person who is covertly using 'twilight' language and thought while talking with persons sincerely in 'daylight thought' is orchestrating a situation that is already based on with holding and deceit.
This alone can set up a subtle and powerful tension.
The person or persons sincerely operating in 'daylight' language and thought may sense
a vibe or ripple from the person who is covertly utlizing 'twilight' language and twilight attitudes.
Do those tantric rituals mixing sexual fluids, etc. still take place? Sources in the rare books that discuss this are historical, I haven't been able to find any contemporary sources. (I'm referring to Tibetan Buddhism, not Hinduism.)Quote
Re Twilight Language
when underneath they have an inner program of introducing their (often nubile and well to do) students to the advanced initiations that might shock them (if they understood it as menstrual blood). In darshan practices and dharma talks that take place in the evening after long hours of meditating or work and in such settings as high mountain camps with thin air such double messages can be injected into the thinking of the undefended student.
Samuel relates the difference between Tibet and other Buddhist societies to the weakness of the State in Tibet: it never succeeded in controlling
Buddhist monasteries and their lamas, or making the religious system completely `clerical'.
Tibetologists -- such as Tucci, Stein, Snellgrove and Richardson --
wrote general books on Tibetan society which remain useful
introductions, although today their content and analysis appear
Since these pioneers, most Tibetologists have contributed
more academically rigorous specialized studies. Because of the
Chinese occupation of Tibet, anthropologists have usually worked
with Tibetan refugees -- some producing reconstructions of
communities within Tibet -- or in areas outside the modern
boundaries of the People's Republic of China, such as Nepal, Bhutan
and Ladakh. The problem of assessing their work on relatively
marginal communities and understanding the general features of
pre-modern Tibet remains.
In this encyclopaedic book, Samuel draws
together the work of Tibetologists of different disciplines, to
analyse the patterns structuring the great variety of specific
social, political and religious forms throughout the
Tibetan-speaking region. He argues that concentration on the formal
features of the political hierarchy of Central Tibet prior to 1959
has distorted our understanding of Tibetan society, when even
Central Tibet was in practice fairly decentralized, especially
before this century.
Much of the first part of the book is made up of extremely useful
succinct ethnographics of different Tibetan areas, drawing on the
works of numerous anthropologists and other scholars who have
written in European languages.
He outlines the kinds of political
organization associated with the various regions at different times,
and relates them to his fourfold classification of Tibetan social
structures: centralized and remote agricultural communities,
pastoral and urban communities. He points out that the diversity of
social systems over time and place can be seen in terms of
variations on common themes, such as the institution of estates
(gzhung), which were flexible enough to adapt to changing political
In the second part of the book, Samuel explores the nature of
Tibetan religion, discussing three approaches which may be said to
characterize Buddhist societies: the `pragmatic',
He argues that the `karma orientation', which
puts emphasis on a well disciplined monastic sangha, ethical conduct
and gradual training, has tended to be dominant in Theravada
Buddhist countries, with the `pragmatic orientation' relegated to
the sphere of non-Buddhist practice, performed by low-status
religious specialists, and the `bodhi orientation', which is
concerned with the realization of Enlightenment, relatively
marginalized, confined to groups of forest ascetics.
however, all three orientations are integrated in Buddhist practice
and in the same religious specialists, and the karma orientation' is
Samuel stresses the variety and fluidity of
religious roles, practices and institutions. He relates the
difference between Tibet and other Buddhist societies to the
weakness of the State in Tibet: it never succeeded in controlling
Buddhist monasteries and their lamas, or making the religious system
Part 3 is an account of historical developments in the religious
ideas and practices in the Tibetan cultural world. Samuel links the
complex combinations of religious trends in India prior to the
importation of Buddhism to Tibet, and throughout Tibetan history, to
social and political changes.
The final chapters examine the two
major cultural streams of the later period: the dGe-lugs-pa order
and the Ris-med movement. The dGe-lugs-pa(Gelukpas--the Dalai Lamas lineage) became politically
dominant and especially from the late nineteenth century, moved
towards a more centralized state structure in the political sphere,
a more hierarchical monastic order and a relatively dogmatic and
graduated religious path.
The Ris-med -- non-sectarian -- movement
emerged in Eastern Tibet in areas under threat from the expansion of
the Central Tibetan State, and remains a major influence on
contemporary Tibetan Buddhism. It emphasized the primacy of tantric
meditative insights and the numerous routes to Enlightenment. While
the dGe-lugs-pa graded and excluded teachings,
together and transmitted teachings of all the lineages, including
those of the non-buddhist Bon-pos and minor Buddhist lineages which
may otherwise have been lost. The contrast is one of emphasis: the
dGe-lugs-pa were never entirely rationalized', while the
non-dGe-luge-pa orders maintained monastic colleges and scholastic
The book uses the theoretical perspective Samuel outlined in Mind,
body and culture: anthropology and the biological interface
(Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990). The concluding chapter summarizes
this approach, which essentially assumes that political, economic,
social, religious and cultural developments are inseparable
processes. He acknowledges a debt to Weberian sociology, while
arguing that primacy should not he given to the political and
Civilized shamans is a clear, readable account integrating research
on Tibet in terms of Samuel's theme of the synthesis of `clerical'
and `shamanic' cultural patterns, in this unusual society in which a
complex literate culture maintained `shamanic' insights and
procedures as its highest achievement.
There are some problems with the system used for transcribing
Tibetan: the elimination of hyphens or spaces means that words such
as roue snyom become `ronyom' rather than `roue-nyom' and the
appropriate pronunciation might be less clear to a non-tibetanist
than the use of correct spelling, which would have been preferable
for the specialist.
CopyrighT by Royal Anthropological Institute
Samuel, Geoffrey. x, 725 pp., bibliogr. Washington, London:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. 51.50[pounds]
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An encyclopedic review of Tibetan religious life, September 28, 2000
By Martin Mills, anthropologist (UK) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: CIVILIZED SHAMANS: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry) (Paperback)
Samuel's erudite and comprehensive review is fast becoming an indispenable tool to any serious student of Tibetan religious life (of whatever hue). Encompassing a breathtaking range of literature and information, the author's forte lies in his ability to convey the sheer vastness of extant scholarly material on Tibet, without at the same time getting bogged down in an excessively scholastic vocabulary and style. Readers should take note that this is certainly NOT a book for uncommitted beginners, or for those that want a feel-good dip into Buddhism (although the determined reader could reasonably treat it as introductory), but rather represents a comprehensive and in-depth guide for those who seek to become truly well-informed about one of the world's deepest and most facinating religious civilizations. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Formidable and provocative, September 1, 2006
By calmly - See all my reviewsThis review is from: CIVILIZED SHAMANS: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry) (Paperback)
Samuel may have set a standard with this book for Buddhist studies. It is not an easy book, for example because of its thoroughness and the difficult issues it tackles, but it is well-presented and seems convincing. I, at any rate, would not want to debate Samuel on its positions.
When looking at Buddhist books, it seems many provide only a superficial context for the deep concepts they present. Introductory works on Buddhism or teachings by a modern teacher may assume or disregard your knowledge of key cultures and a vast history of development. It may be that the writer or teacher is him/herself unaware of that background. Of course, that "background" may be so big as to make it impossible to focus on any present teaching.
What is key to Samuel's study is his correction to the mistaken assumption that Tibetan religion consists almost entirely of the Dalai Lama and the clerical orders. That's not to deny their importance but Samuels puts them into perspective. That Tibetan religion can be as complex as it is is staggering: one wonders how any Tibetan can make use of it. Perhaps having grown up in that culture, it seems natural. Samuels, at any rate, for the non-Tibetan reader, shows how far Buddhism in Tibet has moved from Theravada Buddhism and clerical Tibetan Buddhism into shamanism, Tantra, Bon and Dzogchen ...
After reading this study, I'd expect any individual seeking to practice Buddhist will still be left wondering how to make use of such a rich spiritual tradition (or whether that richness hadn't become excessive). But "Civilized Shamans" suggests a great deal of creative religious activity, at least some of which may fascinate you. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on Tibetan Buddhism, July 10, 2010
By Kieran Fox (Alam al-Mithal) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME) This review is from: CIVILIZED SHAMANS: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry) (Paperback)
This is a fantastic and monumental book. Too bad it seems to be out of print or otherwise unavailable for some reason. I supposed the academic tone and 700+ pages results in few readers. If you are seriously interested in Tibetan Buddhism, however, and not just in accumulating as many blessings as possible but in really understanding where it came from and how it developed, this is an excellent book. After reading something this huge and detailed, you might think you'd then have a fair grasp of what's going on, but the effect is exactly the opposite: you realize just how ignorant you are of the vast panoply of practices, roles, techniques, and so forth Tibetan Buddhism offers, or has offered, over the last 1500 or so years.
The first part is 'anthropological' and kind of drags, unless you're really into who ruled who and who had more yak-power in various areas of Tibet pre-Buddhism. It picks up in the middle portion, where Samuel gives a massive overview of the many 'roles' (monk, yogin, lama, etc.) one might play in Tibetan Buddhism and traces his major clerical (monastic) vs. shamanic (yogic) thesis re. Tibetan Buddhism.
The last part is I think the best, tracing the history of Tantra from India into Tibet, and here insight follows insight on almost every page. There may be other books which trace the co-mingling of tantra, shamanism, Tibet and India, but I don't know of them; in either case, this is the most insightful book about tantra and its connections with shamanism that I have yet read.
One other thing is that Samuel considers several times the origins of the tantras themselves. Tibetans of course insist these were the true words of the Buddha, held 'Elsewhere' until humans were prepared for them, and then transmitted via various deities and/or ecstatic visions to adepts and written down for our benefit. Most scholars wave their hands and say, clearly these are later works, there is no possible way they really have any connection to the historical Buddha. Samuel's take on the whole thing - basically, that tantric visions are a variation on the tried and true practice of shamanic revelation - provides the only plausible, not to mention interesting, resolution of I have ever come across to this debate. He also points out how the Buddha's own revelations are highly shamanic in nature, which I found interesting.
In short, this enormous and scholarly book (the bibliography alone is a very interesting 60+ pages) has much to offer in terms of just pure information and insightful commentary, at least in the final two-thirds. Very highly recommended to anyone with a serious interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
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Civilized Shamans examines the nature and evolution of religion in Tibetan societies from the ninth century up to the Chinese occupation in 1950. Geoffrey Samuel argues that religion in these societies developed as a dynamic amalgam of strands of Indian Buddhism and the indigenous spirit-cults of Tibet.
"Samuel stresses the diversity of Tibetan societies, demonstrating that central Tibet, the Dalai Lama's government at Lhasa, and the great monastic institutions around Lhasa formed only a part of the context within which Tibetan Buddhism matured.
(Corboy note: In the Tibetan Diaspora, one gets the impression that the Dalai Lama's power might have increased, along with that of monks and high lamas, as their teachings and books were portable, giving emigres a focus. Shamans whose rituals are tied to specific places, have more fragile traditions that could easily be disrupted by flight. So though Professor Samuel didnt say this, I, Corboy dare to suggest that perhaps the diaspora may have increased the power of the Geluks and other high lamas still more, giving them a pathos and moral advantage as oppressed exiles, that they never could have claimed living their powerful lives in the large monasteries and palaces in Lhasa and central Tibet..ha!)
"Employing anthropological research, historical inquiry, rich interview material, and a deep understanding of religious texts, the author explores the relationship between Tibet's social and political institutions and the emergence of new modes of consciousness that characterize Tibetan Buddhist spirituality.
Samuel identifies the two main orientations of this religion as clerical (primarily monastic) and shamanic (associated with Tantric yoga).
The specific form that Buddhism has taken in Tibet is rooted in the pursuit of enlightenment by a minority of the people - lamas, monks, and yogins - and the desire for shamanic services (in quest of health, long life, and prosperity) by the majority.
Shamanic traditions of achieving altered states of consciousness have been incorporated into Tantric Buddhism, which aims to communicate with Tantric deities through yoga.
The author contends that this incorporation forms the basis for much of the Tibetan lamas' role in their society and that their subtle scholarship reflects the many ways in which they have reconciled the shamanic and clerical orientations. This book, the first full account of Tibetan Buddhism in two decades, ranges as no other study has over several disciplines and languages, incorporating historical and anthropological discussion. Viewing Tibetan Buddhism as one of the great spiritual and psychological achievements of humanity, Samuel analyzes a complex society th
In Tibet, clerical, state-sponsored Buddhism has coexisted with, and in many ways been subordinate to, shamanic practices such as spirit mediumship, contact with local deities, possession and soul-flight, observes anthropologist Samuel ( Mind, Body and Culture ). ``Lamas in Tibet function as shamans,'' and are believed to communicate with spirits from alternative levels of reality.
This dense but rewarding study of Tibetan religion from the seventh century to the Chinese invasion of 1950 replaces the conventional picture of a centralized, theocratic state with a view of Tibet as a patchwork of ethnic groups and farming, pastoral and urban communities.
Tibetan folk religion uses shamanic techniques in an effort to bring about long life and health and to achieve a desirable incarnation in one's next life. Samuel, who combines his own fieldwork with extensive scholarship, suggestively portrays Tibetan Buddhism as a synthesis continually evolving in response to changing societal forms. (May)
Everything about this book on the political and religious history of Tibet is big.
A 150-page discussion on the socio-economic developments in Tibet serves as an introduction; the major discussion on Buddhism in Tibet is told chronologically in microscopic detail and is heavily footnoted.
Yet there is nothing particularly controversial here; this is not a groundbreaker with new theories or discoveries. Its merit lies in its comprehensiveness. Although it never successfully makes the transition from a purely academic treatise to a book for the inquisitive public, the work is still a solid reference for the scholar of world religions who is in need of a one-volume work on Tibetan Buddhism.
Recommended only for academic libraries.-- Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
Publication date: 1/1/1993
Edition number: 1
Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 9.01 (h) x 1.53 (d)
Table of Contents
1 Introduction: Shamanic and Clerical Buddhism 3
2 Tibetan and Theravadin Societies: A Comparison 24
3 Tibetan Societies: Introduction and Central Tibet 39
4 Tibetan Societies: K'am (Eastern Tibet) 64
5 Tibetan Societies: Amdo (Northeastern Tibet) 87
6 Tibetan Societies: Southern and Western Tibet 99
7 Tibetan Communities 115
8 Some Conclusions 139
9 The Ritual Cosmos and Its Inhabitants 157
10 The Folk Religion and the Pragmatic Orientation 176
11 The Karma Orientation, Rebirth, and Tibetan Values 199
12 Tantra and the Bodhi Orientation 223
13 The Lama and the Tantric Deities 244
14 Tantra and the Pragmatic Orientation 258
15 Lamas, Monks and Yogins 270
16 Folk Shamans, Terton, and Crazy Siddhas 290
17 Tibetan Religious Communities (Gompa) 309
18 Some Recent Lamas 336
19 From Structure to Process 359
20 India: Buddhist Beginnings 367
21 India: Mahayana Schools 388
22 India: Tantra and the Buddhist Siddhas 406
23 Tibet to A.D. 841 436
24 Tibet: The Local Hegemonic Period 457
25 Tibet: Mongol Overlordship 481
26 Tibet: Gelugpa Synthesis and Shamanic Reaction 499
27 Tibet: Gelugpa Power and the Rimed Synthesis 525
28 Conclusion 553
Epilogue: The Tibetans and Tibetan Religion Today 574
Appendix 1. The Monastic Population of Tibet 578
Guide to Tibetan Spelling 617
Publication Date: June 9, 2008 | ISBN-10: 0521695341 | ISBN-13: 978-0521695343 | Edition: 1
Yoga, tantra and other forms of Asian meditation are practised in modernized forms throughout the world today, but most introductions to Hinduism or Buddhism tell only part of the story of how they developed. This book is an interpretation of the history of Indic religions up to around 1200 CE, with particular focus on the development of yogic and tantric traditions. It assesses how much we really know about this period, and asks what sense we can make of the evolution of yogic and tantric practices, which were to become such central and important features of the Indic religious scene. Its originality lies in seeking to understand these traditions in terms of the total social and religious context of South Asian society during this period, including the religious practices of the general population with their close engagement with family, gender, economic life and other pragmatic concerns.
Yoga, tantra and other forms of Asian meditation are practised in modernized forms throughout the world today, but most introductions to Hinduism or Buddhism tell only part of the story of how they developed.
This book is an interpretation of the history of Indic religions up to around 1200 CE, with particular focus on the development of yogic and tantric traditions. It assesses how much we really know about this period, and asks what sense we can make of the evolution of yogic and tantric practices, which were to become such central and important features of the Indic religious scene.
Its originality lies in seeking to understand these traditions in terms of the total social and religious context of South Asian society during this period, including the religious practices of the general population with their close engagement with family, gender, economic life and other pragmatic concerns.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant reading of the origins of Tantra... March 13, 2010
By Paul Squassoni
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
Geoffrey Samuel's scholarly, reflective, ambitious work does an extraordinary job of relating tantric traditions to the flow of Indic history. The emphasis in some Tantric traditions on auspicious magic, deities and ritual makes much more sense when considered as a complement to the otherworldly concerns of the Vedic Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions.
Samuel writes very well, and is very much the modern scholar: comfortable with ambiguity and conjecture, and comfortable with limits to knowledge and evidence. His approach is very pragmatic; he follows the stream of developments rather than trying to create a structure the evidence cannot support. He states clearly that his conjectures about Tantric origins are not to be confused with the full flowering of Tantric traditions over the course of centuries, nor is it to be confused with the actual Tantric experience.
For anyone who has wondered how a stunningly transcendent insight such as Tantra can be associated with so much shamanic and philosophical cultural baggage, this is the book to read!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful, Informed, Brilliant March 21, 2011
This book is without a doubt one of the top resource books on the history of these two phenomena and the historical context concerned. Geoffrey Samuel synthesizes from a VAST array of sources to provide a good history of these two traditions as well as the broader historical context.
It must be said that this book is a scholarly account, drawing from scholarly sources. That might draw the ire of modern day Hindus who prefer to see their religious traditions as unchanging, eternal, supernaturally revealed doctrines exempt from historical analysis.
If you are looking for a more revisionist work on "Hinduism", you would be better off going with Swami Bhaskarananda or David Frawley. Or you could go to India itself.
While I was there I learned many dubious "facts" treated as axiomatic Truth, such as the "fact" that the ancient Hindus had rocket ships and nuclear weapons, all languages evolved from Sanskrit and thus all languages and cultures came from India, etc etc etc.
However, if you are looking for an intelligent, informed review of Indic religions based on actual evidence, this is your book. from the "beginning" to the end of the "Medieval era", this book is a must. After having read it entirely once and specific sections multiple times, I use it as a sourcebook for further readings. While the previous cautions to Hindus might imply this book solely concerns the various and inter-related traditions comprising "Hinduism", it is also a great resource for Buddhist and Jain histories as well.
This book starts off with a discussion of the usual assumed starting point of "Indian Religions", the Indus valley civilization. Samuel takes a very careful, fair approach to the scholarship on the subject, and is very circumspect about how much we can actually learn about them, and how much of what we assume we "know" is actually us retrojecting later traditions into the past. This kind of careful evaluation of our own assumptions as Religious Studies scholars and human beings is critical of any piece of great scholarship, and Samuel doesn't disappoint.
Following that, Samuel gives an overview of Vedic-Brahmanism, early Buddhism and Jainism, Yoga, early "Hinduism", and Tantra with the same cautious, circumspect approach throughout.
Not only Samuel provide the usual consensus opinions, but also gives some very intriguing alternative scholarship at hand in a very balanced way.
These sorts of things just add to the book's immense value as a resource and starting off point for a vast array of subjects. He also always qualifies his statements with "this is what I believe based on this evidence", etc etc.
While Samuel does explicitly state that the phenomenon of "neo-Tantra" falls somewhat outside the scope of his book and only gives a cursory overview in the last chapter, he doesn't outright dismiss the subject like so many scholars do these days.
I cannot say that I agree with all of Samuel's assertions in this book, but that doesn't detract from its value. Scholarship is a field of argument and dissension, and Samuel has provided a very important resource for students, fellow scholars, and the informed lay-person. A small thing in the book that I enjoy is his inclusion of footnotes as opposed to endnotes; that's a small detail that made looking up references (of which there are many) that much easier and more enjoyable.
I cannot recommend this book enough! Buy it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Interesting book but not popular reading May 12, 2011
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this book, I found the writing engaging, and appreciate the author's attention to detail. Unfortunately, the answer to many of my questions about the history of yoga turns out to be "no one knows." Still, I really appreciate the author's honesty in saying that instead of just leaving it out or spinning some story.
Caveat, this is a pretty dense text, not necessarily popular reading. Good intro to what early Aryan/vedic societies believed. Not 100% clear what "tantra" means - although that was also part of the point of the work - that the term "tantra" is not clearly defined. Here is means primarily "transgressive" attitudes, although I did not completely understand all of what goes in to it - the using of different symbols and gods to represent a central god. Maybe on the second reading I will understand more.
I really appreciate the author's humility in front of the difficulties of understanding how people thousands of years ago thought, as well in personal terms as a researcher.
Example: On the content of the sramana teachings (p. 133):
"In comparison with other scholarly works - at least he goes on to describe it, rather than forcing you to look for some other book!Quote
I have no real confidence of coming up with anything more secure or final than my predecessors, many of them scholars with competences far greater than mine in relation to the textual material. Nor does what follows have any real claim to originality. Something, however, does need to be said at this point in the book."
from The Magazine of Yoga
Posted on 31. Jan, 2011
Book Review The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century by Geoffrey Samuel
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
The standard story of the development of Indic religions was developed in the mid to late nineteenth century, in a collaboration between Western scholars on the one side, and Hindu and Buddhist scholars and intellectuals on the other.
This story was essentially that of the development of a number of separate religions, principally Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, with Hinduism being seen as the earliest and Buddhism and Jainism as reactions against it.
Buddhist and Jain histories, after the initial break with Hinduism, were presented as largely separate stories.
Yet, as has been repeatedly pointed out by numerous scholars, most parts of this story are problematic, and the story as a whole is largely untenable.
The Origins of Yoga and Tantra is the sort of book that causes me to neglect the rest of my work. It’s cogent, mild-humored, exhaustively researched and minutely detailed on a subject – yoga and Tantra – that requires a disciplined, critical eye.
All I wanted for days was an extra hour, a series of cups of tea and a sharp pencil for notes in the margins.
Geoffey Samuel, Professorial Fellow at the School of Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff University, and the author of the encyclopedic Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies is all that and a bag of joss sticks (agarbatti): coolly skeptical without being in the least disdainful, thoroughly articulate in the material, and a temperate advocate for recogntion of the human nature of human culture.
A religious tradition is not just a body of texts.
It is, above all, something that lives and is maintained through the lives of human beings… and has to make sense in terms of their lives and their understandings of their situation.
Caste, geography and iconography
The Origins of Yoga and Tantra is divided into two sections, the first on Meditation and Yoga, the second on Tantra. Samuel unfolds the development of these practices through illuminations of caste, geography, solar and lunar dynasties, and an iconography of female fertility, using these to bound a study of
the group of traditions of mental and physical cultivation that developed into what we now know as ‘yoga’, ‘Tantra’, and ‘meditation’.
The indigenous terms vary, and do not correspond neatly to modern Western uses of these terms, but practices involving mental and physical cultivation, mostly directed towards the achievement of some kind of liberating insight are found in all the major religions originating in the Indian sub-continent.
A thick chapter on the rise of renunciate orders is followed by a comparative chapter on the “Brahmanical Alternative,” tracing the development of a parallel, yet different asceticism that ultimately gives way to the classical synthesis.
Certainty eclipsed by new discoveries
Before engaging the reader in the history of yoga and Tantra, Samuel describes the state of South Asian studies in a remarkable prefatory essay, Stories and Sources that I recommend very highly on its own for anyone who wants to understand the current yoga brouhaha.
A striking feature of the last few decades of Indological research has been not only the growth of new knowledge, but also the gradual realisation that much of what scholars thought that they already knew was far less secure than had been assumed.
This is hardly a surprise, given the scanty evidence on which our chronological understandings were initially constructed, but certainly for someone approaching the field from the outside it is striking how unsure we are about the dating of many crucial events, people or texts.
An introduction gives a chronology of previously assured dating of key texts, then arrays the evidence which has recently eroded any serious acceptance of these time frames.
Additionally, questions of who (one person? a few? many?) wrote down previously oral transmissions, over what time frame (a few years or a few hundred years?) are compounded by the loss of necessary cultural context: for whom and for what purpose were the written versions intended?
Writing does not stand on its own outside its specific historical moment: the intended audience determines the language used, its tone and presentation; but the meaning and intention of those words may suffer distortion or injustice when read out of context.
Imposing heroic “authenticity”
Samuel lays bare the deep rooted problem of re enculturation by examining the projections of the very concepts of religion imposed by the Protestant Christian faith of the early Indologists.
Any “attempt at the historical understanding of the development of a particular set of techniques and practices within the Indic religions,” Samuel contends, is problematized.
“The difficulty is that the early evidence is far from unambiguous, and that it is almost always interpreted by reading later religious forms into it.”
Many of the problems here derive from the tendency of past Western scholars, whether or not themselves Protestant Christians, to see religion in terms of Protestant Christianity, a religion that identified itself against its rival in terms of a return to the “authentic” texts of the Bible.
The Protestant polemic against Catholicism was largely carried out in terms of accusations of deviation from the “original” teachings of Jesus as seen in the New Testament. These deviations consisted in the growth of magical and superstitious practices, unnecessary theological complexities, and a subordination of religion to political and economic purposes.
Religions in this model were founded by an inspired teacher who created a body of texts that were then systematically misinterpreted and distorted through succeeding generations.
There was little point in studying what people actually did, since it was only valid if it reflected the texts.
Compromises inherent in the study of text
The Origins of Yoga and Tantra argues early Indologists supplied a framework of which they were largely unaware: they saw the cultural life of the people they studied in their own Christian terms, a framework, according to Samuel, that was subsequently appropriated and adapted to indigenous use.
The Protestant model formed a template that was repeatedly applied to Western scholars to Asian religious traditions. At the same time it provided a model in terms of which nineteenth and twentieth century Hindu and Buddhist reformers, from the Brahmo and Arya Samaj down to the Mahabodhi Society, attempted to reshape their own religious traditions.
The Buddha became a kind of Christ figure reacting against a legalistic and caste-bound Brahmanical priesthood, the Hindu equivalent of the Sadducees and Pharisees of the New Testament account.
This also had the advantage that the Asian Buddhism actually being practiced by most Asian Buddhists (including most Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia) could be dismissed as a superstitious and degenerate development of the real teachings of the Buddha.
This left a scholarly elite as the true interpreters of the teachings of the Buddha.
Samuel exercises a command of the territory, one with which scholars of a purely “orthogenic” approach centered on using texts to construct a story of continuity cannot hope to compete.
Where the fabric of suggestion and extensions of logic wear thin in the friction of contention, the multiple sources woven together in The Origins of Yoga and Tantra give a gratifying dimensional documentary to this history. Whole civilizations, teeming palaces and towns appear in the dust of trade and the details of maps and artifacts that lend life to every page, while steadily shifting confidence away from previous narratives of continuity.
Many aspects of culture … are not transmitted textually. Social and cultural anthropology in particular [provide] approaches that emphasized actual cultural and ritual practices and their variations and transformations rather than elite textual models.
In the Indian context, this meant that a large body of material was progressively revealed with often only a remote relationship to the Vedic texts.
It is clear that large parts of later Indic religions do not derive in any simple way from the Rgveda or other early Vedic texts.
All the while, as Samuel constructs an intelligent rationale for the value of cultural artifacts other than texts to secure the basis of our understanding, he shows the limits of the narrow point of view that is privileged by text, the prejudicial aspect of relying on text to represent the actual culture and practices of thousands of years of history.
It is that intellectual, emotional, social and political context which is the real object of study of scholars of Indian religion. Ultimately, it is people and their specific life-worlds that we are attempting to understand.
Research Group on the Body, Health and Religion
Religion in Tibetan societies, contemporary and historical
The historical development and contemporary practice of technologies of consciousness; understanding the relationship between consciousness, body and materiality, particularly in relation to healing, meditation and yoga
Tibetan, Indian and other Asian medical, health and yogic practices
Religion and modernity, including Buddhism in contemporary societies
Gender, sexuality and masculinity in Asian cultures
Shamanism and ‘nature religions’
Selected Publications2010. From Village Religion to Global Networks: Women, Religious Nationalism and Sustainability in South and Southeast Asia, edited by Santi Rozario and Geoffrey Samuel. Special Double Issue of Women’s Studies International Forum (vol.33, no.3)
2008. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York.
2005. Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass; London: Ashgate.
2002. The Daughters of Hariti: Childbirth and Female Healers in South and Southeast Asia. Edited by Santi Rozario and Geoffrey Samuel. London and New York: Routledge
2001 “Tibetan Medicine in Contemporary India: Theory and Practice.” In Linda H. Connor and Geoffrey Samuel (eds.), Healing Powers and Modernity: Traditional Medicine, Shamanism, and Science in Asian Societies, pp.247-268. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.
1993. Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. Paperback edition 1995. Also Asian edition, Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu, 1995.
Major Current and Recent Funded Research ProjectsLongevity Practices and Concepts in Tibet (AHRC, 2006-9)
Islam and Young Bangladeshis (ESRC, 2008-10, with Dr Santi Rozario)
Tradition and Modernity in a Bonpo Medical School and Hospital in Western Tibet (Leverhulme, 2008-11)
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