An extract of “ The reflexivity of the Authenticity of Hata Yoga” By Kenneth Berman.
An extract of “ the reflexivity of the Authenticity of Hata Yoga”
By Kenneth Berman.
Yoga in the Modern world
Routledge Hindu Studies Series
There never existed a “pure” yoga; rather, yoga, like every social production, was syncretic from the outset. As we learned from Jacque Derrida, absolutely everything in this world is derivative, and most talk of “origins” is illusionary. The notion of an original yoga is a just-so story that is cnstructed about the cultural context of yoga, which is transmitted (often by ill-informed students) at the time practices are taught. …hatha yoga was actually a “medieval” phenomenon in that it did not develop until the tenth to twelfth centuries. Even these yogis used asana not for meditation or better health but ti awaken the kundalini and gain such siddhis as human flight, alchemical abilities, and escaping death. Before the period of these great ascetics and yogis of the northen jungles of India during those relatively recent centuries of innovation, yoga consisted primarly of contemplation and mantra, and the principal aims were to achieve a sense of mental equilibrium, a degree of control over the baser ( tamasic and rajasic) energies of the nervous system, selflessness, and a sustainable reconciliation with being. The few asna known and practiced in classial times, such as siddhasana and padmasana, were designed to facilitate meditation or to pacify the body generally and did not constitute anything like a physical culture…it was not until the twelfth to thirteenth centuries “ that kundalini becomes the vehicle for fluid, rather than phonematic transactions and transfers”. It is to the Naths innovative research into physical austerities and disciplines, including special attention to the cultivation of a healthy spine and concentration on the various cakra along with n extension of the uses of kumbhaka or retention of breath, to which we owe most of what is popular about yoga in tha contenporary West. The asana they discovered and that were first recorded in their principal texts, Siddhasiddhantapaddhati (eleventh century), Goroksasataka (eleventh or twelfth century) and Hathayogahapradipika (fourteenth century), form the core of the asana that we know and practice today. These are the texts that elaborate how to cleanse the nerves, how t control and restrain prana, and how to kindle the digestive fires, and the like, that is, the practices with whitch yoga is now inseparably associated. The earliest datable evidence of a full-blown tantric religion appears in the seventh century, and bo hatha yoga text can be dated before the tenth century.
Tantrism undoubtedly contains very old elements, some of which belong ti the religious protohistory of India; but their introduction or rather intrusion into Buddhism and Hinduism in a more massive and systematic manner began relatively late- not before the first centuries of our era, probably only after the fifth.sixth century A.D.
I have taken the effort to retrace all of this not to emphasie the historical connections of oga to Buddhism but to make the vitally important point that the “yoga” that is know and practiced in the modern world is dervied from a tradition that was itself a derivative and syncretic form of spiritual practice; moreover, it is a practice that is not really “ancient” but “ medieval”, being separeted from us by one and not two millenia. It was indeed a hotchpotch of Buddihism, Saivism, Vaisnavism, with even Islamic influence and non-Hindu tribal asceticism. …So in the absence of an original, pure yoga, we need to adress more carefully what it can mean ti have straued from yoga.
The “Classical” yoga formulated by brahmins in the nineteenth to twentieth century is what the Europeans who first studied yoga learned, as their interests were primaly philosophical and they were most likely to meet Indians who were brajmin intellectuals. The physical aspects of postures and breath control were not taught systematically in the West until after World War I, and they did not become widespread until the late 1950’s. These tensions within yoga between traditions that were themselves amalgams of diferent traditions makes it very difficult to locate a yoga that is definitively authentic.
So what are the important signs that can indicate what is “outside” of yoga?
It is know that brahmin religious sentiments herdened somewhat after the introduction of Islam. What Hindus are defending from Islam, colonial Christianity, modern science, and now even some New Age notions. That is, their practice is syncretic as well. Varenne hoghlights other ironies that are in play in cntemporary times:
“the sadhu, like the hippy, has rejected worldly values, renounced the social structure of his country, and is leading the life of a wandering beggar in which the use of drugs occasionally plays a part. In both cases the long hair, the conspicuously different clothing, and the spiritual thirst serve as identifyng badges.
In the beatniks of the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Allen Ginsburg, popularized a yoga that they crafted as a synthesis of Buddhism and yoga that suited the exigencies of their spiritual needs, how definitively that they operated “outside” of a tradition, when that tradition itself evolved es an amalgam of Buddhism and Tantric yoga, and especially when the founding did not adopt the long hair because of the yogis, but thay did discover some justification among the yogis practices for their own appearance and counter-cultural critiques. Further, the distrust of intellectualism found among many contamporary hatha yoga practitioners is consistent with anti-intellectualism of the Kanphatas.
A few Western practitioners are able to devise a sense of authenticity that derives from the strangeness of the few Sanskrit terms they have learned. Even when mispronounced, the foreignness of the way they sound, along with the choreography of the occasion provided by an ambience of sandalwood incense, some taped sitar music in the background, some short prayers, and a recitation of “OM”, provides a veneer of sifficient authenticity to quell further investigation semiotics of the Western film as analyed by Will Wright (1975) in which he story, all provided by the filmmakers and all of them historically inaccurate, wqas what established the authenticity of any film as a believable Western.
How are such innovations to be evaluated? The innovative spirit of yoga itself, especially that of hatha yoga, makes a severe dismissal of genuinely innovative explorations unsuitable; but then what becomes of yoga? Or is it even necessary that it retain its identity?
The problem for India is that India does not always know itself and has sometimes learned about its own traditions from the colonial other, which is now Western media. In all of the Indian systems – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim- there is a lineage of gurus, each to face and heart to heart, what is genuine. And one’s personal teacher has learned it from the teacher’s teacher. In all of this systems (except perhaps Islam), the core of the practice rests not in docile texts but in what has been tranmitted in person.
Yoga in contemporary India is considerably influenced by the validation of yoga that has emerged in the West during the last century. As Western nations dominate the publication of books, videos, and other media, the yoga studied and contemplated by many Indians is a Western adaptation of Indian yoga; indeed, much of its present status- not to mention its financial supports- are derived from the popularity of yoga in the West, and that inevitably influences the definition of yoga itself, Indians celebrate Western trends in the field and study Western text on yoga, so in much of India yoga exists as the reflection of a reflection: It is as if two mirrors are staring at each other.