Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?

Via on May 12, 2010

hinduactivist

It has become common dogma in Western yoga circles to subscribe to the idea that yoga originally comes from the Vedas and that the Aryans, who developed these ancient scriptures, are indigenous to India.

The main proponents of these ideas are prolific yoga scholars Georg Feuerstein and David Frawley.

Their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, which seeks to demonstrate that the Aryans are indigenous to India and advanced everything great about Indian culture, including yoga, Vedic Astrology, Ayurveda, has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra.

Here’s the irony in all this: These eminent writers have thus, perhaps unwittingly, aligned themselves with some of the most extreme elements in modern India, the Hindu nationalists, who want to prove that Hindu Aryanism is indigenous to India and that anybody who attempts to disprove this idea is a racist and a bigot.

Warning: This whole debate is complicated, often heated, and rather one-sided, at least from the point of view of those who beg to differ.

That is, those researchers and writers, like myself, who present the view that ancient India was populated by peoples who had already developed yoga and tantra when the Aryans started arriving and that the clash of these two civilizations—the Vedic and the Tantric—is what has formed India’s cultural heritage.

Just imagine this: India had already developed cities, rice growing and great communal baths around 5,000 BC. And this was the time, according to genetic science, the nomadic Aryans arrived in India. A classical clash of two cultures ensued—one nomadic and, at times, rather violent, one agrarian and, to a great extent, quite peaceful.

So, yes, there is an alternative perspective to the one Chopra and the Hindu nationalists subscribes to: the Aryans came from outside India and brought with them the Rikveda, the first oral text of the four Vedas (a book in which you will find no information about yoga asanas or mantra meditation but a lot about prayers to conciliate the thunder god and the sun god as well as plenty of juicy and poetic information about fire rituals and horse sacrifices).

So to sum up: to say that the Aryans were originally indigenous to India is like saying Columbus and his fellow invaders were indigenous to Ohio.

Some questions to think about:

Do you go to a Vedic priest to learn yoga or do you go to a yogi?

Why does Lama Yeshe (a Buddhist tantric) and Swami Satyananda (a Hindu tantric) call yoga a tantric practice?

Why was the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first book on yoga asanas (Yoga and Tantra had been oral traditions for thousands of years before this book was written), written by Tantric yogis and not by Vedic priests?

The answers to these questions are simple: Yoga did not originate in the Vedas, as Chopra claims. Yoga was not really developed by Vedic priests. Rather, yoga was developed by Tantric yogis, some of whom, over time, also happened to be part-time Vedic priests.

Indeed, it is commonly understood in Tantric circles and documented in many books how Vedic priests would practice Tantric yoga in secret at night…

So, over time, there was a cultural blending between the Vedic and Tantric streams of wisdom in India. This blending gave us the great texts of the Gita, the Upanishads as well as Kashmir Tantra, Vedanta, the Yoga Sutras, Samkhya, the great nondual Tantric Renaissance of the Middle Ages, from which much of modern yoga practice originates, etc.

To read more about this alternative view of Indian history and the history of yoga and tantra, please read my other blogs on EJ:

> How old is yoga: a reply to Waylon Lewis

> A brief alternative history of yoga.

For information about genetic research supporting the Aryan migration to India:

http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/Recent_Findings_Archaeogenetics.html

Here’s a short summary of this article: Further, this desire by VF/HEF supporters to “prove” by any means that Aryans are “indigenous” people directly relate to their contemporary political agenda back in India of distinguishing the “indigenous Aryan Hindus” from “foreign Muslim and Christian invaders” and thereby characterizing India’s Muslim and Christian minorities as “traitors” that need to be marginalized and persecuted. It is disturbing to witness how dangerously close these Hindu nationalist groups have come to whitewashing California’s school textbooks with their unsavory political agendas.

And here is an article about what award-winning author Arundhati Roy thinks about the nationalist Hindutva movement:

http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/arundhati-roy-exposes-hindutva-and-islamophobia/

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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91 Responses to “Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?”

  1. Ramesh,

    I think you're assuming knowledge of terms here the average Yoga reader will have no familiarity with, among them "Vedic", "Aryans", and "Hindu Nationalists". I myself understand "Vedic" well, "Aryans" only a little, and have no idea what is "Hindu Nationalism" is, a term your article assumes we know all about. So it's hard for me to relate to your article.

    I wonder if you're being fair to Chopra with your damning headline. Given the fact that I don' know what a Hindu nationalist is, it kind of lacks meaning to me, and probably to others. But it certainly doesn't sound good.

    Could you tell me the specific quotes by Chopra that make him deserve this condemnation? The only references I've heard Chopra make to the Vedas are in conjunction with the Upanishads, which I'm sure you agree are a seminal Yoga text and clearly considered part of the Vedas, although a separate secret appendage apparently.

    If Chopra is saying is that Yoga came from the Upanishads which are part of the Vedas, I don't see why that would arouse your ire. So I assume you have something more specific he has said or written that is clearly historically wrong. I'm interested in knowing what that is, so I can justify your angry-sounding headline.

    I guess I have to ask the same thing about Frawley, who, while a Vedic scholar, describes the roots of Yoga coming from the Upanishads and Tantra in his small book "Yoga–The Greater Tradition". In this book, at least, he doesn't even mention the Aryans. I assume you have some other sources for your displeasure with him, too.

    Thanks,

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal.com

  2. Bob, if you read closer, you will find that most of your concerns are addressed in my article. Yes, this is a complex issue, and that is why I added links to my own more detailed article on EJ, one link and a summary of genetic findings, as well as one article by Arundhati Roy. For those interested in this topic, this is a good place to start to investigate this complex issue further.

    As mentioned in my article above, Deepak Chopra endorsed the book by Frawley and Feuerstein in which it is claimed it is racist to think the Vedic Aryans invaded/migrated to India. The book also claims that rudimentary forms of yoga comes solely from these peoples, the Vedic Aryans, who developed the four Vedas. This is whitewashing of India's ancient history. And Deepak Chopra endorsed this book. This view also happens to be the view of the Hindu nationalist movement. I say in my article above that this agreement is "perhaps unwittingly" conceived. This may be the case with Chopra, but not likely the case with Frawley and Feuerstein, who wrote an entire book on the subject.

    What is important is this: the Western yoga movement has subscribed to a view that is not balanced, that is, in many ways, quite biased. Chopra is supporting this bias by endorsing this book. See here:http://www.amazon.com/Search-Cradle-Civilization-

    All I am doing is trying to present ideas that hopefully can contribute to a more balanced understanding of the history of India as well as the history of yoga.

  3. Hi, Ramesh.

    That's very helpful. What do you thing Feuerstein's and Frawley's motives would be for purposely falsifying history?

    Unless you have a smoking gun motive for this outrage you describe, these two fellows are so well respected and knowledgeable that, faced with a new issue I don't understand and am not willing to spend three days researching, I'd have to lean toward whatever they think, especially if they both agree, since they have very different backgrounds themselves. Chopra is highly knowledgeable in his own right, but I'm sure he feels the same way I do about Feuerstein and Frawley.

    I'm not saying you're wrong. But to believe you instead of them, I'd either have to spend hours of research following all your links, or I'd have to see a clear motive for them to lie, or I'd have to hear the charges from someone I believe more than I believe them.

    If I could make a friendly suggestion. I think you're talking way over our heads here. Well, let me just speak for myself. You're talking way over my head.

    I don't think you can solve that problem by flooding us with links to read. I know you're just trying to educate us, but I think if you want us to understand this important topic you might consider backing up a few steps, tell us more of the basics and selectively quote from your sources instead of giving us lots of links to read. Most of us won't take the time for an issue that hasn't grabbed us yet.

    This appears to be a matter of historical judgment about things that happened thousands of years ago. I'm not surprised there would be a few unresolvable differences of opinion.

    Thanks,

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal.com

  4. Bob, whitewashing is sometimes purposeful, sometimes it is done out of ignorance. Most biases are unconscious, thus my use of the word "unwittingly"….

    In this case, I believe it is mainly ignorance and an unwillingness to search for truth outside one's own comfort zone.

    One writer and well known teacher of Ayurveda described these authors as "Brahmin apologists." That is, someone who glosses over the great injustices done to people of the lower caste, people who practice tantra, women, etc. The Vedic legacy of India is replete with such injustices.

    Watch the feature film Water by Deepa Mehta and you'll know what I mean….http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240200/

    Most of my research on this issue is already in the two articles already on EJ and linked above. If anybody wants more information, I am more than happy to send a 40 page piece I have written on this issue. Or you may read my forthcoming book….

    Frawley and Feuerstein are great writers, no doubt, but they are not historians, and when they attempt to write the history of yoga, they leave out large chunks by furthering a one-sided version of Indian history.

  5. In my opinion, if that's all you've got, you should be more respectful to their excellent reputations and not write about them like they're two-bit hacks without any regard for the truth. Your headline implies that Chopra is supporting some unsavory political movement in India, which most of have no clue about. If you don't intend to create this impression you shouldn't throw out this sort of inflammatory headline.

    Just my opinion. What do you others think? I think I've hammered my good friend Ramesh here enough already! More opinions, please.

  6. Bob, I think you are going a bit overboard here, and you may want to look at why you take this so seriously… :-) I have praised these writers profusely when I think that is what they deserve. I have also created a strong case against some of their assertions… Yes, that is indeed all I've got…. Bob, a case that is supported by many writers and teachers much more reputable than me…..Alain Danielou, N. N. Bathhacarya (both have written extensively on Indian History and tantric yoga in particular), Romila Thapar (historian, well known in India), Swami Satyananda Saraswati (founder Bihar School of Yoga and prolific author), Anandamurti (author of 200 plus books and tantric master), Swami Abhayananda, Dr. Spencer Wells (geneticist with National Geographic), Marshall (archeologist), etc. That a short list of some prominent people who tend to disagree with these two authors. Moreover, most of Western academia disagrees with them, but that is another story altogether. So, yes, that is all I've got, Bob. :-)

    • You just told me far more in this last reply than you had told us previously. What you just said about these guys being dismissed by most other scholars is very significant, if true.

      Look, Ramesh, I was honestly just trying to help you out by pointing out if you've lost me, then you've probably lost one or two other readers as well. I wasn't suggesting you don't make your case against these guys, just that you make it in more understandable and transparently fair way.

      • Authority is one way to establish facts, Bob, logic another, sometimes we need to question bot logic and authority. So keep investigating….cause academia is not always right either. In fact, I do not agree with their timing. There are three theories: academia (Vedic Aryans arrive 200o BCE and destroy Dravidian tantric culture) Frawley (Aryan Vedic never arrived from outside, they are indigenous, there is no evidence of invasion at that time) Myself/Anandamurti/Wells (Vedic Aryans arrive much earlier, 5000 BCE and India has thousands of years of blending of cultures. In this third view, the oral tantric history as retold by Danielou, Bhattacarya and Ananadamurti match up–science and oral history merge beutifully. So, this third view is much more plausible and that is what I have outlined in my other two articles on EJ, articles which you previously were happy about. I guess you just did not like my title this time… :-)

        • I did not understand your article. I'll try again on the next one.

        • I need to restate what I said above: Anandamurti's views and retelling of oral Indian history matches the genetic dates of Wells, that the Vedic Aryans arrived around 5000 BCE. Danielou and Bhattacarya are not so clear in their timing but have made a very strong case for the difference between indigenous tantric/yogic/shaiva culture and Vedic Aryan priestly culture, the conflicts between the two cultures and also how the Vedic priests coopted tantric yogic practices, etc. There are two sacred archetypes in India: the Vedic priest and the Tantric yogi–these two archetypes bled over time and form India's great cultural renaissance and civilization

  7. Linda-Sama says:

    The Aryan Invasion Theory is just that… a theory and is also controversial. and in any discussion of this, people tend to forget about the Dravidian culture in the south, as in Tamil Nadu, where the genetic markers have been identified as being African.

    • Linda Sama, you are correct, the Dravidian culture in the South is still there and very strong. But before the Vedic Aryans started arriving in India, starting as early as 5000 BCE according to the genetic evidence of Dr. Spencer Wells, there were three groups of peoples in India Dravidyans, Austrics (Africans who also migrated to Australia) and Mongolians. Dravidian culture and peoples was also in the North of India at that time and was gradually intermixed with the Aryans who brought Vedic culture to India from the outside of India. These migration patterns are clearly established by Wells' genome project and thus not just a theory but scientific and concurs with tantric/yogic oral and written history as I have learned it…. This why in India today, you have Aryan types in the North and in the Brahmin and upper castes… long story, and quite complex.

    • Ramesh says:

      Yes, of course, there are several theories. There are basically three theories: 1. The Max Mueller Theory: The Aryans arrived from the outside around 1900 BC and destroyed the Indus Valley.

      2. Feuerstein and Frawley's theory; The Aryans have always been indigenous to India because there is no evidence of a man-made destruction of the In dus Valley civilization. They are open to the possibility that the Aryans arrive from the outside much earlier…

      3: Which brings us to the theory that I am presenting, which is based on oral Tantric history, genetics, linguistics, archeology etc. and proposes that the Aryans arrived before, during and after 5000 BC. Thus india is a mixed culture between these Vedic Aryans and the In digenous Tantric Dravidians, Austrics and Mongolians.

  8. Linda-Sama says:

    I understand what you are saying, Ramesh, and I am very familiar with Dravidian culture in the south. But I also know that there are other theories about the "Aryan Invasion" — not all people just buy ONE theory.

  9. Mat says:

    Ramesh, Apparently you were writing will I was… The JHG research would correspond roughly, if pushing back seriously at the late end, with your idea of earlier migration. Part of the trouble is that when you start talking about an Aryan invasion, unless you specify otherwise it gets assumed you are talking about the classic academic version you mention — and at the least that part is disproved.

    • Ramesh says:

      The Aryan invasion idea is theory #1 developed by Max Mueller et al. This supposedly took place around 1900 BCE and destroyed the Dravidyan Indus Valley civilization. Theory #2 (Frawley's) disproves this and says the Aryans never invaded India. I basically agree with him that it did not happen at that time. So theory #3 says that the Aryan invasion was more of a successive migration over hundreds if not thousands of years. Hence, there are some similarities between my idea and Frawley's and that is that the Indus Valley civilization (ca 5000 BCE to 1900 BCE) was already a mixed civilization between the Vedic Aryans and the Dravidyan Tantrics. The similarity ends with his claim that this Indus Valley civilization was entirely Vedic. It was also very much tantric, especially in the earliest years. And that information comes partly from the Puranas, partly from oral tantric history.

  10. Hey, FYI ya'll, the title was briefly messed up over last hour today, blame is 108% mine. It's more accurate to what Ramesh is discussing, now, again.

    • Mat says:

      In which case, I'd argue that yoga is of Hindu origin, if not Vedic. Even if different in approach and history, Vedanta and Yoga solidly fall under the banner (broad and sometimes contradictory as it is) of Hinduism. If the non-dualism of most of Saivism and the dualism of Vaishnavism are both Hindu, so are Vedanta and Yoga.

      Which isn't to say that you have to be Hindu to benefit from yoga…

      • Ramesh says:

        Hinduism is a foreign construct that started with the Muslims and became accepted as late as 1800 during the British period. We'we discussed this elsewhere as well. So to establish the roots of yoga you need to go beyond Hinduism, because Hinduism is a conglomerate of tantric/yogic, vedic, jain, samkhya streams. Tantra supplied the yogic technology, Samkhya much of the early philsoopshy, vedas supplied philosophy (Upanishads, Gita, which are strictly not part of the four Vedic books. See more above where I explain that.)

        So, yes, yoga is in a sense Hindu as opposed to be being Christian, but technically and historically and thus more accurately, yoga comes from tantra….. yoga is a tantric science and practice….

  11. Mat says:

    I don't disagree with a word in there either. Hinduism is indeed a conglomerate of everything you list — which I think is part of its genius and attraction. But speaking in English in 2009, when doing so to an audience not necessarily versed in the different strains of Indic thought, belief, and practice, for better or worse Hindu is the term most commonly used, regardless of origin or accuracy.

    Tell 99% of people you come across in the US that you're a Saivite, Vaishnavite, devotee of Devi, tantric yogi, follower of Sanatana Dharma, etc etc and you'll get a blank stare. Tell them you're Hindu and they've got a starting point. Do non-Christians really know the differences between Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, or Unitarian Universalist belief and practice? Do non-Jews notice the differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed? Only when exposed to them for a while and even not then, that often.

    Even if not 100% accurate, foreign imposed (sounds a bit Hindu nationalist to me ;) ) Hindu is a convenient turn of phrase, even if perhaps we should educate people more about the details of what it means — including that one can adhere to its beliefs without being born into it. But that's another topic.

    At least to me there are more important battles to fight.

    • Mat, Yes, also point well taken. The main point I am really trying to make is that yoga is Tantric, not Vedic…. and that Hinduism is a blending of both Tantra and Veda. That is as simple as I can state it. As part of those two large rivers there are many tributaries with many names, Shaiva, Vasinav, Vedanta, Jainism, Shakta, Asthanga Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kriya, Kashmir Shaivism etc etc….and each of these tributaries have yet smaller sects and schools.
      It's a mystic jungle out there!

    • Dear Mat,
      Fascinating discussion. I do think it is important to distinguish Hinduism and yoga. I am a practising tantra yogi but I would never consider myself a Hindu, primarily because there are a number of practices and traditions that are integral to Hinduism ( such as Casteism, the dowry system and the resulting suppression of women, and idolatry) that directly conflict with the core principles of yoga and tantra.

  12. Here are some of my genetic and linguistic findings that support the Vedic Aryan migration idea:

    IDr. Spenser Wells states emphatically that there is genetic evidence that “the Aryans came from outside India.” The Rig-Vedic Aryan peoples, he claims, emerged on the southern steppes of Russia and the Ukraine about 5-1, 0000 years ago. From there, they migrated east and south through Central Asia toward India. He further emphasized that “there is clear evidence that there was a heavy migration from the steppes down toward India.” Wells maintains that he does not agree with scholars Frawley and Feuerstein, who claim the Vedic Aryans were the “original inhabitants” of India. To Wells, there is clear genetic evidence that “the Aryans came later, after the Dravidians.”

    A team led by Michael Bamshad of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City compared the DNA of 265 Indian men of different castes with DNA from nearly 750 African, European, Asian and other Indian men. First, they analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which people inherit only from their mothers. When the researchers looked at specific sets of genes that tend to be inherited as a unit, they found that about 20 to 30 percent of the Indian sets resembled those in Europeans. The percentage was highest in upper-caste males, which is logical since the early Aryan settlers were by and large upper-caste Brahmins and Ksyattrias.

    Geneticist Lynn Jorde of the University of Utah claims that "a group of males" was largely responsible for the Aryan invasion. If women had accompanied the invaders, the evidence should be seen in the mitochondrial genes, but it is not evident. The research team found clear evidence that women could be upwardly mobile, in terms of caste, if they married higher-caste men. In contrast, men generally did not move higher, because women rarely married men from lower castes. (16) Since the caste system is still in vogue today, the same practice prevails.

    Studies conducted by the People of India project of the Anthropological Survey of India assigned the entire Indian population to 4,635 ethnic communities and putting together detailed information from over 25,000 individual informants from all over India. They found that there are four major language families in India–Austric, Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan. These languages also correspond to the four main racial groups in India: the Austrics, Dravidians, Aryans and the Mongolians respectively. According to this study, it appears the Indo-European Aryans brought the Vedic language to India from Central Asia.

    • Mat says:

      That's fine, but we're still talking about a time period that is ancient. We're still talking about a multi-thousand year history of thought, with both Vedantic and Yogic practices present from the earliest times at least in oral form, existing side by side, in different levels of prominence in different times and places. The point of similarity in either your case or Frawley's is that at least since the Harappan civilization, if not earlier, the society of South Asia has not seen a violent invasion by a people known as Aryans. There is evidence to show that prior to this time there were influxes of people, that there are multiple linguistic and ethnic groups, surely. There are myriad strains of thought developed under the umbrella of Dharma since then. But for practical purposes, in historic times, there was no Aryan invasion as portrayed by Victorian-era scholars and perpetuated popularly ever since.

      All of this is secondary to the bigger point as to the differences between the philosophical perspective of Vedanta and Yoga and how they have and have not influenced one another.

      • Mat, I disagree partly… There is plenty of evidence in the Vedas to support violence against the "shudras", i.e. tha Dravidyans, or the raksasas (demons) as they were also called in the Vedas. Many writers have pointed this out, and I may quote some when I have time.
        The Ramayana is, as many scholars have pointed out, a tale about the Aryan conquest of South India, it is not just mythmaking. The Puranas are also a good source of this violent conquest as has been described by Danielou and others.
        And gain, this is something that is glossed over by many yoga scholars in the West.

  13. Feuerstein’s book (Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy) is an excellent introduction to many important features of Tantric philosophy and practice. Nevertheless, in his writings, Feuerstein emphasizes the popular misconception that Yoga had its early beginnings in the Vedic tradition. But he also states that, according to some, Tantra is a separate tradition altogether with roots that may be “at least five or six thousand years old.” Problem is, Feuerstein never really follows up on this idea in his research or writings.

    While most writers may have sound scholarly knowledge, very few have extensive first hand knowledge of the Tantric tradition, which is important, since Tantra is primarily an oral tradition. Feuerstein falls in this category.

    In his award-winning book, A Brief History of India, Alain Danielou outlines in broad, colorful strokes an ancient history of India that contrasts with the one presented to most Western yoga students. Danileou reminds us that Yoga originated with the ancient sage Shiva and that these practices were “wholly unknown” to the early Vedas and their authors, the Aryans.

    Alain Danielou's emphasis on the importance of Shiva Tantra in shaping Yoga philosophy, culture and practice corresponds to the writings of Anandamurti. “It should be remembered,” he writes, “that in Hinduism, Yoga is a discipline created by Shiva…” Shiva is considered to be the King of Yoga in India. The "Buddha" of Yoga, so to speak.

    There is much miunderstanding as to the source of yoga. The main source of this misunderstanding arises from the Vedic Brahmins themselves. Although many of them practiced Tantra, due to their own prejudices, they attempted to demonstrate the Vedic origin of Tantra and Yoga. Therefore, writes N. N. Bhattacharyya (author of History of the Tantric Religion), “they often twisted Vedic passages to suit their own purpose.” Consciously or unconsciously, this tradition has continued among the vast majority of writers on Yoga in the past hundred years or so.

    In the insightful book, History of Mysticism, S. Abhayananda reveals the story of humanity’s recurrent experience of enlightenment in various cultures throughout the ages. To him, it appears that the Dravidian civilization was based on a “full-blown Shiva-Shakti mythology” and that we therefore may trace the Tantric and Yogic tradition back to pre-Aryan India.

    So, these are some of the authors and mystics who would disagree with Feuerstein and Frawley.

  14. Sarah says:

    “There is no such thing as right and wrong, there's just popular opinion.”

    • Sarah, I get the point, but there are such things as "wrongs" in history. Just ask a Holocaust survivor; just ask a dalit (untouchable) in India; just ask all the widows burned in India each year in "accidental" fires in the kitchen, a vestige from Vedic times when widows were burned on the funeral pyres with their dead husbands.

  15. The idea behind the first title of this article, which is now the subtitle, was to stir up some debate and discussion. This has been achieved, in part with the help of some promotion by Wayland and the EJ team as well as the change of the title to its current: Yoga: It's not Hindu–it's not even Vedic. I understand and accept the criticism that these titles are provocative. That was my point, to shake things up a bit. And with the help of Waylon, who saw the potential for some sparks to fly and grow into a communal fire, the debate took off and is still raging. Thanks and peace to all!

    • Ramesh, great attitude. As long as the intent is genuine and productive, dialogue while fiery is of benefit. And again, and problem with the current title is my bad, be nice and respectful to one another, y'all!

      • Yes, indeed, Waylon. This has been a great discussion. I grew up with Christian fundamentalist grandparents and atheist parents, all living under the same roof, so I am used to heated discussion while still remaining family and sharing the same dinner table. Thanks for creating the same kind of open space on EJ, bro!

  16. The idea behind the title of this article Yoga: It's not Hindu, it's not even Vedic is this: I agree with Deepak Chopra that yoga is not Hindu in the same way as Christ was not Christian. The religion of Hinduism came much later, besides yoga is a practice, an art, a science, a lifestyle. Yoga is spirituality, not religious dogma. But I disagree with Chopra that yoga is Vedic, if by that is meant the four Vedas. If by that he means Vedanta, which basically is Tantric nondualism, then we agree. The Vedas contain many destructive dogmas yogis can live without. So this insistence that yoga is Vedic gotta stop! And I also created this inflammatory subtitle (Bob's words) so that we can make the connection that if we insist yoga is Vedic, then we should also accept whatever cultural baggage comes with that linkage–the caste system, for example.
    When did you hear Vedic yogis like Chopra/ Frawley stand up against the caste system? If anybody can share some writings showing that they are also speaking out against everything no-so-great about the Vedic system, then I'll shut up! But until then….

  17. Look, Ramesh. I'm not an historian or a scholar.

    But why would anyone even begin to imagine that Deepak Chopra would say Yoga is Vedic without meaning the Upanishads? I have never heard anyone even suggest that the Upanishads are not a part of the Vedas. In fact they are the secret part of the Vedas that rebel against the overly ritualistic, irrational, priest-driven Vedic religion. But they are part of the Vedas, right? Is that in dispute among historians?

    In any case, to suggest that Chopra would not be thinking of the Upanishads when saying Yoga is Vedic seems wildly off-the-wall to me. He couldn't. Even a lightly educated Yoga devotee like myself would know that was dead wrong. Chopra's writing, even his Tweets, are dripping with the Upanishads. So why set up this ridiculous straw-man of "Well, if Chopra meant just the Vedas without the Upanishads…"?

    And now you're going to imply that Chopra and Frawley are somehow in support of the caste system? Give me a break!

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal.com

    • Bob, take a deep breath and relax….
      I am of course aware that Chopra means the Upanishads, but these texts are not part of the four Vedas, not part of much of Vedic culture at all. This distinction is as important to make as the distinction Chopra makes that yoga is not Hindu. That's all. Chopra correctly separates yoga from Hinduism to make it clear that yoga represents a sophisticated spiritual practice and philosophy. I am simply suggesting he does the same by making sure he is an Adavita Vedantic practitioner as he did on Larry King and not a Vedic practitioner. The latter muddles the waters as much as the former. And that is also what Frawley does etc and the rest of yogadom follows suit. Yogis do not like to think of themselves as Hindus. But they often think of themselves as Vedic practitioners because of this confusion.

      So, yes, I am splitting hairs. But, like Chopra about yoga and Hinduism, I am making a point.
      Do I have the right to do that, my dear friend?

      I am not suggesting these good folks are supporting the caste system, but I do not see much evidence to the contrary either.
      So, all I am saying Bob, if Chopra does not like to be associated with Hinduism, he should also deeply consider not wanting to be associated with everything Vedic either, because much of the thi ngs he objects to in Hinduism comes from the Vedas, not from Vedanta, not from the Upanishads.

      The wholesale promotion of Vedic this and Vedic that by these folks lacks the same sophistication they display in other areas. That's all.

  18. Vakibs, I agree with your first paragraphs above.

    Regarding Tantra being a subset in Indian culture: It depends who you speak to and how you define Tantra. The way Danielou, Anandamurti, Bhattacarya, Satyananda and a host of others define Tantra, it represents everything yogic in Indian culture as well as people's culture apart from what is Vedic.

    I know this is not always the way it is defined by Indian people, because to most Indians Tantra represents only a subset as you say, but that is not correct if you look at the overall picture of Indian cultural evolution.

    Regarding Tantra and human sacrifice in Aghora. Yes, there may be some evidence of that, but for the most part it refers to practices in this left-handed and to some extent degenerate form of Tantra in the cremation grounds, the use of skulls for eating, meditation on dead bodies and thus the fear people associate with Tantra in India. So most of this is mythmaking and stories. But yes, there are many strange tantric practices of the occult (avidya tantra), which has little to do with the vidya tantra that most people practice as yoga and meditation. Indeed, I met an aghora tantrics in the jungles of Nepal, one in particular who had chopped off part of his left hand in some strange ritual to gain occult powers. These practices have little to do with yoga and tantra for self-realization and more to do with occultism.

    There is indeed a lot of evidence in the Rigveda to show its pastoral past etc. So again I would disagree. The difficulty is that much of these texts evolved over time and ideas and slokas were added as part of human evolution. But many are of the opinion that Rigveda is very very ancient and started outside India.
    An example is the Goddess Durga. This worship is of very recent origin but is wrongly said to be part of the ancient Rigveda, but is actually of Puranic origin. Similarly, Rudra (Shiva) was orginally the thunder god in ancient Rigveda, then over time was associated with Shiva when the Vedic Aryans encountered Shaivism and Tnatra in India. So there is an evolution of these Gods and Goddesses that changed meaning as the culture evolved.
    More importantly, more sophisticated and transcendenatl meaning was added and read into these myths over time. This is the classical pre-trans fallacy (Wilnber's term) we have of ascribing transcendental meaning to mythic images, reading deep messages into prehistoric beliefs and myths that originally were quite literal. Ancient peoples believed that thunder was a God needed to be pleased with sacrifices, etc. Such nonsense has little to do with spiritual practice and yoga b ut is very commonly found in Vedic ritualism associated with the Rigveda.
    Therefore you will not find our dear friend Bob on this list raving about the Rigveda the same way he raves about the Upanishads..or the Gita. The latter texts are simply more sophisticated and transcendental, which is natural as people evolved through the practice of tantric yoga.

    I also disagree with you on the timing of the Aryan migration and again simply would refer to the genetic studies of Spencer Wells.

    • vakibs says:

      Ramesh

      As I said, please read the conversation in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which explains the 33 Vishwedevas as mentioned in Rig Veda. The etymology of the words for these "devas" is explicitly given in the text. I will quote this below. A more elaborate explanation is given here by Sarojit Poddar

      8 vasus (that in which any natural object is placed) : fire, earth, air, sky, sun, heaven, moon, stars

      11 rudras (that which depart from any natural object) : the ten supposed breaths of a person and the mind as the eleventh

      12 adityas (that which move carrying all the universe) : the twelve months of a year, literally signifying time

      1 indra : who rules over the senses

      1 prajapathi : who symbolizes procreation of natural objects

      These 33 devas are supposed to represent everything in the universe, and that's why they are called Vishwedevas.

      As a native speaker of Indian languages, I can immediately connect the words vasu, indra etc to other words which are derived from the etymological roots. The word for a sense organ, for example, is indriya (meaning, that which belongs to Indra).

      The archaic interpretation of the Rig Veda, done by Christian missionaries, who don't know the subtleties of the language nor the cultural background of India is to simply dismiss aditya as meaning sun, indra as a rain god, rudra as the god of destruction etc.. The missionaries also had an incentive to trivialize Indian religious texts, in order to propagate their own religion. But this mis-interpretation of texts cannot persist for too long.

      Since you are more versed with the Tantric path, you are more eligible to quote on these practices and texts. Similarly, to learn about the Vedas, one should listen to people who are more versed with the Vedic tradition. And they tell seriously about the geneologies (gotra) of sages, where they lived and how they migrated across the Indian subcontinent. They were supposed to have lived on the banks of the Saraswati river (now extinct in the desert of Rajasthan, but around which the remains of the Indus valley settlements can be found today), and then migrated to the east and to the south (the story of Agastya).

      But many are of the opinion that Rigveda is very very ancient and started outside India.

      Nobody, including the people who composed Rig Veda themselves, talk of a migration or a homeland outside the Indian subcontinent. There is simply no proof about this. It is just an assumption, which may or may not be true. But an assumption based on prejudice cannot be sustained for long.

      Similarly, Rudra (Shiva) was orginally the thunder god in ancient Rigveda, then over time was associated with Shiva when the Vedic Aryans encountered Shaivism and Tnatra in India

      The word Shiva is a Sanskrit word with a well-defined etymology. If the Vedic Sanskrit were to be an external language and was not spoken in the Indus valley, the Tantric Yogis there had a different word to denote to Shiva. The word rudra is more ancient and forms the basis of the Shiva Puranas. But as I mentioned before, this word rudra has a philosophical interpretation but to deal with the passage of time. This very same idea is symbolized in the imagery of Shiva – such as the vibrating drum he holds, and the tandava dance he does.

      • I respectfully disagree, Vakibs for the reasons already stated. The etymological changes of words happened over long periods of time and there are many who have clearly established the outside India origin of the Rigveda by referring to the text itself. As you know, sanskrit words have numerous meanings and interpretations. But to equate Indra with indrya is like saying dog is the same as God. The vedic meaning of Indra and the yogic meaning of indrya are far apart. Anyway, long story….

        One of these who would disagree is Danielou and you will hardly find anyone who loves India and its peoples more than him, so the idea that this is based on some outsider's bias does not hold Water. Also, Bhattacaryya, Thapar, Anandadamurti and many other Indian scholars say the same thing, so again, you are not being fair in your assertions, This is not some Western bias only, these ideas are also subscribed to by many Indians.

      • vakibs. Thanks again for taking the time to write these highly informative replies. I'm really enjoying this interchange and I'm learning a lot.

        Just out of curiosity, how do you view David Frawley and Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Bihar School), who are two other writers I've read on these subjects?

        Also, if you have a minute, Graham Schweig and Eknath Easwaran? I'm just interested in how you feel about my sources, since I'm not minutely as well versed in this history as you and Ramesh are.

        Bob Weisenberg
        ElephantJournal.com

        • vakibs says:

          Thanks Bob :) I haven't read any books on these subjects. And broadly speaking, I am very afraid of Hindu nationalist agenda. But it seems like the folks you mention are very gentle guys, I will try to find some time and read these books later. Thanks for the suggestions.

  19. Vakibs,
    one way to relate o the evolution of Indian culture from the Rigveda onwards is to use the cultural evolutionary model of Jean Gebser. He divided human evolution into archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and integral. Most of the ideas in the Rigveda would fall in the archaic to mythic level. Whereas yoga would be termed rational and integral, representing a peak in human psychological and cultural evolution. Yoga is partly scientific and partly spiritual whereas the Vedas are based on prayer and belief (magic and mythic belief systems). While yoga and even science may use mythic language to express ideas, these myths are not taken literally, they are seen as symbols. People of a purely magical persuation do not make the same distinction, they believe that the smoke from the sacrificial fire creates clouds and thus rain, they believe that certain diseases or famine are caused by lack of prayers to certain Gods, etc.
    This model is helpful in looking at the evolution from early Rigveda to the Upanishads and onwards. Religious dogmas are thus expressions lacking rational and integral insight. And the Vedic rituals are full of dogmas devoid of rationality, whereas in the Upanishads we see the expression of deep integral thought as these texts came out of a culture of yogis and not of people praying to gods…

    Similarly, rationality can become a dogma in itself, and we see that with modern scientism, in which anything spiritual is considered nonexsistent. Thus the integral mindset also includes the spiritual as well as the rational and is ideally able to discern the dogmas/limitations of all levels from rational downwards to archaic.

    • Also very interesting. This conversation just keeps getting better and better all the time.

      Bob Weisenberg

    • vakibs says:

      The people who composed the Vedas were the most scientifically advanced people at that period on the planet !

      The Indian subcontinent was the place where the first major scientific advances were made in linguistics, medicine, trigonometry, geometry, algebra, astronomy etc. One can cross-compare the Greek scientific advances with those of the Indians at the corresponding stage, and the Indians can be seen to be as scientifically advanced (if not more) as the Greeks.

      It is not just the ancient times, even in the medieval periods, Indian scientists (and all of them Brahmins steeped into the Vedic tradition) have pushed these scientific advances forward – Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Varahamihira, Charaka etc..

      But the association of the Vedas to magical nonsense doesn't seem to end. The vishwedevas of Rig Veda (as I mentioned in my earlier comment) are not supernatural gods, by any means. They arise out of a naturalist perspective to decompose and understand parts of the universe.

      Can the ancient Greeks be held responsible for the current modern economic crisis of Greece ! ? But the ancient Vedic sages are now judged guilty of the scientific backwardness of India in modern times ! Can this be termed anything other than an archaic and orientalist mindset ?

      If people care to look at the Vedas impartially and carefully, they can easily see that these texts are not simplistic and magical. Instead, they can be found to be as brimming with philosophical insights as the Upanishads or the Yogasutras. The various mantras and yantras of the Vedas have as much a philosophical and psychological meaning as the Buddhist mandalas or the Tantric yantras. Repeatedly uttering those mantras is supposed to put a person into spiritual trance.

      Another cultural prejudice against the Vedas is due to the caste system. But the Greeks had slavery too. We don't begrudge the ancient scientific advances of Greece on account of this practice. For that matter, the Europeans practiced slavery and extreme racism till very modern times. They were also responsible for the great scientific renaissance in the past couple of centuries.

      • Thanks again, vakibs, for taking the time to write these highly interesting and informative replies.

      • Vakibs, I do not disagree that Indian civilization represents th cradle of human civilization, this is becomeing more and more evident. However, when you say vedas, you need to qualify what you mean. There is a mile of difference in insight between the Rigveda and that of Upanishads, even between the Rigveda and the Atharva veda. In the same way as Europe was vastly different during the Middle Ages than it is today… This is just common sense. So you are simply making too many sweeping generalizations that will not hold water if scrutinized closely. The India of the Rigveda was vastly different from India of the Upanshads, an evolution of thousands of years had taken place, even though much had been added to the Rigveda as that evolution took place.
        I must get back to work, so will have to take up this thread later… enjoy!!!

  20. Since not everyone may read all the replies, I am repeating this point here, prompted by Bob's comments, which nurtured this clarification:

    I am of course aware that Chopra means the Upanishads, but these texts are not part of the four Vedas, not part of much of Vedic culture at all. This distinction is as important to make as the distinction Chopra makes that yoga is not Hindu. That's all. Chopra correctly separates yoga from Hinduism to make it clear that yoga represents a sophisticated spiritual practice and philosophy. I am simply suggesting he does the same by making sure he is an Adavita Vedantic practitioner as he did on Larry King and not a Vedic practitioner. The latter muddles the waters as much as the former. And that is also what Frawley does etc and the rest of yogadom follows suit. Yogis do not like to think of themselves as Hindus. But they often think of themselves as Vedic practitioners because of this confusion.

    So, yes, I am splitting hairs. But, like Chopra about yoga and Hinduism, I am making a point.
    Do I have the right to do that, my dear friend?

    I am not suggesting these good folks are supporting the caste system, but I do not see much evidence to the contrary either.
    So, all I am saying Bob, if Chopra does not like to be associated with Hinduism, he should also deeply consider not wanting to be associated with everything Vedic either, because many of the things he objects to in Hinduism comes from the Vedas, not from Vedanta, not from the Upanishads.

    The wholesale promotion of Vedic this and Vedic that by these folks lacks the same sophistication they display in other areas. That's all.

  21. Thank you, vakibs. This is the the clearest and most interesting exposition I've ever read on this topic. I'm subscribing to your blog immediately!

    Bob Weisenberg

  22. Vakibs, here are some meanings of Indra in sanskrit. This is from my teacher's explanation, Sanskrit scholar and author of hundreds of book, including Sanskrit linguistics…. As you can see it refers in part to Indra of the Sky in the Rigveda, while indrya means sense organ…..
    Indra'. `Indra' means `energy', `electricity', `magnetism', `light' – they are all energy. Energy is called `indra' in Sam'skrta. In fact, in Sam'skrta, indra has several meanings. [One] meaning is 'the best man', 'the biggest one', 'the best'. `Devata'na'm ra'ja' Indra iti kathyate' – the king of the devas is known as Indra. `Indra' also means `big'. A well is called `ku'pam' in Sam'skrta, and a big ku'pam is called `indraku'pam'. (The Sam'skrta is `indraku'pam'. In Pra'krta it is `indrauya' '. Ardha Pra'krta is `indra'. Old Hindi is `inda'ra' '. Varttama'na Hindi is `ina'ra' ). `Indra' means `big'. [Another meaning of `indra' is (just now I told you) energy, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc.] And the fourth meaning of `indra' is the 'sha'l tree', because it is a big, strong tree.

  23. Indriya'na'm' manona'thah manona'thastu ma'rutah.

    "The mind is the Lord of the indriyas. The vital energy is the Lord of the mind."

    So Vakibs, while indriya means sense organs.. and the mind is the Lord of those sense organs and prana is the lord of the mind in yoga.. prana, vital breath, controls the mind, there is a vast difference between these yogic insights and Indra, the mythological lord of the Gods in the Rigveda. And now i am getting back to my point earlier, that the great fallacy is to read backwards into mythology and ascribe meaning that was not originally there. WE USE MYTHOLOGY TO EXPLAIN DEEP MEANING but we also use rationality to elaborately ascribe meaning that is not there. And that is what Frawley et al do a lot of, as well as many others. I hope I am making myself clear. gotta go!

    • I think it's important here to recognize that the gods of Hinduism (to use the widest and largely incorrect term for efficiency's sake) are manifestations of our innate natures, and so all describe the nuances of the science of yoga (which is the science of understanding and uniting these often oppositional characteristics to move from duality, or the manifold world, to non-duality, or the god-like state).

      Though to our "more sophisticated" understanding, it may seem that later texts have evolved and refined this understanding of the gods as representations of our various human facets, it should also be understood that as we "evolve" we move further and further away from our relationship to nature, and by virtue, move further and further away from our relationship and intimate understanding of ourselves as part of nature. In other words, although the symbolism of the RgVeda in the form of prayers may seem archaic, it is, nonetheless, *symbolic*–and composed in a time when practitioners understood this symbolism at a deep and personal level in the same way that we now understand more intellectual explanations of the same concepts.

      To follow the vein of the gods being representations of ourselves, Indra *is* no doubt the root word and representation of Indrya, or sense organ. Indra, as you say, indeed means 'big,' 'great,' 'energy,' 'electricity,' and 'light'. How do you think the sense organs operate? They operate as a result of Shakti, or "energy" moving in (and to a large extent, out) of the sense organs. By the definition of Indra as 'great' or 'big', this indicates the senses' nature to delude the mind into thinking that the senses are the big Kahuna, the ones that run the show, when in fact, this is a trick of the senses, a trick of Indra, if you will, to prevent the realization of God, Brahma, or the root of our individual consciousness.

      • Remember in one famous story from the Upanishads, Indra is an extravagant sensualist who believes he is the Great God, the one that runs the whole universe; when in fact, he is simply an observation of Brahma, who sits within (and is produced by) the lotus growing from a dreaming Vishnu. Indra, of course, is taught a lesson, and learns that he is certainly a big fish, but in a very small pond, all things being relative. Long story short (very short), Indra learns how not to be engulfed by his sensory extravagances, and at the same time how not to withdraw completely from the world (and the use of his senses), but rather to live with Dharma (right living). This is a symbolic explanation of the practice of Pratyahara, which is intended to contain the Indryas->read Indra->read Shakti or energy, so that that Shakti (Indrya Shakti) may be redirected to the "great" pursuit of enlightenment (our other definition of Indra, the Indra that has learned not to be ruled by his senses and becomes great through Dharmic living).

        I realize this story comes later in the historical lineage of Indian theology, in the Upanishads, but it does so to further explain the role of Indra and the Indryas in the science of yoga to later, more dense (also known as more "sophisticated") minds who are unable to directly grasp the poetic (so far called "archaic") symbolism of the RgVeda.

        What we perceive as "archaic" or "magical" belief from the RgVeda is coded language never meant to be taken literally. The evolution of these texts is not unlike the evolution of Western JudeoChristian texts. The Old Testament is chock full of "archaic" mythology steeped in rich symbolism, and as the texts progress, they become more and more literal (and in the process, more dogmatic, at least on their surface).

        The story of Adam and Eve is itself a symbolic story of Kundalini (yes, even Christian texts are full of yogic symbolism, because yoga is universal). More specifically it represents the realization of duality–the separation of Man from God–that causes Kundalini to drop to the base of the spine in an individual soul. This is not an "original sin" per se, but it does cause the "banishment" or the removal of Man (again represented in dualistic terms as Adam and Eve) from the unity of God, which is described as Eden. This is the beginning of the story of human existence, because this is how we become humans–by separating as individual souls from the oneness or kingdom of God. That is the first step on the journey.

        To bring us back on point, and back to India, the RgVeda's hymns, then, are coded descriptions on how to return to God. Of course, I won't go into that symbolism, as it has been written about extensively by other writers better equipped to explain their richness than I.

        The bottom line is that we are not "looking for" meaning that was not already there, it *IS* there, but we are generally too dense, and too literal as modern and supposedly more sophisticated rationalists to see it.

        What I'm curious to know, Ramesh, is when you read poetry, do you take it literally? Poetry (good poetry at least) is *constructed* with hidden meaning. That is its point. If it were not, it would be prose. This is the relationship between the RgVeda and the Upanishads: The RgVeda is a Great poem–the Greatest, and the Upanishads its complimentary prose.

        • A clearer example of the RgVeda's symbolism with regards to using yoga in a practical way in our bodies is the God Agni. Agni, as the God of fire, is certainly an archaic figure on the surface. However, Ayurveda teaches us that Agni, as a representation of the fire element within our bodies is our capacity to digest, kindle, "fire" (the way ceramics are cured or hardened and purified by fire). And there are many forms of Agni relative to their specific functions (Jathara Agni-digestive fire, Bhuta Agni-spiritual fire). So when Agni the god is worshipped and propitiated, this is not some external "fire sacrifice" to appease the god and create rain, but a literal biological function. Offerings to Agni are in the form of nutrition (not just at the gross food level) to allow the body to "rain" nourishment on the tissues, the mind to "rain" nourishment to the being and the senses.

          So to call the RgVeda and the people who composed it "archaic" is to call the Great pyramids "just a bunch of big stones thrown together"!

          In the end, I don't really give a hoot whether the Aryans composed the RgVeda or created the practice of yoga, or if one or both of these things originated in the Indus valley pre-or post Aryan influence. The truth is that yoga (at least as anyone knows and practices it today) is inextricably linked to the Vedas (including the Rg), Tantra, the Upanishads, and Vedanta. Knowing each of these roots and their importance to the resulting formation of what we now know as Yoga (which I would absolutely agree is older than any of those texts or traditions) is as important as knowing the difference between your big toe and your baby toe, and your left from your right. But to say that your big toe is a legitimate part of you, and your baby toe is not a legitimate part is wholly ridiculous, and in no way congruent with yoga!

  24. Kaoverii Weber Kaoverii says:

    Woah Rameshji! Your articles are rocking Elephant Journal! wow.

  25. integralhack says:

    Impressive dialogue on these subjects. A lot to sift through even in the commentary. Great work, Ramesh.

  26. The caste system in India is a form of Apartheid. I therefore do understand that someone like Deepak Chopra or enlightened people who still associate themselves as Hindus, do not want to be associated with this outdated social order. How does it work?

    The Hindu social order is based on three interrelated elements: predetermination of social, religious and economic rights of each caste based on birth; the unequal and hierarchical division of these rights among the castes; and provision of strong social, religious and economic ostracism supported by social and religious ideology to maintain the Hindu social order.

    The primary unit of society is caste. There is no room for individual merit or individual justice. Rights that an individual has are not due to him or her personally; it is due to him or her because of belonging to a particular caste. The disability is imposed upon the caste and as a member of the caste that is his lot. If you are a low caste in India, especially if you are a woman, you're literally stuck for life.

    Yogis, Western yogis, Indian yogis, we need to speak out against this outrageous system of cultural injustice.
    We need to denounce those aspects of the Hindu/Vedic system that still enslaves people.

    Here are some of the Vedic Laws of Manu. They are not kind to women and many of these laws are still part of the cultural fabric of India:

    * “A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property. The wealth which they earn is acquired for him to whom they belong.”

    * “Women, shudra (or sudra, lowest of four castes), dog and crow embody untruth, sin and darkness.” [In early times all Dravidians and other dark skinned peoples of India were considered shudras. Still to this day, most low caste shudras have dark skin, while upper castes have lighter skin due to their Aryan Vedic background.]

    * “Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling they may appear to be; for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on both the families. Considering it the highest duty of all castes, even wealthy husbands must strive to guard their wives….lest the seed of others be sown on your soil.”

    * “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world, for that reason the wise never remain unguarded in the company of female.”

    * “A woman should not go to a meeting place; and they should not dance like the young, but sit at their proper places.”

    * “This is the first law…A wife cannot be dismissed from the marriage by a slave, separation or abdication.”

    “A man can leave a barren woman after eight years and one who only gives birth to daughters.”

    * “A virtuous wife who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she have no son, just like those chaste men.”

    * “If a woman should happen to merely to overhear recitations of Vedic mantras by chance, hot molten glass should be poured into her ears.”

  27. vakibs says:

    "…Vedic Laws of Manu…. "

    Gosh.. The laws of manu are called smrithi – they are not part of shruti or the corpus of Vedic texts. They are explicitly set aside for a reason : the smrithi is considered to change over time, but the shruti doesn't.

    There have been several religious reformers in India who argued against the caste system precisely because it doesn't have a sanction in the Vedas. (This happened for several thousands of years, but most recently during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century)

    And about Brahmins having lighter skin, this is true only in very few cases. A vast majority of the Brahmins are very dark, as dark the rest of the Indians. You can find forest tribals in South India that are genetically closer to central Asians and Europeans than are Brahmins.

    I totally agree with you that the caste system is a form of apartheid, but its basis is the feudal system of land distribution, not an adherence to the Vedas. Nobody cares about the Vedas today in India anyways, but the caste system is very much alive and kicking ! Most of the caste-related crimes happen between land owners and indentured laborers. It is pretty similar to how race related crimes happen in the USA oftener in the southern agricultural lands.

    Over history, there were several times when Brahmins were huge land-owners. In those cases, they behaved as repugnantly to landless laborers as any others. But owning property or land is prohibited for Brahmins according to the Vedas. They are supposed to only guard intellectual wealth. And quite a lot of Brahmins in India today are materially destitute. They don't commit any caste-related crimes, which are mostly done by land owners such as Jats or Chowdhuries, who actually belong to the shudra class !

    It is very simplistic to equate the caste system in India with some Aryan racism. It is not as easy as that.

    • Vakibs,
      the Laws of Manu are complimentary to the Vedas. I never said they constitute the Vedas. So they are very much part of the Vedic heritage, they are certainly not part of the Tantric heritage. That was my point in using the term Vedic laws of Manu, following my general division of the Vedic and Tantric traditions. Which again are two very important distinctions to make. If anything is to be leaned rfrom my writings that would be one of the most important.

    • Pallav says:

      Thank you Vakibs for clarifying!
      Caste system was wrong. Discrimination against anyone is wrong. The term caste (comes from a Portuguese word castas) was exploited by the British colonists in their divide and rule policy. It gave them control while they ruled, and now the politicians in India are responsible for exploiting the caste system. [BTW, the Portuguese, who were quick to coin a term and be critical of the Indian society, occupied the west coast of India and they did extensive damage to the beautiful cave temple of Shiva in Elephanta by using is as their military garrison. They used the sculptures of Shiva for target practice].

      In many cases Brahmins in India are extremely poor and live a humble life. Today in many villages in Tamil Nadu, Brahmins are the oppressed community. They have no access to jobs; they cannot practice anything or seek employment because of a rigid reservation system based on caste set up by the modern Indian government- a kind of reverse discrimination system.

      Ramesh does not enlighten the readers when he just acts as if no one is speaking out. The reforms are in place. The so called Brahmins are being punished. I call it the revenge reservation system. The social order of today is maintained by the political system and the government of India.

      And you know what, Sonia Gandhi who is the current leader of the Congress Party, is going to revive the caste based census this year (year 2010) in India after almost “90 years” of trending towards MODERNISM and SWEEPING SOCIAL REFORM. (Sonia Gandhi belongs to the family of the greatest reformer and democratic visionary of modern times – Jawaharlal Nehru).
      This is the politics played by the political parties in order to retain control of power.

  28. vakibs says:

    Actually, that which is called shruthi (literally meaning "heard" in Sanskrit) is supposed to be heard by anyone who listens carefully. One needn't have access to the Vedic texts themselves.

    Brahma, with his 4 faces, is supposed to chant the Vedas eternally during the existence of this universe. Any person who cares to listen can apparently hear them.

    In contrast, that which is called smrithi (literally meaning "remembered" in Sanskrit) are just various texts of human authorship that are based on the cultural and moral values of the time they were composed. They don't have any permanent validity, unlike for example – the Bible or the Quran.

    • Yes, correct and herein lies the danger of dogmas. Any text or saying that is declared coming directly from God or the Gods, or Brahma, beware! That's how religious dogmas are started and that's how they remain. And that's why so many people in India still follow these outdated customs so blindly.

  29. Truth and Reason says:

    Thank you Ramesh for actually standing by the evidence, as you can see from the responses you receive, most people want to brush aside actual scientific and historical research showing that the Aryans came from outside India. There was a existent civilization before the "Vedics" came which has continued in various forms into today. People fail to understand that Hinduism in not necessarily a free exchange of ideas (caste system was barely condemned and barely let go until faced with Christian Missionary "Threat"). It was more of a appropriation of ideas, gods and practices and in a almost spiritual reflection of the caste system, subjugates them to specific approved Hindu gods, and exemplifies "vedic" as the ideal and the source. Buddhism eventually got wiped out in India, after it proved such a threat to the caste system, a campaign was initiated a la shankara to re-establish Hinduism and appropriate buddhist contributions and even the Buddha under a Hindu label. Compare it to the appropriation of African american music and putting a caucasian face on it.

    The best way to compare the Aryan invasion is what happened in central and south america. The Spanish came in, took the the native and african women as mates, relegating the native and african men as the labor and slave class. They had mixed children which became a higher "caste" which were considered better than the natives and slaves, then they took native and african foods and cultural conributions and claim them under the "Hispanic and/or Latino" label. The hispanic catholic religion absorbed native and african practices (virgin of guadlupe?) and appropriated them to ease the subjugation. Hinduism used religion to subjugate the natives mentally so there would be not slave/servant revolts, mental chains are harder to break than physical ones.

    People need to wake and smell the coffee, India suffered over 5000 years of oppression due to a colonizer called the Vedic Aryans!

    • Thank you, Truth and Reason, for calling a spade a spade. Finally someone who really understands what I am talking about! Thank you. Thank you.

    • disenchanted says:

      The Christian 'missionary threat" came packaged with greed, colonialism and oppression. They called Indians sand niggers. I heard that once and I dumped that religion too. I am back to my yadava roots and Krishna bhakta.

  30. Ramesh says:

    It is evident in this discussion that the Vedic bias is still very strong among yoga practitioners as well as the general public, especially in India.
    It is true, Vakibs, that one cannot blame the caste system on the Vedic Aryans. However, the caste system started with them. P. R. Sarkar, Romila Thapar, Lalan Prasad Singh, Alain Danileou and many more writers have pointed this out, that the tri-varna system of Vipras (Brahmins), Ksyattrias, and Vashyas was installed among the Vedic Aryans and that the Sudras became the lowest caste, comprised of the dark skinned Indian natives. From this, the caste system evolved into numerous sub castes.
    Again, what is important to realize, to take into account, at least be open to the possibility of, is that this system had nothing to do with Tantra/Yoga and did not originate with the Dravidians, nor the Austrics nor the Mongolians of that sub continent, but with the Vedic Aryans. In that regard, what we historically see developing in India is the classic subjugation of native peoples by those coming from the outside.

    • Ramesh says:

      Correction to third sentence above. It should read: It is true, Vakibs, that one cannot blame the caste system solely on the Aryans….

  31. Ramesh says:

    As for the Divine Origin of the Vedic scriptures, which to any rational person, is pure hogwash, if you mean by that Gods and Goddesses in heaven being the original authors.
    Lalan Prasad Singh says the following: "The Vedic hymns, though inspired, were not of divine origin. The Vedas are not the Voice of Providence but are the achievements of the human mind."
    Any religious sentiment claiming to be the only true voice of God is dangerous, dogmatic and antithetical to true spirituality, which is open, all-embracing and free of dogma and can be supported, to a large extent, by rationality, investigation and logic.

    • swatijr* says:

      human minds maybe, but enlightened rishis who were clear enough to cognize the Natural Laws of the universe. if you negate this possibility, it would seem odd that you would even buy into the purpose of yoga in the first place: enlightenment.

  32. Ramesh says:

    Regarding the origin of the Vedas. Lalan Prasad Singh writes (and again this is supported by many writers, even Indian writers) says: "The Rigveda was composed in Central Asia. It bears the stamp of pure Aryan composition." He and several other writers moreover point out that parts of the Yajurveda was composed outside India, but that the Atharvavvda was composed in India. The proof of this can be in part seen by the blending of Vedic and Tantric sources, which are absent in the Rigveda, especially in certain sections, such as in the Nishinga Tapaniya shruti. P. R. Sarkar writes: "…as a result of their coming in closer contact with the non-aryans there emerged a mental or social blending amongst the Aryanas who were highly influenced by the non-Aryan Tantra. This fact is clearly reflected in the Atharva Veda, which cannot be regarded as a picture of Aryan civilization. In the subtle philosophy of the Atharva-veda, particularly in the shruti of Nisingha Tapaniya, non-Aryan Tantra is more prominent than the Vedic ideal of the Aryan civilization."

  33. Ramesh says:

    To sum this discussion up, there are basically three theories about ancient India: 1. The Max Mueller Theory: The Vedic Aryans arrived from the outside around 1900 BC and destroyed the Indus Valley. Most academics still subscribe to this theory.

    2. Feuerstein and Frawley's theory; The Aryans have always been indigenous to India because there is no evidence of a man-made destruction of the In dus Valley civilization. They are open to the possibility that the Aryans arrive from the outside much earlier… The Vedic Aryans developed yoga, ayurveda, etc. Most yogis in the West subscribe to this theory.

    3: Which brings us to the theory that I am presenting, which is based on oral Tantric history, genetics, linguistics, archeology etc. and proposes that the Aryans arrived before, during and after 5000 BC. Thus india is a mixed culture between these Vedic Aryans and the In digenous Tantric Dravidians, Austrics and Mongolians. According to this theory is was the Tantric yogis who developed yoga as the Vedas are more ritualistic and philosophical in nature. The Upanishads, Brahmanas etc came out of a blended culture between the Vedic Aryans and the Tantric yogis. All yogic practice is basically from tantra, as tantra is basically the science and path of yoga.

    • Hi, Ramesh.

      These theories are fascinating to me as history, but, and I want to emphasize this is just for me personally, they have absolutely no bearing on how I practice Yoga today. They are all just interesting historical debates.

      I do understand that for you it is different, because your very impressive practice of Tantra is deeply connected to the history, and, I get the feeling, is highly dependent on that history for it to be meaningful to you. And of course, the more important the lineage and history, the more important is getting the details right.

      I respect and applaud all this. But for me it is the opposite. I only like the ancient Yoga texts because they are powerfully meaningful to my heart and soul right now, today. It would be all the same to me whether they were written by Vedics, Aryans, Mongolians, or by two guys in a bar. They make spiritual sense to me.

      The history to me is highly interesting but largely irrelevant to my own personal spiritual path. I do enjoy that the Gita is really old, but it's the the ideas themselves that I'm ultimately interested in. And I'm far more interested in how they affect me today than any authentic analysis of where they come from and how they were practiced back then.

      And just so this point is super clear, this is just my spirituality. I celebrate and admire your very different historically oriented spirituality. They're just different. Neither is wrong.

      Bob Weisenberg
      ElephantJournal.com

    • vakibs says:

      Ramesh,

      The academic culture and publications are always based on what is accepted in the society at that moment. In India, there has been a lot of political involvement in social sciences : first by the explicitly leftwing Marxist historians and now by the explicitly rightwing revisionist Hindutva people. Also, there has been social movements based on caste (Ambedkar who wanted to uplift backward classes) and on language (Periyar, Anna Durai etc. who wanted to build a Tamil nationalist movement). These movements basically tagged onto the academic publications of that time – on Aryan invasion etc. There is a lot of emotional and politically motivated literature on this topic in India. I think the "truth and reason" fellow also comes from the same background.

      But history is a "scientific" discipline, that can be validated properly by the study of archeological evidence. In India, we have an enormous collection of data available on these topics – literary texts like the vedas and also the mohenjodaro seals. Then we have anthropological evidence. It is possible to evaluate these data with an objective mindset.

      My objection to treating the Rig Veda as being composed in Central Asia is simple. There are a lot of verses in this text that are connected to the philosophy of Yoga and Tantra (which itself left visible artifacts in the Indus valley civilization). Take, for example, the verse on the Vishwe Devah. In my blog, I have explained these Vedic devas with respect to the philosophy of Samkhya (which is an offshoot from Tantra). I would be glad to have your comments there.

      The pantheon of the Vedic devas and the later Puranic devas is deeply connected to the practice of Tantra. These symbols have a deep meaning, just like the yantras and mantras. That meaning is accessible for anyone who studies them with close attention.

  34. Bob, it is only in the last 10 years or so of my practicing yoga for the past 35 years that I have been interested in the history of tantra and yoga. Thus the history of yoga and tantra has had little or no effect on how I practice. As Shiva said about 5000 years ago: Vartamanesu Varteta: Live in the present. That this message is old is not important. It is the message itself that is important.
    Yoga is about being present in each and very moment. Totally present.

    So, you do not need to know anything about the history of tantra in order to practice tantric yoga.

    But just as we human beings like to know where we came from, how our history was shaped, I have also learned that the way we view history also effect our present life. If you think the holocaust never happened, you will view and treat Jews differently than if you accept the truth about the holocaust. In that sense, history is important. Also for yogis.

    • Thanks for straightening me out, Ramesh. In this response you sound exactly like the way I practice Yoga.

      I think I need to stop trying to figure out who you are from your writing. I keep missing the mark. I'll stop doing that. I'm still going to hit you hard when you seem to be say progressive Tantra is the only or even preferred path or unfairly skewer celebrities with unsupported headlines, though! But I don't imagine you'd have it any other way, right?

      Your friend in Yoga,
      Bob Weisenberg

  35. I love Keith Jarret, because of his music, and because I have always approached music in the same way:

    Flamenco Guitar as Yoga Philosophy

    See also my music site: http://PadreeHijo.bandcamp.com

    Bob Weisenberg

  36. Ramesh says:

    Good old Keith Jarret, the improvisational jazz pianist, said it well on NPR the other day. Improvisational music is being totally present. When it works, he said, it works because that's how the universe works.
    When yoga works for us, we become one with how the universe works.

    The same Keith Jarret, I am sure, could also talk about the history of Jazz, the way he sees it, while being fairly present in the moment.

    Thanks for getting my point, Bob, and for accepting that you have been trying too hard some times to read my inner self through my talking about history.

  37. Curious says:

    Interesting essay! It is filled with arguments which are in search of a title.

    When is tantra & yoga not part of Hinduism? Hinduism can be compared to the great Indian dances. Unlike other religions, its roots combine many related (and unrelated) beliefs and mingling of innumerable sects; it has many shades and color, permutations and combinations.

    Like the Indian dances it has the good (shringara), the disagreeable (raudra) and the ugly (bibhatsa). Hinduism is still evolving and will always provide a topic for lively debate. But to overstate the ugly (bibhatsa) in order to deny what is integral (shringara) to Hinduism is totally wrong and objectionable.

  38. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Thanks for your insightful comments, Curios. Your points are well taken. Many people have pointed out that Jesus was not a Christian because the Christian religion evolved long after he was dead and contains many dogmas he would have revolted against. Similarly, my essay points out that Yoga and Tantra evolved long before Hinduism and are in essence different from the way many people today practice Hinduism. To generalize: Yoga and Tantra are scientific practices while Hindusim is a religion, a belief system. Yet, for others Yoga and Tantra are seen as integral to Hinduism, but that was not my focus in this article. I also sometimes refer to Tantra as Hindu Tantra when needing to distinguish it from Buddhist Tantra, for example. So, I do not think I overstated anything, I simply pointed out some facts that needs to be looked at and acknowledged, facts that so often are overlooked in the glossing over of the history and practice of yoga.

  39. juan says:

    wouldnt it be more that the brittish empire wanted to try to make from vedas an english copyright by max muller?rather than the hindus triying to deffend their culture heritage?since the term aryan is located at the hindus valley how could we talk about foreigners?what about the grabbed stones at mohenjo daro 5000bc with yogic asanas and places destinated to yajnas?what about the vedic influence on egypt and mesopotamia.what about the sanskrit influence on languages?the sanathana dharma concept ruled earth most probably from the begining,if we should look for the original place of all that, no doubt it should be india,why did the english government during the occupation in india spoiled all the sanskrit knowledge available?i think that they got impressed about the value of the hindu culture and they wanted to reinvent the origin of hindu knowledge.

  40. juan says:

    to try to make history out of genetic research it will allways be far from reality,its just funny that the genetic proof of aryan migration coincides with the mohenjo daro proof of vedic civilization dated on 5000bce.i can imagine that yoga started in hot clima rather than in sweden,i think the same about the philosophical aspect,the northern countries couldnt have the clima support and evironement facilities to think and create such science like the yoga.imagine someone meditating on chakras in russia under 0 degrees,im comvinced that tantra or paganisme was the esoteric knowledge spreaded all around the earth the celtics had much ritualism in their culture also the vikings,even alexander the great had a witch craft man in his protocol and the american and african cultures are full of rites.but the indian tantra is the only written treatise left alive , im pretty comvinced that yoga and tantras are from dravidian dna

  41. SRIRAM says:

    As per ancient indian literature, Maharshi Patanjali is the one who developed the science of Yoga.
    There is a famous book by him 'Patanjali Yoga sutras'.

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  44. Thanks Mat. Your reply is exceedingly helpful to me.

  45. Ramesh says:

    Mat, thanks for your long and thoughtful reply. Yes, there are various conflicting results from genetic studies, something that is common in science, depending in part on who interprets the studies. The reason I value Wells's genetic research is that he has no agenda. Moreover, his research is probably the most extensive done so far, with over 100 reserchers as part of his team and lasting 10 years… His research, the Out-of-Africa theory of human migration is now widely accepted, but as always not everybody agrees.

    As with Frawley, he developed 17 points against the Aryan migration to India, one point states that ( and I paraphrase) the only possibility is that the Aryans arrived much earlier. This is what Wells' genetic research shows and that is also how it corresponds with tantric/shaiva oral history.

  46. Points well taken, Mat. Thank you!

  47. Vakibs,

    I am not complaining about Vedic insights, my friend, I am simply pointing out that there has been an evolution of consciousness and culture on this planet. That is why I presented Gebser's model which is fairly universally accepted and understood. I am also saying that people in the past, be they Vedic Aryans, Greeks, Norse Vikings, etc. worshipped Gods in heaven and thus subscribed to many dogmas we would not subscribe to today.

    Yes, India is tolerant on many levels and totally in the dark ages on other levels. Just ask a dalit, at least those who are fighting back against their plight. Ask the widows being treated as animals. Those with burn scars and still living. And these traditions came from somewhere, not from yoga, not from tantra, they came from the Vedas. Just read up on the laws of Manu. The caste system is still very much alive in India. It did not come from yoga, it came from the Vedas.
    Also, my friend, please do not assume i have not read my Rigveda because I am a yogi and am "not aware of" their meaning. I am suggesting you think about your good old myths in a different way, put them into historical context and also look at how some of those myths are still very much alive and enslaving large segments of the population in India today.
    I know, we have similar dogmatic traits in Christianity in the west. I know. We also have not been very kind to mother earth, nor to the rest of the world for centuries of imperial exploitation. Yes, it goes both ways. But we are discussing the Vedas and Yoga. No need to digress.

    That said, I am enjoying our discussion and hope you are as well.

  48. Randomsubu,
    I am glad to hear you oppose all those "bad" practices in Hinduism, and I do understand and respect your choice of being a Hindu, of course. Similarly, I hope you understand and respect those of us who chose not to identify as Hindus, even though we practice something many consider to be Hindu. Indeed, Hindu-Tantra is an accepted term that even I sometimes use to make myself understood.
    There are dogmas in all religions and opposing those dogmas and superstitions is what I think is important.
    When you learn tantric meditation, for example, Brahmins will have to remove the sacred thread and renounce their caste allegiance as tantra does not accept the caste system. I encourage all Hindus to denounce this outdated system.

  49. randomsubu says:

    Ramesh:
    Like I said, I don't like blanket assertions, especially when I know them to be wrong. If you don't choose to identify as Hindu, fine by me! [Topic for another time: Hinduism is a constantly-evolving way of life, not a religion.]

  50. I am looking forward to an article on that topic!

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