Situating Sufism and Yoga

Muslim and Hindu sages meeting in Bengal
Muslim and Hindu sages meeting in Bengal

Situating  Sufism and Yoga

This is the practice of the Jogis; this is not an activity of the community of Muhammad. Nevertheless, it is correct.
– Muhammad Muhyi al-Din, ca. 1748 (p. 7)

What, then, is the data regarding the relationship between Sufism and yoga, apart from a priori assumptions about Oriental mysticism? In a recent study, I have traced the history of the single text, The Pool of Nectar, which, in multiple versions and translations, made available to Muslim readers certain practices associated with the Nath jogis and the teachings known as hatha yoga (in standard North Indian pronunciation, yogis are called jogis). These practices include divination by control of breath through the left and right nostrils, summoning female spirits that can be identified as yoginis, and performing meditations on the cakra centers accompanied by recitation of Sanskrit mantras. All this material was increasingly Islamized over time, in a series of translations into Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Urdu. This remarkable text, and a number of other examples that I will mention, make it abundantly clear that in certain Sufi circles there was an awareness and use of particular practices that can be considered yogic (although the question of defining yoga, and the perspective from which it may be identified, still needs to be clarified). Contrary to Orientalist expectations, however, Sufi engagement with yoga was not to be found at the historical beginnings of the Sufi tradition, and it was most highly developed, unsurprisingly, in India.24 Moreover, the knowledge of yoga among Indian Sufis gradually became more detailed over time. The most exact accounts of hatha yoga in Sufi texts, using technical terms in Hindi, occurred in writings as late as the nineteenth century, although these texts typically juxtapose yoga materials alongside Sufi practices without any real attempt at integration or synthesis. The Sufi interest in hatha yoga was very practical, and did not (with certain notable exceptions) engage with philosophical texts of Vedanta or other Sanskritic schools of thought. ( p. 8 )

Read the complete article by Carl Ernst here

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