Yoga agora

Summary – Why yoga in Axial Age imperial kingdoms?

As this chapter leaves the Axial Age civilisation and the early medieval period it is clear that the general society and institutional framework in which yoga existed had changed dramatically from the previous period of mendicant Sramanas, proto-yoga, death rituals and amateur Kshatriyas.

The period under investigation – about a thousand years – brought us some philosophical texts delineating a specific Samkhya flavour of yoga – the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and Samkhya Karika of Ishvarakrishna. Both texts became canonised much later, as they became incorporated into the Darsanas of Brahmanism. The irony was that the intellectual hegemony of Advaita Vedanta in philosophical terms rendered both texts more or less redundant. Samkhya’s ontology was widely criticised and rejected anyway and was now flattened by Vedantic monism. Further, ascetic-meditative yoga did not have much function within intellectual Brahmanism: it did not fit easily into the Vedantic discourse of philosophical idealism .

Whereas the Classical yogi’s aim is to transcend the body, Yoga agora which is seen to be inferior to spirit, Tantra sees no duality and honors the body Yoga agora as a manifestation of the highest consciousness. The body and mind are not obstacles to be overcome, but rather a matrix in which spiritual growth unfolds. In this world view, all experiences, however mundane, provide possibilities for a deeper understanding and appreciation, of life. There is nothing in life that is inherently separate from spirit. The practices of Hatha Yoga that are prevalent today draw on both the Classical and Tantric traditions. An ever-increasing number of groups promote both aspects of yoga, from the Iyengar Institute and John Friend’s Anusara Yoga to the Yoga Journal, among others. Most of these organizations have high aims, consistent with the origins of yoga. All, to our knowledge, embrace the lion’s share of the principles set out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

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