Yoga, shudras, and women

X says: Yoga practice of self attainment without the help of external deity worship so common in those days of Patanjali as today was restricted to very few as it required proper initiation from the guru and renunciation of normal humdrum lifestyle of a common man. I say man because fewer women go for that kind of ascetic lifestyle.

What has self-attainment to do with worshipping the deity (whether internal or external) in the Asian (or Indian) traditions? Except for what has been talked about the Bhakti tradition (especially by the European intellectuals, and picked up later on by the Indians), ‘self-attainment’ stands radically divorced from any notion of deity — as far as one can tell. The path of yoga (to stick to what this word refers to in the popular western consciousness) is different from that of meditation or bhakti, in the sense that the former focuses on control (as against ‘letting go’ in the Buddhist traditions for instance). Renunciation, contrasting it to the ‘normal humdrum lifestyle’, is a pre-requisite primarily because this ‘attainment’ (of ‘self’, ‘knowledge’, Mukti, or whatever) is predicated upon a meta-reflection (and a deep understanding) of the ‘humdrum’ life. Such a reflection is cognitively impossible when you are involved (entangled would perhpas be a better word here) precisely in the very dynamic on which you have to reflect.

X says: Like all higher learning and secret ritualistic practices of those days, women and Shudras were barred from either knowing or practicing the techniques

Disappointing. Not because, rightly in my view, you complain about the position of either the Shudras or Women in Indian society, but because of the uncritical manner in which you make the ‘popular’ discourse your own. Those coming from the Christian West, especially from the eighteenth century onwards, spoke of ‘secret ritualistic practices’ because: (a) they were convinced that the ‘heathen’ religions of India worshipped the Devil and his minions; (b) as such, its practitioners had hideous rituals as it befitted the False God whom they worshipped; and (c) that it was practiced in ‘secret’. Being the latter, almost as a matter of simple logic, it had to exclude; (d) and, of course, it had to exclude ‘the majority’ (otherwise it cannot be secretive, can it?). Who qualifies for this ‘majority’ you think?  Of course the Women and the ‘other majority’, viz. the Shudras.

Now this is trash: to say that Yoga did not have practicing women (during Patanjali’s time, for heaven’s sake) requires more than a mere complacent feminist extrapolation from contemporary India alone. It requires a kind of dumbfounding intelligence (that many intellectuals from the West apparently possess), which cites Dharmashastra to understand India or the Koran to understand the Arab countries, peoples and cultures.

X says: The do it yourself form of Yoga cannot be done without proper guidance.

Right. But this applies to all the Indian traditions (from Yoga through Bhakti to Meditative practices). Far more interesting it is to ask oneself ‘why’. Again, not in order to understand what Guru means (or does not) in these traditions, but to begin to come to grips with what this ‘self-attainement’ is or could be. Your remarks about the ‘cash cow of the Hindus’ cut deeper and wider than the scope of your words: it picks up (indiscriminately as it were) a Tibetan monk, a Japanese Zen master,… But then, I am not sure about your intentions either.

X says: The entire second chapter of Patanjali’s “yoga sutra,” deals with “saadhanapaadaH.” Which is to say “How to do it”.

A better, more accurate and a faithful rendition would sound: ‘the path of assiduous practice’. All knowledge requires ‘saadhana’, which is more than assiduous practice. It connotes an order of skill which requires ‘mindful’ practice as well.

X says: Swamis and gurus hate as much as the defenders of Hindu faith to admit the sensual aspect of one’s body wherein a normal sexuality is considered as a bane for spiritual attainment.

Once again, yes and no. Yes: in the sense that any practitioner from some specific tradition finds that his (her) chosen path either forecloses or integrates other paths. This is true not just for the Swamis and the Gurus from the ‘Hindu faith’ (did I not read a posting from you somewhere that denied the existence of the ‘Hindu Religion’?), but for all those Asian traditions that are different from and other than those who pursue the path of ‘self-attainment’ through Sensuality. Some of the Tantric traditions follow the sexual path to ‘self-attainment’ as well. In this sense, the answer is also no.

X says: Yoga is a philosophy and like any other I know or heard of.

That is precisely the probable. The only ‘philosophies’ one knows today are (a) either Western or (b) pale imitations of the West. One writes, as it were, for the imagined eyes and audience from the West. This has the effect of making the Asian (Indian) thinkers and practitioners appear downright stupid (at best) or mentally defective (at the worst). Which intelligent human being can possibly believe that the whole world is an illusion, maaya? one feels like asking. Were they really so dumb that they did not cognize the ‘existence’ of the World? If yes, how come they went around talking about plurality of worlds, for god’s sake? It appears as though one has answers — after all, one can either read the original works or texts in translations. The only problem is: we do not know what they are answers to. One needs to ask oneself this: Which were the questions these people tried to answer? Are they ours as well? If yes, translation please: into an understandable vocabulary from our own times, and addressing our concerns. Now, of course, one could also make them sound ‘esoteric’ and ‘exotic’, much the same way the German Romantics did. Either way, the point and purpose get lost.

X says: There is lot of junk in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and no definitive answers come by with literal translations or deep philosophical debate and discussions.

Again, yes and no. There is a lot of junk both from today and yesteryears, this part is true. No ‘definitive’ answers? Yes: if you mean by ‘definitive’, that which is true for all time to come. The only one who can give such answers, according to the Judaic, Christian and Islamic religions anyway, is the personal being referred to as ‘God’. They agree too that ‘literal translations and deep philosophical debates and discussions’ do not bring ‘definitive answers’, and that only revelation does. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, summarized this thought in a rhetorical question: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Nothing, he said. “Our wisdom comes from the porch of Solomon”, and not from the Academy (referring to the Greek and Roman institutions of learning). Surely, you do not want to say this. At least, I do not. In this sense, the reply is a no as well: all answers (in so far as we search and hypothesize) are tentative, hypothetical, and provisional as it befits the beings who formulate them, viz., human beings. Human knowledge is fallible, and it is not infallible ‘divine knowledge’. So what? That is the only kind of knowledge we produce.