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Asian Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



see Hatha Yoga, Kashmir Shaivism

Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra by Gregory P. Fields (SUNY: State University of New York Press) Explores the relationship between health and religion based on the model offered by the Hindu traditions of Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra. Religious Therapeutics explores the relationship between psychophysical health and spiritual health and presents a model for interpreting connections between religion and medicine in world traditions. This model emerges from the work's investigation of health and religiousness in classical Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra--three Hindu traditions noteworthy for the central role they accord the body. Author Gregory P. Fields compares Anglo-European and Indian philosophies of body and health and uses fifteen determinants of health excavated from texts of ancient Hindu medicine to show that health concerns the person, not the body or body/mind alone. This book elucidates multifaceted views of health, and--in the context of spirituality and healing--explores themes such as mental health, meditation, and music.
Because the word `health' is ordinarily used to denote physical, psychological or psychophysical well‑being, it might seem that the use of `health' in reference to spiritual well‑being is a metaphorical application of the term. However, there are grounds for broadening the extension of the term `health' to apply to the well‑being and freedom from suffering of the whole person. If the human being is considered to be more than a psychophysical entity (as is the case in Yoga, where purusa or consciousness is held to be the person's true nature), then it is legitimate to speak of health with respect to this spiritual Self, and of ultimate liberation from suffering as healing. Self‑identity is a significant determinant of both psychophysical and spiritual well‑being. This idea is suggested by Wilhelm Halbfass, who identifies the recovery of self‑identity and well‑being as a point of connection between psychophysical healing and religious liberation," The concept of liberation as healing utilizes meanings of health revealed by analysis of Ayurvedic determinants of health, and explores metaphysical conceptions of personhood‑such as freedom and identity‑in their medical and soteriological implications. A model of religious therapeutics is presented below with eight branches. The first five areas, based on classical Yoga's eight limbs, provide an initial matrix of religious therapeutics. A more comprehensive model is established by incorporating the traditions of Ayurveda and Tantra. The Ayurvedic view of the person differs significantly from classical Yoga's position that body and Self are utterly distinct. Ayurveda adds the dimension of medical therapeutics within a holistic context of embodied and spiritual life. In Tantra, body can be understood as a vehicle to enlightenment, and as enlightenable itself. Tantra adds to an evolving model of religious therapeutics the dimension of aesthetics, incorporating sacred and healing music, dance, and art. Unlike classical Yoga, Tantra esteems nature, human physicality, the feminine, and relationality. Classical Yoga, Tantra, and Ayurveda are featured here in part because their somatic orientations make their therapeutic dimensions more palpable. These three traditions are in many ways iconoclastic within the larger context of Hindu views of the body, and therefore they are especially interesting for extending our insight into body and religiousness. Finally, Ayurveda, Tantra, and other world traditions expand the model of religious therapeutics with the notion of community: relationality and communication in the domains of nature, culture, and the sacred.

Chapter 1 "Body and Philosophies of Healing," examines AngloEuropean and Indian assumptions, setting the stage for analysis of the meaning of health, and supporting the claim that `health' is properly predicated of the person, not the body or body/mind only. Chapter z, "Meanings of Health in Ayurveda," presents determinants of health derived from the text Caraka‑samhita, and its commentary Ayurveda dipika. Ayurveda has a comprehensive view of health as a positive state. It is concerned with physical more than spiritual well-being, yet it is grounded in Hindu religio-philosophical principles, and expands the model of religious therapeutics by providing a system of healthmaintenance and medicine within a religious context. Fifteen determinants of health are discussed under four headings: (1) biological and ecological, (2) medical and psychological, (3) sociocultural and aesthetic, and (4) metaphysical and religious. Criticism may be lodged against the Indian emphasis on spirituality to the extent that mundane well‑being is neglected, but Ayurveda is an antidote to such a criticism, with its focus on healthful life as holy life.

Chapter 3, "Classical Yoga as a Religious Therapeutic," analyzes Patanjali's Yoga‑sutras and its commentaries Yoga6hasya and TattvavisUradi to present a matrix of classical Yoga as a system of religious therapeutics. This analysis shows Yoga's stance on meanings of health in the psychophysical and the spiritual dimensions of human life, and explores connections between Yoga's therapeutic and soteriological elements. Determinants of health excavated from Ayurveda illuminate the ultimate soteriological healing that Yoga offers: the concepts of wholeness, identity, and freedom integral to psychophysical health are operative in metaphysical and soteriological domains as well. Classical Yoga's most significant feature as a religious therapeutic is that liberation is healing: the curing of limitations and suffering in an ultimate sense.

Chapter 4, "Tantra and Aesthetic Therapeutics," draws on the tradition of Tantra, particularly the texts Mahanirvdna Tantra and Satcakra-nirupana to add aesthetics as a dimension of religious therapeutics. As an example of comparative inquiry into religious therapeutics, I discuss sacred music as a religious therapeutic in several Asian and Native American traditions. In the conclusion, "Community: Relationality in Religious Therapeutics," the model of religious therapeutics is supplemented with the dimension of community, incorporating ecological, social, and religious relationality and communication.

Inquiry into religious therapeutics can address particular traditions, or be done comparatively. One line of inquiry is investigation of particular themes such as sacred music, or meditation practices, or ways of praying for healing. Another approach is examination of entire traditions or sects, in order to excavate their therapeutic concerns and contributions. Inquiry into medicine and religion in world traditions benefits from collaborative effort. Here I offer initial steps toward identifying relations among body, health, and religiousness, finding the Indian tradition fertile ground for accomplishing the main purpose of this study: establishing foundations of an interpretive model of religious therapeutics.

The True Path: Western Science and the Quest for Yoga by Roy J. Mathew (Perseus Books) How the latest brain research supports the possibility of pure consciousness and explains our most profound spiritual experiences is partly what Mathew manages in this accessible blend of ancient yoga philosophy with the latest insight from neurobiology and brain science. In many ways this book is a sort of Roots for Mathews as he rediscovers the Indian heritage of his homeland. It is a fun tour of the best of Indian philosophical considerations, especially following closely the vivid Radhakrishnan accounts of Sankaras Vedanta and tying it into his own facile understanding of current neuroscience. The result is hardly hard science but it does provide further inclination toward a reconsideration of the possibility that what we call consciousness, though species specific as a biological and cultural artifact is at is root reflective of the innate intentionality, or intelligence or design of the universe or spacetime or matter itself in some way. This is the tendency of many books on science and religion and consciousness.

The transformative power of spiritual experiences is well known-drug addicts have recovered after them, and hardened criminals have reformed. But is there a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, which Indians call "yoga"? Although Eastern traditions have long pondered this mystery, Western science has tended to dismiss spiritual experiences as whimsy on the part of believers.

In The True Path, Mathew draws on his own extensive knowledge of neuroscience to prove the age-old Indian idea that spirituality is a state of mind, a higher form of consciousness. He shows how the latest brain research supports the idea that quieting the neurons that control everyday activities allows for a more spiritual contemplation of life. As this part of the brain slows down, other parts become more freely expressed, promoting relaxation and pleasure in one's surroundings. With scientific evidence that this "pure consciousness" truly exists, Mathew shows readers how to use meditation, yoga, and other traditional Indian methods of contemplation to achieve this spiritual state of mind.

Roy J. Mathew, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Radiology at Duke University, was born in southern India in a Syrian Christian family. He is an internationally recognized researcher in neuroscience and Clinical Director of the Duke Addictions Program and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center in Butner, North Carolina. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI by Paramahansa Yogananda, ($12.50, paperback, Self Realization Fellowship, ISBN: 0876120834) HARDCOVER, AUDIOCASSETTE This classic biography has inspired three generations of Americans since it was first published in 1946. The regular page-turned should still attract countless readers seeking authoritative insight into metaphysical truths. In many ways a spiritual adventure story full of marvelous encounters with extraordinary men and women. It provides an insider’s guide to the mystic East. Paramahansa Yogananda’s fresh metaphysical and spiritual concepts are seamlessly integrated into this rich narrative. Scholars of Hinduism have agreed that this volume offers an authentic voice into the self-construction of a yogi, that has not been watered done or make phantasmal for the American audience. The book has the ability to inspire and develop an intuitive grasp of the yogi’s quest.

British actor Ben Kingsley’s voice embellishes the audio edition, which provides the complete text of the Yogi’s life story, however without the footnotes (available in an accompanying booklet to the audio package). Prepare for 18 hours of listening on 12 audio cassettes - but Kingsley’s voice is excellent in enlivening the Yogi’s thrilling story. This edition is current out of print.

YOGA:Discipline of Freedom, The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali, translated from the Sanskrit, with Commentary, Introduction, and Glossary of Keywords by Barbara Stoler Miller ($17.95, hardcover, 114 pages, notes,University of California Press, 0-520-20190-6)


Barbara Stoler Miller’s translations are consummate examples of the translator’s art. Her renditions of the Bhataka poets brought their deep devotion and ardor within the read of readers of English. It is a shame that one of her best translations happens to be her last before her untimely death. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra has often been rendered into English but Miller’s offers a literary and philosophical penetration into the economy of language offers a provocative insight into the genius of the original sutras, often obscured by commentaries, traditional and modern. This text that is really essential to anyone’s understanding of Indian philosophy or the practice of yoga. Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation is her masterpiece.

Yoga is at the heart of all meditative practice as developed in Asian religions, yet until now there been no first-rate English version of this primary classic text. Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation admirably fills that gap-her clear, strong style and sensitive phrasing convey every nuance of Patanjali’s terse Sanskrit words, and her economical commentary offers invaluable guidance to anyone seeking to grasp the gist of yoga.

The Yoga Sutra, dating from about the third century C.E., distills the essentials of a complex system of physical and spiritual experience and discipline into 195 brief aphorisms. As a method of achieving insight, the discipline of yoga is far from mystical ecstasy or ritual trance. Its goal is a contemplative intensity that can unbind the constraints of everyday, sense-bound, experience, and that goal helps explain Americans’ growing interest in yoga in recent years.

Barbara Stoler Miller, until her death in 1993, was Samuel R. Milbank Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College. Among her many publications is her much-praised translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

Pt. 1. Cessation of Thought and Contemplative Calm
Pt. 2. The Practice of Yoga
Pt. 3. Perfect Discipline and Extraordinary Powers
Pt. 4. Absolute Freedom
A Note on Transliteration
Keywords in the Yoga Sutra
Sanskrit Keywords

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