The oldest Ashtanga vs. more ‘authentic’ Ashtanga

As part of the Rig Veda course Bobbie is taking (and which I’m piggybacking on) via Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles, she’s reading from The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism.

I dove into it on Tuesday night — when I probably should have been banging out the Chalisa on my harmonium — and it looks interesting. Very scholarly (so not good bedtime reading) but very complete and thorough.

One thing I read caught my eye. It’s from the introduction, in the section on philology. In it, editor Gavin Flood writes: “But the establishing of the text inevitably raises questions about authenticity — is the oldest version necessarily the more ‘authentic’?”

Ding, ding, ding. Are the bells going off for you, too?

It sounds very much like one of our core AAs — Ashtanga Arguments. (Others I’ve foresworn.)

This oldest versus more authentic repeatedly comes up in off-mat discussions of the practice. Did those first Westerners (or an Indian even earlier) experience a more authentic Ashtanga? Seemingly not. We’ve heard from Nancy Gilgoff how Guruji’s Western students, in particular, were the “research” for his augmenting and developing the practice.

The practice changed. We know that. Did it ever reach a “high point,” though?

I also wonder if people would think that a point came when its development and refinement was enough out of Guruji’s hands for them to think: “Wait, we’ve passed the authenticity high point?” Pushing that thinking further, dare I wonder if the more authentic Ashtanga is being practiced (or taught or developed) somewhere unexpected, somewhere we don’t have on our “must visit” lists?

This is an issue now because the possible codifying of the practice seems to be part of the “Jois Yoga” controversy, whether its warranted. After all, which version of the practice would get codified?

(I realize there is some difference between determining the authenticity of an ancient text versus something that is current and happening now, with living authorities, but there’s also not a lot of difference in some ways.)

All this thinking begs the larger question: When, do you suppose, was the more authentic Ashtanga practiced? Or has it even been, yet?

(One last aside. I’m particularly taken by Flood’s use of the work “more” in the quote I cited. I would think the tendency would be to question whether the oldest version of something is the “most” authentic. But even at that point, Flood strikes me as open and pluralistically minded about his subject matter. I’m anxious to read more.)

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

5 thoughts on “The oldest Ashtanga vs. more ‘authentic’ Ashtanga”

  1. “When, do you suppose, was the more authentic Ashtanga practiced? Or has it even been, yet?”

    It’s impossible to even make sense of this question without first defining what you mean by “authentic.” Or, to put it another way: If you don’t know what you are looking for, you won’t recognize it even if you find it.

      1. Authentic with regards to:
        a) what Brahmacharya taught Krishnamacharya?
        b) what Krishnamacharya taught P. Jois?
        c) what P. Jois taught at the old shala?
        d) what P. Jois most recently taught?
        e) what was in the mythical Yoga Korunta?

        Those would be some of the more specific criteria against which to judge for authenticity. It seems authenticity with regards to anything but what authentically works for each person, is a discourse about power, money, and control rather than yoga.

  2. Authentic with regards to:
    a) what Brahmacharya taught Krishnamacharya?
    b) what Krishnamacharya taught P. Jois?
    c) what P. Jois taught at the old shala?
    d) what P. Jois most recently taught?
    e) what was in the mythical Yoga Korunta?

    Before discussing the authenticity question, perhaps a prerequisite question would be why are we broaching the subject? Is it to find a practice that should work better (my interpretation of what you are meaning by “high point”)? If so, I would offer that finding a good teacher would be more fruitful with regards to approaching an optimized sequence for an individual than tracking down the most “authentic” sequence.

    1. Perhaps B and C are usually thought to be the more authentic, I’d guess. The sentence from the Hinduism book just struck me as a reminder of a different, perhaps better, perspective.

      And I’ve happily found great teachers. I’m certainly not searching. 🙂

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