Reclining Hero Yoga Pose

Semiotic code and cultural sociological habitus

The task is now to capture the genealogy (Wikipedia link) of the three principles of asceticism, meditation and liberation. In this and the following chapter we need to identify how they were woven into socio-cultural institutions and cultural fields like shamanism, tapas, fire rituals, young warriors’ rites of passage, suicide rituals and how these were then woven into social conflicts. During this investigation, I will establish that there was a power discourse of semi-divinity preceding proto-yoga and early-yoga – which we could call a code ‘ (using semiotics) or a habitus ‘ (using cultural sociology). Habitus’ is our cultural and social socialisation revealed through our attitudes, practices and dispositions. It is cultural history that guides our actions and interpretations in the present. This code or habitus (we could also call it mental habit ‘ or cultural grammar ‘) made it possible for yoga discourses to evolve and become power discourses in their own right. This is a critical point in my argument. Without an ancient code or habitus of semi-divinity many of the Sramana groups would not have been possible. Neither would the yoga discourse.

To illustrate the power of the words code and habitus, let me propose a thought experiment. Imagine someone today walked into your neighbourhood or office half naked and claimed that he was able to communicate on equal terms with gods and spirits. More than that, he claims, he is able to fly through space and time and he can, if he so wishes, take over your body. He claims that he is immortal and can see into the past and the future. Hence he now wants to be in charge. How would we react to such a person? Worship him, make him the CEO or call a psychiatrist or an ambulance? Would we perceive him as a rather disturbed person’ or as a magnificent super-natural being’ like ancient India did? Would we ascribe to him high or low status? Most contemporary people would probably call the asylum or hospital because our code and habitus identifies and classifies such a person as mad’. So habitus and especially codes can here be explained as unconscious, taken-for given dispositions and assumptions guiding our behaviour. They are woven into what we perceive as meaning, authority and value: in this case they guide us moderns to categorise this is madness’. But in Northern India, around the time of Buddha, such an extraordinary person was treated with awe and fear. Hence we need to identify the genealogy of the code and habitus that makes such a construction and imagination possible. We need to investigate the culture of the Shaman which is found among many hunter-gatherer communities and semi-nomadic pastoralists.

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