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Sinister Yogis Paperback – November 1, 2009
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About the Author
David Gordon White is professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of several books, including The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India and Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts.
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Top Customer Reviews
However, I want to address what I see as the two "elephants in the room" that are everywhere implied in this book yet never spoken. The first is the obviously shamanic nature of the experiences White is chronicling. They fit quite neatly into the mode of what contemporary researchers call either Out of Body Experiences (O.B.E.s) or Near Death Experiences (N.D.E.s). Given White's training at Chicago and significant exposure to the Eliadian discourse (itself a largely "pan-shamanic" enterprise), it is quite odd that the word "shaman" is never referenced in this book, even if it were to be discounted as an outdated trope. With this omission, White misses the opportunity to set his study within a much wider context of religious chronicles of experiences with non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Which brings me to the second "elephant": entheogens. Pretty much everyone who has studied Indian religion is aware of the (at minimum) rhetorical importance of soma, the divine elixir of the gods that was clearly a powerful visionary plant ally.Read more ›
For example, the word yogi, according to the author, denoted a cannibalistic Bacchus-like character, and/or a shape(human)-shifter. Only much later did "yogi" take on more a positive, spiritual context. At the same time, "yogi" could also denote a charlatan, a side-show (man could hold his breath for one hour, etc), and even a grifter. There is even some interesting information on the Naths and their political power.
Yogi/yogini did not always mean a person who does stretching poses to get ready for meditation, nor did it denote a spiritual leader. The author contends that it was only in recent history that asanas (positions) were established, and that more positive associations were linked to yogis. And it will surprise you to know of the actual origin and context of asana. This latter information is not terribly new (see Paul Brunyon and NE Sjoman), and is only briefly discussed in this book.
I do agree with others reviewers in that the shamanistic aspect of the yogi is not as emphasized as much as the sinister aspect, but this may have been addressed in previous writings. Also, the author is probably trying to draw readers to yoga history by giving the topic a little more controversy.
If you want a fast, easy, history of yoga, I would read the preface to "Yoga" by Linda Sparrowe, but if you already have a few yoga history books on the shelf, this would be a good addition to your learning.
It is also nice to see DGW picking up on topics he touched upon in the Alchemical Body and Kiss of the Yogini. Maybe for his next book he could elaborate on some of the occult treatises of the Tantras which have yet to be translated.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I would actually rate this a bit higher, I love White's level of research and thorough referencing. This is not at all a casual read. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Willy
A History of "Yogis": Classic yogic tales from authorized texts of India
White, in Sinister Yogis, takes readers on a metaphysical and scholarly romp through the... Read more
The interpretation of the selective scriptural sources in this book and the conclusions the book reaches are strange and slanted.Published 14 months ago by SS