I have been wondering what is the agenda behind the desire to relegate Krishnamacharya to the role of pure ‘modern postural yogi’?
The fact that he has not left much writing apart from a few notes does not mean he did not know and teach plenty of stuff behind asana and there are other testimonies outside the direct family who confirm the centrality of the Yoga Sutras to his teachings as well as plenty more material.
Just wondering… I really feel that we are not doing justice to the man, so I have my own agenda.
manuscript catalogues from India, Europe, and North America. All in all, I perused over fifty catalogs and other related sources, with special focus on India’s eleven largest and most representative manuscript collections, as indicated in Philipp Andre Maas’s recent extensive survey of Yoga Sutra manuscript traditions.
The shrine is unique in the sense that we don’t have a statue of a particular God or Goddess, but… the body of knowledge that continues to provide guidance and direction to mankind. That body of knowledge itself is at the core of the shrine. This is the epitome of what we teach, what we believe in. The shrine is a living example of the message of the sages, that we must create a bridge between ancient wisdom and modern science, between East and West, and we must remove the gap that exists between different cultures and civilizations, and we must learn to build a bridge between our worldly lives and our spiritual lives. And that is why here, we have Yoga Sutra of Patanjali…
“[W]e can be certain of a number of things: that the book you have been reading is the reception history of a work that may or may not be titled the Yoga Sutra; that the author of that work may or may not have been named Patanjali; and that that work may or may not have been the subject of an original and separate commentary by a person probably not named Vyasa.” (234)
This is as close as White comes, I think, to romancing the blood in the varnish. His praise of Mitra’s work almost seems to transcend an appreciation for sharp scholarship into an implicit belief that the Sutras do have a clear message that can be recovered by the sincere specialist. I can understand the impulse arising in someone sifting through as much bunk as White has had to, and feeling he has found a rare comrade-in-clarity in a figure like Mitra. But it raises the question, not so much for White as for the entire discipline: does the identification of something as “Patanjali Yoga” as a category of study, and the seeking out of the best and rarest sources for that category, naturally beguile a scholar into imagining implied essences, even as he or she is describing the thing-in-itself as a herd of cats? The Sutras are an unstable collection of verses compiled over centuries by nameless people in forgotten places and frozen into folios by the accidents of text production. Can we resist the desire to hunt the blood in the varnish?
White asserts in Chapter 3 that through his own manuscript catalog research, “Out of a total of some twenty thousand manuscripts listed in these catalogs on Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, and Vedanta philosophy, a mere 260 were Yoga Sutra manuscripts (including commentaries), with only thirty-five dating before 1823.”
It’s good to be relieved of the burden of thinking there’s something we’re not living up to. Amidst the Yoga scholarship of David White, Mark Singleton, Norman Sjoman, Elizabeth De Michelis, and so many others, there are no Yoga metanarratives left standing. Ultimately this means we also cannot doubt the value of our own participation in the ongoing creation of whatever Yoga is or will be. We might even use White’s work to reclaim the un-self-reflexive patterns of past commentators as permission to transparently create. This might free us to read Hatha literature through psychoanalysis and neuroscience, and the Gita through Marxist theory. Would these readings be substantially different from earlier misreadings or politicizations of the Sutras?
Amidst the chaos of disagreeing dates, impossible meetings with pandits, and surprisingly scant evidence that Krishnamacharya was very knowledgable or enamoured of the Sutras at all (201-202), a pattern begins to emerge as the dates of the biographies progress. As the details of the grandfather’s knowledge and exploits are enriched, so is the centrality of the Yoga Sutras to his story and teaching. The importance of the book blossoms alongside the grandeur of the man.
Well I personally choose to believe that the Yoga Sutras were central to Krishnamacharya’s education, based not only on what Desikachar or Mohan may say.
The Yoga Sutras has no stable textual tradition and no stable oral tradition. There is no lineage of continuous respect for the document itself within Indian philosophical and religious discourse. It’s highly unlikely that the Himalayan preserve harbors a cabal of Patanjalian rishis. Vivekananda had no more access to the Sutras than the non-Indian Orientalists did, and far less than we do. But it’s with White’s penultimate chapter, “The Strange Case of T. M. Krishnamacharya” that the grit of human desire and grandiosity starts to really scratch the patina of the modern Yoga myth.
In a wildly entertaining tour-de-force of deconstructive research, David Gordon White’s (Princeton University Press, released today), is an extended meditation on the red violin of modern Yoga, along with its most famous players. The Sutras have an uncertain beginning in the hands of a forgotten master. Countless pandits, commentators and dilettantes have played and brokered them, each according to their period and training. The Sutras have travelled the world on scrolls, folios, and now through pixels. They’ve been copied, miscopied, translated, mistranslated, silenced and silent for generations, appropriated and stolen, dressed up for show and stripped down for parts. They have born silent witness to the passage of kings, religions, and philosophical and scientific paradigms. Everyone who touches them claims possession over their essence – the blood in the varnish. But no one can agree upon what that essence is. And like the ten soloists puzzling in their welder’s goggles over equally beautiful instruments in a Paris concert hall, we are compelled to ask in the end: what do origins and authenticity mean, and why does it matter?
A great essay. Thanks Matt. I have placed an order and looking forward to the arrival of White’s book. The points made by White have always been the issues I have had with the ‘modern’ yoga phenomenon where everything gets linked to the Yoga Sutras. And of course its historicity among other issues.