Sep 19, 2018

Does Yoga Sutra Prove to be an Integral and Consequent Text?

Everyone who studies Sanskrit deep enough knows the rule of reading a Sanskrit sentence: “first think through the phrase syntactic structure, then proceed to translation of every single word.” And never start interpreting from the first word unless you have comprehended the meaning of the entire sentence. 

Paradoxically this rule might be also applied for dealing with the whole text, be it translation or commenting on it. You first conceptualize the entire text structure and logic, and then see into separate lines. And never start from the very beginning… In fact, this is a standard rule for reading any complex text in foreign languages. Yet it is somehow omitted when it comes to handling Sanskrit sutras. 

The Hindu commentary tradition assumes that a text is thoroughly analyzed in the line by line manner from the beginning to the end. The problem of understanding text logic and inner structure, not to speak of its deconstruction, simply goes beyond the scope of established Hindu methodology. While the idea of singling out the text historic “layers” seems to be a blasphemy: a sutra is traditionally treated as a sacred text that has its inner completeness, perfection and harmony (even in case it obviously doesn’t), and all we need is to find and comprehend them with the help of various intellectual ingenuities. 

It thus develops into religiously-scholastic manner of old texts interpretation that “hypnotizes” also European scholars, so that they also start reading a text from the beginning and by default treat it as an integral piece. This principle of text work has considerably predetermined the structure of my blog on Yoga Sutras. I started commenting on the text ab initio, from the first sutra on. However, the farther into the text, the more I realized how confining this approach is. I have already mentioned in the opening articles that Sutras have many discrepancies and inconsistencies, and I could not ignore them any longer. It became necessary to study the structure and inner logic of the text. And quite unexpectedly the issues under consideration have morphed into the question of Sutras authorship and dating… 

So I shall give a brief outline of this study results. I guess it can take a couple of articles, but it will make a good contribution into the text analysis further progress. 

Sep 13, 2018

Greek Roots of Hatha Yoga?

In my surfing the web I’ve come across a curious article that advances the idea of hatha yoga Greek roots. I won’t now bother to look for the link, but the main message was that Alexander the Great’s military campaigns propelled to intensive interaction between Greek and Indian cultures (especially within the territory of modern Pakistan, which is obviously true). The people of India were amazed by the strength of Greek warriors to the extent they borrowed their system of body workout (the Greek gymnastics) and made it a basis of hatha yoga. As to the earlier “exercises” of India, these were nothing but mere asceticism and corporal mortification. 

Though daring, the hypothesis is easy to refute. I have some time before landing, so I’ll give my view of the theme. 

Sep 11, 2018

Does Yoga Evolve, or Can You Trust Primary Sources in All Aspects?

This short item has been initiated by my reading a pretty nice article about chakra system. The author points out (not without reason) that most of today’s notions about chakras are absent in traditional Hindu texts. He is however mistaken as to the list of these “missing points”, probably due to the fact that many texts related to chakras seem to be not known to him. 

Now, the author notes, different Hindu texts describe various variants of chakra system, not only the seven-chakra one. And an eventual conclusion he thus makes is: Europeans don’t actually understand what they do. This opinion can be rather often found in the works of experts in Indian culture, both scholars and those who deal with aspects of religion. They ponder on various questions of initiation and specific parampara (the lineage of gurus), advance the idea telling that practice beyond a legitimate tradition is impossible, and promote other kind of (as I have it) pseudo-religious nonsense that includes vituperative (as they think it to be) blaming (each other) for following the ideas of New Age and engagement in theosophy. 

I shall further brief my view of the problem. 

Jul 20, 2018

On Yoga Sutras’ Five Translations

A long time ago when I was just starting my study of yoga – guess it was 1986 or 1987 – one of my groupmates came with a clandestine reprint of a brochure made with the help of factory printing office. Though, it was not even a brochure: just several unbound sheets bearing the title Patanjali’s Aphorisms. And it is this text – that I later learned to be the reprint of Yoga Sutras English version in the translation of Vivekananda as rendered [into Russian – trans. note] by Popov in 1906 – that my journey into the insights of this great text started with. 

In a few years (these were probably early 90ies) I suggested that my friends who had organized a kind of esoteric publishing house bring together all YS translations available at that time and arrange them sutra by sutra to help one’s working with this text. Studying Sanskrit was just a plan for the future and I thought that understanding the true contents of the text would be possible on the basis of the translations comparative analysis. The translations that were vastly different even on the surface. This is how the brochure Yoga Sutras: Four Variants of Translation appeared. Soon it was complemented by the fifth one, while the brochure formed the basis of the file Yoga Sutras: Five Variants of Translation that’s been actively circulating throughout the web [the Russian-speaking segment – transl. note]. Though, maybe I was not the only one whom this idea actually occurred… 
Anyhow, I believe this file has helped may searchers and practitioners, but I think it’s time every translation version is given a detailed and competent estimation.

May 11, 2018

Hatha Yoga and Patanjali

This unscheduled article has been induced by my short post on Facebook. A couple of days ago my sight was caught by an ad of “Hatha Yoga after Patanjali” event in Kharkov, and I could not but turn the yoga community attention to incorrectness of this word combination. They started speaking about Hatha-yoga in the period of the Naths, that is, 600 to 800 years after Yoga Sutras had been written. As to Sutras proper, they don’t give any specific descriptions of asanas or pranayamas. In a short discussion commenting the post Boris Zagumennov, a man I hold in high regard and one of Sutras first interpreter from Sanskrit into Russian, advanced an idea that though Patanjali does not of course use the term “hatha-yoga” he however speaks about “stages that refer to body”. This is a very popular point of view; moreover, I also personally stick to the idea that proper body work is essential prior to taking to yoga’ more complex and sophisticated practices. But! My personal (or, say, the popular and traditional) opinion is one thing, while the opinion of Patanjali and commentators is a totally different issue. Indeed, Patanjali did mention asana and pranayama as constituents of yoga, but were these terms of his identical to their present-day meaning? 

Feb 27, 2018

Yoga and Magic. The Most Ancient Reference to Yoga in Atharvaveda

They traditionally believe that the word “yoga” was not used in Vedas, at least in the context of designating a system of esoteric psycho-practices as we know it today. However, this is not quite the case. 

Vedas indeed do not contain the word “yoga” as an absolute equivalent of the meaning we assign to it now, notwithstanding the presence of numerous derivatives of the root-word “yuj”. Some scholars explain this by suggesting that yoga was first practiced by the Dravidian people from where it was borrowed by the Vedic Tradition. I believe this to be a simplifying assumption. Each culture has its own system of esoteric psycho-practices. Moreover, methods and concepts of these systems that seem to be totally different at first glance are in any case adjacent in virtue of their having a single object – the human mind. Fusion of cultures is naturally followed by fusion of systems bringing a result that may be very quaint in form. Thus it whould be quite correct to speak about the “proto-yoga” of Vedas. You may find more details in my public lecture

Jan 31, 2018

The Legend of Lost Sutra

In the course of gearing up for my big lecture on Yoga Sutra I had come across a dramatic story that even Wikipedia mentions in its entry. I’ve called it “The Legend of Lost Sutra”. If briefly, the legend tells that Yoga Sutra, a sacred text known in India from ancient times, practically sank into oblivion in the 12th century and was recovered only in the 19th, owing to Vivekananda and the Theosophical Society.
The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century. 

However, this is not how the real story goes.