Dr. Shreena Gandhi is well educated- her undergraduate degree was from Swathmore and her Masters was from Harvard. Obviously, she is of Indian origin and would know a thing or two about Hinduism.
Yet, she has put her name to an astonishingly ignorant essay claiming that Yoga has something to with White Supremacists.
Every single sentence of the essay is egregiously wrong. It is as though she is determined to write as stupidly as possible.
Take the first sentence-
South Asia was not colonised by the Portuguese. They, like the Dutch and the French had small enclaves on the coast. The British exercised paramountcy over South Asia. The term colony is misleading. America was a colony. People from the mother country came and settled there and eventually displaced the indigenous population. Nothing similar happened in India.
The origin of Yoga is in the indigenous Religion of India. It is by itself a school of divinity within the fold of orthodox Hinduism. The British and the Portuguese are wholly irrelevant to its history.
This isn't true at all. Awareness of Jiu-Jitsu and other East Asian martial arts spread at the same time as Yoga to Europe and America. However, it was only from the Sixties onward that they developed a mass following. This was demand driven- a product of a globalised market- it was never the case that poor Yogis or Kung Fu masters were exported for a political or economic reason. Slavery and Colonialism were wholly irrelevant.
In A.C Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' stories- the Yoga Guru is a drunken curry chef. He runs away when he discovers he is to be presented to the wife of a former Governor of Madras. This is because he has been passing himself off as a Brahman and fears the lady will detect his low caste origin.
Benson's story accurately captures both White and Indian attitudes to any purely physical system of training. Such things were always considered inferior to mental or spiritual techniques. This is still true in India. Baba Ramdev has been very successful both commercially and, more briefly, in a political capacity. But he isn't in the same class as Swami Adityanath- the new Chief Minister of India's most populous province. Why? Standing on your head tends makes you look ridiculous. Wearing robes and meditating is dignified and impressive. Witnessing the feats of acrobats or bodybuilders from a different country does not militate to the conclusion that the country in question is scientifically advanced or more rational in its conduct. On the contrary, we think of its people as either monkeys or meatheads. Meditation is a different matter as is swanning around in flowing robes pontificating upon Transcendental Wisdom or Quantum Consciousness or Spiritual Science or some other such oxymoron.
It was not Yoga, but translations of Sanskrit texts which showed Europe and America that Indian religions and philosophies possessed merits complementary to or in excess of those of their own Religion. There was no need to show that 'Indians were not backwards and primitive' because the accounts of travellers and merchants and officials- as well as the goods exported by India to Europe- stressed the high standard of Indian material and ethical culture.
The study of Paninian Sanskrit brought about a revolution in philology and linguistics starting from the late eighteenth century and carrying on to the work of Saussure or, more indirectly, Chomsky. But then Indian grammarians had a profound influence on Chinese thought for the same reason.
The writings of an Indian polemicist of the first half of the nineteenth century- Raja Ramohan Roy- were seized upon by the Unitarians. That is why Emerson wrote a poem called 'Brahma' and the term 'Boston Brahman' gained currency. The Gita, which identifies the Creator with the Lord of Yoga, influenced many European, British and American thinkers and writers. Thoreau could be called a Yogi though he had no first hand acquaintance with either Indian texts or Indian people.
By contrast, Fredrick Schlegel had a profound influence on the Romantic movement. Indeed, the seminar system of facilitating Research based Universities was pioneered by Indologists.
Similarly, Liberal thought was influenced by Indian texts. Karl Krause, who had a big influence on Spain and Latin America tried to teach Schopenhauer a little Sanskrit. Though this failed, Schopenhauer, like Goethe, was very open in his admiration for Indian thought and philosophy.
I should explain, Hinduism pairs Yoga with the Samkhya philosophy. The founder of the latter school was Lord Buddha's teacher. The Gita too features a strong 'Samkhya-Yoga' theory. Thus a thirst was created for Yoga- as practiced by the gymnosophists mentioned by the ancient Greeks- before any actual Yogis appeared on the scene. The demand pre-existed the supply.
Darwin's theory of Evolution caused a scandal for Christian believers. Something of Buddhism was already known, but it was then that it started gaining more and more converts or, if not converts, at least 'Theosophist' fellow travellers. Why? That Religion dispenses with a Creator or Revealed Texts and is compatible with Evolution. Sadly, it was painted as an 'Aryan' Religion as opposed to 'Semitic' Christianity. Needless to say, Buddhism is free of any such prejudice. An African Lama would receive the same reverence as a Tibetan one. Hindus like me sought the darshan of Swami Ghanananda, in Ghana, because he was a perfected teacher of Vaishnavism. Of course the same is true of genuine Christians in Europe or America. England has a Black Archbishop of York. Did this cause any backlash? Don't be silly!
At this point, in fairness, I should point out that African origin people were subject to genuine 'epistemic violence' and that type of thinking is still around for base mercenary reasons. This was not the case with respect to India- however much we like to moan about our economic decline and blame others for it.
It should be remembered that the Greeks had reached India and thus the country had always been considered to be materially and ethically advanced- not primitive or backward.
Soldiers prized Indian swords because Indian metallurgy was ahead of Europe in that respect in the eighteenth century. In the days of sail, Indian shipyards, managed by Indians, produced excellent ships.
If the Indians declined in military and material terms, it was for political, not technological reasons.
No doubt, India languished under the British Raj. More and more of its people starved or barely subsisted. The Princes and compradors, however, lived very different lives. Some supported Yoga practitioners. They did not encourage them to go to the West to display their skills. Why? People who stand on their heads look ridiculous. By contrast, the King of Mysore did support a vegetarian bodybuilder- Professor K.V Iyer- who gained a following in America. In that instance, the aim was to show that a vegetarian diet did not have an enfeebling effect. B.K.S Iyengar, of course, was even more successful. He was an extraordinary personality.
Some Anglicised Indians from the middle class who turned to Religion did tour the West from the late nineteenth century onward. They were bitterly anti-colonial and were gathering funds for Nationalist organisations. They saw both the utilitarian and spiritual value of Hatha Yoga and did sometimes prescribe a specific 'asana' for health reasons. However, they never identified Yoga with any narrowly chauvinist cause. On the contrary, they were Internationalists and inclined to Socialism. They felt that any good thing should belong equally to all the people of the world. To their minds, Yoga could no more be 'misappropriated' than Physics or Mathematics.
Dr. Gandhi takes a different view. She says
There were no 'colonial forms of knowledge'. There was some propaganda, paid for by the Imperial authorities, to depict Indians in a bad light so as to reduce support for Indian Nationalists. But such propaganda backfired. The same happened to epistemologies instrumentalised for Imperial purposes. Consider the case of ethnographic tabulation of populations- as expressed by the Indian Census. The attempt to categorise people backfired. Initially, caste based associations arose but they quickly morphed into a National movement.
It is true that after Independence, some crackpot Ministers from time to time endorsed the work of other crackpots to prove 'scientifically' that some indigenous mumbo-jumbo actually worked. This too backfired.
Rural India always had and always will have Yogis who have their own networks and 'peer review' processes. Middle class, urban India became increasingly interested in 'Hatha' Yoga for health and building strength from the 1880's onward. This fed into and was fed by the rise of Nationalistic sentiments which was closely associated with Hindu Saints and Gurus. This was also a period when Physical Education in the West and elsewhere was being systematised in a scientific fashion. In some cases this was explicitly linked to 'subaltern' Nationalism- e.g. the Czech 'Sokols' emulated by the 'Anushilan Samitis' sponsored by people like Sri Aurobindo or Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Kuvalyananda was probably the most influential figure in systematising and empirically testing this type of patriotic cultivation of Physical Education. Yale sent a researcher to study under him who returned and published a 'Scientific Evaluation' of Yoga in the late Thirties. Some fifteen years previously, another Yogi who had the same Guru as Kuvalyananda had travelled to America and taught hatha yoga to some Americans. He couldn't return because of a tightening of 'colour bar' racialist immigration laws- the main reason few Indian Yogis went to America prior to 1965.
It is not the true that Indians ever proselytised for Yoga abroad in an effort to show India wasn't backward. In the case of America, Jim Crow type racism prevented them from entering in the first place. It is a different matter that professional wrestlers and strong-men from India had managed to make an impression on Europe and America at an early date. The practice of swinging 'Indian clubs'- which German immigrants brought to mid nineteenth century America- has, however, a more complicated history. European soldiers- including Hanoverians- employed in India by John Company had picked up the practice from local pehelwans and took it back with them. The thing became a craze but such training had genuine benefits which is why the US Army adopted it during the first World War. This had as little effect on the standing of India as the European adoption of Native American swimming styles, or their game of lacrosse, on their standing.
The truth is physical culture has no racially coded 'bio-politics'.
Dr. Gandhi disagrees-
Rubbish! Nobody cares about 'ideas of India'- not even the vast majority of Indians. Why? Such ideas are fatuous. In any case, for the West, in the Sixties and later, India simply wasn't important. There was no War there and Economically it was punching far below its weight. China, by contrast, is exciting- indeed astonishing- as was Japan before it.
In the late Sixties, it is true that sitar music and the Maharishi and so on had cultural salience. But it was in connection with psychedelic culture and the sexual revolution. Similarly during the Romantic period in early Nineteenth Century Europe, India had been briefly associated with sexual mysticism and Liberal politics. However, the dominant idea of India in the Fifties and Sixties was of a country on the verge of starvation. But, this was only because independent India's elected rulers chose mendicancy. Truman snubbed Nehru when he produced a begging bowl out of the folds of his Savile Row suit. India was overwhelmingly agricultural. Why could it not feed itself? Unlike Europe, it had been untouched by the War. Later on, American farmers forced the US to dole out PL 480 grain shipments. Europe too looked to rid itself of its wine lakes and butter mountains. Indian diplomats quite happily painted a picture of a nation of farmers starving in the interregnum between such shipments. Why? It was because they were trying to challenge traditional European notions of India as a richly endowed country with an ethically advanced populace- so richly endowed and ethically advanced, it would be worth trading with or even conquering.
Under Indira Gandhi, India repented its folly in painting itself as a basket case. Dr. Shreena Gandhi, however, remains true to the older Nehruvian tradition of depicting the country as a shithole. It is sad to think that she is a prophet without honour in her own ancestral homeland.
There were no 'early Indian yoga missionaries'. There were White disciples of Indian Yogis who could appeal to a market which took its view of India from Hindu and Buddhist sacred and literary texts. Consider Professor Charles Lanman of Harvard. After studying Sanskrit, he spent a year in 1889, travelling in India. His students- people like T.S Eliot- were amused by his practice of hatha yoga on the banks of the Charles. By contrast, Acharya Kosambi- whom Lanman recruited- did not make himself ridiculous in any such manner. Why? He gained nothing by showing India as 'spiritual but inferior'. Instead he studied Russian and took up a Professorship in Leningrad.
Nehru knew Yoga- he'd interrupt a dinner party to go stand on his head- and he certainly helped perpetrate the notion that India was spiritual but inferior. But, unlike Modi, Nehru wasn't the missionary of anything Indian. Like Dr. Shreena Gandhi, he was only happy when scolding Capitalist countries for having lots of food. They should repent their vulgarity and quietly starve. It would be so much better for their souls- don't you see?
This is not to say no Indians ever exported Indian techniques to the West. The term 'shampoo' is Indian and was introduced into the English language by an Indian, who also wrote an autobiography, back in the early years of the Nineteenth century. He also ran a physical training and fencing academy.
The same may be said of karate or judo or Zen. But Japan was never colonised.
Hinduism and Buddhism do contain spiritual and literary marvels and Yoga is associated with those marvels. This has nothing to do with India as a modern political entity.
Back in the Seventies, any kid who looked a bit Chinese would be asked in the playground to demonstrate a big of kung fu. Why? Kung Fu is cool. Indians weren't asked to demonstrate Yoga- and were wary of doing so because- truth be told- a lot of us have very pudgy tummies. We need to do a lot of running and weight training just to fit into our pants. The alternative is cutting down on the ghee and rasmalai.
Why did Yoga thrive in India thousands of years ago before there was any consumerism or 'branding'? The answer is that Indians faced certain moral and spiritual problems which affected their bodily health. Some of these problems were 'affluence' related. Thus the earliest mention of diabetes is in Indian medical texts. Our ancestors too had a problem with the ghee and rasmalai which we class as 'satvic' foods but which cause a lot of us (perhaps because of a 'thrifty gene') to have jiggly tummies and man boobs.
Some physical exercises improved both bodily and psychological health. These are part of Yoga. Anyone at all can benefit from this whatever their spiritual beliefs or ethnic origins.
The authors paint a picture of yoga pants being produced by dusky people paid a starvation wage. By voting for Trump, Americans have already addressed the problem. Ban the import of stuff made by poor coloured people. Let robots at Lululemon's American factories do their job instead.
Why not ban Yoga as well? After all, some Indian Yogis may be making money off 'intellectual property' in the field. The market for the thing won't disappear if we rename it after some Native American system of physical conditioning. Replace 'Namaste' with an equivalent word from Algonquin. Perhaps, traditional narratives of Thanksgiving could be rejigged to show the indigenous people teaching the Colonists how to sit 'Indian fashion'. But why stop there? Why not reclaim the term Indian for America? Let Modi's people be called 'Bharatiya'- which in fact, officially, they already are according to their own constitution.
So, America must give up Capitalism. It's not enough that they must call Yoga by some Algonquin name or give it up in favour of some Cherokhee practice. Not till Capitalism is extirpated will Americans stop that naughty 'cultural appropriation' which the two authors of this piece so deplore.
You just told us. The answer is 'Capitalism'.
The root of white dominance must lie in some natural or acquired superiority in 'colonising' and 'enslaving' others. You can't colonise a land whose people can defeat you. Also you need a method of getting to that land. The root of Western European dominance lay in superior maritime technology and praxis. That's why European ships could carry colonists to America- where a large portion of the indigenous population had no resistance to 'Old World' germs- and also take slaves from African potentates to work in their newly acquired domains in the New World.
Okay... so is what you're saying is these guys should also be demanding the closing down of all Yoga or Kung Fu studios because these should be replaced by something from the dominant American culture?
Why would you argue anything so foolish? Do White Supremacists really strike you as being such bleeding hearts that they want to shield people from the pain of knowing they are privileged? Did Hitler kill the Jews and the Gypsies and the Gays and so forth so as to spare the Herrenvolk the pain that comes from exchanging their class or regional identity for the unearned power and privilege of belonging to the Master Race?
White Supremacists very explicitly say that their hateful ideology will result in White people hoarding up wealth. Nobody believes them because they are obviously stupid sociopaths. Germany was once top dog academically speaking. Then stupid Nazis got rid of the Jews and the country never recovered its academic hegemony.
Really? By whom? Swathmore College? Harvard Divinity School? The University of Florida?
Why would anyone spend money teaching white people something which will destroy their ability to think and to function? Emotions are 'Darwinian algorithms of the mind'. Repress them and decision making worsens. A historical sense is vital for defeasible Jurisprudence and Economic rationality. Without it, hsyteresis effects can't be dealt with by Muth Rational processes. There's a reason, Darwinian evolution has endowed us with memory and historicity.
Which is why the Civil Rights movement failed and Jim Crow stalks more and more of the country.
Feelings are salutary things. It is good for a collective when individuals act on their feelings. Why? Because those feelings are self-regarding even in an eusocial way. I feel pleasure when I gorge on cake in the middle of the night but soon feel shame and disgust and nausea. I feel joy and happiness when I share cake with others to celebrate the birthday of a friend or family member.
White Americans achieved dominance because they were taught to express their feelings. Don't like your place in the world? Go West young man- or woman! Is American culture really about 'sublimation' and 'instinctual renunciation' and being a self-effacing cog in the machine?For some people of colour perhaps. Not for wealthy White people. Melania may have to sublimate. She is an immigrant from some East European shithole. Donald, by contrast, has never had to so much as filter his thoughts. Loving yourself means never having to say you are sorry.
Wow! White people are truly horrible! OMG, Granny was right. One mustn't marry a leprous Mleccha! Better kill Sonia Gandhi! And get rid of her son- he is half White. No wonder Dr. Gandhi hates Nitin Gadkare. The fellow is no better than a race-traitor! This so called 'Hindutva' consists of hugging White people, not exterminating them!
Dominant Culture means Hollywood. I don't know which ethnicity has done most to build up the film and television industry but, clearly, those people have to be purged from the system. We must reeducate White People to develop Strength through Joy. For too long Europeans have felt inferior to Sub-Saharan Africans who out-sprint and out-box and out-fuck them. This is the uncomfortable reality of racism. We must re-educate white people to feel physically stronger and sexually more potent than African Americans.
Eisenhower warned against the yoga-industrial complex. Did you know Norway has banned Yoga in prisons because it made the inmates too violent? Those Nordics are onto something.
Quite true. People nourished and empowered in a meaningful and sustainable way are immune to death and anomie. That is why nothing meaningful is sustainable. Everything dies. Life is a Red Queen race in which you have run faster and faster just to stay in place. What could be more unmeaning and unsustainable than this brutal truth which encompasses all co-evolved processes?
Yup! That's the truth, sho' nuff. Seventy million people of Irish descent want to return to the Emerald Isle to dig for potatoes and die of starvation. Ten million Jews are just queuing up to return to Aushcwitz or Putin's prisons.
Indians are not a 'historically oppressed community of color'. Who oppressed BKS Iyengar of Prof. K.V Iyer? What about the Maharaja of Mysore? Why pretend India endured anything similar to what the indigenous people of America did?
Yoga has only begun to flourish quite recently in America. But Hindu Indians in America have never been oppressed and have doing very very well in recent years. They actually have the highest median income of any group. It is shameful for an Indian American to compare her plight with that of the African American.
Dr. Gandhi's co-author is Jewish. They aren't exactly starving in America.
What these two women are doing has a name in Psychoanalysis- 'extractive introjection'- they are confiscating the psychic pain which properly belongs to historically oppressed, long indegnized, groups in America so as to extract a reputational rent, or to gain interessement, for themselves. This article is egregious click-bait. They are deliberately trying to garner publicity for themselves by parodying post-colonial theory of the most self-pitying and paranoid stripe.
This brazen behaviour is Aziz Ansari level repugnant, though the motive of our two authors is not sexual but rather gesture-political.
According to Yogic philosophy, what matters is 'suhrit praapti'- the gaining of like minded fellow seekers. The Lord of Yoga will Himself be 'the third where any two such are gathered' to ensure that they become firmly established on the true path. In India, countless Mahatmas and Parmahansas have been of very humble origins and lacked any opportunity of educational advancement. Even observing an animal, in the right spirit, can cause that animal to uphold the role of Guru! Service to the weak and suffering- Daridra Narayan- is itself the 'padadakshina' by which discipleship to the Lord, who appears in this word as lonely and poor, is secured.
For God's sake, Dr. Gandhi, India became free before you were born! Get over it!
The British Raj was created by the courage of 'Jolly Jack Tar'. The brave North Atlantic fishermen of Portugal and Brittany and Holland and Britain laid the foundations of 'White dominance'. But those days are long gone. Navies don't matter much anymore. 'Re-colonisation' simply isn't on the cards. China is now establishing enclaves in Europe. Even Democratic India is shaping up.
People who do a bit of Yoga aren't really 'perpetuating re-colonization' at all.
The liberation of Indian people? From whom? Sonia Gandhi- that dastardly White person? But, Dr. Gandhi, your fellow Gujerati, Narendra Modi is now very solidly entrenched as Prime Minister.
You say a modern trend continues something associated with ignoring the liberation of Indian people. But that trend started some twenty years after Indian people were liberated. Nowadays, everybody has access to Wikipedia- even these very stupid, brainwashed white Americans you have spoken off. Why write such obvious nonsense?
So, you are only concerned with white yoga practitioners. You say they should learn Sanskrit and observe Hindu samskars or Buddhist orthopraxy (which is the only way to 'humbly honor and learn from' genuine Yogic lineages). Why not add that they should perform shuddi and convert to Hinduism, or take diksha and enter the Shramanic order?
Savitri Devi became a Hindu. She was also a worshipper of Hitler. Serrano was an Ambassador to India. He wrote a book claiming that Hitler was alive and was the final incarnation of Vishnu.
White Supremacists aint nice people. But horrible people can learn a lot about a foreign Religion or Spiritual practice while retaining their horrible hate-ideology. They too fulmine against 'materialism' and 'consumerism' and 'Capitalism' (which they associate with the Jews) and the Media (also supposedly Jewish) 'manufacturing consent' and so forth. It is noteworthy that far Right ideologues claim to feel great sympathy for poor and starving people in the Global South. They claim to be staunch environmentalists (indeed, Savitri Devi was a prophet for some 'Greens') and link 'globalisation' to 'rootless cosmopolitans and 'Planetary Technology' and the forgetting or erasure of 'folk-ways' and so forth.
This is dangerous ground for both the Indian origin and the Jewish American- more particularly for women. Why? If there really is some difference between white people and the rest of us then there must be an even bigger difference between men and women. The latter are clearly guilty of 'gender appropriation' by taking on originally male roles- like that of the Professor or Lawyer or Legislator.
Yoga, however, has nothing to do with such 'second order' discourse. It is 'first order' wholly. Doing good does not need to wait upon a discourse of what is good about goodness. Just do it already and you will know it better and better.
One final point- India decided that there was a being higher even than the Yogi- viz. the Viyogini- who pines away for denied union with the beloved. White Americans, like Black Americans, indeed, like all sentient beings, know this pain of separation to some degree. This is a mark of election not some spiritual pathology for which mindless consumerism bears the blame. The pain of separation perfects one upon Yoga's quotidian path of doing good quietly.
I have no doubt, Dr. Gandhi and her Jewish co-author, are good people. They are Viyoginis because they are parted from the Good they wish to see their country collectively pursue. However, the proper Yoga- and Yoga only means 'Union'- which addresses this 'vishada' (anxiety or akrasia) is TRUTH. One must confine oneself in one's discourse to what is alethic and fair minded. The temptation is to say, since Love motivates me, my tongue is that of angels though my words are brazen lies. The Viyogini must resist this temptation. Love will prevail, but only by means of the Truth. Not, however, in my case because I love only ghee and rasmalai and will die of diabetes unless, mebbe, I pull on my Yoga pants and sing 'Look at me, look at me; I'm so good at Yoga!'
What? You don't believe that's me in the video? That's just sexist. And, actually, a bit racist as well.