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.
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.
"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, Nadalila.org
"A wildly entertaining tour-de-force of deconstructive research."--Matthew Remski, Reality Sandwich
"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
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by David Gordon White: