Yoga crow pose

In this book we have encountered how this ecumenical outlook was central to the politics of Hinduisation and the strategy of inclusiveness. The victorious king did not deny the existence of gods belonging to tribes who were being subjugated. These gods were instead given a place ranking below the expanding king’s god or told to be an aspect’ of this superior god. We saw also how different theologians accordingly created complex hierarchies to establish how Brahman, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, purusha, prana, female deities were related and ranked. Even the heretic Buddha was incorporated as an incarnation of Vishnu. The claims of shared essence in other words are shallow and often camouflage real differences or even conceal religious hegemony. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s notion of repressive tolerance’ seems applicable here.

Philosophia Perennis is often closely linked to mysticism. Mystics throughout history typically claim that what unites all religions cannot be expressed in words. It is ineffable. They claim that various religions try in their own limited way to express what cannot be said. We saw for instance how some Brahmin clans in the Upanishads claimed that yoga was one path among others realising this mystical essence, which was not this, not that’. Throughout history it was not critical for Brahmin mystics if an adept followed this or that path – be it called yoga, Saivism, Tantra, Bhakti – to realise this essence (of course each of them would have their own preferred – and hence superior – way).

However, the notion of a shared essence of all mystical experiences has been criticised since the 1970s by what I will call constructionists (they sometimes refer to themselves as non-reductionists’ to signal their anti-essentialist stance). As many yoga popularisers have committed their lives to pursue this ineffable mystical experience, I thought they should be made aware of this constructionist critique. My personal experience – and reading the theoretical literature – is however that the discussion between essentialist mystics and constructionists tend to end in stalemate. My discussion will follow many of the arguments of the philosopher Katz (1978).

Bend forward from your hips. Place your hands on the Yoga crow pose table-top, shoulder-width apart. On your next exhalation, slide your hands Yoga crow pose forward enough so that your back comes down parallel with the tabletop. Bend your knees to help your pelvis to tilt, with the sitting bones pointing back and up, and the top of the sacrum down. Lift your arms and armpits up away toward the ceiling as much as possible while your hands are still on the table. Stretch your sitting bones back and apart. Straighten your knees as much as possible. Firm your abdomen and let the middle of your back respond to the pull of gravity, softening down, but without strain.

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