The Histories of Yoga Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 1

Welcome to Histories of Yoga

5 min - Show Intro
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David Gordon White invites us into the journey he has been on over the last 40 years. Sparked by the discovery of the relationship between alchemy and the practices of yoga, he simply followed the logic of the question which led to more and more questions and the publishing of four books. In Season 1, we explore the connection between yoga and chariot warfare, demonology, alchemy and Ayurveda, and the mapping of the cosmos. David's approach is so refreshingly unburdened by dogma and he reminds us to to continually look again and see anew.
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Dec 18, 2017
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Hello. My name is David Gordon White. I'm a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I'm very close to where I'm sitting right now, actually. And I've been teaching there for 20 years, and I teach religions of South Asia. It means Hinduism, Buddhism in particular. But for about twice that long, 40 years, I've been working on writing the history of yoga. I didn't intend to write a history of yoga or take 40 years to do it, nothing like that at all. It was more like I stumbled upon something that piqued my curiosity. It had to do with alchemy and the structure of the yogic body and transformations within the yogic body relating to those in the alchemical laboratory. And that set me on a kind of course of trying to figure that out. And, well, there's a philosopher whom I like very much named Hans Georg Gadamer, who writes that true understanding can only come when you follow the logic of the question. So you have a discovery, you put it into words, but that discovery opens up new questions. And you need to follow those questions. And through them, you will come to new understandings and new discoveries. And it just worked out that each of the four books I wrote on this topic set up new questions that I felt I had to answer. And so one thing led to another and one book led to another. And the last of those books was published a couple of years ago, the autobiography or the biography of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the course of my quest to understand yoga and its history, I had to go into a great deal of other material because that's where the material led me. That wasn't strictly speaking yogic or about yoga, but in fact, these are systems that the various yogas of India presuppose they take as given, those systems including Ayurveda, astronomy, alchemy, sacred geography, and other related systems, theology, demonology, that were part and parcel of the worldview of yogic practitioners, often called yogis, and their female counterparts over this long timeframe of some thousands of years in which yoga or the many yogas of India emerged and flourished. So it's those themes of how the yogas of India have interfaced or interacted with four topics in particular that I'm going to be discussing in my talks. One of those is quite surprisingly to probably most of you, the relationship between yoga and ancient chariot warfare. Another is the relationship between yoga and demonology, which actually in a very interesting way led into tantric yoga. Another is the relationship between yoga, alchemy, and Ayurveda. And finally, the relationship between yoga and the way that ancient and medieval Indians mapped the universe as well as the world around them. So those are the four themes that I will use to approach this phenomenon of the many yogas of India in the discussions to come. And this is where I hope to lead you on a journey of discovery that in some ways will follow the journey that I've taken over the last 40 years.


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