Who was “The Great Oom?”

The Houston bureau of Sepia Mutiny (our southernmost outpost) has shuttered its doors, a casualty of the economic upheaval. The Houston bureau chief (me) has returned to Los Angeles to rejoin our offices there. One of the things I will miss most about Houston in my yoga teacher/class. A good yoga place is hard to find (even in the “yoga capital” of the U.S.). And isn’t it wonderful how so many of you nodded your heads in agreement just now. For many of us, finding the right yoga class is as important, and as difficult, as finding the right doctor. On the airplane to Los Angeles last night I read a blurb in a magazine that made me aware that many of us owe a debt of gratitude to one Pierre Arnold Bernard (a.k.a. The Great Oom). He had a significant hand in ensuring that Yoga is now essentially a part of everyday American culture:

… men and women came to his ashram on the Hudson River, two hundred acres of leafy real estate in Nyack, New York, that included a zoo, a yacht, airplanes and a dozen mansions that Mitchell could only describe as the “English countryside estates one sees in the moving pictures.” Bernard had made his fortune teaching yoga, and his students made up a Who’s Who of American life: college presidents, medical doctors, ministers, a spy or two, theologians, heiresses, a future congresswoman, famed authors and composers — some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world. Doctor Bernard, they called him, and like a benevolent physician he ministered to their needs, body and soul. He sheltered them, entertained them and gathered them together to teach them the art of living. They stood on their heads for him, worked in his fields, sang in his theatrical productions and performed in elaborate, professional-level circuses for his approval. Some of them came to delve deeply into hatha yoga and the philosophy behind it, some for romance and fresh air, some for the Bernard cure, having been abandoned by hospitals and mental institutions. These he literally led back from ruination — from ledges of despair, lethal addictions and Great War nightmares. How he managed to do this has remained his closely guarded secret…

But who was he, really, this uneducated savant who could lecture extemporaneously for three hours on the similarities between the philosophies of ancient India and the Gnostic heresies of the early Christians? This same man was known to stage a three-ring circus, manage a semi-pro baseball team, train a world-class heavyweight boxer, repair a Stanley Steamer automobile and whoop it up on fight nights at Madison Square Garden with nicotine-stained reporters. This last was where he was most at home, some said, shouting, swearing, happily chomping on a cigar. Who was this man of such wild contradictions, a name as familiar to headline writers of the 1920s as Charles Lindbergh? The answer depended to a large degree on who was doing the asking. [NYT]

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p>The following, mentioned in a WSJ review of the book, won’t surprise many of you. The fear of the unknown always causes hysteria:

“yoga was labeled a criminal fraud and an abomination against the purity of American women. It was associated with sexual promiscuity and kicked to the fringes of society.” [WSJ]

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p>I find what I have read about Bernard thus far to remind me a great deal of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s title character in The Great Gatsby. In an essay from 1965 a writer describes Bernard with the same awed fascination as found above:

A year after the first World War, a middle-aged male calling himself Dr. Pierre Arnold Bernard–who also was known as the Omnipotent Oom–suddenly appeared in the village of Nyack, 15 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, and bought the show place of the area. This was an estate more than a century old, and Oom got it cheap, reputedly for $100,000…

The realtor with whom Oom dealt obtained no information concerning what sort of doctor he was or where he came from. In fact, Oom frightened him, although not intentionally. It was just the way Oom happened to look. He was heavily muscled, had a large head covered with close cropped hair, and his grayish-green eyes were so sharp; that they seemed to fix whatever fell within their point of focus, the way the pin of a collector fixes a butterfly. [Link]

The book, The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, is being released on Thursday. Let us know if you pick up a copy and what you think after you’ve read it.

53 thoughts on “Who was “The Great Oom?”

  1. This is an interesting topic (and post!). I feel uncomfortable with the selection of aspects of Hinduism like yoga as mainstream, while other aspects are ignored or even denigrated in the West. Maybe you’ll think I’m paranoid, but I’d point to the rapid decline of non-Abrahamic religions in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years (as well as their extinction (!) in North Africa much earlier in history). So we non-Abrahamics shouldn’t be so quick to think this is cool. Although it is cool, if you don’t worry about what I’m worrying about!

  2. Although it is cool, if you don’t worry about what I’m worrying about!

    I missed what it is that you are worried about? Throughout all time people will steal, borrow, appropriate, and discard whichever aspects of whichever religion suits or doesn’t suit their society at the time. Was always this way and will always be so. Like life itself, religions evolve, mutate (sometimes horribly), and go extinct. The best and worst parts tend to survive but the “original” never does.

  3. Like life itself, religions evolve, mutate (sometimes horribly), and go extinct. The best and worst parts tend to survive but the “original” never does.

    Well, true–but also false. I’m worried that “yoga” will be appropriated by the West but that other valuable aspects of Hinduism will fall by the wayside–that is, that what is “best” will not be objectively judged, but rather viewed as “best as viewed by the West.” Of course, I also view it as nice in some way that some major aspect of Hinduism is viewed as valuable by the West, given that I’ve come here for higher education myself.

  4. other valuable aspects of Hinduism

    “Value” is entirely in the eye of the beholder. It is quite possible that all the aspects of any value to American culture have already been appropriated, since the time of the Great Oom.

  5. Logically sound point! And I certainly would not want to align myself with the rather tiresome “new age” type “Hindus” who are always banging on about the virtues of, say, non-Western medicine over Western medicine. The distinction should not be at the level of principle, but of course at the level of empirical evidence. I believe in empiricism myself, for sure. So, we are not disagreeing over a large terrain. I just want to make sure that one doesn’t reduce Hinduism to yoga = good but that the rest of Hinduism = bad. And I’m not suggesting that you’re doing that! But I have seen it done by some of the political parties in Tamil Nadu–I lived there during my IIT days at IIT-Madras–and some of the anti-Hindu politics was quite ridiculous and really unfair, even though in general I loved the people.

  6. Abhi, would you mind telling us who/where your Yoga teacher/class was? If your teacher doesn’t mind the publicity… It’s useful info for those in Houston who’re interested.

  7. I just want to make sure that one doesn’t reduce Hinduism to yoga = good but that the rest of Hinduism = bad.

    Eh, well, there are already plenty of (Abrahamic) folks who view hatha yoga as an evil heathen practice. On the other extreme are the Barbie (not necessarily white females, btw) yoga-types who see it as a social/competitive thing complete with faddy fashion and gimmicky nonsense. Both attitudes disgust me and are the opposite of yoga (union and balance), but that’s the nature of the West- one extreme or another.

  8. I’m worried that “yoga” will be appropriated by the West but that other valuable aspects of Hinduism will fall by the wayside

    Firstly, yoga predates what you consider “hinduism”. Secondly, which valuable aspects of hinduism do you worry will fall by the wayside? [deleted by moderator for abusing commenting guidelines...next incident will result in permanent banning from SM]

  9. The Houston bureau of Sepia Mutiny (our southernmost outpost) has shuttered its doors, a casualty of the economic upheaval. The Houston bureau chief (me) has returned to Los Angeles to rejoin our offices there.

    Does that mean you got laid off?

  10. “Value” is entirely in the eye of the beholder

    I’m going to go ahead and file this bit of empty moral relativism away for later. But there are several things wrong with the rest.

    It is quite possible that all the aspects of any value to American culture have already been appropriated, since the time of the Great Oom.

    The larger point Shilpa makes is sound and I had trouble describing why it bothered me until Assem Shukla articulated it.

    Chopra’s platform gave him an opportunity to honor the spiritual tradition that informs his message, but it seems clear that he would rather take the ripe transcendent fruits of Hinduism leaving it with the detritus of perceived social evils.

    So in other words, people feel free take what they like about Hinduism, but they don’t dare acknowledge its roots in “Hinduism” because that’s only for those barbaric wife-burning, casteist darkies.

    The other issue that bothers me is the idea that you can just mix and match religious principles to suit your own preferences. This is an instance of vanity and pride that’s particularly rife among the class of people that I refer to as “The people who like ‘Stuff White People Like.’” (A class to which I myself belong.) This is another issue that I had trouble putting into words until I read St. Thomas More’s critique of Martin Luther back in my college days. It went something like this:

    But who can endure [one] who . . .boasts thus: ‘The holy fathers have all erred. The whole church has often erred. My teaching cannot err, because I am most certain that my teaching is not my own but Christ’s,’ alluding of course to those words of Christ, ‘My words are not my own but His who sent me, the Father’s’

    Strip it of the Christian background and you can see More’s larger point. The complete denial of any authority or acknowledgement that anyone anywhere just opens the door to self-aggrandizement. People will fall into this easy rebellion not because they actually did some soul searching and found the teachings they learned untrue, but because the teachings aren’t lining up with what they wish the truth would be. The fact is, everyone likes to think they’re enlightened and wise, but very few people are born with the traits. We need guidance specifically because without it our egos will drive us to cheap dime-store philosophizing that does little more than feed our own egos, justify our own preferences, and stroke our own [expletives] rather than actually bringing us towards anything resembling truth.

    If you’re irreligious you fundamentally would not understand the gripe someone might have about the appropriation of yoga for tawdry commercial purposes. It’s not as if people are adopting the parts of Hinduism that are relevant through some rigorous introspection and philosophizing. People are adopting those parts of Hinduism that are trendy based on a commercial marketing campaign. If you see yoga as a path towards self-realization, turning it into little more than a workout routine not only cheapens yoga, but twists it into something it was never meant to be.

    And finally.

    Throughout all time people will steal, borrow, appropriate, and discard whichever aspects of whichever religion suits or doesn’t suit their society at the time. Was always this way and will always be so. Like life itself, religions evolve, mutate (sometimes horribly), and go extinct. The best and worst parts tend to survive but the “original” never does.

    Society’s evolution is not determined solely by the pulling of thieves, borrowers, and appropriators. The path we take is also influenced by the pushing of authority figures, teachers, and other conservative elements who resist the overeager and capricious whims of the mob. You’re going to make an anthropological point about cultural evolution you have to depict both the liberals who swung the baby back and forth as well as the conservatives who made sure they didn’t shake it to death.

  11. Firstly, yoga predates what you consider “hinduism”

    [citation needed] I’ve heard this repeated without justification numerous times over the past couple of weeks and never with any explanation. So I’m going to have to call shenanigans. Being as how Patanjali was a Hindu rishi during the Mauryan Empire it’s laughable on its face. But then there is also the question of what makes you so sure you know what Shilpa considers to be “Hinduism?”

    It’s not as if Hinduism is or ever was a revealed religion. It’s called “The Eternal Truth” for a reason. The truth always was and always will exist irrespective of the actions and whims of either Gods or prophets. The practice of Hinduism is and always has been a living tradition, constantly evolving to better access that truth under ever-changing circumstances. So being as how Hindus recognize that part of Hinduism’s essential nature is to absorb change, trying to say yoga predates it because how people practiced back then is different from now not only makes no sense, but betrays and lack of understanding as to what Hinduism is.

  12. Who was “The Great Oom?”

    Obviously, a screaming cow traveling backward through time.

  13. Secondly, which valuable aspects of hinduism do you worry will fall by the wayside? [deleted by moderator for abusing commenting guidelines...next incident will result in permanent banning from SM]

    Have to say, I was so happy to see this deletion. Unfortunately I’ve seen things like this written many times on SM and it has not been deleted, and been missed, therefore it only makes people who hate, bolder in their spread of misinformation and prejudice. I don’t agree with Shilpa or YF in this matter and don’t have any problem with incorporating some aspects of a culture or religion and not others. We’ve had other discussions about this same theme. But it’d be nice to have this discussion w/o people boldly showing off their hate.

    I like celebrating X-mas. It’s fun. I like exchanging gifts and green and red wrapping paper. Heck if I had a kid I’d love to take them to Santa Claus. To me, this side of Christianity is love for your human being. I can characterize Christianity many ways, looking at the present conditions of Christian dominant countries or past history. But I realize Christianity isn’t one unit, and depending on the hands it falls in, whether the Tea Partier who proudly claims his Christian ways, or my neighbor who likes to give me a gift on X-mas, the interpretation will be different. I’m Hindu, I don’t believe in casteism, untouchability and my father has always told me that is the junk that developed, but has nothing to do with the religion. There are also other voices of Hinduism that have nothing to do with oppression and it makes me so angry when someone tries to stereotype the religion as only this way.

  14. So in other words, people feel free take what they like about Hinduism, but they don’t dare acknowledge its roots in “Hinduism” because that’s only for those barbaric wife-burning, casteist darkies.

    Hinduism does come with a LOT of unacceptable baggage. There is much about India that fills outsiders with revulsion. It is wise to pick and choose. Intelligent non-indians choose not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Whats wrong with that?

    Similarly, Indians and other non-westerners can and do accept the rationalism, science and technology of the West while rejecting the other less impressive aspects of western culture.

    As for acknowledging roots, the fact that the roots of Yoga may be in the Indian subcontinent does not mean that hindus own yoga. Yoga is far more ancient than what you consider hinduism. Hinduism itself appropriated Yoga from others.

  15. Yoga Fire, please stop with your endless proselytizing. I am not the only one that is tired of it, especially since it so often derails comment threads. If you hope to be the great defender of Hinduism against the irreligious “stuff white people like hoards” surely there are places other than the comment section of a blog to take on that fight.

    Patanjali, No, I quit.

  16. Hinduism does come with a LOT of unacceptable baggage.

    Well that’s your opinion. I can say the same for Christianity, Islam, Buddhism…I really don’t know what criteria you use to make Hinduism first, but there’s plenty of “unacceptable baggage” to go around in all the major religions.

    There is much about India that fills outsiders with revulsion.

    LOL…again your opinion. I haven’t experienced this :)

    Similarly, Indians and other non-westerners can and do accept the rationalism, science and technology of the West this statement is soo ignorant. Rationalism doesn’t just come from the West. Mathematics and astronomy have long been part of the south asia…how unfortunate that your knowledge is so limited which explains your previous prejudiced statements against a religion and a way of life.

  17. Being as how Patanjali was a Hindu rishi during the Mauryan Empire

    Buddha taught Jnana Yoga centuries before Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras; and Buddha rejected the hindu Vedas and the hindu rituals of his time. What does that tell you?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_yoga

    Yoga derives from prehistoric roots, and develops out of Ancient Indian asceticism (tapas). Yoga as a Hindu philosophy (“darshana”) is first expounded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali……Several steatite seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300–1700 BC) sites depict figures in a yoga- or meditation-like posture………..Some type of connection between the Indus Valley seals and later yoga and meditation practices is supported by many other scholars.

  18. I like celebrating X-mas. It’s fun. I like exchanging gifts and green and red wrapping paper. Heck if I had a kid I’d love to take them to Santa Claus. To me, this side of Christianity is love for your human being. I can characterize Christianity many ways, looking at the present conditions of Christian dominant countries or past history.

    Actually my gripe with Christmas is the same as my gripe with Yoga. Cut the spiritual part of the holiday out and all you end up with is an orgy of commercialism.

    There is much about India that fills outsiders with revulsion.

    Thank you, Prema, for so eagerly proving my point about the racist motivations behind it. So in other words, people feel free take what they like about Hinduism, but they don’t dare acknowledge its roots in “Hinduism” because that’s only for those barbaric wife-burning, casteist darkies.

    As for acknowledging roots, the fact that the roots of Yoga may be in the Indian subcontinent does not mean that hindus own yoga.

    What part of [citation needed] was not clear to you?

    Yoga is far more ancient than what you consider hinduism. Hinduism itself appropriated Yoga from others.

    You don’t know what I consider to be Hinduism darling. Take care that you don’t assume too much.

  19. @Abhi Forgive me, but I’m really not seeing what I did wrong here. A.) Where exactly did I try to convert anyone? B.) How was anything I said off-topic given that I just joined the conversation that you and Shilpa were having about the exact same thing?

    I’ll stop talking to Patanjal. Your last post wasn’t up yet while I was composing my reply to her.

  20. If you hope to be the great defender of Hinduism against the irreligious “stuff white people like hoards” surely there are places other than the comment section of a blog to take on that fight.

    Perhaps you’ll erase this comment Abhi, and since it is your blog of course you can. But YF is stating facts about Hinduism and the derailment happens when Patanjali/Prema shifts any discussion on anything Hindu or Indian as stating her own self-hatred for herself, therefore her own hatred for being Indian. Comments that Patanajli/prema makes is the reason for the derailment most of the time and its good that YF’s facts puts her personal opinion of hatred toward Indians in check.

  21. PS, it is not the commenters jobs to moderate the comments on my threads (not with our existing technology anyways). That is my job. When commenters like you start jumping in because they feel the need to defend every sleight (some very real and some thin-skinned) then everyone loses. Your only job is to read the post and leave a substantive, original comment with value added if you so choose to.

  22. Your right it isn’t my job. But I will point out, like Metal Mickey, when I feel “offended” by a comment and when a comment is hateful to me. You can judge whether I am in the right or wrong to be offended, however, unless I’m erased or banned if something bothers me and I feel like writing in SM and I feel the comment is prejudiced and racist, like so many other commentators have done, I will state what I think is offensively racist and prejudiced. If stating my substantive opinion is wrong, of course just erase me.

  23. If stating my substantive opinion is wrong, of course just erase me.

    That is fair enough. But I just deleted one of your comments above (some poll) because it was totally irrelevant to the posting above. If you make me continue to waste my time deleting your comments then I will choose the most convenient next step, which is to ban you so I don’t have to deal with it any more.

  24. If you make me continue to waste my time deleting your comments then I will choose the most convenient next step, which is to ban you so I don’t have to deal with it any more.

    By all means do….if Prema’s comment about “india fills most people with revulsion” can be kept, and I put out a poll that shows quite the opposite and that requires you to continue to erase my comments and cause inconvenience to you, ban me too.

  25. Abhi, Your idea of “moderation” seems “keeping comments that support my point of view and spiking anything that helps me learn”.

    The assertion that “yoga predates Hinduism” is palpable nonsense, because no one who makes that statement has a meaningful definition of Hinduism. The only way in which that statement can be supported is by creating a effigy that stands entirely in comparison and contrast with Abrahamic traditions. That way the supposed/alleged date of a text (in turn conferred canonical status) can be placed alongside some event from a narrative from the Abrahamic tradition and be praised, accepted, rejected, derided or discarded at will. That way any arbitrary date can be assigned to Hinduism’s origin and anything that comes before or after can be in turns deemed borrowings, misappropriation, perversion etc., That way any number of essences and cores can be drawn to create numberless ideals, objects of opprobrium, reform and so on. This is intellectual quackery. And this shape shifting creature “Hinduism” is a fascinating thing. It becomes a bounded entity when it must be damned and then becomes something diffused and airy fairy when elements of it must be extracted for profit or praise.

    This isn’t the first time we have discussed what yoga is. Ashtanga yoga is what we are talking about. And those of us who care we owe it anyone who is interested (and will not spike comments on a whim) to make it clear that anything else than Ashtanga Yoga is incomplete. Yoga also comes up in Buddhist (Tibetan as well) and Jain traditions and it is possible (as scholars have for many centuries) to contrast these many approaches as it is possible to compare Ashtanga Yoga itself with earlier approaches to yoga.

  26. When commenters like you start jumping in because they feel the need to defend every sleight (some very real and some thin-skinned) then everyone loses.

    Generally the internet lacks the power to injure my feelings. If I’m posting something it’s to point out that something is either wrong, misinterpreted, or misstated. Or, in some cases like my reply to your comments to Shilpa, it is to elaborate clarify a position when I think people are talking past each other. You’re free to disagree with them and I suppose you’re free to ban me for it too. But I just don’t see how it would be justified.

  27. Just wanted to bump up this interesting insight.

    “And this shape shifting creature “Hinduism” is a fascinating thing. It becomes a bounded entity when it must be damned and then becomes something diffused and airy fairy when elements of it must be extracted for profit or praise.”

  28. Thanks for mentioning my book, Abhi. I’m anxious to hear what you and your readers think of it.

  29. Thanks for mentioning my book, Abhi. I’m anxious to hear what you and your readers think of it.

    No Robert, thank you. And also, this subject is just screaming for a Hollywood biopic (maybe an Ed Norton or Viggo Mortenson type lead). Do you have a possible screenplay in the works?

  30. And also, this subject is just screaming for a Hollywood biopic (maybe an Ed Norton or Viggo Mortenson type lead). Do you have a possible screenplay in the works?

    As great as Aragorn and Tyler Durden are, I think such a movie would be incalculably more awesome if we got The Dude. (Jeff Bridges.)

  31. As great as Aragorn and Tyler Durden are, I think such a movie would be incalculably more awesome if we got The Dude. (Jeff Bridges.)

    I’m not sure Bridges could fit the part.

  32. i am quite surprised that yoga found such a (relatively) wide appeal in the states so early on. or maybe not so surprising – it would be curious to see what form of yoga ‘oom’ shared with his students/clients, and how physical, de-spiritualised etc. it was. on the more modern practise of yoga, i agree that many people may want to accept it for its physical adn spiritual aspects, without necessarily going deeper into their sources (e.g. hindu philosophy). on the other hand, i recently read an article (maybe via SM?) that americans are increasingly adopting hindu practises, such as cremation, so it seems not to be an issue of being closed off to hinduism, and likely just a lack of wider knowledge of certain aspects of hinduism

    thanks for the post abhi – yet another book that i want to get around to, but won’t for quite some time:(

  33. Robert Love,

    Thank you for joining this discussion. I should study your book to understand what exactly was going on as Bernard’s practice evolved and grew in those heady days.

  34. If you see yoga as a path towards self-realization, turning it into little more than a workout routine not only cheapens yoga, but twists it into something it was never meant to be.

    And if you do NOT see it as a path towards self-realization (whatever THAT philosophical drivel is supposed to mean), but only as a body/mind sharpener…? Numerous studies have proven hatha yoga does indeed create measurable, beneficial somatic effects regardless of ones spirituality or lack thereof.

    “something it was never meant to be.” Oh! We have a spiritual master in our midst!

  35. americans are increasingly adopting hindu practises, such as cremation

    Isn’t that because cremation is much cheaper?

  36. Darth,

    Have you considered the possibility that this body/mind sharpening you talk about may be meaningless as far as the philosophy of yoga is considered? There are quite a few schools of Indic thought that have no place for the idea of body/mind duality. Just as you are free to reject “spirituality” folks like me are free to talk to you about it?

  37. hatha yoga does indeed create measurable, beneficial somatic effects regardless of ones spirituality or lack thereof.

    So does sex. And that was not “what it was meant to be”. There may be morons out there who have sex for its ” beneficial somatic effects”, but they are, um, morons.

    On the “appropriation” issue, the Chinese invented gunpowder, but guns are now more closely identified with the West than China. Same with the printing press. There may come a time when Yoga would be closely identified with America than India, but there is not much point complaining about that. Maybe at that time, software would be more closely identified with India, even though it originated in the West.

    The only reason for complaint is the fact that it was Indians who kept the tradition alive by practicing it, generation after generation, until Bernard and company discovered it. And many people who kept it alive did it at great pains (motivated by the “philosophical drivel”), even when the practice took a lot of effort and time, and there were other pressing commitments/temptations.

    It is the same story with classical music and dance and folk arts and crafts now. “Hindus” are expected to practice these things, so that others can bring tourists over to gawk at it, and make a lot of money in the process. Or do ethnography, write books, documentaries…all to make money. It would be nice if some of the money they make also go to support the people who have kept alive the traditions. In the case of Yoga, at least pay some lip service to those families, or at least to the faith that motivated them.

  38. I’ve got my own 2 paisa to contribute to this convo but will have to do it later.

    Wait with retained breath.

    ;)

  39. “Hindus” are expected to practice these things, so that others can bring tourists over to gawk at it, and make a lot of money in the process. Or do ethnography, write books, documentaries…all to make money.

    Contrast the two recent PBS documentaries – he first one on India-substantially about Hinduism a couple of years back and the more recent one on Buddhism. The former is about a biological specimen squashed within a glass slide, being examind through a microscope that can serve up imagined zooms of any feature delinked from what comes before and after. The one about Buddhism is about a cerebral and intellectual discipline and a saintly old professor at Columbia U. (of course they won’t tell you his daughter is named Uma) the Dalai Lama and everything else. While there are quite a few professors of (or with expertise in) Hindu studies in the US who do serious stuff – Nathan Katz, Rambachan, Vasudha Narayanan (and Arvind Sharma at McGill) and Hinduism’ own share of mystics (Alice Coltrane) you’d never know about it.

  40. On the “appropriation” issue, the Chinese invented gunpowder, but guns are now more closely identified with the West than China. Same with the printing press. There may come a time when Yoga would be closely identified with America than India, but there is not much point complaining about that. Maybe at that time, software would be more closely identified with India, even though it originated in the West.

    Resonance,

    The issue isn’t so much appropriation (at least for me and many others) as it is the intellectually dishonest denial of yoga’s roots in hinduism (or sanathana dharma if we’re being sticklers). If non-hindus want to participate, great. If other religious groups want to appropriate yoga and replace hindu mantras with their own, it might strike me as rather sad (I had no issues singing religious Christmas carols growing up), but fine, whatever makes you happy. The issue comes when people actively deny its hindu roots and use sophistry to declare that yoga has nothing to do with hindu tradition. After all, most of us would laugh at denying karate’s japanese roots, but have no problem going to Krazy Klyde’s Karateee (the alliteration was spontaneous and unintended, I swear). The fact of the matter is, it is a great thing that yoga has become so popular. Anything that gets kids and adults off of big pharma’s unnecessary medication without unintended consequences is good in my book. It’s intellectually dishonest to completely gainsay any connection to the religious tradition from which it emerged so that you can sell snake oil to the masses.

    Additionally, Yoga itself predates Buddhism as evidenced by its mentions in many of the Upanishads (such as the Katha and Yoga-Kundalini) and the Bhagavad Gita. As for the steatite seal of Pasupati from the Indus Valley–that itself is hardly evidence considering the debunking of AIT, or AMT and the increasing support for the Authoncthonous Theory of Indian and Hindu civilization. If anything, the image of Pasupati (the name assigned not actually deciphered from the seal since there remain questions over the decipherment attempts of IV writing) lends credence to hindu-vedic origins rather than a non-hindu one. Whether this is the case or not, it is silly to use this artifact as evidence for a rather insidious attempt to delink and deny yoga’s intrinsic connection to the hindu tradition.

    Nevertheless. This book does appear interesting. I look forward to browsing through it at Barnes and Noble.

  41. Hi! I just wanted to leave a quick comment – Yoga seems to be the hot topic of the week. There’s a lively debate going on on the the Faith pages of the Washington Post Website, and I wrote my two cents on my blog. I personally don’t think it’s the catastrophe some people believe it is that yoga has gone mainstream. to each his/her own. and if you can find a way to legally and ethically profit from something that does people good, then how you put food on your table is not that controversial in my mind.

  42. Hi! I just wanted to leave a quick comment – Yoga seems to be the hot topic of the week. There’s a lively debate going on on the the Faith pages of the Washington Post Website, and I wrote my two cents on my blog. I personally don’t think it’s the catastrophe some people believe it is that yoga has gone mainstream. to each his/her own. and if you can find a way to legally and ethically profit from something that does people good, then how you put food on your table is not that controversial in my mind.

    But that’s just it, Vijaya, it isn’t ethical to profit from something without properly crediting people–it’s a kind of intellectual plagiarism and societal bowdlerizing. No one is asking for royalties to hindus–that would just be silly. Just don’t try and negate yoga’s true origin, like Chopra continues to do to maintain his little cottage industry. If one wants to seek the truth, one must speak it as well…

  43. If Robert Love is still reading this, I have a question. Does the book deal with Initiate series.

  44. I love what the U.S. has done for yoga. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to treat it simply like an exercise routine if that’s how one really looks at it. Why be hypocritical? There are those who actually take it very seriously. To each his own.

    I think hatha yoga was developed in the 8th century as part of the tantric traditions, so I don’t believe it’s as old as this thing called hinduism.

  45. In the 8th century, Divya? Yeah, I too read that book where it says it was “developed” on April 1, 788 CE. Wow you got that right!

  46. Jyotsna – is that all you’ve got? Do you prefer systemized? No wait, how could I forget it was Lord Shiva who breathed it into the dreams of Matsyaindraya, who passed it on to Goraksh, who passed it on to the masses.

  47. Divya,

    Shiva aka Bhootnath aka Pasupati aka Smashaan Maharaj aka Aghornath aka Kaalbhairavah aka Siddhendra Yogi aka Nilakantha aka VeLLacami (white man) is as old as time and a more. That would be pushing the origins of yoga into eternity. I am modest. I will settle for around 2000 BCE!