The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography

Overview

Consisting of fewer than two hundred verses written in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is today extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice. As David Gordon White demonstrates in this groundbreaking study, both of these assumptions are incorrect. Virtually forgotten in India for hundreds of years and maligned when it was first discovered in the West, the Yoga Sutra has been elevated to its present iconic status—and translated into ...

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Overview

Consisting of fewer than two hundred verses written in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is today extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice. As David Gordon White demonstrates in this groundbreaking study, both of these assumptions are incorrect. Virtually forgotten in India for hundreds of years and maligned when it was first discovered in the West, the Yoga Sutra has been elevated to its present iconic status—and translated into more than forty languages—only in the course of the past forty years.

White retraces the strange and circuitous journey of this confounding work from its ancient origins down through its heyday in the seventh through eleventh centuries, its gradual fall into obscurity, and its modern resurgence since the nineteenth century. First introduced to the West by the British Orientalist Henry Thomas Colebrooke, the Yoga Sutra was revived largely in Europe and America, and predominantly in English. White brings to life the improbable cast of characters whose interpretations—and misappropriations—of the Yoga Sutra led to its revered place in popular culture today. Tracing the remarkable trajectory of this enigmatic work, White’s exhaustively researched book also demonstrates why the yoga of India’s past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"White's book, a contribution to Princeton's Lives of Great Religious Books series, delves into the short collection of verses that many contemporary practitioners believe—erroneously—to be the original, definitive guide to ancient yoga philosophy. A scholar of comparative religions, White conducted sharp and deep research to tell the story of the rise, fall, and modern-day resurgence of the 195 verses attributed to the author/compiler Patanjali, who lived in either the first century BCE or the fourth century CE."Publishers Weekly

"White's scholarly read is a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra. . . . It will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge. Concise, yet showing fresh research, this book is well suited for academic and comprehensive yoga collections."—Ajoke Kokodoko, Library Journal

"Engaging, challenging, myth-busting, and completely au courant, weaving into the debates on cultural appropriation, colonization, and the reinvention of yoga and South Asian spiritual practice in the postmodern west."—Sean Feit, Nadalila.org

"A wildly entertaining tour-de-force of deconstructive research."—Matthew Remski, Reality Sandwich

"A lively account of this sutra's unlikely history and how it has variously been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, and hailed. The colorful characters on these pages include Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya, two giants in modern yoga, as well as literary figures such as T.S. Eliot. There is also Alberuni, a Muslim scientist and scholar who translated a commentary on the Yoga Sutra a thousand years ago, and the outrageous Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who fused the principles of the Yoga Sutra with Western ideas of the occult."Shambhala Sun

"The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali undertakes an exhaustive, scholarly history of the titular work of ancient Indian philosophy, lightened by author David Gordon White's provocative wit. . . . White's in-depth examination demonstrates how scriptural exegesis often reveals as much about the worldview and priorities of its authors as it does the wisdom of the works they interpret."—Max Zahn, Tricycle

"White brings to life the improbable cast of characters whose interpretations—and misappropriations—of the Yoga Sutra led to its revered place in popular culture today. Tracing the remarkable trajectory of this enigmatic work, White's exhaustively researched book also demonstrates why the yoga of India's past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today."—RSR, Buddhism Now

"[L]ucidly written."—Vithal C. Nadkarni, Economic Times

From the Publisher
"White's book, a contribution to Princeton's Lives of Great Religious Books series, delves into the short collection of verses that many contemporary practitioners believe—erroneously—to be the original, definitive guide to ancient yoga philosophy. A scholar of comparative religions, White conducted sharp and deep research to tell the story of the rise, fall, and modern-day resurgence of the 195 verses attributed to the author/compiler Patanjali, who lived in either the first century BCE or the fourth century CE."—Publishers Weekly

"White's scholarly read is a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra. . . . It will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge. Concise, yet showing fresh research, this book is well suited for academic and comprehensive yoga collections."—Ajoke Kokodoko, Library Journal

"Engaging, challenging, myth-busting, and completely au courant, weaving into the debates on cultural appropriation, colonization, and the reinvention of yoga and South Asian spiritual practice in the postmodern west."—Sean Feit, Nadalila.org

"A wildly entertaining tour-de-force of deconstructive research."—Matthew Remski, Reality Sandwich

"A lively account of this sutra's unlikely history and how it has variously been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, and hailed. The colorful characters on these pages include Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya, two giants in modern yoga, as well as literary figures such as T.S. Eliot. There is also Alberuni, a Muslim scientist and scholar who translated a commentary on the Yoga Sutra a thousand years ago, and the outrageous Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who fused the principles of the Yoga Sutra with Western ideas of the occult."—Shambhala Sun

"The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali undertakes an exhaustive, scholarly history of the titular work of ancient Indian philosophy, lightened by author David Gordon White's provocative wit. . . . White's in-depth examination demonstrates how scriptural exegesis often reveals as much about the worldview and priorities of its authors as it does the wisdom of the works they interpret."—Max Zahn, Tricycle

"White brings to life the improbable cast of characters whose interpretations—and misappropriations—of the Yoga Sutra led to its revered place in popular culture today. Tracing the remarkable trajectory of this enigmatic work, White's exhaustively researched book also demonstrates why the yoga of India's past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today."—RSR, Buddhism Now

"[L]ucidly written."—Vithal C. Nadkarni, Economic Times

Library Journal
04/01/2014
The four books of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra contain 196 sutras (aphorisms) that many believe to be the theoretical and philosophical basis of modern-day yoga. However, White (Yoga in Practice) shows how the work in its original form is not the basis of today's teachings. White explores its development, from Patanjali's esoteric Sanskrit text through its innumerable interpretations and translations. He clearly demonstrates the evolution of the works through a long line of commentaries and manipulations. In fact, the original text only has four verbs and is virtually incomprehensible to those who do not know Sanskrit. White discusses renowned and lesser-known progenitors, gurus, and disciples who made the ancient work accessible. Key figures covered include British orientalist Henry Thomas, who "discovered" the sutras in the early 1800s and made them palatable to Western civilization; Swami Vivekananda, whose English-language commentaries and book Raja Yoga (1896) ignited a U.S. passion for yoga; and Tirumalai Krishnamachrya, the "father of modern yoga." VERDICT White's scholarly read is a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra. Though not essential for yoga practioners, it will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge. Concise, yet showing fresh research, this book is well suited for academic and comprehensive yoga collections.—Ajoke Kokodoko, Oakland P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691143774
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2014
  • Series: Lives of Great Religious Books
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 777,985
  • Product dimensions: 4.50 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Gordon White is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Yoga in Practice (Princeton) and Sinister Yogis.

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Table of Contents

Dramatis Personae vii
Preface xv
Chapter 1 Reading the Yoga Sutra in the Twenty-First Century: Modern Challenges, Ancient Strategies 1
Chapter 2 Patanjali, the Yoga Sutra, and Indian Philosophy 18
Chapter 3 Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the Western "Discovery" of the Yoga Sutra 53
Chapter 4 Yoga Sutra Agonistes: Hegel and the German Romantics 81
Chapter 5 Rajendralal Mitra: India's Forgotten Pioneer of Yoga Sutra Scholarship 92
Chapter 6 The Yoga of the Magnetosphere: The Yoga Sutra and the TheosophicalSociety 103
Chapter 7 Swami Vivekananda and the Mainstreaming of the Yoga Sutra 116
Chapter 8 The Yoga Sutra in the Muslim World 143
Chapter 9 The Yoga Sutra Becomes a Classic 159
Chapter 10 Ishvara 172
Chapter 11 Journeys East, Journeys West: The Yoga Sutra in the Early Twentieth Century 182
Chapter 12 The Strange Case of T. M. Krishnamacharya 197
Chapter 13 Yoga Sutra 2.0 225
Notes 237
Suggestions for Further
Reading 249
Index 261

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