Friday, March 30, 2012


"The notion of an original yoga is a just-so story that is constructed about the cultural context of yoga, which is transmitted (often by ill-informed students) at the time practices are taught.

The aspect of yoga that involves extensive physical discipline and the exploration of the anatomical-physiological bases of spiritual practice, that is, the yogic tradition known as haṭha yoga, was never a major part of “classical” yoga, if we can even speak of classical yoga, given the paucity of historical records, which are mostly shrouded in mythology or iconography ... "

"The Reflexivity of the Authenticity of Haṭha Yoga," Kenneth Liberman
Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives, page 100

I'm always curious as to the degree and depth with which modern Yoga scholars discount or disregard the role of orality within Yoga and the Hindu tradition in which it flowered. 

It seems that if something isn't written down, it didn't happen.

I guess what I'm inching toward is the question of the limits of knowledge about ancient, medieval, and modern (and post-modern) Yoga.

From social and historical viewpoints it seems that our knowledge is often limited to existing texts — often written on banana leaves and, what's critical, supplemental or auxiliary to oral transmission.

This reminds me of that story (a Calvino story?) of the man looking for lost house-keys under a streetlamp in front of his house.

A passerby helps the man search. The two search on their hands and knees for an hour, but to no avail. The passerby finally asks, "Well, where did you last see your keys?"

The man points toward his darkened doorway.

"Why are you looking out here on the street?"

"Because," says the man, "this is where the light is."

Again, in Black Swan, Taleb mentions a line in Will Durant's The Story of Civilization in which the Phoenicians are described as a "merchant race" due to the absence of a written legacy; it turns out that the Phoenicians wrote prodigiously — only they used a highly perishable type of papyrus that did not weather the passage of time.

The parallels between banana leaves and papyrus, as well as the limits of certain kinds of knowledge, seems to me rather striking. 

Also, I am noting a circular web of references and citations. Yet if we're all citing, for example, White's The Alchemical Body, and no one has scrutinized his scholarship, how are we not building a house of cards? 

There are, however, many heat-rocking mega-bangers of articles in Yoga in the Modern World.