by David Gordon White
University of Chicago Press, 2009. Paperback
Our modern conception of yoga derives much from 19th century European spirituality, and the true story of yoga’s origins in South Asia is far richer, stranger, and more entertaining than most of us realize. David Gordon White focuses on yogis–yoga’s practitioners. Combing through millennia of South Asia’s vast and diverse literature, he discovers that yogis are usually portrayed as wonder-workers or sorcerers who use their dangerous supernatural abilities–which includes raising the dead, possession, and levitation–to acquire power, wealth, and sexual gratification. As White shows, even those yogis who aren’t downright villainous bear little resemblance to Western assumptions about them. At turns rollicking and sophisticated, Sinister Yogis explores the myth of yogis as detached, contemplative teachers, and puts them in historical context.
David Gordon White is professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of several books, including The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts, and The “Yoga Sutra of Patanjali”: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books).
Here are my posts inspired by the book Sinister Yogis–