Sunday, November 6, 2011


Re-reading Geoffrey Samuel's The Origins of Yoga and Tantra; thought I'd share some of his comments on the Yogasutra:

[David Gordon] White argues against the frequent modern interpretation of yoga, based in large part on Vivekananda’s selective reading of the Yogasutra, as a ‘meditative practice through which the absolute was to be found by turning the mind and senses inward, away from the world’ (White 2006: 6) ...  
Yogic practices are about linkages between the microcosm and macrocosm, and they postulate an ‘open’ model of the human body, not a closed one. 
In particular, White notes that the commonest use of the term ‘yoga’ in the narrative sections of the Mahabharata is to refer to a dying warrior transferring himself at death to the sphere of the sun through yoga, a practice that links up with Upanishadic references to the channel to the crown of the head as the pathway by which one can travel through the solar orb to the World of Brahman (2006: 7). This channel is called susumna in the Maitri Upanishad, a term that recurs some centuries later in the Tantric context. (page 221)
What do we expect from an Ashtanga Vinyasa practice: a great turning in, or a great turning out? How much of our expectations of this practice descend from Vivekananda? How much from the renunciate tradition of Shankara?

(I have had a tendency to post questions; this morning however I thought I'd share my own journaling/svadhyaya on the questions.)

Shankara, it must be said, viewed practice as useless — well, not entirely: as he says in the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya, it is of some use "for those of inferior intellect."

Personally, I find introversion and withdrawal easier than extroversion and energetic engagement. I notice I have the tendency to simplify complexity and clarify confusion, and this thread has insinuated itself into aspects of my Yoga practice, maybe from a less mature understanding of vairagya, or dispassion or non-attachment.

However, perhaps the idea that vairagya as an ideal stems from a "closed body" model of Yoga, one descended from Vivekananda's prurient take on the Yogasutra and sprouting from the sramana ("strivers") era of renunciate-ascetic tradition circa 2,000 years ago.

An "open body" model of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga suggests acceptance and understanding of both increasing complexity and confusion, and consequently increasing difficulty.

It's an interesting perspective or stance to adopt. Rather than dispassionate observation, an "open body" model suggests more appreciation and savoring (svada) of various states.