The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali : A Biography

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Consisting of fewer than two hundred verses written in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is today extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice. As David Gordon White demonstrates in this groundbreaking study, both of these assumptions are incorrect. Virtually forgotten in India for hundreds of years and maligned when it was first discovered in the West, the Yoga Sutra has been elevated to its present iconic status--and translated into more than forty languages--only in the course of the past forty years. White retraces the strange and circuitous journey of this confounding work from its ancient origins down through its heyday in the seventh through eleventh centuries, its gradual fall into obscurity, and its modern resurgence since the nineteenth century. First introduced to the West by the British Orientalist Henry Thomas Colebrooke, the Yoga Sutra was revived largely in Europe and America, and predominantly in English. White brings to life the improbable cast of characters whose interpretations--and misappropriations--of the Yoga Sutra led to its revered place in popular culture today.
Tracing the remarkable trajectory of this enigmatic work, White's exhaustively researched book also demonstrates why the yoga of India's past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 114 x 191 x 28.45mm | 340g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 1 table.
  • 0691143773
  • 9780691143774
  • 332,629

Back cover copy

"The who's who of how Patanjali's Yoga Sutra came to be, this thoughtful and well-developed biography gives an in-depth view of each contributor to this once minor, now major philosophical player in the Western yoga world. I will keep this beautiful work in my library to refer back to as I continue to deepen my exploration of this profound spiritual masterpiece. A must-read for any serious academic or practitioner."--Melanie Salvatore-August, YogaWorks mentor teacher, author, yoga and mindfulness practitioner

"David Gordon White's unique knowledge of both classical yoga texts and contemporary religious practice in India and the West gives him a unique insight into the troubled question of the relevance (or irrelevance) of Patanjali's masterwork to contemporary postural yoga. Written with White's characteristic verve, rich in fascinating historical documentation, this is an often hilarious and always exciting story. Anyone seriously interested in yoga in any of its many forms, from its profound philosophy to its often life-changing practice, must read this book."--Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus: An Alternative History and On Hinduism

"Contemporary yoga teachers and gurus have mistakenly made the Yoga Sutra into the ubiquitous foundation of all yoga practice, stretching and extrapolating it into a complete manual for living. Now the man behind the curtain is exposed. White mines the truth from hearsay and stands contemporary yoga beliefs on their head. This remarkable, colorful, and engaging book will rattle a lot of cages and hopefully enlighten the enlighteners. I highly recommend it as required reading for anyone interested in yoga."--Ganga White, author of Yoga Beyond Belief and founder of the White Lotus Foundation

"David Gordon White is not only a magnificent writer and a brilliant scholar. He is perhaps our best modern interpreter of Indian yogic traditions."--Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

"Elegant, erudite, and crystal clear. White shows how the Yoga Sutra, which has taken on iconic significance with respect to the practice of modern yoga, has been completely misunderstood and manipulated to mean different things over the course of the past millennium. This book will force anyone who thinks they know what the Yoga Sutra signifies to completely change their view on the subject."--Joseph S. Alter, author of Yoga in Modern India

"A very engaging read. White's book is provocative in all the right places."--Martha Ann Selby, coeditor of Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India

"The best book available on the Yoga Sutra. It is a work of original research that will greatly interest scholars and captivate general readers. White performs a great service with this book."--Donald S. Lopez, Jr., author of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead": A Biography
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Table of contents

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

"White's book, a contribution to Princeton's Lives of Great Religious Books series, delves into the short collection of verses that many contemporary practitioners believe--erroneously--to be the original, definitive guide to ancient yoga philosophy. A scholar of comparative religions, White conducted sharp and deep research to tell the story of the rise, fall, and modern-day resurgence of the 195 verses attributed to the author/compiler Patanjali, who lived in either the first century BCE or the fourth century CE."--Publishers Weekly "White's scholarly read is a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra... It will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge. Concise, yet showing fresh research, this book is well suited for academic and comprehensive yoga collections."--Ajoke Kokodoko, Library Journal "Engaging, challenging, myth-busting, and completely au courant, weaving into the debates on cultural appropriation, colonization, and the reinvention of yoga and South Asian spiritual practice in the postmodern west."--Sean Feit, "A wildly entertaining tour-de-force of deconstructive research."--Matthew Remski, Reality Sandwich "A lively account of this sutra's unlikely history and how it has variously been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, and hailed. The colorful characters on these pages include Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya, two giants in modern yoga, as well as literary figures such as T.S. Eliot. There is also Alberuni, a Muslim scientist and scholar who translated a commentary on the Yoga Sutra a thousand years ago, and the outrageous Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who fused the principles of the Yoga Sutra with Western ideas of the occult."--Shambhala Sun "The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali undertakes an exhaustive, scholarly history of the titular work of ancient Indian philosophy, lightened by author David Gordon White's provocative wit... White's in-depth examination demonstrates how scriptural exegesis often reveals as much about the worldview and priorities of its authors as it does the wisdom of the works they interpret."--Max Zahn, Tricycle "White brings to life the improbable cast of characters whose interpretations--and misappropriations--of the Yoga Sutra led to its revered place in popular culture today. Tracing the remarkable trajectory of this enigmatic work, White's exhaustively researched book also demonstrates why the yoga of India's past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today."--RSR, Buddhism Now "[L]ucidly written."--Vithal C. Nadkarni, Economic Times "[A] groundbreaking study."--Apoorva Sripathi, The Hindu
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About David Gordon White

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

78 ratings
4.04 out of 5 stars
5 36% (28)
4 41% (32)
3 17% (13)
2 4% (3)
1 3% (2)
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