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 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, Nadalila.org
"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
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by David Gordon White: