Book: Individualism in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
A foundational text in yoga, the “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika” is a seemingly innocent hundred-page book, but I certainly enjoyed very little of it. There are possibly a million arguments for and against this book, as well as its historical nature. I’d like to leave those behind and focus on the theme of individualism.
There is nothing in the text about compassion, helping others or doing good, the passages focus on how an individual can transform to be one with the gods, reach an enlightened state and/or attain magical powers. All of these can be attained through asanas (postures), breathing exercises, eating habits, cleaning rituals and mental training. While there are a few lovely quotables, on the whole, our yoga teacher training class was quite shocked by the theme of individualism. That is until you begin to see day-to-day life from the point of view of those who compiled and wrote this text.
As the saying goes, never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. The caste system required everyone to play out their pre-determined role in society. Through a text like this one, a person was given the option to elevate him/herself, to overcome duty and reach the final destination quickly. Essentially, the concept of a self-made man was born from the rituals described in this text. It must have seemed like a life raft to some, a way out of the difficulties that came with an average lifespan of thirty years and residing low on the caste system.
Although the methods are beyond questionable and only accessible to men, those who used the book’s practices were taking fate into their own hands, which must have been a remarkable concept and required quite a bit of bravery.