December 29, 2013

Thesis and Antithesis of Yoga

Have written all of this about the Eight Limbs of Yoga, I kept researching and trying to understand, trying to contextualize, trying to integrate. I borrowed more books from the library, kept reading that recent translation of the Yoga Sutra. I finally found myself ranting more than I read, whether in my head or out loud to my wife.

I talked about some of my disagreements with the philosophy behind yoga during my research pieces. Really, all of them proceed from two basic things, which are, alas, two of the most basic ideas found in this philosophy:

  1. Divine monism. All gods are one. There's a very, very theoretical level in which I sort of agree with this, as I've mentioned, but that really it's much more that I understand all gods to be a part of the universe, just as everything else is, and that the very first basic of the universe (Chaos, Space, Matter, Time, etc) are all, themselves, divine. I am, in a sense, both pantheistic and animistic, but there's a level at both ends (and more at the top end) where it simply because impossible for me to relate to them as deities or spirits, to worship or communicate with them in any meaningful fashion. In any practical sense, I am a hard polytheist: I experience, worship and believe in the gods as discrete entities with their own personalities, consciousnesses, and agencies.

  2. Spirit/body dualism. The realm of the spirit and the realm of matter are almost completely separate, except in that our spirits are stuck to our bodies during life, and the way to become more in tune with one's spirit and with the divine is to withdraw from (some kinds of) interaction with the world. This gives rise to the asceticism that I cannot relate to. I mean, I can't deny that people achieve great things through these methods, and have throughout time, but it's not a path that works for me. There's also, if I'm understanding what I'm reading correctly, the basic concept that what I'm referring to as spirit is in fact consciousness, awareness. An idea which I completely reject. Spirit is life, not consciousness, and it is inherent in human physicality, not tenuously connected to it.

These two ideas, taken together, turn out to be the core of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. So, basically, it's Advaita to which I object, and more and more I think my issues with it are irreconcilable.

This left me flailing a bit, until my wife, having patiently listened to my ranty rants, said, "You know, that sounds more like Tantra than Yoga. Have you looked into that?" (Both of my wife's parents were linguists and scholars of Sanskrit, and while studying in India had converted to Hinduism. She never practiced it herself, but she's picked up a few things.)

So, like you do for basic outlines, I looked up Tantra on Wikipedia. I knew just enough to know that Tantra =/= the Kama Sutra, that most of it isn't sexual at all, and that Westerners are generally talking out their asses when they say anything about it. Oh, and that it has been really grossly appropriated by Western occultists and bad things done to it. I went into it with trepidation, not about Tantra, but about me researching Tantra and finding good sources. And I found some good (as far as I can tell) basic information, but continue to be at a total loss for where to go from here.

Tantra Yoga is certainly a thing that exists, in India, and which uses the asana and pranayama in pursuit of goals that are much more like my own, backed by a philosophy that is much more like my own. Much of the real practice of Tantra Yoga is obscured in the US and Europe by orientalism and attempts at syncretism by western occultists going back to the late nineteenth century, though.

I'll look around, as I have the time. I've just started a new job, though, and it's eating a lot of my time and energy. And unfortunately, the only person I have even tenuous connection to who might be able to help me find good translations of whatever Sanskrit or Hindi texts exist is my father in law, whom my wife has had no contact with in many year, and who, for all she knows, may not even be alive anymore.

In the meantime, my brother has sent me not only the fat yoga video he promised, Mega Yoga by Megan Garcia, which has a women with a variety of body shapes doing poses, plus breathing exercises, he got me a pass for drop-in classes at the yoga studio I like. I'm very looking forward to trying out the video today, and starting to drop in to classes soon.