Monday, June 11, 2012

Yoga: Freedom from History

Chapter 2 of Rajiv Malhotra's book 'Being Different' is interestingly and curiously titled "Yoga: Freedom from History". This post tries to understand the meaning behind this title by examining the following questions. Many of the arguments used here are borrowed or paraphrased from passages in the aforementioned book.

1. What does freedom from history mean, and why would we even want such a freedom?

2. What has Yoga got to do with freedom? and what is the connection between Yoga and history?

Freedom from history and why it is incredibly useful

The 'history' that is alluded to here is closely related to 'history centrism', a term coined by Rajiv Malhotra in this book to describe thought systems whose fundamental rules are irreversibly tied to and completely dependent on a sense of collective history. The necessary and sufficient conditions for a human to become a member of a history-centric thought system (HCTS) based group (e.g. religion) is tied to whether they accept a specific historical prior associated with that HCTS (see the first few posts in this blog for complete details). The membership into this religious club is exclusive, i.e., a non-member is considered deficient and incapable of maximizing their potential on their own, since the core HCTS belief is that such a maximization is only possible by acceptance of the historical prior (e.g. Nicene Creed and the Christian church) and cannot happen in this lifetime.

To be free from history is to (among other things):
1. Reject this exclusivity that ties you to some collective history and allows you to embrace the notion of inclusiveness and non-duality (Advaita)

2. Take charge of your present and live in the present, and given your present state, your future is independent of any collective historical past. Among other things, this point hints at a (partially) Markovian view of life in Dharmic thought systems (more on this in a later post).

3. Believe that you, and equally importantly, any other person can maximize one's potential in this lifetime without depending on a past historical event or prophet. You are responsible for yourself and are naturally endowed with the amazing ability to maximize this potential in this world and in this lifetime, not in some infinitely distant and separated future time, and place.

Yoga and Freedom from history
Yoga is one of the ways of maximizing your potential in this lifetime and achieving the highest states of consciousness. If all historical records are lost today, HCTS systems (and their religions) would essentially disappear. For example, if all historical events known to man in the middle east and India are lost, all Abrahamic religions would cease to exist. However, all Dharmic (Indic) philosophy based religions (and every one recognizes the fundamental power of Yoga) would survive and regenerate itself over time since they are not history-centric.  Yoga is an inner science that is repeatable, and does not depend on any kind of history, nor requires any kind of group membership. In short, a Yogi achieves freedom from history centrism and dogma. A key point to note is that while Dharmic thought systems (DTS) extensively use Itihaas (a word that very approximately resembles history, but is not the same as history) to motivate a Yogi, they are not tied to it nor are defined by it like HCTS are. For example, if all records of the Ramayana and Mahabharata were irretrievably lost, Hinduism would still be able to regenerate itself and continue to provide meaningful answers to an individual's problems via Yoga and 'embodied knowing'.

Is Yoga for everybody?
If dumbed-down and incorrectly treated as Pilates-like calisthenics like it is done extensively in the west, that Yogasana is for everybody, including a person who claims exclusivity via a HCTS, or a serial killer. However, Yogasana is but an aid to actual Yoga. Developing the ability to contort oneself into a double pretzel is certainly not the gateway to a higher state of consciousness.  As we have seen earlier, Yoga is a scientific means of attaining freedom from ego, dogma and history-centrism, which means that a person cannot be a true Yogi unless they first and foremost let go of this exclusivity.

The contention here is that Yoga cannot be for those who claim exclusivity. For example, a baptized Christian who wears Indian garments, lights incense sticks, chants Hindu songs and Buddhist hymns, but swears by the historical prior encoded in the Nicene Creed can never be a true Yogi.  On the other hand, consider a person in the west who worships Jesus as an Istha-Devta (favored icon of divinity), without claiming the historicity of Jesus as an exclusive savior, and believes in her own potential for divinity and ability to have the same Jesus-experience. She sheds exclusivity to free herself from the clutches of history-centrism and the notion of collective salvation and dogma, and can most certainly become a true Yogi. Thus the phrase 'Christian Yoga',  or 'Jewish Yoga', or 'Islamic Yoga' is nothing but an oxymoron. In short, Yoga is not for everybody, but does not mean that any person or group can "own" Yoga, since that is akin to saying somebody "owns science". Hinduism and India arrived at Yoga first, and as long as due credit is given to this historical fact, Yoga, like open source science, is available to anybody, regardless of religious orientation. After all, Yoga delivers freedom from history! The silly Huffington-Post debate that perversely twisted this debate into one of "ownership" is an example of how even very knowledgeable people in the west are drowned in their history-centrism, and fall short in their attempts to understand the true idea of Yoga.

Yoga and Sanskrit
Sanskrit is the language of Yoga and the Sanskrit words chanted during Yogi are endowed with specific vibrations that are crucial toward attaining the highest levels of consciousness. The use of Sanskrit in Yoga is therefore not merely symbolic and many of the words used in Sanskrit in Yoga are non-translatable. For example, it is futile to replace 'Om' with words from the Torah, Bible, Koran, or some song book. They are absolutely not equivalent, and just plain silly.


  1. Sanksrit & Tamil are both called as yogic languages

    "ஆரியமும் தமிழும் தந்தான் நந்தி " writes Thirumular in Thirumanthiram , he refers to his Guru Nandhidevar giving sankrit to Patanjali as Yoga Sutras and Tamil to Thirumular

  2. great piece of information. will try to learn more about this connection.