- Yoga: The Indian Tradition
For anyone seeking a popular book on yoga that offers a few easy hints on how to lighten the load of everyday stress or to regain comfort and psychosomatic health through a few minutes of weekly or daily yogic practice there is no point in reaching for Yoga: The Indian Tradition, edited by Ian Whicher and David Carpenter. This book would not be of much use to the general reader interested in yoga as the system of physical and mental fitness widely propagated in the West in teach-yourself handbooks, which are now available for purchase online. Instead, the editors of this volume present a set of scholarly articles, each by a different author, exploring in depth the very complex and influential tradition of yoga from several historical and methodological perspectives. As a result, we do not receive a homogeneous and uniform image of yoga—and this exactly suits this diverse and extraordinarily rich spiritual and philosophical tradition. The interesting collection presented here is highly recommended to every serious student of Indian philosophy and religions who is able to follow the detailed interpretations of the Sanskrit sources.
The book is divided into two main parts: "Classical Foundations," comprising five chapters, and "The Expanding Tradition," embracing four. As we read in the "Introduction," the nine essays collected here are intended to provide "a sense of the historical emergence of the classical system presented by Patañjali, a careful examination of the key elements, the overall character and contemporary relevance of the system, as found in the Yoga Sūtra, and a glimpse of some of the tradition's many important ramifications in later Indian religious history" (p. 1). An essay on yoga in the Mahābhārata opens part 1, followed by four chapters devoted to a detailed analysis of the oldest and most prominent text of the classical yoga system. The four chapters forming part 2 discuss, successively, the yoga of Advaita Vedānta, yoga according to Śvetāmbara Jainism and its relation to the Nāth Siddha tradition, yoga in early Hindu tantras, and yoga developed in the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā tantric traditions of medieval Bengal.
Brockington's examination of yoga in the epic literature introduces the yoga tradition in its pre-classical and pre-systematic phase of development recorded mainly in texts such as the Mokṣadharma, Bhagavadgītā, and Sanatsujātīya. He reminds us that in the Mahābhārata the term "yoga" has a quite general and wide meaning of "practice," while the term "sāṁkhya," with which yoga is commonly associated, is understood as "theory." Thus, the terms refer not so much to philosophical positions as to spiritual methodologies. Brockington argues that Sāṁkhya and Yoga owed much to ascetic traditions outside Vedic orthodoxy, and at the phase of their development depicted in the epics they surely cannot be regarded as the fully elaborated systems we know in their later distinctive shape provided by Īśvarakrsna and Patañjali. [End Page 353] Among the themes discussed in this essay, there are different practices, such as japa, tapas, ekāgramanas or ekāntin, ekāgratā, prāṇāyäma, and dhyāna, which seem to be closely likened to the yoga techniques that had already been diffused throughout the period of the epics and were not limited to a specific school. According to Brockington, despite some essential differences between these practices and the "eightfold" technique of Patañjali, yoga practice as presented in the Mahābhārata comprises four main aspects that are also characteristic of the classical system, namely: general preparations through such things as moral conduct, diet, posture, and surroundings; the practice of breath control; the withdrawal of the senses; and concentration and meditation (p. 19).
The remaining four essays in part 1, which focus on Patanjala yoga, seem to compose a distinct section of the book, which offers a variety of attitudes to the Yoga Sutra worthy of more detailed review. The subsequent articles, which offer some perspectives on the interpretation of the core treatise of classical yoga, make...