The social and cultural conditions of protoyoga Key Concepts Kshatriyas Ritual suicide Sramana groups Still-mind meditation Immovable Self Sramana as intellectuals Karma Samsara Path of mortification Metaphysics of release
Our investigations have revealed that before yoga was actually mentioned for the first time in the texts of the Brahmins, similar discourses and practices were developed and practised in other groups. I have chosen to call these initial discourses from which the yoga sign emerged proto-yoga.
Proto-yoga practices and discourses originated and spread among Northern Indian forest wanderers – the Sramanas – who often lived an ascetic life, especially among the Jains. However, at the time of Buddha, proto-yoga was adopted by some of the dominant castes of Brahmins and Kshatriyas (warrior nobles). It was members of the Brahmin caste who reluctantly became the authors of yoga, as they were the first to write about it. But it was probably the Kshatriyas who gave yoga its name. The three social groups – the Sramanas (the inventors), the Kshatriyas (the users) and the Brahmins (the authors) – and the conflicts between them are shown to condition the rise of the yoga discourse.
The Sramanas did not use the word yoga ‘ for their diverse and competing practices. Proto-yoga discourses tended to be a configuration of three underlying principles/discourses, namely (1) meditative (2) ascetic lifestyles and technologies aiming for (3) the liberation of the soul. This configuration also became the cornerstone of the yoga discourse in the Upanishads . The new discourse – galvanised and formatted by the signs of karma and moksha (release) – ignited a new cultural field of specialist among the Sramanas. These notions evolved and were intertwined in the process of these specialists turning an Archaic cultural institution of suicide into a profession.
Many readers mainly interested in contemporary yoga forms might find proto-yoga a weird, alien and distant culture. They might struggle to see any similarities with the yoga they have experienced. Such readers could skip this chapter and jump to the chapter on early-yoga, which deals directly with the first yoga text known. However the reader should be warned – even early-yoga is a culture entirely different from contemporary yoga.
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