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May 12, 2010

Yoga: Is it Vedic, Tantric, or Both?

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/

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