unacknowledged and plagiarized – and this I put forward as evidence, but also as a beginning for further work.
Do our own personal problems with these texts illuminate some fundamental darkness between the spaces of the texts as you seem to want to have it, or do they merely cast a shadow over these icons?
You seem to like the former answer, and I prefer the latter for now – but I would be prepared to accept that it is both – BUT ARE YOU?
I would point out the difference in our chosen vocabulary – you use the term ‘exegetical attitude’ whereas I prefer the term ‘exegetical approach’. I am not sure if that has any significant effect on this thread or if it means we are arguing about different things but I would tend to think of them both as being too precise since this argument is really better enframed in hermeneutics and not exegesis – the interpretational theories ‘behind’ the translations and the arguments and the debates and commentary – the entire framework of the interpretive process, encompassing all forms of communication: written, verbal and nonverbal, while exegesis focuses primarily on the sutras themselves?
Your project, in which this post and very many others like them, from yourself and others is situated in a presupposed ideological vaccum where Christian influence, so obvious to anyone who has taken a hard look at it is present, but also made invisible – simultaneously through concerted social inequity, and none more extreme throughout the period of modern, and perhaps our postmodern and post-postmodern history
I am as pleased that you decided not to pursue your idea that I am a Hiduvta apologist or becoming shrill – although I might be, but if you wanted to go down the ad hom. route I can reassure you there would be much more fertile lines of attack, the only one of which would I be prepared to divulge here is my diagreeable temperament which I tolerate simply because the pros are about the same as the cons, but let’s just say that I would not look forward to the day when I am beyond reproach and leave it at that? This conversation does not excite me, it saddens me and the sadness is deep and resonant – because I think if people who write regularly in this vein were better prepared to take a longer and wider view much of the dissonance aimed at traditionalist approaches would resolve by itself.
I hope you are prepared for such a dissolution, and I am only still here because I suspect that you are sensitive, honest and intelligent enough for it, but I am equally prepared for the possibility you are not so prepared, after all intuitionism in yoga (a gateway to bigotry and much else besides) is perhaps one of the hardest things for anyone to relinquish?
I may be even more skeptical than you, Mat, when it comes to the slippage of meaning in translation. Not only do I believe that we can’t be sure of the fluency between Dharma/Law and Brahman/Holy Spirit, we also can’t be sure of the consistent meanings of these terms within their own languages! “Law” may be a poor approximation of “Dharma”, but do you really feel that either of these terms in themselves are stable in meaning across time and the socio-political divisions between speakers? Beyond their myriad meanings, each and every one of the terms you list, when in capitalized form (as a transcendental signifier) takes on the generalized meaning and feeling of power, and it’s this power I am quite interested it, wherever it shows itself in history, but mainly where I am most able to feel it, in everyday relations, including exchanges like these. This perhaps is why I choose psychological terms such as attitude: it feels like an attitude to me, and I am more confident in that feeling than I would be in naming it as an “approach”, which would imply I could suss out intentionality.
The introductions of both yoga 2.0 and threads of yoga carefully lay out the limitations of my skill and training, and the parameters of the exploration. I’ve been far more careful than any other commentator I know of in coming clean about what could never not be the case: I have encountered yoga and acculturated its many threads into my own. Transparency has been a primary methodological value for me. In fact, partially inspired by this exchange, I’m trying to compile a learning autobiography to leave no stone of bias/influence unturned. I think that how people like us come to these passions is a rich story, and should be included as part of the process.
Assessing the hybridization of the Indo-Greek economy of ideas is way beyond me. But they’re all so remote to me: I feel attached and unattached to all of them, randomly. Most of the time I feel that my heritage is simply whatever literature I come across. This is not to say I work in an ideological vacuum, as you rightly point out, but if I’m accused of ideology, I want to know why, and with a little more precision.
As for intuitionism in yoga: most of the time I’ve seen it lead to yoga.
Hi, Matthew. Couldn’t help but notice that you’re not responding to my comments like you do to others. No offense taken, I assure you, and I ask this in good humor, but:
Is it because my remarks are so brilliant that they brook no retort?
Or is it because they’re so ridiculous that you can only throw up your hands in cyber-silence?
Apologies Bob. They’re all good comments and questions. Mainly a time management thing, and I end up doing disorganized triage. As for Deepak Chopra, it’s a longer discussion for another post: don’t know when I’ll get to that.
No problem at all Matthew. Don’t be concerned. I was just feeling clever this morning and couldn’t resist. I already figured it was just a time thing for you.
Mat and Matthew.
Let’s think about this. I’m all for deep historical and spiritual tracing and all. But what if someone proved tomorrow that everything we think about the Bhagavad Gita has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to anything the ancient authors of the Gita were thinking or feeling at the time. Would I respond by trying to think and feel the way they did back then so as to be more authentic?
Of course not. I’m ultimately interested in pure ideas and practical spirituality for my own life today. So the only impact of that grand proof of “no connection whatsoever” would be for me to have even greater admiration for the contemporary translators and commentators who dreamed all this great stuff up, even though falsely inspired by the ancient texts.
And I would expect them to insert a sentence at the beginning of their books and articles and courses that said, “Inspired by the ancient yoga texts, but not related to what they actually thought and felt back then.”
And then I would go on living and breathing what we would now know is a completely new manner of soaring inspiration for the current day, led by ground-breaking “even more innovative than than we once thought” leaders like Matthew Remski and Deepak Chopra and Rod Stryker and Stephen Cope and a host of others.
Actually Bob, no one would have to make a retraction.
Now you’ve broached into hermeneutical theory. At Calvin Theological Seminary & Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, I was taught the prevailing evangelical (not fundamentalist, those are two different groups) exegetical theory. The modern expository, usually the preacher/teacher to a local group of devotees living in the modern world, was to discover the “there & then” and then do the difficult work of bridging the timeless principles to the “here & now.”
For example a beautiful passage with lots of ancient ink spilled on it that isn’t talked about in contemporary churches: meat sacrificed to idols.
The “there & then”: as a standard practice, merchants would take a small portion of their meat and lift it up at the local temple. Give that to the temple priests, etc., and then sell the rest at the market. One group of Christians (more mature ones) would buy it, say grace, and eat it without a ting of conscience. Another group of Christians (new believers usually) saw this as apostasy and became vegetarians for the most part. Further, group one being more established, scandalized the new believers and some of them did fall away for a time. Paul comes swinging in saying 1) this isn’t breaking faith but 2) you can’t eat like this if it hurts a brother/sister until 3) they mature more.
The “here & now”: devotees need to be careful about how they interact in the world with so-called “worldly” things (e.g., a treasured Beetles collection) when around new believers struggling to establish a new identity. It might mean forgoing some liberties around them until they’re more established and mature.
However, Bob, that’s not the only approach in town. When I went to Ecumenical Theological Seminary I was exposed to reader-response (a lot of what we see today, no ancient background necessary or it takes a back seat), postcolonial feminist theory (being suspicious about who benefits and looking at issues of inequality, etc.), and liberation hermeneutics (African-descent, feminist, & queer) approaches.
We see the reader-response today, but what a postcolonial feminist-liberation approach? How do these texts prop up caste of the Brahmin elitism and patriarchal dominance that relegates women to reproduction & menial labor at the hearth?
Then, of course, there’s the historical-critical approaches of source theory (teasing out the multiple authors), redaction theory (sensing who edited what & to what agenda), and so forth. Someone also mentioned the etymological aspects of how terms change through time or are impregnated with new meaning at salient points (c.f., http://www.amazon.com/Sakti-Tantra-Pandit-Rajmani-Tigunait/dp/0893891541/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375711710&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=sakti%3A+the+secret+power+in+tantra where Panditji Tigunait highlights how Laksmidhara elucidates the term Samaya in the Saundarya-Lahari, which only appears twice in the text, to become the fulcrum doctrine that distinguishes Samaya from the Kaula Tantraism).
So Bob, no retractions required. It’s not Comcast, it’s complex!
For me, I love the connection to the ancient past, the distant past, the recent past.
I enjoyed recently listening to the Pada’s and the ‘shamanic echos’ shared by mremski in yoga 2.0. — The truth of ‘hitting the ground running’ (that the gravity is there) (that the ground is there) (that running is there) (that I have feet!)
Ultimately, I’m interested in freedom; freedom connected to others -of my own kind.
I’m the daughter of dentists. Grandfather, father, brother in law. I’ve played with mercury -and suffered the consequences. -I’m blind in one eye.
I see the madness. I feel the madness. I know the madness.
The odd bits that create an individual are the fodder; the odd bits are a prod for the turning-of-the-wheel. The texts we embrace -too. -And the texts we burn.
— Prodding fodders.
Thanks for your very interesting responses, Sean and Allise.
@Allise: Yes, that’s what it’s all about! Let’s not talk about heaven or reincarnation, liberation is the only thing worth talking about it. I’ve spun the arguments & gotten uglier than this thread at its darkest points, for what? From now on, liberation is my main discernment tool: will doing/thinking/practicing/studying “X” help me to become more free & empower those around me to freedom as well till we all are One? Really helped me cut down on computer games! 😉
@Bob: Two points –
1)Yogarupa Rod Stryker won’t ever have to print/say a retraction. He’s the guru of Devidas Karina Ayn Mirsky, who is my guruji (grand-guru? I thought I found a term for this, but can’t find it again). His guru is Panditji Rajmani Tigunait of the Himalayan Institute. While some features of the lineage annoy me (c.f., “fiddlers on the mat” from above), these people relentlessly check with the next guru and the grand-guru above them (if possible) that anything that teach or put in print is accurate. Panditji is a stickler about the “there & then,” so a snowball’s chance in a furnace anything Yogarupa puts out doesn’t pass muster.
2) Speaking of Panditji being a stickler, before his death Swamiji Rama and Deborah Willoughby convinced him to re-work his translation of the Tripura Rahasya into a more dynamic format for Westerners. It’s a Sri Vidya Shastra that uses a dialogue between the Sage Parasurama and his guru, the Sage Dattatreya, an Uttara Kaula adept in the Sri Vidya tradition.
If you like Vedanta, then you’ll like this one as well. It’s all about liberation from a Sakti/Sri Vidya perspective. It’s called “Sakti Sadhana: Steps to Samadhi” (http://www.amazon.com/Sakti-Sadhana-Pandit-Rajmani-Tigunait/dp/0893891401/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1375726299&sr=1-1&keywords=sakti+sadhana).
I love how Dattatreya has a courtesan in his presence that continually offers him wine and sex. In traditional Sri Vidya Uttara Kaula style, he is unaffected by all her advances. 😀
Well, regardless of the stars or warnings we might each want to pin onto the words, ‘attitude’ or ‘approach’, I think it useful but also I am aware – a tad patronizing both for you and your most intelligent readers perhaps to repeat my previous caveat regarding the differences between precision and accuracy.
In matters of Dharma we can often be more accurate when we are imprecise, and yet miss the spot if we become overly concerned with precision.
Here, I will re-introduce the main thrust of my complaint, which is not that either one is a superior instrument, but that both the floodlight and the laser will be applied differently by a tennis umpire at the the US open when compared to a US Marine captain in Afghanistan, we both are not those guys and the instuments and territory for us might be fortunately more forgiving also, but the category of difference in application may be in some sense, similar.
So, I am maintaining that even in your most recent response to my complaint that your work suffers from total self-reflexivity to the almost total detriment of Dharma, (which would be fine if it were an original, more poetic response and not pretend to be offering a penetrating critique of ‘traditionalist’ modes and mostly Indian traditions) – you have not provided anything substantially different to what you have been offering previously. It amounts to little more than a welcome and yet unedifying de-intensification of the conversation – away from the central core of my complaint. It only serves to displace the somewhat awkward objects that I wish to bring to yours and your more astute readers attention – away from the subtle and yet powerfully abusive and armed vocabulary you adopt here and generally in your work.
The problem with words (and concepts) like exegesis and hermeneutics, (and many others you tend to use too liberally) is they propogate a western conceptualization of Dharma which has far more damaging implications than your own pet peeves with the various guru-like figures who have crossed your path. Much as a complaint about the after-shave or fashion sense of ones abuser or captor falls into a category of similarly absurd quibbles.
You say you have anecdotal evidence of some horrific incidents, so I do not wish to trivialize any of that, but only to contextualise it and avoid the racially based moral panic and righteous indignation of western observers and commentators that wants to implicate cultural difference in yoga, and in particular Indic difference as the culprit as you do.
So, certain words like ‘exegesis’, along with ‘apostolic’, ‘religion’ and many others I don’t have time to track down litter your work and yet you write wilfully oblivious to the historical subtext of such words which have been devloped in the West and in Islam and are mostly alien to an Indic context.
It is clearly a mistake to insist that your own singular vision for yoga might exist outside traditionalist forms, because that vision entails making the cultural and religious content wholly distinct from each other, presumably in preparation for the sort of secular expunging at some later date by a court judge whose grasp of yoga is unlikely to be different to the recent case presided over in California – yet this is what you appear to be leaning towards, albeit in a roundabout way in articles like this, although not in such an obvious or facile way as the defence of the Jois Foundation .
Christianity and Islam are big deals when it comes to counting lives lost in pursuit of ideals – and maybe your sights would be better targeted on these things rather than on a handful of over-enthusiastic yoga teachers that are claiming to teach yoga?
This lack of proportion to me, is the key weakness in this piece and others like them – which could be about attitude or approach, but in either case – it really misses the point.
This not about the ‘slippage in meaning in translation’ – I made that point only as a means to introduce a greater degree
of uncertainty into the conversation since some of your responses seemed to be about counter-attacking and not
about discussing our shared horizons.
Until you disclaim this inherent bias in your focus on projects like this then I really won’t ever care too much about
what you disclaim in the ‘introductions of both yoga 2.0 and threads of yoga’ or what you believe, because it is
inevitably going to be as partial, prejudiced and uncircumspect as the work of others who you appear to want to point
the finger at here and in other posts?
So, this ‘power’ you are quite interested in would not appear to have much to do with Dharma, it feels too narrow
minded even to be regarded as Nietzschean, or to put into service as a useful psychological attenuator for any latent
‘Coming clean’ for me is not about the small print Matthew – if it were – people like us would be looking to Apple, Google and Starbucks for spiritual succourance, and yet I am sure we do not – and being ‘moved by’ or perhaps feeling ‘directed by’ Indian tradition is not the same as digesting it, obfuscating it, exploiting it or mere acculturation.
If we have been genuinely moved by something or someone, we must surely be left with a sense of awe or at least
humility, and your work lacks in this area. It tends to be elaborate, possibly pretentious, but if not – certainly inchoate, well-meaning but ultimately as tepid and anaemic as unbaked dough – and does not possess the property of ‘Transparency’ you are claiming for it.
I think I have done what I can to stick a flag on the map where bias/unattributed influences remain unturned here, and I hope you will at least take some time to look at those locations.
Please don’t get too hung up about ‘precision’ – it’s a truly awful word best used in the theatres of war and surgery – not
And, I stand by what I said about intuitionism in yoga, most of the time Iâ€™ve seen it lead only to a facsimilie of yoga, because we will not flourish on extremes of solipsism and ideology – we need a certain level of pragmatism here too.
For me, what you are doing here simply doesn’t work, for others still in thrall to secular, liberal, democratic Dharma built by committee or quasi-charismatics, it probably might – but so what?
I get it: I use “western” concepts too liberally, and even though I acknowledge slippage as well as I can, this does a disservice to Dharma, which exists preternaturally somewhere the concepts cannot touch. More than this, the concepts are “abusive” and “armed”. But I wish you could show me how, for instance, “apostolic succession” is substantially different from “parampara”, and how this difference could possibly be abusive, except to somebody who simply thinks English shouldn’t be used to discuss Indian ideas. You have time to write lengthy and wandering criticisms, but I don’t understand how if you’re really as interested as you are irritated you don’t have time to find a single paragraph to present and analyze.
I seem to remember that there are schools of literary theory that state baldly that every translation is an act of violent appropriation. It feels like that’s what you’re leaving me with. I just see it another way: translation across language, culture, and time is an ambivalently creative act, arising out of love and sometimes rage. We do the best we can under the assumption that understanding can arise even under the most trying of circumstances, even if it takes generations of work for the biases to be illuminated and slowly neutralized. The road from Arthur Avalon to James Mallinson is long, but paved.
I have the opposite of a singular vision of yoga. I’ve never even defined the term. My value is diversity and eclecticism, and this actually reflects the history of yoga as I understand it. I would never say that traditionalism or a bhakti bhavana or any spiritual allegiance should be stripped from the culture — that would be absurd. If I have a wish its simply that the modes find co-existence, and that sanctimony and preciousness go out of style.
As for having been genuinely moved, and feeling awe or humility, my writing clearly doesn’t convey this for you. I’m always working on showing these feelings more clearly, and until you see some improvement, I hope you’re able to find these qualities elsewhere.
To Sean. Thanks for another highly interesting response.
I agree with you about Stryker, but he certainly offers a very modern psychology, self-improvement, personal achievement based interpretation of ancient yoga in his recent book “The Four Desires”, and anyway, under my extreme scenario, all modern interpretations of the ancient texts would have been proven to be completely different than what the ancient authors had in mind, lineage or no lineage.
Thanks again for your very helpful remarks throughout this thread.
Yes, Thank you Sean.
?? -I was wondering about Stryker having his communications “pass muster”. Stryker seems the free/creative thinker. I hear you saying that –all communication– is vetted before publication. By the lineage ‘handlers’
Ah well, it’s tough to avoid the handlers.
— Just ask the darling Chubbananda!
Matthew, with respect – you don’t get it. â€œwesternâ€ concepts are fine if they are not brought into service to pretend to critique non-equivalent Indian ones. This is not mere slippage, it actually amounts to total self-reflexivity to the point where you denigrate traditionalist attitudes as if they are the source of the shadow which you descrive variously and at length as being an unforgiving, monolithic shape. I just don’t see that you have offered any convincing evidence of this other than anecdotal evidence of the sort of misdemeanors and moral equivocation that is on display in organisations and groups of all kinds – secular and religious. I have not said anywhere that I think Dharma is ‘preternatural’ – you did that all by yourself you may notice, which is again possibly symptomatic of the underlying bias and prejudice I have pointed out previously. If you are still interested, I think concepts articulated in English can do just as well as concepts in Sanskrit or Pali, sometimes they are better i think – but that is not to say that we should rely on them mapping onto each other in the way you generally approach your critiques – and even less wise is it to use those mappings to call out traditionalism in yoga. The concepts are not inherently â€œabusiveâ€ and â€œarmedâ€ – just as the sharpness of a scalpel is not always an inherent threat – in some situations it can also be used to repair and make good. To go through all the instances where you create equivalences from Sanskrit to English then would not be helpful – because I have no problem with the way you want to translate them especially – the problem as I have restated a number of times is that you employ them is such a way that is unnecessarily detrimental to traditions which you are not prepared to treat fairly for – mainly it seems because of your own experience and also I suspect because of unexamined imperatives which when combined lead to the kind of bias which equates apostolic succession to Parampara without disclaiming that it is a figurative comparison (at best), dressed up in more literal sounding ‘analysis’, and shrouded in ‘superior’, Christian-ic verbiage. It is abusive to anyone who has a sincere respect for the cultural and religious antonymy that the Dharmic traditions present to the main Abrahamic genres, which I also am happy to respect but definitely would not promote over and above any other. I do absolutely think that people who have English as their first language should be relying mainly on English – and not trying to discuss Indian ideas in Sanskrit, unless they know Sanskrit very well and their audience does too. So again, the problem for me is not exegetical as you want to have it – it is the broad subtext and direction. I really don’t have time to write lengthy and wandering criticisms, but I do anyway in the hope that it might start something good. I am neither interested nor irritated – it would be closer to say, ‘I care’ which I don’t feel especially inclined to make an apology for right now. There is no point in my collapsing my complaint into a pleasant crossing of swords over a few paragraphs here and there like others do because they want to be your friends – and in all likelihood lack the depth and breadth of learning to really contribute meaningfully to this sort of problem. So, instead of that I believe I have presented a wide-ranging complaint and analyzed your entire offering exhaustively which you don’t like – fine – and sorry for both – but there really is no nice way to say someones work is biased and prejudiced is there? If there is, I would be happy to follow any recommendations you have, otherwise I’ll have to leave things as they are. Taken to an extreme I suppose you could say every translation is an act of violent appropriation – but that would not be me, since if that translation leads to reduced harm overall then that would be one way of reconciling such a project. Your way is just the same sort of Western Universalism that will probably have Bob W. in raptures. W.U. sucks – you have to see that the only way forward is to fully respect the differences – not pretend we are all the same and all is one. Your next mention of James Mallinson as being an epitome of neutrality, will only reprise my less than favourable opinion of the roots of yoga project and that would not be welcome here either I don’t think.
Hmmm, the opposite of a singular vision of yoga? So that would be a multiple vision? Great – possibly a bit blurred – but if you value diversity why would you set about the traditionalists? Is it because they don’t fit in with your singular vision of what diversity is maybe?. Here, and elsewhere you pretty much say traditionalism is weak and the kind of traditional spiritual allegiances should be given up. If you do wish for all modes to find co-existence, you might do better than try to suggest sanctimony and preciousness go out of style – because that category of sanctimony and preciousness – where only the good guys like us get in – is really in a class all of it’s own… don’t you think?
As for having been genuinely moved, and feeling awe or humility, my writing clearly doesnâ€™t convey this for you. Iâ€™m always working on showing these feelings more clearly, and until you see some improvement, I hope youâ€™re able to find these qualities elsewhere.
For my sake and that of anybody else who’s reading at this point with bleeding eyes, I ask that you make it simple: choose a few of my paragraphs that show the “broad subtext and direction” you claim, quote full sentences instead of the words you now say you don’t care about particularly, and prove my bias, prejudice, and Christian exceptionalism. If you press pause on the Rajiv Malhotra for fifteen minutes and do this perhaps you can avoid psychoanalyzing my intent and actually see whether what you think is there is really there. If it is I’d like to know. Sweeping condemnations don’t show me anything, and so I won’t respond to them any more.
Failing that, I really hope you do write a positive expression of how your approach to Dharmic study fulfills your values, and why you think those values should be shared by everyone. Maybe this could go on your manifesto page (http://dharmacology.net/manifesto).
Allise & Bob,
I’ll make a retraction 😉 At least my guru calls Yoparupa Stryker & Panditji Tigunait before she changes or switches things up. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Yogarupa is the “left” lateral limit and Panditji is the “right” lateral limit in the US expression of the linage if you get my drift.
Bleeding eyes? — Fellow got his threads braided up-tight, -and pearls-are-popping like vitamin E-(go) capsules.
Makes for a greasy mess.
Yep, not sanguine so much as obtuse, opaque, obstinate.
Did I spell Collegiate correctly? Ah hell. Who cares. It’s my traditional spelling.
@Allise Do you have anything substantial you want to add? I hate the idea of people feeling they have no option other than to shout from the sidelines. Please.
@Matthew, I pick up from this and from Allise that you think that my complaint may not be in the best interests of your readers and you are pretty tired of what you see as a groundless attack, so I sympathize completely and have no intention of being vexatious.
I have read a number of posts on your website, possibly through Facebook links and also watched yoga 2.0’s spectacular failure to live up to its original promise of shifting paradigms and so on over a few years.
So this is not rage from within an instant. This is a different and less egocentric passion, it is based on many years of research into Dharma – which of course might only mean that it has taken me much longer than most to catch on – but it has been many years in the shaping nonetheless – of which Malhotra is only one of many important voices I have listened too in the debate. Okay?
So I find what I know ( = what you are prepared to tell) about your life and work – and other work like it – also fascinating, and you may read into that whatever you want.
I see blogs like this, (especially in the bottom half) as locations of some of the worst examples of silo thinking/mutual admiration and muddled thought known to the human mind. It is an escape for many, and a wordpress site backlit with all the brutal intensity of a light emitting diode is often seen as the least worst option – a relatively harmless and entertaining diversion away from dark nights and possibly even darker days for some I imagine. So this is all fine too, after all the things for me to get wound up about – MatthewRemski Dot Com is not high up on my list. Matthew Remski the person I do not know, so I limit my critique to what he writes, but also it’s effects on me and people I feel empathetic towards – not much else.
If I were to accept your challenge only to choose a few of your paragraphs that would hardly be the best way to show the â€œbroad subtext and directionâ€ would it?
This type of problem is illustrated very well by the Jain story of the King, the (six?) blind men and the elephant I think.
Look – I just think you would do better if you were clearer about the Christian influences from your past, how they function (or fail) transitionally in your own life and work, what doesn’t resolve and what does and so on and so forth rather than try to pin all the problems you have experienced from such a small sample size by falsely attributing the source of all those challenges (exegetical/hermeneutic/philosophical/psychological/ideological/methodological) on large populations like the Hindus and the Buddhists.
Seriously, you need to stop doing that – to me it looks really bad and detracts from your talent which seems to me more about presenting complex concepts and important issues really rather beautifully at times. That’s all I am really suggesting.
I have also pointed out my disdain openly at the tyranny of exegetical analysis from a perspective that has been shaped by the heavy hand of a peculiarly western set of categorical imperatives, so it would be counter-productive to do that wouldn’t it?
Fisking certainly has it’s place, I do fall back on that if needs be, but not when the nub of the problem is itself something akin to what I see as a writers Fisk-like ‘attitude’ towards a traditionalism that he hardly seems to know.
Maybe you think I have been crafty and am trolling? Well I never said that the words meant as much as you think I did, I do care about them but not in perhaps the same way you do – which I am sure we can both live with.
You want me to prove your bias, prejudice, and Christian exceptionalism – when for me it is so deeply hidden, in plain sight?
For the reasons given here and many times before, your challenge has been denied.
I am not psychoanalyzing you – to do so would be to fall into the stock in trade of any pre-scientific complimentary medicine practitioner – whose soft, petit bourgois service delivery model is founded on little more than a dangerously over-developed theory of mind and very little else. To be called out on proof and evidence by an Ayurvedic practitioner is really quite something!!
It may even be a new paradigm shift – but I doubt it.
Sweeping condemnations? they don’t show me anything either – that was MY point if you remember?
Positivity? In a tangled and asymetric cosmos is something I have never properly understood, other than in terms of banal consumerist overstatement and hyperbole which I do not generally trade in.
Ps. What do you think the manifesto?
Thanks for the chat – I think we’re almost done here?
I’m sure we’re quite done. What I take away from this, with gratitude, is a renewed sense of urgency in becoming more transparent to myself and others about the intermingling of my religious life-influences, from Catholic to Buddhist to Hindu. How this will resolve the translation issues that you bring up and then strangely dismiss I don’t know. But I’m not that concerned: as I implied before, words change very quickly within their own languages. Worrying about them too much can distract from studying how they claim or construct power for those who speak them. I can’t be sure, but I think that working hard at full disclosure isn’t going to show me bigotry, but rather the oscillation of passion, woundedness, and ambivalence towards western and eastern things alike. In the end, it always seems that it’s the metaphysics of power and distraction that is my target, wherever it shows up.
You present an amazing combination of braggadocio and laziness, Mat. I’m sure it would be fun to drink with you. Being an expert in everything I’ve written you’ll know that I wrote a too-long essay on the problem of evidence in Ayurveda. I know I do not practice by evidence as we construct it after rationalism, but by anecdote, tradition, experience and intuition. But then I’m not generally accusing others of being bigots when I practice. So it’s fair for me to ask you to be specific if you make specific attacks.
What’s to say about your manifesto? It presents a brief method for future applications, and nothing more. I’m suggesting you actually write something in it, positive or simply declarative, which it feels like you’re burning to do. Cheers.
– first there is the ‘i have one little thing to mention’
— then there is the monumental totality of your rage. Rage? I have plenty of my own.
I just try to be constructive with it. There are times I have to push the bull-shit button. Like when I see abusive behavior that feels pathological.
I find your language absolutely –passive aggressive– and then, by turns, –hideously aggressive. ABUSIVE.
Lacking all decorum –and sickeningly disrespectful. And coy.
I think you are a scatological narcissist, and that you are, in fact, specialty-trolling for ripe soft targets that you think you can muscle around like squid ink on the page.
You underestimate EVERYONE.
What could anyone ‘think’ of your ‘manifesto’?
Your website is SO OBSCURE I don’t even know who you are, what you represent, where you were educated, NADA. I have NO IDEA about any so-called ‘manifesto’. It must be covered in camouflage. Because it is simply invisible to the naked eye, the trained eye, the curious eye. No eyes, and certainly no minds, are privy. Even it the gaze needs to take a shit.
— There IS no privy.
— You don’t even have my ‘tin’ ear.
— I honestly can’t care about your words. These strung together rage-filled bits are: abuse-writ-small.
I just figure you’re a victim of ‘it’ yourself.
I’ve nothing to say to you. Nothing to say to you — about what you say…
— You began with one ‘little’ way you ‘objected’ to mremski’s dialogue, and you became diagnosable (in any culture) during your ‘post-game’ play-by-play little talk with yourself.
!! Hopefully you edified yourself.
“… Do you have anything substantial you want to add? I hate the idea of people feeling they have no option other than to shout from the sidelines. Please.”
Ooh! Ooh! I have something to add! :3
How about putting down your Thesaurus, stop trying to sound like you’re the smartest guy in the room and say something CLEARLY. You’ve garbled your message in so much “pretentious diction” that no one can tell what you are actually saying.
Do you even read what you are writing??
Wowsers, this thread got feisty & furious really quick!
A couple points to all, especially Mat Witt, about this kind of behavior:
1) I was like this, with Christianity, but just like this. “Winning a duel was [my] golden rule” (some pop Christian song) that resulted in “…the louder [I’d] shout, the more [people] would tune out.” I thought I was right, defending the right cause, and doing a loving thing. However, the proof was in the pudding or “know them by their fruits” as the actions were just plain hurtful.
I do wish you all could have *seen* me. I was 268lbs @ 5’7″ and using a cane to get around. There was my head and then the rest of me I ignored or put up with. I allowed numerous issues from my narcissistic parents and a bi-lateral knee disability from active duty USMC infantry to be a mile-wide chip on each shoulder.
The harshest responses, but in retrospect most helpful, were when people simply ignored me when I was inappropriate. As stated in YS 1.33, “By cultivating attitudes of…disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness: (Satchidananda’s translation). I fumed just as much, but it also didn’t add any fuel to the fire so eventually it went out – and I went away.
2) I’ve changed and so can Mat! Eventually I started to soften and then discovered Yoga on Feb 15th, 2010. Now I weigh 155lbs, going from a 44″ to a 32” waist. I began a slow and painful process of reconnecting to my body and then learning to live out the principles of seeing everyone as unique and precious, looking for Jesus in everyone I meet.
The focus shifted from knowing about God to becoming one with God. In the process I realized I knew a whole lot less than I thought and my ideas were scattered and confusing to most people. To quote Dirty Hairy, I was “…a legend in [my] own mind.”
As I look back, I’m embarrassed at how cruel I was in the name of compassion. I took something beautiful and made it ugly. This is why I love the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Book of James:
HYP 4.114 (last verse): “As long as the moving breath doesn’t enter the Sushumna, as long as the [passion] is not firmed by breath control, and as long as the meditating mind is unlike the natural state, talk of true knowledge is arrogant, deceitful chatter” (Aker’s translation).
James 2.17″ “So faith [or “belief” or “knowledge”] by itself, if it has no works [or “right actions/behaviors”], is dead.”
That’s why I love the Tantric Hatha Yoga tradition, the adepts are practitioners with teachers that rein them in and not busy-bodies reading books that are beyond any correction.
It’s difficult to tease apart the complaints about my behavior to find anything I can respond to meaningfully. Much of it seems a bit mad and juvenile and presents me with nothing but very untidy, orbital counter-attacks from deep cyberspace. So I take it that no one sees any benefit in my posting here again? If I receive no further requests for clarification about the complaint I have against Matthews work here, which for me has not been acknowledged – or specifically what people are taking as being offensive from my comments then I will not post again. Just to be clear – the bigotry is in the title – the ‘traditionalist hard place’; the idea that Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains all ‘DEMAND faithful allegiance as the price of transmission’ – that Dharma is either just about religion, or it ‘derives its validity precisely from a commitment to the authority of its transcendent sources’, ‘often enshrouded within the language of hereditary exclusion’. Also: ‘Traditionalists present the capacity to understand and engage with the concerns of yoga philosophy as dependent upon an apostolic or genetic linkage back to a cultural or geographical source. The apostolic linkage is forged…’ then ‘ritual knowledge of ancestors who sat on the bank of a certain river or at the foot of a certain mountain’ plus, ‘tribal memory’ and ‘apostolic/hereditary structure of traditionalism’ and ‘knowledge itself an analogue for the Ätman,’ then we have ‘knowledge is not conceived of as a cultural product, but as an eternal and unchanging essence, like the soul, contained discretely within the flesh of the lineage-holder, and by association throughout the initiated knowledge-tribe. Knowledge is neither purchased nor matriculated, nor made accessible through simple intellectual merit, but rather reincarnates in a traceable lineage, migrating from body to body through the unconditioned technology of Sanskrit: from teacher to student, from parent to child.’ and ‘Yoga philosophy, from the traditionalist viewpoint, is not something that one does, but rather something that one is given permission to hold and echo. It is seen not as something merely learned, nor something that one can teach oneself, but rather something that is given’ and ‘To believe in reincarnation today is to be willing to overlook the fact that there is not one shred of empirical evidence to support the survival of consciousness beyond organic death’ the terribly barbaric, ‘believers are carriers, as it were, of a sacred parasite, who uses its host for its own propagation. This religiously-inflected diminishment of creative agency in the process of yoga philosophy might do as much to ossify its will to evolve as academic reductionism does.’ and ‘ strut at each other, the two strands of academic and traditionalist power can both discourage yogic experimentation through their shared proprietary and conservative attitudes’ and ‘Both claim ownership over the access to knowledge: the academic through professional credential and the traditionalist through bloodline or initiation controls’ also ‘Surrender to him.â€ (Itâ€™s usually a â€œhim.â€)’ then, ‘our contemporary exposure to dozens of paths and their evolutionary relationships shows in itself that no single path has ever been complete’ and ‘the practice of yoga may once have demanded conformity to a particular set of controlled beliefs and practices administered by a recognized authority’ and ‘ implicit social rejection of the exclusionary paradigm of lineage’ – I think that’s enough – and all in one Blog!! Bye for now.
I’m so glad you took the time to actually quote me, Mat, because it shows the heart of our misunderstanding and your overreach. What’s most telling is what you do not enclose in quotation marks, because I did not write it:
the idea that Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains all [and then you quote me] “…demand faithful allegiance as the price of transmission.”
What I actually wrote is: “traditionalist teaching structures that demand faithful allegiance as the price of transmission”. I didn’t name whole peoples, but an attitude that some people from many groups carry: a conservative, curatorial, preservationist ideal. I went on to elucidate how this attitude is bolstered by the metaphysics it communicates. In this sense, I critiqued the general belief in atman-centric transmigration. Many people might be offended by this critique, but they can’t say I make it out of some sort of bigotry.
Not all “Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains” are “traditionalists”. Each group (like every other) is a riot of conservative and radical forces vying for ascendency, as attested to by their countless divisions. I didn’t and I wouldn’t impugn all of those groups.
Thousands of words later, I’m wondering, why did you read this into my text? Why did you make it up? It’s the kind of imputation one fellow might make about another if they knew each other personally, but we don’t. Why aren’t you spending your time filling up your own empty blog?
You make me think hard, Mat, and this is gold. You’re welcome to comment here any time. But I will not engage you if you don’t substantiate your attacks with direct quotes. Life is way too short.
If direct quotation is the gold standard of intellectual honesty in this conversation, “traditionalist teaching structures” is kind of problematic.
Mat and Matt, you two are a good pair. This argument does waste some time, but it’s nice to see that in the end you can find each other’s edges. That’s what you’ve been looking for all along.
I’ll note that you, Matthew, interviewed me privately to see if my tradition could be ID’d with this behavior, and found that what you imagined might be there indeed was not. Perhaps, though, in the meantime I’ve provided enough new material for whatever other blog post you may have brewing. I am happy to do so. In this age, traditions don’t really need to conceal their motives and methods.
Matthew, do you think that there are ways to interview practitioners/ gather information and that more fully express the transparency you’ve been discussing lately? Perhaps, for example, it would be good to tell interviewees the motivating argument of your research queries?
I think we misunderstood each other. A few days before I published, I wrote to ask you about a separate subject: about whether you felt outsiders where culturally excluded from the philosophical heritage of Mysore:
“After encountering the numerous references [from the Jois family] to shastra and chanting and philosophy and puja being “too difficult” for “us” to learn, but that 99% practice will do for Westerners — I’m wondering whether the ritual-scriptural involvements that they obviously adhere to represent a higher or more complete pathway. The easy way of asking is: Do they believe in the natural conveyor-belt efficacy of asana for themselves, or do they believe that they must nurture their jnana activities to attain the full picture — which is something that most non-Indians will simply never be able to do?
I think I’ve heard “practice and all is coming” enough times to begin to understand its various layers. I’m wondering whether there are
sentiments in that statement that express exclusion, whether the intention is provincial or simply fatalistic. I also wonder whether the dictum, as a typical response to the philosophical questions of Western students, indicates an inability or unwillingness to engage with conflicting disciplines and epistemologies. Perhaps simple language difficulties play a significant role.
I also wonder whether it’s off base to assume that Mr. Jois was a philosopher. [A friend] told me that privately he would answer
questions with direct quotes from shastra if he thought the student was truly interested. This is straight-up parampara training, and I’m starting to see how little this has to do with the dialectic that I associate with philosophy. If he considered shastra as a storehouse rather than as the beginning point for conversations, I can understand why he might shrug with bewilderment when strange new people knock on the library door.”
You responded, in part:
“PJ was a philosopher (and held a post as philosophy professor)… there was still something going on there
that was beneath caste, culture and language. The most psychedelic experience I’ve had was with him. Everyone reports those experiences, of course. And, I’m guessing the Tibetans showed you early on how cheap they can be. Miracles Are for suckers. But still, PJ was dialed in to the source and on some level. I don’t think he cared what form the method and culture around the source’s expressions
took. The shastras have energy, that’s all. It’s not crucial to preserve them for the sake of truth or method or whatever. Just as the ashtanga postural method – it is the followers that confuse nama and rupa. PJ switched up the poses regularly, always claiming he taught exactly as his guru taught him, no exceptions. That wasn’t some sort of irony.”
I didn’t reference or implicitly use our exchange because I’m still digesting it, and it doesn’t really speak to the more general critique of the “traditionalist/academic” dichotomy that I’ve presented here. I realize the dichotomy is clumsy, and it breaks down easily under analysis, but I would maintain it still models the rock-and-hard-place constrictions that beginning students of MPY face, especially in the YTT contexts that I’m familiar with over the past six or so years. The practitioners I know really are intimidated by scholarship on one hand and parampara on the other, and this makes them wary of creatively engaging with what should be basic questions. That’s the point. Ironically, in discussing it, we have to acknowledge the level of specialization in this dialogue, lest it becomes a third category of alienation.
Your description of Jois making stuff up while claiming heritage (not a surprise, cf, “Yoga Korunta”) brings the whole issue to another level of meta-crazy that I’m sure has its beauty and inspiration, as well as its darkness. It’s an amazingly American theme, and something for another post.
If I had thought that my specific question to you about Jois was a necessary theme in this post, I really would have opened my email with “I’m writing this piece about ________; would you have any insight into _______?”
You lost me at sociopathy, Matthew.
Given my background, that is not a word (or concept, or metaphor) I take lightly.
Love to you all and peace out.
I don’t either. I meant it as shorthand for “social pathology”, which seems pretty clear from some available videos, but it’s better to change it to “darkness”. So I will.
Matthew, how else should we interpret ‘traditionalist teaching structures’ other than the broad Dharmic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism? When coupled with your relentless assault on tradition elsewhere in this piece, in your other writing and your astonishingly brazen attempt to re-write the Yoga Sutras – you leave no room for your reader other than to associate Dharmic traditions as being backward, whilst your take is progressive. You might want to try again. But if not, well – we have reached the end of the road I think?
I don’t know, Mat. The question is how else could you interpret it, given that nobody else has raised the same objection. “Traditionalism” is much broader than “tradition”, a word that I never use critically in the piece. I also never name any religion, except for Buddhism, which I hold out as offering an answer to the metaphysics of curation. (If we got deeper into the content, I’m sure that sub-schools of Advaita Vedanta obscured essentialism as well: the granularity never ends!)
We had one exchange at the outset that I think you missed. You wrote:
“The only other warning would be to caution against using the adjective â€˜traditionalâ€™ since â€˜traditional yogaâ€™ is of course a retronym for â€˜yogaâ€™ mainly due to the imperatives of secular, corporatist society and prejudicial distaste for allegedly backward genres such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhim and Jainism.”
“Good point about â€œtraditionalâ€. It seems I used it only in the title and once in the text, where mainly I used â€œtraditionalistâ€ and â€œtraditionalismâ€, which I apply to anyone showing the exegetical attitude, regardless of faith heritage.”
And then I changed it.
As a critic yourself, you know that criticism rises up out of deep, conflicted love for the object of criticism. So no, I see Dharmas as sublime in many areas as they are backward in others — just like science, but in different ways. I also feel your conflicted love, Mat, and hope we cross paths in person one day.
Well, for someone who seems to put a lot of effort into being precise, I am surprised you not feel at least a twinge of editorial responsibility or journalistic integrity when it comes to creating a clear distinction between the target for your ire – which seems to be virtually non-existent, (with a few noted charlatans and chancers aside) and thus avoid the obvious commutation in thinking between ‘traditionalism’ and say, ‘vedic knowledge systems’ or ‘dharmic traditions’ and all the direct cultural linkages to Asia? It just seems incredibly insensitive and arrogant. The reason why you have not as yet had any complaints on this sort of wide-ranging topic does not really suggest it it unworthy of attention – I suspect it would be mainly due to the demographic of your audience, which I is white, better than average educated, liberals based in North America? Well – that of course implicates your entire domain. It actually takes quite a bit of effort to acknowledge the depth and scope of the problem of fully respecting difference rather than simply digesting it, which seems to be what is happening in spaces like this? Do you not at least admit to trying to digest the cultural differences in work like this? and if you do, would you not do better to illuminate the edges of these concepts, as Angela tentatively suggested we have been doing in the bottom half of your Blog rather than offer false hope to an audience that may not know any better than to follow your exhortation to disassemble a system that clearly does not stand up to the sort of biased theoretical bigotry of the Christian Seminary, but rather more I think, it has provided a tested reality that has created common understandings and whose power and robustness have been proved over thousands of years. Indeed, the best collegiate ideals that you espouse in your project such as, ‘open source’ has been operating within the Dharmic paradigm for longer than you seem to want to credit it for and served human progress ever since the vedic knowledge was codified?
You have a good point, and I hope that my initial word-correction and subsequent attempts to describe my intentions have helped. I wouldn’t say I’m trying to “digest cultural differences” in the sense of homogenizing things, but rather to describe palpable cultural phenomena that I encounter on the ground as an educator in a demographic I don’t think you know, despite your willingness to defame it. But those few sentences in the lead paragraph that would have satisfied the focus of what I thought was a clear target, but wasn’t clear enough, are certainly worth working on in the future, so thank you.
I have to admit, when I first began reading mremski, I thought I took from it an anti-intellectual bent. But ‘the dichotomy’9018 is there to be explored, not -fussed- over.
–Certainly I never felt a dictate to be disassembling any kind of tower: -ivory or maiden.
More of a call (and reponse) to an assembling of oneself. More of a post-precious stance.
More Baroque, less Mannerist.
Ah, get thy Renaissance (enlightened) self in tow, and join the many vibrant hues on offer.
–If the mix-mix to too shocking, add a little grey/gray inky-ness. Perhaps a hint of the easily obtained stain of the indigo plant –or just a few grains of (very precious) cobalt blue.
Tea will work. If there is any to be had.
A coffee-wash will work to mute.
All that brightness can be damped down by the cheap/mundane (terrible?) AND by the sublime, the rare. No barriers to hiding bushels!
– Just no precious. It makes bad art.