[Buddha-l] Copyright of Yoga Asanas

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Thu Jan 17 06:56:14 MST 2013

Chris writes:
> While I don't doubt that callisthenics has influenced  modern hatha
> yoga, and especially on the way it is now presented, there are
> hundreds of asanas in Tibetan yoga texts which cannot have been so
> influenced. There are sets of these asanas associated with every
> Buddhist anuttarayoga tantra - many Nyingma tantras as well, and
> others besides these.


> There are of course string [sic for "strong"]
historical links, going back to about the
> 12th century, between the gorakhnath sadhus and Buddhist tantra
> traditions. The Nath tradition of course is the source of much of
> Hatha Yoga.

Hi Chris,

I fully agree, and also with Erik's observation that there is a group of 
scholars converging on a false consensus about the dating of some of these 
things, pushing dates to as close to today as possible while challenging all 
antiquity. They have overreached (or, perhaps more accurately, have 
under-reached) by (1) conflating a variety of different things under the 
heading "hatha yoga" and (2) failing to look beyond the piecemeal vestiges 
available today in Indian literature. On the other hand, they have raised 
some legitimate questions, and hopefully the endproduct of this revisionism 
will be a more accurate account of the history of the various strands that 
have gone into making up what various traditions, including the neighborhood 
senior center yoga-for-adults program as well as the dirt-floored ashrams in 
the Himalayan foothills, etc., have drawn on to create the various things 
that today we subsume under the concept of "yoga."

The "revisionists" (for lack of a simpler term at the moment) have focused 
on several things in particular, sifting sources for traces, most 
particularly asanas (understood in the modern hatha-yoga sense) and cakras 
(understood in the Arthur-Avalon/Sir-John-Woodroffe sense, all those 
colorful familiar posters, etc.). They also wrangle about the term "hatha" 
as well, trying to determine its earliest uses, and when it came to mean 
what we today think of (i.e., asanas, etc.).

Without getting into all the details, they have settled on the 10th-11th c 
as the earliest appearance of cakra theory, allow that some vague 
collections of asanas (mostly involving "seated" actions, as the word asana 
denotes) were being codified around the 15th-16th c, but that it is between 
the 17th-20th c, esp the 19th-20th where the elements converge (asanas, 
cakras, "hatha" + calisthenics) into our modern systems.

They would question how far back Tib. traditions practiced today go. Just 
yesterday I read a blurb on the back of a supposedly scholarly book on Japan 
that used the word "ancient" several times, when it was addressing ideas 
that arose in the 18th-19th c, hardly what I would call "ancient"; similarly 
it has become common practice to call various Tibetan things "ancient," when 
we are actually only dealing with things a few hundred years old at most.

That there were relations between various tantrics, etc. is not in question. 
What would be in question is precisely what they were doing *then* as 
opposed to what we might retrospectively project back onto them.

Having said all that, let me be clear that I have argued with the 
revisionists on the basis of (1) Indian materials they have ignored (e.g., 
Asanga's Yogacarabhumi, 4th c) and (2) early tantra materials preserved in 
Chinese but no longer available in Skt (texts translated in the first 
decades of the 700s). Both display detailed familiarity with (five) cakra 
theory (sometimes referring to "cakras" as mandalas, sometimes cakras). The 
Chinese translations details the visualizations, etc. associated with each. 
But one has to keep in mind, they represented/understood them this way (re: 
the five elements)



and nothing like
or this 1899 Indian depiction
or 18th c

Rather, Buddhists "visualized" the (five) cakras (qua 5 elements) this way 
in India:

See the two volume _The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon 
Buddhism_ by Adrian Snodgrass (New Delhi: 1988), which is based on the texts 
I mentioned previously as having been translated in the early 700s.

In short, the Yogacarabhumi and the early Ch. translations give us evidence 
much earlier than the 10th c of cakra theory (but not asanas), and might 
suggest in the recurrent arguments about who came first -- hindu tantra or 
buddhist tantra -- than in cakra theory at least the Buddhists were first.


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