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A book you should read: ‘American Veda’

January 19, 2012

Last fall, in my continuing quest to figure out what this yoga is all about, I read two books in particular. “The Hindus” was one, which we’ve mentioned in passing before.

The second was “American Veda,” by Philip Goldberg.

I had been meaning to dive a little deeper into Goldberg’s book here as a way to say, more or less, “if you’re enough into Ashtanga and yoga to be reading a blog on them, you ought to take a look at this book.”

Goldberg traces the influence of Indian and Hindu thought on American culture, dating back to the “first American yogis.” You may have heard of them: Thoreau, Ermerson and Whitman. (We’ve run poems by the latter two, in fact.)

What I found compelling about the book was how neatly Goldberg was able to showcase all the different threads and provide an authoritative and comprehensive timeline of when different people and different lines of thinking made their mark on American culture.

That he does so in a readable and engaging style is just the topper.

Well, it’s the topper of the reason to read the book. But the real topper of this post is that I waited long enough that Bobbie and I had the chance to meet Goldberg and his wife on New Year’s Eve.

We lucked into an invite to the party of the director of Yoga Gives Back. A great party it was, too. Good food and good conversation.

We tried, I promise, not to monopolize Goldberg’s time, and he was tremendously gracious in putting up with us and our questions. Given it was a New Year’s Eve party, you’ll forgive my inability to remember everything we talked about verbatim, but I do recall what he said was the most surprising thing he discovered in working on the book:

That so many Indian thinkers/yogis/religious leaders came to America, put down small roots and then returned to India. This happened a lot; it wasn’t just Vivekanda and Yogananda and then the Beatles.

While Goldberg didn’t then tie that idea directly to the larger theme of the book — that Indian thought has taken its own deep roots in American culture — I think it is indicative of how that has happened. It wasn’t just a few bright, bright stars, although they helped. There have been many threads, many sutras, if you will, that has melded Indian thought with American ones.

In the book, Goldberg also doesn’t shy away from the many controversies that, real or not, have attached themselves to various gurus.

And in the end, I think he produces a history of Vedic thought in America that ought to be on any yogi’s shelf.

And a bonus. The website for the book provides more than just is between the covers. So your exploration can continue.

Posted by Steve

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