- Yoga: India's Philosophy of Meditation
Yoga: India's Philosophy of Meditation is the most recent volume in the highly acclaimed Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy series, under general editor Karl Potter. This work might be appropriately considered the long-awaited sequel to Larson and Bhattacharya's earlier volume (number 4 in the series), Sāṃkhya: A Dualist Tradition in Indian Philosophy, and it may well be among the greatest in importance on the topic in the past fifty years, especially as it represents the culmination of the trajectory of Larson's engagement with the material over the course of his prolific career. Ram Shankar Bhattacharya passed away in 1996 while the work was still in progress, leaving Larson to complete the volume on his own. Larson's admiration for Bhattacharya as an industrious researcher and as a generous teacher shines through clearly in the text. Bhattacharya's numerous contributions to the book and the broad presentation of his range of work within it are conscientiously represented by Larson and will undoubtedly solidify Bhattacharya's legacy in the study of Pātañjala yoga for generations of scholars to come. This book represents the fruition of decades of work for Larson and is a testament to the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the field, especially with respect to the relationship between Sāṃkhya and Yoga as philosophical schools.
Though this volume is a resource clearly of greatest use for scholars of South Asian religion and philosophy, Larson also intends it to have broader relevance to contemporary philosophical conversations, especially with respect to philosophy of mind (pp. 72–74). It is divided into two principle parts, the first being an introduction to yoga that includes sections on the history and literature of yoga, the philosophy of Pātañjala Yoga, the Haṭha Yoga traditions, and Contemporary Yoga traditions. The second part consists of summaries of key works on yoga in the Sanskrit literature. The three sections of the second part focus on texts of the Pātañjala Yoga traditions (the Yogasūtra and commentaries, i.e., the Yogaśāstra), on Haṭha Yoga traditions (including the Kaulajñānanirṇaya, Siddhasiddhāntapaddhati, and Haṭhayogapradīpikā, as well as lesser known texts), and on so-called "additional" texts (such as the Yogavāśiṣṭa and the Yoga Upaniṣad literature).
Larson charts out four explicit goals in the introductory part of the work (p. 21). The first of these is to examine how, and to what degree, Yoga as a school of thought represents an authentic philosophy of India. Larson's inclination is to say that it can clearly be identified as being a philosophy in the fullest sense, given the fact that there is a long-standing Sanskrit tradition of text and commentary that extends from the fourth or fifth century c.e. to the present, including the Yogasūtra (hereafter YS), a primary text or sūtrapāṭha (fourth to fifth centuries c.e.), of Patañjali, and the [End Page 294] various commentarial works of figures such as Vyāsa (fourth to fifth centuries c.e.), Vācaspatimiśra (ninth to tenth centuries c.e.), Bhojarāja (eleventh century c.e.), and Vijñānabhikṣu (sixteenth century c.e.), among others (p. 22). The status of yoga as a philosophical system is also indicated in Larson's referencing of the intimate relationship between Sāṃkhya and Yoga, especially given Vyāsa's identification of his commentary as a Sāṃkhyapravacana, or "exposition on Sāṃkhya" (p. 23). Larson views the trajectories of Yoga and of Sāṃkhya, whether separate or united, as being profoundly influential on the religious life of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina traditions and, more broadly, in many dimensions of South Asian religion and culture.
The second stated goal of the work is to discern the relationship between yoga as a philosophical undertaking and yoga as an experimental or experiential endeavor. Here, Larson discusses the ubiquity...