Saturday, 19 August 2017

How to succeed at Āsana: A seventeenth-century Marginal Note

By JASON BIRCH



Marginal note on folio 58v. of the Yogacintāmaṇi
Ms. No. 3537, Scindia Oriental Institute, Ujjain


I'm currently translating a section on āsanas from a unique manuscript that can be accurately dated to Thursday, 5th June, 1659 CE by a scribal comment.1 At first sight, this manuscript appears to be a copy of the Yogacintāmaṇi ("A Gem of Thoughts on Yoga"), which is a very large compendium on yoga composed by Śivānandasarasvatī in the early seventeenth century. However, it is, in fact, a unique work because, in addition to the original text of the Yogacintāmaṇi, there is supplementary material on āsana, as well as numerous marginal notes, that have been added by an unknown scribe. 

The additional material in this particular manuscript includes five unprecedented āsanas that are attributed to a Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī. In contrast to attributions to mythical figures, such as Vasiṣṭha and Matsyendra, this reference to Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī may be the earliest textual record of a historical person who was known for teaching particular āsanas. 

At the lower edge of folio 58 verso, in a marginal note added to the text on āsana, the following dietary advice is given for the mastery of all āsanas: 
Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī says, "By eating rock salt (saindhava) and pepper (marīca), success arises in all the āsanas, and not by [eating other types of] salt (lavaṇa)." Because of this, itching disappears.2
Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī appears to be recommending a specific type of salt called saindhava as opposed to salt (lavaṇa) more generally understood. In Sanskrit literature, the terms saindhava and lavaṇa can be used as synonyms. However, in some texts of Āyurveda and Rasāyana, lavaṇa refers to salt of which there are various types including saindhava. For example, in the Rasārṇava, five types of salt (lavaṇa) are listed as sāmudra, saindhava, cūlikālavaṇa, sauvarcala and kāca.3

A fifteenth to sixteenth-century compendium called the Rājanighaṇṭu, which gives the names and properties of medicinal substances, states the following about saindhava:
It has nine names: saindhava, śītaśiva, nādeya, sindhuja, śiva, śuddha, śivātmaja, pathya and maṇimantha. Saindhava is a salt that is aphrodisiacal, good for the eyes, stimulates appetite, mitigates the three humours (doṣa), purifies(?), and cures ulceration and constipation.4
Therefore, Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī seems to be recommending saindhava, rather than salt in general, for  achieving success in all āsanas.

The comment 'because of this, itching disappears', which follows Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī's advice, is even more intriguing. It appears to be the scribe's opinion. The referent of the pronoun (i.e., 'this') is not entirely clear. Is itching (kaṇḍū) cured by eating rock salt and pepper or by successfully accomplishing all āsanas? 

Āyurvedic texts, such as the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasūtra, assert that itching is a sign of aggravated phlegm (kaphadoṣa).5 If one believes that saindhava mitigates doṣas, as the Rājanighaṇṭu states above, then it should cure itching. Nonetheless, the scribe may have been thinking of āsanas that are said to mitigate doṣas. For example, Sundaradeva, the author of the Haṭhasaṅketacandrikā, who was an āyurvedic physician (vaidya), claimed that bhadrāsana (a type of seated posture) can cure diseases caused by kapha.6

So it seems, if one has an itch, some saindhava at hand and the ability to do bhadrāsana, one should be able to self-medicate quite effectively. Then, just add pepper for success in all āsanas!


Bhadrāsana
Schmidt, Richard. 1908.
Fakire und Fakirtum im alten und modernen Indien: Yoga-Lehre und Yoga-Praxis nach den indischen Originalquellen.
Berlin: Hermann Barsdorf.



NOTES:

1 At the international conference, Yoga in Transformation, held at the University of Vienna in 2013, I presented this manuscript as evidence for the proliferation of āsana in yoga texts that were composed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Download this conference paper here. These findings will be published as a forthcoming article in the conference proceedings, Yoga in Transformation (2018).

2 Yogacintāmaṇi, ms. No. 3537, Scindia Oriental Institute, Ujjain, f. 58v (lower margin)
saindhavamarīcabhakṣaṇena sarvāsanasiddhir na tu lavaṇeneti lakṣmaṇasvarayogī || tena kaṇḍūnāśaḥ [||]

3 Rasārṇava 5.32
sāmudraṃ saindhavaṃ caiva cūlikālavaṇaṃ tathā | 
sauvarcalaṃ ca kācaṃ ca lavaṇāḥ pañca kīrtitāḥ || 

4 Rājanighaṇṭu 5.88-90
saindhavaṃ syāc chītaśivaṃ nādeyaṃ sindhujaṃ śivam | 
śuddhaṃ śivātmajaṃ pathyaṃ maṇimanthaṃ navābhidham ||5.88|| 
saindhavaṃ lavaṇaṃ vṛṣyaṃ cakṣuṣyaṃ rucidīpanam | 
tridoṣaśamanaṃ pūtaṃ vraṇadoṣavibandhajit ||5.89|| 

5 See the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasūtra, Sūtrasthāna, 12.53-54
śleṣmaṇaḥ snehakāṭhinyakaṇḍūśītatvagauravam |
bandhopalepastaimityaśophāpaktyatinidratāḥ || 53 ||
varṇaḥ śveto rasau svādulavaṇau cirakāritā |
ity aśeṣāmayavyāpi yad uktaṃ doṣalakṣaṇam || 54 |

6 Haṭhasaṅketacandrikā, ms. No. R3239 (transcript), Government Oriental Manuscript Library, p. 32.
atha kaphavātaroge bhadrāsanam ("Now, in the case of a disease caused by phlegm (kapha) or wind (vāta), bhadrāsana [is taught]").



The complete āsana section of this unique manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi will be published as part of the Haṭha Yoga Project.



Thursday, 17 August 2017

MEDICINE AND YOGA IN SOUTH AND INNER ASIA

Body Cultivation, Therapeutic Intervention and the Sowa Rigpa Industry

University of Vienna, 1st - 3rd August 2017


At the invitation of Dagmar Wujastky, University of Vienna, AyurYog Project Principal Investigator (An ERC Starting Grant).


KARL BAIER
University of Vienna


Yoga and Alchemy within fin de siècle Occultism

"In this paper I will investigate the astonishing relationship between interpretations and practices of yoga among German speaking occultists – especially within in the Habsburg Monarchy – and their new interest in alchemical theories and experiments. In particular, my analysis is based on a close reading of the writings of members of this milieu like Carl Kellner, Franz Hartmann, Gustav Meyrink and Herbert Silberer. Special interest is paid to the theoretical frame that allows them to connect yoga and alchemy."





SUZANNE NEWCOMBE
AyurYog Project, London School of Economics and Political Science


Longevity practices in India during the modern period: Public health imperatives and individual aspirations

"The logistics and economics of how to promote health and longevity amongst the vast population of India is a perennial problem. Yoga has increasingly been seen by the government of India as a potential asset in their promotion of longevity for the general population. This presentation will outline the variety of pragmatic approaches that were taken to promote yoga as public health under the category of ‘Indigenous Medicine’ from the Usman Report of 1923, to the recent promotion of AYUSH to the level of Ministry in 2014. The range of approaches to yoga reflected in government reports will be explained with reference to the a-historical experiential emphasis of many practitioners and providers of yoga-based longevity and health interventions. It will be argued that the overarching narrative of yoga in the modern period alternatively identifies the idea of longevity with an immortal soul/atman/purusha, and the unlimited potential for the refinement and purification of the material human body. I will argue that the Indian government, by promoting yoga as public health, is not necessarily regressing into an anti-Enlightenment position on rationality (as Meera Nanda has suggested). Rather, yoga as public health is an intervention that works on an experiential level for those who participate in this milieu. This paper hopes to elucidate the pragmatics of this approach."






DAGMAR WUJASTYK
AyurYog Principal Investigator, University of Vienna


Rasāyana in Sanskrit alchemical literature

"In Indian alchemical literature, the Sanskrit term “rasāyana” is predominantly used to describe alchemical operations, i.e.  all that is involved in the making and taking of elixirs for attaining a state of spiritual liberation in a living body. Rasāyana in this sense describes a series of related processes, including the preparation and chemical processing of raw materials; the admixture and further processing of materials to formulate the elixir (this can involve ritual and the use of mantras); the preparation of the practitioner (cleansing procedures for body and mind); the intake of the elixir and finally, the process of transformation the practitioner undergoes after intake of the elixir. 

However, many alchemical works also include rasāyana sections that describe a type of therapy similar in aims and methods to the rasāyana treatment known from ayurvedic medical literature. Further, when the term “rasāyana” is used to describe the characteristics or effects of a substance or formula, it very often seems to be applied in the medical understanding of the term rather than in the sense of elixir. 

In my presentation, I will present examples of rasāyana sections from a selection of alchemical treatises to explore their connections to and divergences from ayurvedic literature. I will also discuss how medical rasāyana sections are positioned within alchemical works and examine how this reflects the development of iatrochemistry in alchemical literature."






CHRISTÈLE BAROIS
AyurYog Project, University of Vienna


Longevity practices from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad onwards

"Vayas, a key term for “age” in the ayurvedic treatises, is a heuristic concept that is helpful in reflecting on issues of longevity, rejuvenation, and immortality. When considering longevity specifically, the Chāndogya Upaniṣad III.15-16 provides extensive material for reflection. In the context of ritual invocations aiming at longevity, it offers a meaning of vayas close to that found in medical treatises; it describes three periods of life, and provides us with a canonical human lifespan of 116 years. I propose to examine the conditions and reasons for prolonging life as explained in this passage, and to explore how the commentarial tradition attached to the Chāndogya Upaniṣad takes up the subject of longevity in further discussions."






GEOFFREY SAMUEL
Cardiff University


Tantric immortality: the factors of long life and the transcendence of time

"As a researcher on Tibetan longevity practices, I have been asked on a variety of occasions whether they work. An answer is by no means straightforward, in part because opinions vary as to what it is they are meant to do. As Barbara Gerke demonstrated in her field research with Tibetans in India, for many lay Tibetans, the practices are indeed directed at the attainment of a long and healthy life. Yet this pragmatic and easily understandable concern is entangled with other matters. Lamas stress that the only proper motivation for such life extension is to enable progress towards Buddhahood. Beyond this ideological commitment, which serves to reconcile the this-worldly aim of the practices with the trans-worldly orientation of the Buddhist tradition, lie more arcane matters. These include the extreme life–spans attributed to holy men in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and the Tantric siddhi of immortality, which may refer to the avoidance of physical death, or to its transcendence into a realm where it no longer exists or makes any sense. There is a history to this complex tangle of ideas, a history which appears to overlap, whatever the precise historical connections, with East Asian traditions of life-cultivation and inner alchemy. In this paper, I attempt to sort out some of this history, and to understand how its modern-day reflections help to create a productive ambiguity within which the apparently impossible can gain enough reality to be taken as a serious goal for Tantric practice."






Photographs of speakers and participants having interesting discussions and sharing meals:

























All photographs by Jacqueline Hargreaves
Copyright 2017.