Yoga and fetishism: reflections on Marxist social theory

Joseph S. Alt er University of Pittsburgh
Classical social theory – including Marxist social theory – is based on a critique of the relationship between religion and society. The philosophical underpinning of this is the question of consciousness and the projection of consciousness onto things. Drawing on contemporary anthropological and philosophical theories of fetishism, this article engages with Marx’s critique of religion and the recovery of social value by way of an analysis of yoga. Two interrelated claims are made. First, yoga represents a paradigm shift in the historical development of religious consciousness. A critical analysis of this development extends the fetishization of social relations in things to the level of self-consciousness in the body. Second, a critique of yoga’s fetishization of the body and consciousness extends and expands Marx’s critique of obscured social value and enables a more holistic ecological politics concerning the value of life.

Whether one be a god or a tiny insect, the mere fact of existing in time, or having duration, implies pain. Unlike the gods and other living beings, man possesses the capability of passing beyond his condition and thus abolishing suffering. Eliade, Yoga: immortality and freedom (1990: 12) Imagine a being which is neither an object itself nor has an object. In the first place, such a being would be the only being; no other being would exist outside it, it would exist in a condition of solitude. For as soon as there are objects outside me, as soon as I am not alone, I am another, a reality other than the object outside me. Marx, ‘Critique of Hegel’s dialectical and general philosophy’ (2002a: 84)

Introduction: the problem with religion

For Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, the social ontology of religion made the question of religion’s relationship to experience foundational to the development of social theory as well as to the politics of knowledge. And although Durkheim and Weber in particular sought to define religion and various kinds of religious experience in different ways, the basic structure of the argument in classical social theory – whether focused on social facts or Verstehen – was binary, with religion being an inclusive category covering everything from animism to asceticism and magic to mysticism.1 This left no room for an analysis of phenomena that are – self-consciously – neither religious nor the opposite of religion. Although focusing on the abstract nature of religion, rather than
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 12, 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006

764 Joseph S. Alter

its constituent elements, Geertz’s definition is similarly broad, open-ended, and implicitly binary:
(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [and women] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic (1973: 90).

Definitions are always problematic, but I would like to suggest that an inclusive, uncritical conceptualization of religion – whether orientated towards meaning or social function – has inhibited the force of social theory in general and Marxist social theory in particular. Yoga, as it has developed over the course of several thousand years in what is now India, and as it has mutated into forms of practice in what is now China – as chan – and Japan – as zen – is really very different from religion, even though many forms of practice have been assimilated into institutionalized religion. In essence yoga can be defined as a form of embodied practice by means of which the illusion of self-consciousness becomes the truth of enlightenment. In this regard it is unique and quite different from ritualized forms of practice – including asceticism – that are meaningful and functional in the context of social life, broadly defined. Given that yoga, in all its various permutations, is fundamentally anti-social and contrary to the nature of direct experience, an analysis of yoga done from the vantage point of its relationship to social formations and social value provides an interesting perspective on social theory and the politics of knowledge associated with theory. That is the goal of this article. In developing this analytical perspective it is important to keep several key points in mind. First, it is necessary to understand that the term ‘yoga’ is being used here as a broad, general designation comparable to terms such as ‘religion’, ‘science’, and ‘medicine’, even though the specific kind of yoga being discussed is medieval hatha yoga (yoga of force; physiological yoga) and those aspects of hatha yoga that derive from Samkhya philosophy and classical yoga philosophy as articulated in the Yoga-sutra by Patanjali in the second century CE. This allows for the translation, and transformation, of a philosophical topic with a long historical trajectory into the subject of anthropological – although not ethnographic – analysis. Second, up until the beginning of the twentieth century – and in sharp contrast to what it has become over the course of the past hundred years – hatha yoga was magical, mystical, structured with reference to the physiology of sex, and concerned with embodied immortality. It was inherently physiological rather than metaphysical, even in its most philosophical articulation. In other words, up until the beginning of the twentieth century yoga was concerned with the embodied literalization of an alternative reality. My concern is with this kind of pre-modern hatha yoga practice as reflected in the medieval literature. Third, yoga fetishizes the body as a whole and parts of the body in relation to one another. To understand yoga’s self-into-Self transmutation as a fetish is to see in yoga’s literalization the outline of a critique of human consciousness and the expression of consciousness as culture. To invert yoga – as Marx sought to invert religion – is to re-orient our consciousness away from the goal of transcendence to a clearer understanding of the material essence of our animal nature and a political understanding of our kinship with other animals. The position taken here is that yoga is the product of human consciousness, and is linked to the truth of experience, rather than to Universal Truth. This
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 12, 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006

merely conceived being. Alter 765 scepticism – directed at human self-deception rather than at any specific cultural tradition – has political implications. its spiritual point d’honneur. non-sensuous. and its universal basis of consolation and justification. In reading The holy family. Being outside and above individual and local contingencies. its sees far ahead. Man is the world of man – state. the non-man [Unmensch]. Further consideration will be given below to the equation of sensuous. will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself. revolutionary political action is necessarily structured with reference to the kind of basic social relations that also produce religious belief. But underlying the differences and problems is a singular idea that religion is a projection of something more basic and true to the world – social relations. but also how he viewed the logic of the problem’s solution: ‘Man. it is apparent that the utopian ideal Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . Quite the contrary. These differences are also important and significant for many reasons. The differences between Durkheim’s and Marx’s understanding of the relationship between religion and society are very well known. This state and this society produce religion. reflexive. a being of abstraction (2002a: 84). it seems clear that ‘Man’ seeks – and ultimately finds – the truth of the world in social relations in general and the social relations of labour that are an expression of the ‘true reality’ that is masked by the reification of things as real unto themselves. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. But the general point to be noted is that radical. therefore. its encyclopaedic compendium. its solemn complement. its logic in popular form.S. society. or has already lost himself again. Although here and elsewhere Marx refers to ‘Man’ as a singular. In other words true reality is epiphenomenal to individual consciousness: to be realized it requires a minimum of two. that object has me as its object.Joseph S. at every moment it embraces all known reality (Durkheim 1995: 445). There are also problems with both Marx’s and Durkheim’s understanding of the function of religion. its moral sanction. i. who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven. because they are an inverted world. the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself. inconsistent and changeable being that people all too often like to imagine.e. collective consciousness sees things only in their permanent and fundamental aspects. But. indeed. And here is Marx in ‘Critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right’: Religion is. which it crystallizes in ideas that can be communicated. where he sought a superman. its enthusiasm. where he seeks and must seek his true reality’ (2002b: 171).2 Religion as inverted consciousness produced by an inverted world provides a clear indication of how Marx viewed the problem. which is an inverted consciousness of the world. conscious being. A being which is not the object of another being therefore presupposes that no objective being exists. among other things. indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion (2002b: 171). As soon as I have an object. The struggle against religion is. man is no abstract being squatting outside the world.) 12. merely thought. and Marx’s elision of individual embodied consciousness. Here is an often-cited passage from The elementary forms of religious life: [S]ociety is by no means the illogical and alogical. Religion is the general theory of this world. the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life. But a non-objective being is an unreal. At the same time as it sees from above. material consciousness and social relations. for it is a consciousness of consciousness.

however. As I think a subtle reading shows. which is orientated towards the human ideal. and impossible to know what counts as nature. just as Durkheim rhetorically blurred religion. what does it represent when it reaches the final goal of transcendence and no longer exists as such. but only exists as material traces of representation in the form of words – ‘enlightenment. and the question of human self-consciousness relates to the political problem of our relationship to the world at large. Thus one can add substance and more grounded theoretical justification to the sentiment expressed by Engels when he wrote of his ‘withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over other animals’ (Marx & Engels 1975: 102). For both. ‘kaivalya’ (aloneness.S.) 12. The cyborg embodies the tension that these real impossibilities reflect. including. if not taboo. Here she argues that it is virtually impossible to define the uniqueness of humans on the basis of their difference from animals. and machine hybrids – embody a Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. and does not more fundamentally direct itself at a redefinition of what it means to be human in relation to embodied consciousness. by any means.. in being contrasted to alienation manifest in the material. then what does the body of the all-alone adept represent? In particular. a more elemental process of transformation in the relationship between what people do and think and the reality they construct? If those ineffable marks on the aboriginal Churinga. in fact. Alter of the human element. as Durkheim famously pointed out. it is the self – as the consciousness of a material being squatting in the world. ‘moksa’ (liberation). impossible to distinguish between organism and machine. is it possible that. the abstractions of . he confused religion with the essence of human consciousness and human experience. society writ obscurely and ineffably large (1995: 118-23). ‘the social’ – if not society in fact – came to define the clearest expression of human consciousness. albeit in different ways. than at least a kind of incidental profanity. Marx conflates the human and the social with reference to the (inadequate) problematization of religion. but extending well beyond. social relations’ as such. However. In a word. even though. the narrowly circumscribed conceit of our species-specific social relations. and the ability of the sociological imagination to comprehend ‘all known reality’.766 Joseph S. Revolutionary political action. or tell the difference between what is physical and what is not physical (1991: 151-3). cryptically coded. are.. The problem of consciousness is the problem of human identity. in that which defines itself as profoundly transcendental – and thus ‘beyond religion’ – there is. Religion is not. What is not problematized in these socio-centric formulations is the nature of the self in relation to consciousness. if not – to follow Marx to the letter – those of production in particular (Marx 1963: 109). religious categories are the ‘theoretical expressions. often self-deceiving guise of the divine. Ultimate Reality) – the very etching of which might be considered. and protected by taboo. this is ultimately a key problem – perhaps the most basic philosophical problem – that concerned Marx. and Haraway’s main point is that a new kind of politics can emerge out of the way in which we as cyborgs – human. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 .4 Redefining what it means to be radically – and revolutionarily – human in relation to consciousness is one of the most important points made by Donna Haraway in her widely read essay ‘A cyborg manifesto’ (1991).3 So if religion is society in the well-crafted.’ ‘samadhi’ (enstasy). Like ‘economic categories’. to adapt Marx’s rhetoric – that seeks its true reality. the singular entelechy of these social relations. animal. almost erased. does not confront the ontology of the problem of consciousness – and the projection of consciousness – when it seeks only to recover social value. collective consciousness. on some level. hinges on social relations and restoration of social value.

the principle of devotion is important to yoga practice. Fetishism embodied In an arena where very little is definitive. To appreciate the significance of this entails revisiting questions of magic and religion in relation to social facts and embodied experience. By examining medieval hatha yoga in light of cyborg ontology. and transcendent selves in yoga compares directly with the cyborg hybridity of animal. and opens up a new point of orientation for being human in relation to the world at large. cosmology. Haraway’s manifesto draws directly on a radical reconceptualization of the self as straining against the kind of duality that is inherent in the structure of power in religion: The self is the One who is not dominated. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . Fort (1998: 80-3) and Chapple (1996) make it clear that there are obvious parallels between yoga. a powerfully twisted fetishized self that reflects itself in the other. The structural similarity between a ‘person’ who has perfected the techniques of yoga and a ‘person’ who is a cyborg can be outlined schematically: the hybridity of personal. Certainly as Whicher (1998: 83-7) and others (Eliade 1990: 73-6) point out. It breaks apart the notion of stable social formations. Yet to be other is to be multiple. and Siva Siddhantha. To be One is to be autonomous. and consciousness. humans. and the other in itself.Joseph S. One is too few.S. 1981) – tremendous articulations of power abide in the symbolism of androgyny and other ‘unnatural’ reformations of nature. one of the defining features of yoga is that it is not religious. In this context. in other words. to be powerful. One need only think of the most obvious cases – the elephant-headed god Ganesh and the monkey god Hanuman – to appreciate the point. As a number of scholars have shown – but no one so well as Wendy Doniger (1980. alchemical. In many respects Haraway’s characterization of cyborg ambiguity relates directly to a theme that is perhaps more obviously South Asian: the transformation and transmogrification of animals. and machine entities. which gives the lie to the autonomy of the self. but never perfectly. Although Haraway characterizes the cyborg as radically postmodern. the yogi blurs the boundaries between biology. The hybridity of self/other at the core of cyborg ontology is linked to a distinctly pre-modern history that takes issue with the relationship between society and religion and the human/nature dialectic that underlies this relationship.) 12. the other is the one who holds the future. my goal is to work towards a better understanding of the nature of this self as it provides a means by which to think about social theory without having to ‘think through’ the prismatic of religion. my argument is that the logic inherent in cyborg politics is very old. who knows that by the experience of domination. the cyborg provides a better point of reference simply because mythology is purely symbolic whereas yoga is real in practice and manifest as such in the natural world. and never conclusively. Alter 767 sense of self that is not based on duality and opposition. and gods in Hindu mythology. without clear boundary. genders. to be God. But two are too many (1991: 177). Shankara’s classical Advaita philosophy. frayed. but to be One is to be an illusion. The cyborg self is. Where the cyborg blurs natural boundaries and confuses categories. plants. insubstantial. and so to be involved in a dialectic of apocalypse with the other. Ramanuja’s Vashishtadvaita. human. Similarly. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. however. who knows that by the service of the other.

This is true not only on the level of dharma (right action). wherein the idea of liberation involves liberation from the illusion of right action.S. on the other. The yogi sits alone in the full and critically important axiomatic sense of that term as it stands in direct opposition to all other signifiers that are inherently social – this is the essence of kaivalya (aloneness. and religious institutions and to various manifestations of god.) 12. Otherwise his being alone would have no point of reference. It stands as the binary opposite of the classical Vedic sacrifice. social groups. they serve both as cremation pyre – by which the now-obsolete mundane. and samsara (the flow of phenomenal existence). But – and it is a critical but – the all-alone adept is where he is only in relation to the world at large: that is. yoga is thought to be the very antithesis of ritual. Isvara is only an archetype of the yogin – a macroyogin (1990: 74-5).. that the practice of yoga very likely had its theoretical origins (1996: 281). David G.” in which physiological functions take the place of libations and ritual objects’ (1990: 111. as the seat of sacrifice. It is here.. see also Whicher 1998: 12-13). in relation to everything.768 Joseph S. Ultimate Reality). Beyond the specific question of god. in what is a significant point around which my argument hinges – and which relates directly to the hybridity of cyborg ontology – god and human beings are of the same material nature. in Vedic sacrifice. in the postcrematory existence of the sannyasin (the ‘renouncer’). It removes the practitioner from a whole panoply of exchange relationships and transaction-orientated obligations that bind him or her to other people. Moreover. There. internalized. philosophical sense of the term as meaning order. Alter among other articulations of spiritual knowledge that focus on the problem of jivanmukti (living liberation). which fuel the offerings of one’s vital breaths in the inner sacrifice known as the pranagnihotra. self-referential form. As Eliade puts it: ‘If. in the practice of asceticism they are offered an “inner sacrifice. The internalization of the sacrifice transforms a paradigmatically social act into one that is putatively asocial in its orientation of self to Self. the gods are offered soma [nectar of immortality]. It is that which is capable of taking one out of samskara (ritual). which has now been internalized. and sacred fire. [He] has none of the grandeur of the omnipotent Creator-God. social body is shown to have truly died to the world – and. All in all. What yoga seems to do is establish a transcendent union between the core of personal being and the absolute extent of existential being as such. But yoga transcends religion by making spirituality a means rather than an end. and in the most abstract. melted butter. never touched by the klesas [afflictions] [Yoga Sutra I:24] . as manifest in practice. none of the pathos that surrounds the dynamic and solemn God of various mystical schools. Thereby it redefines meaning in terms of a purely reflexive microcosmic/macrocosmic dialectic. White makes the point this way: Of vital importance to the yogic tradition is the fact that the sacrificial fires in question are gathered together within one’s body. For the practitioner of yoga. This dialectic. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . on the one hand. obviates society both in the most concrete sense of that term as meaning social relations. but also in terms of the body’s relationship to ritual action. in the inner fires of tapas. in the sense of being its purely self-contained. no real meaning. being alone is the structural equivalent of being part of a social community for which the meta-referent is religion. Referring to the role of god in yoga as ‘comparatively small’ – and elsewhere as a ‘perfectly useless element’ introduced by Patanjali (Eliade 1990: 74) – Eliade points out that Isvara [god] is a purusa [person] that has been free since all eternity.

common-place things that constitute everyday experience – hunger.7 Materially speaking. religion. slavery. from the beginning – when it ‘was god. In an important way moksa is not a soteriological concept insofar as there can be no consciousness of it in terms of desire. super-natural) powers as they are acquired almost coincidentally – and as impediments5 – in the process of coming to see all creation as a grand illusion. the body contains within itself the potential energy of enlightenment.) 12.Joseph S. on the other. moksa remains entirely obscure. their own and other people’s lives to unreal. active and powerful. witchcraft. clairvoyance.S. among a host of quotidian. What perspective does embodied magic give us on this reality that is not really real? Reacting to an Orientalist legacy. Though itself an illusion.6 an illusion. Although the concept of maya is metaphysical and might appear to be hyper-ideal. does not mean that the concept of maya. whereby the signifier depends upon yet erases its signification (1993: 225). and. but which. As Michael Taussig puts it. we could say. What is to be made of the adept’s siddhi (magic. the trace residue of its etymology: What is left. the unsignifiability of yoga’s finalgoal-as-it-is produced-in-the-body that I wish to explore through the medium of the fetish – a thing which brings magic to life and makes life magical. or violence. imaginary things like the state. in fact. in fact it refers to a condition of existential materialism wherein the body is regarded less as that which inhibits enlightenment and more as a thing whose very flaws provide the means by which to achieve transcendence. almost like a drag against transcendence. heart-stopping feats which break the laws of physics. on the one hand. turns – to the delight and wonder of some. and other breathless. and the distinct embarrassment of others – the metaphysics of enlightenment into a kind of supernatural side-show complete with levitation.’ so to speak – into the present. where. This is the world of maya (illusion). and people are willing to sacrifice. Alter 769 And hand in glove with the embodiment of fetishized representations of Ultimate Reality there is also the problem of magic and the power manifest in magic which seems to cling to the practice of yoga. let us say – society takes the form of god. and the means of its own reproduction. recent scholarship has pointed out that the idea of moksa (liberation). a drag that functions as a sign of much greater things to come. is the word itself – enigmatically incomplete. Unto itself as a thing-that-is-not-a-thing. be substantiated. and what has come to be called science – and this is precisely the formal mechanism of fetishism (as we see it used by Marx and Freud). talking about the word ‘fetish’ itself as an idea-thing which brings with it. is world-negating (see Whicher 1995). reflecting an enlightened realization that reality is unreal. but to the transformation of space and time. as something that is natural but also something that transcends the duality of nature. as the body is packed full of meaning that can. As stated in the Yoga Vasishtha Laghu (1896). in the name of god and country. or its various cognates. maya produces the seeds of its own destruction. The point is that this unsignifiability is a product of the body. money has value unto itself. as such. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. a concept that gives form to illusion and makes form illusory. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . it is realiza¯ tion on a plane where there is neither bondage nor liberation. Just the signifier. It is the relationship between this fluid range of embodied meaning-that-can-besubstantiated. and therefore only the dynamic of reflection can be signified. Moksa derives from maya. at least from the vantage point of those who have not experienced it. bereft of its erased significations gathered and dissipated through the mists of trade. and the experience itself leads not to the transformation of a person in space and time.

and Durkheim was correct in problematizing – to the degree of fanaticism – the invisible presence. Reification-and-fetishism – res and deus – was a powerful mode of reckoning . living being) appears (1993: 144). it was Durkheim’s very fetishization of ‘society’ that provided the intellectual power of his sociology. But it also figures prominently in the history of Western thought. What is striking here is that what is articulated as a critique of capitalism can be extended outward to become a profound critique of culture as such. but instead. sensuous. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . both refined and complicated the analytical utility of fetishism – as a concept thing – by applying it to the study of those numerous points of intersection among magic. In the social sciences more broadly. As William Pietz has shown in his study of fetishism and materialism (1993). the idea of the fetish has a complex genealogy rooted in colonial practice. Emily Apter writes that Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. and outright deception. Marx evoked the ‘savage’ subject of religious fetishism as a (potentially theoretical) viewpoint outside capitalism capable of recognizing proletarians in their objective social identity as the economic class owning no marketable private property other than their own embodied being and ‘its’ capacity for concrete productive activity.. for the most part – and yet maintain distinctions. Alter The fetish is. capitalism and the state. embodied. it was the result of a specific epistemic tension within the very notion of the Social as both thing and godly at one and the same time. in essence the essential product of a profound encounter with difference and the need people felt to make links between themselves and others – economic and political. as culture is displaced from grounded. Taussig has. and therefore as the one identity within civil society in which true human being (that is. In other words. the lynchpin of religion. far from being an unfortunate side-effect. as well as mundane illusion. as that reality is shot through with ad hoc contingency. The practical value of the fetish as an analytical term is that it is confusing – in a transitive rather than pejoratively intransitive sense – and thereby precisely able to engage with and help make sense of historical reality. Whereas Pietz provides a genealogy of the fetish in all of its minute detail. The ‘itness’ of embodied being gives form to an identity which society constructs in the form of reified culture. In articulating the enigmatic nature of Durkheim’s study of religion and society. and making it the basis of praxis. in some sense. Pietz shows how Marx appreciated the ‘subversively materialist implications’ manifest in Hegel’s notion of a ‘religion of sensuous desire’ rooted in the natural consciousness of humankind (1993: 14). the intangibility. over the past several years. and in extracting the brilliance of his reasoning from the numbing empiricism of a positivist sociology – bent on nailing down the facticity of social facts as simply things – Taussig puts it this way: [T]his brilliance was not the result of a step-by-step development from social fact as things to social fact as moral web and the fetishization of Society (as deus). sensual human experience onto ideas or material things.) 12. In his discussion of the development of the idea of fetishism. Speaking of the broad-spectrum significance of fetishism. happenstance ambiguity. colonialism.S.770 Joseph S. the literally unspeakable but begging to be spoken nature of ‘society’ (1993: 229).8 Building on this. and is central to Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxism. and is. as well as to the ideologies of sexuality and capitalism with which Freud and Marx engaged. the fetish – in both general and specific terms – lies at the very heart of Durkheimian sociology..

To be sensuous. he is a passionate being. and both are the same thing? Addressing these questions show how. objects of one’s sense perception. and so in yoga the body and all it represents must be understood as a process – a thing in transformation. a sensuous object.. Fetishism. and that the self as an object unto itself can be understood as a fetish that derives from consciousness. in spite of itself. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. as the product of objective consciousness. and how the fetish power of enlightenment. not an ideal at all – at least in the sense of idealism. as the adept becomes more and more isolated. thus. does not constitute the base-line of reality. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 .. As such. as something one step beyond magic and religion. material being. Pietz fleshes this critical point out as follows: ‘Marx conceived human being as an essentially active. to be real. for example – stand in relation to society and social facts. one whose objects are sensuous objects and whose bodily life and personal self are “produced” in a single process: labor as praxis’ (1993: 144). sensuality. Focusing clearly on the transitive.Joseph S. and replace human consciousness with the being of social reality. The communist ideal is. in other words. reflects a critical – and potentially revolutionary – state of being human in the world. is to be an object of sense. about political economy. extremely fetishized ideathing that gives form to a desire for transcendence. an embodied state of being human ‘unfixes’ the monolithic sign of social value itself? What if. in yoga. and because he feels his suffering. unfixes representations even as it enables them to become monolithic ‘signs’ of culture (1993: 3). Along these lines it is remarkable to read – through Pietz’s reading of Livingston and Benton’s reading of Marx as informed by Meister’s reading of Hegel – the way in which materialism. is understood as an illusion par excellence? And what if those sensuous objects are not outside one’s self.e. When this happens. let us say – implodes and the body becomes a highly reified. to adapt Apter’s terminology. Sounding both like and unlike a Buddhist. and the desire to transcend consciousness. [F]etishism as a discourse weds its own negative history as a synonym for sorcery and witchcraft (feticaria) to an outlaw strategy of dereification . as the product of passionate suffering. utopian or otherwise – but an embodied. Passion is man’s essential power vigorously striving to attain its object (Pietz 1993: 144). The argument here is that social life. rather than. Man as an objective. what seems to happen is that.S. the body – and all of its various parts – is an object unto itself where the ‘signifier depends upon yet erases its signification’. sensuous being is therefore a suffering being. Alter 771 the etymological origins and philosophical history of the word itself point to the artifice (facticius) present in virtually all forms of cultural representation . For Marx the significant thing was to see how this embodied state enabled one to see value as a social substance as manifest in the fetishization of material things. as well as anticipating Freud. about sexuality. But what if social reality. To be sensuous is to suffer (to be subjected to the actions of another). sensuous state of being in the world. the material body is implicated in enlightenment.. Marx writes.. i. more and more alone. action-orientated form of being as praxis. and thus to have sensuous objects outside oneself. and phenomenology informed Marx’s understanding of the human subject. But the body is not a stable form so much as a thing of action. and therefore not set in place to define the building blocks of revolutionary consciousness and the praxis of struggle? What if. and stands in relation to enlightenment much in the same way as disembodied fetishes – the Churinga.) 12. the fetishized world that is a reflection of selfconsciousness – culture. as it might seem.

Gorakshnath is also credited with founding the Kanphata order. hatha yoga defines the internalized means to the end that Gautama was ultimately not able to achieve in the early fifth century BCE through his original. yogic enlightenment. more and more reified. it represents a radical shift away from the structural relationship of asceticism to religion and ritual. a ‘sect’ of yogis whose name signifies the way in which their ear lobes are split. Before looking at the way in which the practice of hatha yoga entails the embodied union of self with Self – and the way in which. Most likely they came into being in response to what were perceived to be the limitations of Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . hatha yoga was developed as a mode of comprehensive self-discipline first by Matsyendra in the tenth century and was then formalized in the early eleventh century by his disciple Gorakshnath (Feuerstein 2001: 386). regardless of how it is valued. yoga. What this means is that. the self itself will no longer be ‘where [Man] seeks and must seek his true reality’. Although often referred to as an order or sect within the broader Shaivite tradition. To adapt Marx. Realizing that it cannot succumb to the fate of even the most radically agnostic ‘religion’. Asceticism.772 Joseph S. Beginning around the 2nd century CE. abnegation and self-mortification. Lorenzen 1972). The de-reification of anti-human enlightenment points not to a thing as such – community – but to the idea of a thing that is always just out of sight and just beyond reach: pure self-awareness. But for this to happen. and the body David White’s monumental study of alchemy in medieval India (1996). is inherently antisocial and therefore meaningless from the standpoint of society. This de-reification points at once to the hopelessness of pure subjectivity – a human apart from society – and a hoped-for subjectivity that can emerge from under the fetish of society and culture as ideathings unto themselves. yoga looks more and more absurd as the signified paramatma (Universal Self) – which is really unsignifiable – appears to take shape in the atmic (egoic) body of the signifier.9 According to most sources. a number of very self-consciously extreme and esoteric ascetic orders came into being in what is now South Asia.S. but never at the same time. following directly in line with Eliade’s classic analysis (1990). Unlike the god of religion. once the Self is truly recognized as a reflection of the self. In essence the development of hatha yoga out of ritualized asceticism should be understood as a paradigm shift that defined a new way to articulate human experience – and the relationship between humans and the world – that is neither secular nor spiritual. uncompromising. from the vantage point of the ‘deluded masses’. even when revealed. this must be kept absolutely secret – it is necessary to trace the historical disarticulation of asceticism and yogic self-discipline.) 12. the body becomes. key secrets about the nature of the self must be spoken about. shows that hatha yoga developed in tandem with Siddha alchemy and is intimately linked to the physiological principles of tantra (see also Briggs 1938. As Eliade puts it. Alter and closer and closer to the final goal of self-realization. Thus it is possible to extend the critique beyond religion and to something more fundamental than social value. ironically. it is important to compare and contrast what yogis were doing in relation to what ascetics were doing at about the same time: the point being that although hatha yoga clearly emerges out of ascetic practice. and increasingly more monolithic until it loses all significance and becomes meaningless. which appears to be real unto itself and the world it inhabits. ‘All of the yogic techniques invite to one and the same gesture – to do exactly the opposite of what human nature forces one to do’ (1990: 96).

to literal. Whatever the moral judgement assigned to the activity – and it was. material form.S. but very self-consciously went about flaunting social conventions – talking nonsense. in which meat consumption may be seen as a kind of proxy cannibalism wherein pashu eats pashu. but also logically – seeking to give itself literalized. a Shivite ascetic. the Kapalikas. Aside from how this defines Pashupatas as proto-yogis. anti-social behaviour is an important one. Alter 773 institutionalized Vedic religious practice.10 One of the first of these was the Pashupatas. a return to Upanashadic. Lord of the Animals – was conceptualized as an all-powerful god completely separate from the created world. According to one source this symbolizes ‘mastery of the sexual drive and the conversion of semen into mysterious ojas. If what might be called mimetic animalism was at one end of the spectrum. in a non-pejorative rather than pejorative sense (see Feuerstein 2001: 262). They offered human flesh in their ceremonies and have been accused – probably rightly – of occasionally performing human sacrifice (2001: 262).11 As Feuerstein puts it: The purpose of all the Kapalika rites12 was to achieve communion with god through which the practitioner acquired both super-human power (siddhi) and liberation. If anything. at the opposite end was a kind of radical theism. most certainly. who came into being around the fifth century CE. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. and perhaps shamanic. and walking in strange ways. it is useful to think about them with reference to a kind of idealism that was – perhaps desperately and fanatically. making rude gestures – and acting like animals – babbling. it is important to realize the extent to which ‘the end of all suffering’ was achieved by perverting social facts. It was. In iconography Lakulin is often depicted seated in a padamasana (lotus posture) holding a club in one hand and a citron in the other. a logical progression from animalistic behaviour and the definition of human beings as animals. or subtle vitality. Clearly human sacrifice and flesh-eating are highly ritualized forms of countercultural practice that may well be regarded as ‘a terrible regression from the high moral sensibility achieved in Buddhist and Jain communities’ (Feuerstein 2001: 262). what is particularly noteworthy is the way in which the followers of Lakulin did not just renounce the world. I think. It leads directly to the formalization of hatha yoga as such. Lord Shiva – Pashupati. species-specific cannibalism. There is.) 12. As such his power was independent of karmic law and his will was not structured by distinctions such as those between good and evil. thought to have been founded by Lakulin. that is an important part of the alchemical processes occurring in the body of the Yoga adept’ (Feuerstein 2001: 260). snorting. This is coded directly into their name: pashu means animal or beast. and whose name means skull-bearers. including human beings. Among the animals the Pashupatas counted all creatures locked in the cycle of karmic births. His penis is often erect. literalism. were even more extreme than the Pashupatas. The structural relationship between radical theism and radical.Joseph S. In some respects it is possible to see how the Pashupatas were intent on taking issue with their status as human beings defined in terms of social and cultural conventions. Although these practices may well have been intended as a means to the end of achieving greater humility (Feuerstein 2001: 260) and. ultimately. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . experiencing the end of all suffering through the grace of Lord Shiva. and even instead of seeing them as rituals with social significance. But instead of seeing them as evil incarnate.

and with social relations as the putative base-line of human experience. as an embodied form of practice. in some ways. as Nietzsche famously proclaimed. ecstasy is fundamentally an out-of-body spiritual experience orientated towards divine power. even if various aspects of asana (seat. It is inherent in the monistic link between self and Self. Feuerstein characterizes their beliefs and practice as follows: ‘The Aghoris . few have made note of the way in which hatha yoga. horrific. and has been analysed by a number of scholars. in Germany at the end of the nineteenth. drink liquor and urine as readily as water. What I think needs to be emphasized.13 A direct engagement with the ‘problem of society’. showing how various aspects of practice – including the ingestion of flesh – can be interpreted as a form of gift exchange. For example.. The broader pattern in the development of these institutions of ascetic renunciation is quite clear. internalized embodiment of ecstasy. not.. and so increasingly all-powerful as to transcend normal human comprehension. And the death of god in northern Bengal – if that is where Matsyendra was from – gave birth to hatha yoga. 1994) provides one of the most persuasive and rich interpretations. and the mechanism of this link is ontologically both human and supra-human. leads to a conceptualization of god as ever more terrible. by means of the removal of pollution. Alter meant to pervert social value in a very direct and unambiguous way – human sacrifice was an advancement in the progression of religious ritual to its absolute and ultimate extent. religious ritual. the principle of that social being: the process of erasure is made manifest as it is erased. In Durkheimian terms it may be understood as the zenith of religious thought made manifest. This follows in line with arguments about this relationship that have been made by Dumont (1970). aspire to obliterate all human-made institutions in their way of life. Thus. god is conceptualized as so powerful that he becomes Reality apart from religious belief and ritualized practice. it is also an experience that is grounded in the nature of plants and animals. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . in the context of the structural relationship between householders and world-renouncers. The Aghori order of ascetics emerged out of the Kapalika sect. hatha yoga is the enstatic. in essence. In all probability. physical posture) and pranayama (breathing exercise) were manifest in earlier forms of ascetic practice. As humans become anti-social. As will become clear in a moment. As the etymology of the word itself indicates. Although there is no need to continue ranking on a scale of relative extremism.774 Joseph S. insofar as it brings reification and fetishization into the same conceptual space – a social being sacrificed to a god that is. But enstasy does not depend on the grace of god. god died in northeast India sometime in the middle of the tenth century. According to Eliade. is a radical shift in orientation and priorities. is the way in which the development of hatha yoga by Gorakshnath and other Kanphatas during and immediately following the rise and fall of the Kapalika sect must be understood with regard to the problematic relationship between asceticism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. Heesterman (1985. the limit of religious understanding: Ultimate Reality and Absolute Truth conceived of in terms of an incomprehensibly divine principle. they live on cremation grounds or on dunghills. Extreme asceticism in the middle of the first millennium defined. and the formal and informal institutions of social life and culture during the time between the Gupta and Chola dynasties.S. and others (Das 1983). Jonathan Parry (1982. 1993). and break all social conventions by eating meat and the flesh of human corpses’ (2001: 203). however. Although many scholars have noted that it developed out of the beliefs and practices of Kapalikas and Siddha alchemists.) 12.

it is significant that what the Natha Siddhas were doing was devising physical exercises. and ultimately stop the flow of all embodied substances. is the idea that semen and mercury are one and the same thing in essence. chemistry. Keeping in mind the problem of imposing more recent icons on earlier forms. both old and new’ (1996: 55). unadulterated power – mastery over the forces of nature . and mineralogy (White 1996: 54). In the Siddha tradition. which is where hatha yoga was most systematically developed. as White makes very clear. Thus hatha yoga or ‘the method of violent exertion’ boils down to the forceful internal ejaculation of semen into the cranial vault. in an important sense. from where it drips down – after being transmuted into an elixir – onto the tongue of the adept. With the death of god – at least in Bengal if not Germany – came the radical problematization – and fetishization – of the embodied relationship between self and Ultimate Reality. Given the vernacular form of all of their works.Joseph S.S. White characterizes the Natha Siddhas as distinctly non-elite and clearly out of the mainstream of religious and philosophical orthodoxy. As White puts it. it should be pointed out that the earliest reference to ‘yogic positions’ is roughly a thousand years after the date of the iconic terracotta seal from the Indus Civilization – well after the first mention of Lord Shiva. the materialism inherent in alchemy provided a framework for thinking about the bio-chemistry of embodied transubstantiation and the real possibility of magic: the phenomenal realization of what is thought to be epiphenomenal. Alter 775 Extreme asceticism and ritualism were internalized in the body of the adept. which was richly empirical in the sense of dealing with botany. the experience of what is paranormal as normal.. David G.’ (White 1996: 7-8). and – ambiguous artefactual seals from the Indus Civilization notwithstanding14 – the relatively recent development of asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. mercurial preparations were consumed in tandem with yogic exercises so as to achieve immortality. More than anything else what this indicates is the intimate link between magic and yoga. ‘their “Yoga” is more closely identified.. In sharp contrast to developments in brahmanical ritual practice.) 12. Natha Siddhas have suffered a degree of prejudicial ridicule. As White points out: ‘Sometime in the fourteenth century. over the years. The idea was to systematically isolate. Yoga both destroys and perfects the body and both rejects and incarnates a basic principle of being – the perfected self. who thereby achieves everlasting life. This concern with supernatural power as it is thought to derive from ancient and occult tantric practices has meant that. Although one can trace the symbolism of this concern with immortality further back in time as it compares with the structure of sacrifice in Vedic literature and with mythic cosmology. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . we witness the gradual disappearance of tantric alchemy and the appropriation of its techniques and goals of transmutation and transubstantiation by other Indian systems of thought and practice. The human body is an alchemical body’ (1996: 57). Given the solidly grounded and rigorous methods of tantric alchemy. as ‘technicians of the concrete’. Thus. Natha Siddhas were concerned with worldly power (White 1996: 7). White goes so far as to say that ‘hatha yoga is often nothing more than a projection of alchemical discourse onto the human body. seal off. ‘Theirs has always been a path to mastery and raw. it is not surprising that hatha yoga was conceived of in terms of a kind of fluid biology. Central to this biology. The proto-social self: the gross physiology of subtle mimeses All of the extant works on hatha yoga were composed by Natha Siddhas.

One senses the natural world as different from oneself. sorcery. Nature is man’s inorganic body. engages directly with magic. sexual perversion. conscious rejection of society. and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. The Hathayogapradipika.S. nature is his body. and this relocation has political and ethical consequences similar to those that attend to the recovery of social value. It is precisely for this reason that it is important to understand embodiment as an act with profound political and ethical significance. rather than with the practice of Yoga in the conventional sense of the term’ (1996: 8).) 12. one of the three key texts emerging out of a medieval tradition of practice. in some sense. for man is part of nature (Marx 2002c: 122). and categorically separate from. the objects of passionate suffering are inside the body.e. as the body is imbricated in consciousness. with black magic. i. In this context the body – that thing saturated with sensuality and thereby intimately engaged with suffering. the Natha Siddhas did not so much problematize renunciation as directly engage with the problem – enstatically embodied – of their physiological relationship to the world at large. which Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. To understand transcendent consciousness as a fetish relocates the body in the world. In other words they were confronted with the problem of the ontological materialism of idealism. Given their concern with worldly power. the relationship was direct. and the embodiment of immortality instantiates that fact just as it transcends it. the embodied self is increasingly dislocated from the world as it moves towards transcendent consciousness. although not consciously (see Foster 2000: 68-71) – the body is the basis of praxis as a consequence of ‘the ultimate objects of sensuous desire’ being outside. what I would like to explore is the way in which the Natha Siddhas – however counter-cultural and perhaps even revolutionary they might have been – were confronted with the following vexing problem: whatever its relationship to the Self. As reflected in the Natha Siddhas’ concern with semen. and their explicit. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself. as Marx put it – provides the basis for a revolutionary struggle to recover human consciousness from within the illusory. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 .776 Joseph S. while understanding that world in terms of the natural truth of sense perception.15 Leaving aside the question of what yoga is in any conventional sense. Thus. one’s own embodied self. in terms of sensual phenomenology. This is what distinguished the species-being life activity of humans from that of the animal. and the subversion of alimentary prohibitions. This emerges from his understanding of the relationship between the body and nature. artefactually distorted institutions of social life. Foster 2000). that is to say nature in so far as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature. Karmic cyclical revolutions notwithstanding – and having been transcended in any case – the body is. the basis of revolutionary praxis since it is basic to life itself. For Marx. But the locus of politics shifts with the locus of objectification and subjective reification. Alter in the jaundiced eyes of their critics. Conclusion: yoga and the (re)union of humans with other forms of life Recent scholarship has drawn attention to an incipient environmentalism or ecological politics in Marx’s writing (Burkett 1999. but mediated by consciousness. In Marx’s formulation – which derives as much from Descartes as from Feuerbach in this regard. the self stands in a material relationship with the world at large.

plants.. is a modification of triguna as it appears to our species and is dependent on the power of our sense capacities. challenges the anthropocentric view of the world. From the vantage point of yoga. an inverted reflection of reality. There is an important and growing body of scholarship on Hinduism and ecology. more properly. derives from pure self-interest rather than from an ethics of altruism.. in the way Marx saw the relationship between religion and the world – then the challenge it poses to anthropocentrism in the domain of grand illusion can be understood as the basis for a real politics of consciousness and conscience. Alter 777 ‘is immediately one with its life activity’ (2002c: 123).S. Yoga philosophy recognizes important differences between various forms of life.. as humans perceive it. Nelson 1998). and the distortion takes numerous different forms depending on the form of life in question.) 12. We perceive according to the competence of the organs . which privileges human interests (Jacobsen 2002: 242). however. But the logic of liberation also defines the logic of radical holism. have different experiences according to the capacities of their sense organs . Senses distort reality. therefore. The concept of maya. Insects. What are the politics of this immediacy and the alienation of our species-being from it? Many aspects of yoga have not been critically analysed. All life is constituted by the ongoing modification of these strands relative to one another through time. As in Marx’s interpretation of religion – where the fetish is played off against itself so as to reorientate the truth of the world – an interpretation of yoga shows how the embodiment of enlightenment reflects a real challenge to anthropocentrism. If the world of maya is. but one in particular is the relationship between humans and other forms of life. Ahimsa. which has a direct bearing on this question (Chapple & Tucker 2000. rajas (action). and [non-human] animals. To define reality as that which appears for humans is to identify the experience of one species with the whole of reality. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . in fact. To achieve liberation entails separation and isolation from the inherent interdependency that characterizes the relationship between all life forms. cats or divinities. Difference emerges as a consequence of the way in which direct experience of ‘the ultimate state of matter’ (Jacobsen 2002: 242) is mediated through sense perception. Human experience is not therefore the ‘true experience’ of reality as compared to the experience of trees. in this sense.Joseph S. my concern is not in identifying the basis for an ecological politics within the framework of yoga – as yoga relates to Hindu beliefs and practices – but in reading it against the grain of its own logic. Beyond the fairly obvious deployment of ‘sacredness and purity’ in activist ecological politics. In yoga the basic mechanism for achieving isolation is ahimsa (non-violence) since non-violence breaks the ‘food chain’ that makes one form of life dependent on another. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. or even to define the problem of ecology as such. Reality. and these differences make it possible for humans alone to achieve liberation. and tamas (dullness).. I do not think it is particularly useful to identify the way in which claims can be made on behalf of Hinduism – or any other system of religious beliefs – to effect ecological transformation. the end of pain and suffering is achieved not by means of gentle kindness but by means of a radical withdrawal of the senses and dissociation from matter. since the cycle of births and deaths – from which one is liberated – defines the seamless continuity of life. the continuity of life is understood in terms of prakritic materialism manifest in the form of triguna (three psycho-somatic strands): sattva (purity and radiance). This is part of the multi-dimensional illusion of maya. real – or.

an enrichment of life (1990: 66). and the interplay of substances that bind people together to various degrees. However. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. and as a number of his students have elaborated. the number of possible postures is exactly equal to the number of different classes of living things – 840. and consciousness to produce embodied immortality invokes a whole world – and a social world at that – of time-bound. but. and radical self-contained monism. but the most logical is with regard to asana postures and pranayama since they reflect the most direct relationship between the domains of subtle and gross physiology. as the body in fact becomes the lotus that symbolizes the matrix of creation.. According to the Gherandasamhita (1996). [T]he vegetable modality is not an impoverishment. Nietzsche. Although in this formulation the iconic padmasana – lotus posture – is literalized. together with the resultant vibration set up within him by the pulsation of the inward life – all this apparently assimilates the yogin to a plant . the yogin’s sensation of his body is wholly different from that of the noninitiate. quite the contrary. Significantly. since yoga manipulates both the essence and categories that constitute a person. Schopenhauer. asana and pranayama. but animals in particular. Alter It is important to understand that the figure of ‘Man’ that Marx was writing with reference to is clearly the product of the Enlightenment and understood within the broad parameters of humanism. the primary techniques of hatha yoga. self-contained immobility makes sense.S. And although there are very important ways in which Indian thought and European philosophy intersected – particularly with reference to Schelling. on the one hand. only thirty-two of these are ‘useful for mankind in the world’ (2. The way in which yoga seeks to immobilize semen. Asana and pranayama purposefully abolish the ‘modalities of human existence’ (1990: 54-5). and the relationship between humanism and religion. most certainly defines the figure of the person against which the project of yoga may be read. As Eliade points out. There are many different points of entry into this. an important – if not necessarily pervasive – concept of the post-Samkhyan person in South Asia is structured with reference to the fluidity of dividual elements. While the exercise continues. A key point of reference for this refraction is a concept of the person. if not Man as such. breath. it stands in a refracted relationship to the world as it is and as it should be. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . rather. space. retardation of the respiratory rhythm.778 Joseph S. and context.. narrowing of the field of consciousness until it coincides with a point. as the body becomes increasingly concentrated. As Marriott has pointed out. this happens through and in the body. Bodily stability.000. Here the work of McKim Marriott (1990) is most directly relevant.) 12. transitive movement against which isolated. on the other. and Hegel in particular (Halbfass 1988) – yoga did not emerge in this environment and did not take shape with reference to the same figure of Man. a matrix of extreme transitivity. On a more specific level the logic behind dividual transubstantiation and the question of the relative degree to which a person can or cannot change her. fluid. are designed to be contrary to the nature of normal human action and experience.2). it is interesting to note that there is a close correlation between asana and a range of different life forms. Nor is yoga itself revolutionary. Regardless of the extent to which it is possible to generalize this formulation across time.or himself is a logic that can be extended beyond the boundary of a species-specific person.

and it is the only mechanism for the representation of the inherently obscure and unsignifiable truth about Ultimate Reality.S. On this level everything is a secret. material literalism of yoga is completely obscured. and/or produce enlightenment. In yoga. Place the palms on the ground and rise up the upper portion of the body like a serpent. On this level the body transforms the scope of illusion into a series of singular representations. one looks like a rooster. in the comprehensive sense of culture being that which makes us human and thereby putatively superior to other forms of life. reductive. While doing a svanasana. Many of the procedures are said to produce supernatural power. while doing a kukkutasana. Just as ignorance is universalized and reflects powerlessness. e. secrecy – not the secret itself. Consider the cobra pose. it is a real illusion of the illusion that appears to be real. Secrecy is a tremendously powerful mechanism in the representation of truth (Taussig 1999). let the body touch the ground. It is what prevents the whole thing from devolving into the domain of physiological literalism. one is not just left with the literalism of yoga – which would be rather banal – but with the question of what confusion led to the fantastic mis-conceptualization of life as suffering and pain.) 12.Joseph S. The text then proceeds to reveal – but obviously not really reveal – how to practise asana and pranayama. Feuerstein 1998. The power of secrecy lies in the fact that if one does not experience these results. bhujangasana: From the navel downwards to the toes. Once it is recognized that there is no secret. which makes the dynamic of mimesis more intimate and more literal. while doing a salabhasana. Alter 779 Of these fifteen are postures that reflect the form of animals. however. destroys all diseases. Based on a contrived mimicry of form.. Thus the Hathyogapradipika (1997) points out that yoga is powerful if kept secret. On another. and transcendent consciousness. magical power. the secret. but secrecy – is the totalized. And this directly relates to the first principle of yoga: the flow of existence is perceived to be real as a consequence of avidya (ignorance). Muller-Ortega 1990. but rendered impotent if revealed (1. secrecy mediates the relationship between the body. and so forth. Bledsoe 2000. Underlying diversity is the fact that all forms of life are of the same material essence. On one level the transparent literalism of asana performance is obvious. it is the very language of transcendence. one looks like a dog stretching. The logic of secrecy has been studied in some detail by scholars of South Asian religion given the fact that it is a central feature of initiation rites and the transmission of sacred knowledge. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . It seems quite clear that hatha yoga engages with the problem of transcending the world by embodying the diversity of life forms that constitute the illusion of maya. particularly with reference to tantra (see.42-3).g. the transparent. Speaking about the body. cure some or all diseases. among other things. It is a kind of literalism that reflects the nature of the illusion. and awakens the kundalini [serpent power] (2. one looks like a locust. of the grounded experience of reality as a grand illusion? Ultimately this confusion is a cultural confusion. but only paradoxically so – for the secret is kept and told at the same time. then one does not understand. closely related level. The revelation of the secret that does justice to the power of its enchantment – to apply Taussig’s (1999) reading of Benjamin – is that maya is in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. It increases bodily heat. This is called the serpent-posture.11). It disconnects the body from nature. It is endlessly compelling. and so a critique of enlightenment turns into a critique of culture. omnipotent source of power in the world. Urban 2003). or as yet cannot understand.

original emphasis).S. allows for an analytical reversal of this logic and the political recovery of social value. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . as a denial of this inessentiality. and to formulate definitions that are substantive. through communism. are a form of possessive or obsessive power in that the attachment to their pursuit only furthers egoic states’ (1998: 113). for atheism is a negation of God. communism notwithstanding. in terms of institutionalized practice. Socialism is man’s positive self-consciousness. It proceeds from the practically and theoretically sensuous consciousness of man and of nature as the essence.) 12. it is important to keep in mind that illusion is active rather than passive. but communism is not as such the goal of human development – the structure of human society (Marx 1961: 114. even the least strict delineation and most parsimonious definition fail to make the difference clear and unambiguous. Illusions are created. 3 Foster quotes this passage. 5 As Whicher points out. a critique of yoga points in the direction of a revolutionary goal for human development – one that includes many more sentient things than humans. NOTES 1 Clearly it is possible to make arguments for a clear distinction between magic and religion. Communism is the position as the negation of the negation. In trying to interpret this rather inconclusive conclusion. Hegel’s reference derives from Le Gobien and Bayle via Diderot. but socialism as socialism no longer stands in any need of such a mediation. 4 Here Durkheim’s discussion of asceticism and the ‘negative’ cults is relevant. To at least some degree it is important to note that in sociological terms yoga’s rejection of life as we know it through our senses involves the logic of asceticism. ‘the siddhis. meaning-orientated. Although it evokes an idealist view of the world as really unreal in relation to Ultimate Reality. no longer mediated through the annulment of private property. it is useful – as I have tried to do here – to think about a logic of consciousness that is more basic to experience than religion. Communism is the necessary pattern and the dynamic principle of the immediate future. formal. and being more directly concerned with what is sensuously perceptible in the relationship of ‘Man’ to the essential being of nature. asceticism and yoga should not be confused (1995: 314-21). Being a more profound critique of unreality than it is a critique of religion. Directed at the reification of self-into-Self transcendental consciousness. or functional in orientation. and postulates the existence of man through this negation. Fetishism. 2 It is interesting to note that Marx’s often quoted – and mis-quoted – reference to religion as the opiate of the masses has a long and curiously relevant genealogy. has no longer any meaning. but claims that ‘[t]here is no trace in Marx and Engels of the Cartesian reduction of animals to mere machines’ (2000: 166). Atheism. Alter fact the truth of the world. 6 My use of the word ‘illusion’ needs to be qualified. broadly understood. However.780 Joseph S. I think this assessment is too definitive and that Marx and Engels did not conclusively theorize the human/animal distinction. and is hence the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and recovery. misunderstood as an end in themselves. and this sense of the term is referenced in the pre-Vedantic yoga literature. even though. It is significant that Marx’s critique of religion that initiates a ‘struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion’ (2002b: 170) develops as a consequence of a reflection becoming visible as a reflection. and a critique of that consciousness that is not rooted in social value. just as real life is man’s positive reality. where the meaning of maya is very much linked to the prakrtic (elementally natural) domain of devolved Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. a critical analysis of yoga’s fetishization reveals the outline of a more encompassing politics. The next step is to flesh it out. Religion provides Marx with a critical means by which to understand reification and the transposition of value from social relations to things. no longer mediated through the annulment of religion. who used the opium metaphor to characterize the illusory and delusional religious practices of Brahmins (Halbfass 1988: 59-60).

For Hegel. Spirit and Absolute Knowledge (Hegel 1967: 455-679. It would perhaps be more apposite to regard these representations as contributing to the evolution of a later religious mythology and iconography. Apter & W. matsya (fish). to the development of extreme asceticism in the middle of the first millennium. In this sense maya is very much the same as parinama (transformation) insofar as the latter defines the structure of change and transformation that is characteristic of prakrti (elemental nature) in contrast to the immutability and changelessness of purusa (transcendental Self) (see Feuerstein 1990: 253-4. and the ‘negative attitude’ that is fundamental to yoga negates ‘the dialectical interplay of subject and object.. 789-808). The identification of the figure is uncertain and the evidence for the link with Shiva is tenuous.S.Joseph S. at issue here is the embodied self. If there is a single term that encompasses the movement as a whole it is kaula. 13 David G. of course. Indian philosophy was inherently religious. much less any notion of larger movement or tradition conceived as “Tantrism” ’ (2003: 31). As Eliade puts it: Vedanta . 106-33). by both Vedanta and Buddhism (1990: 32). and both religion and philosophy were intimately concerned with substance. seeking to avoid the difficulty of the relations between the soul and the universe. However. but is conceived of as a superior. Indian philosophy’s orientation towards the singular Universal was not reconciled with ‘the concrete particularity of the world’. White provides a succinct account of the probable historical relationship between these early sects and the emergence of the Natha Siddha tradition. and it is important to underscore the way in which kaula derives from religion. 11 The most comprehensive account of the Kapalikas is David Lorenzen’s The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas (1972). 12 Including the notorious five Ms of tantrism: maithuna (‘intercourse’). the ferment of ideas associated with these sects may be referred to as tantric. 154-72). In Fetishism as cultural discourse (eds) E. although Buddhism anticipates the discipline of the embodied self. It would also be interesting to read Hegel’s The phenomenology of mind in light of the Yoga-sutra.. it remains fundamentally a structured – and by definition non-extreme – form of ascetic idealism focused much more clearly on meditation than on embodiment. Hence Samkhya has been attacked. civilized. Ultimately. 10 Broadly speaking. mansa (‘flesh’). 9 It is important to keep in mind how Buddhist teaching also defines an important framework for understanding the development of asceticism and yoga philosophy. tantra is an ambiguous term: ‘[O]ne is hard pressed to find any clear definition of tantra in these [Hindu] texts. mudra (‘parched grain’).. 8 Space does not allow for what would be the logical tack to take at this juncture – a full and critical re-evaluation of Hegel’s analysis of Indian philosophy. See Hugh Urban’s discussion of Kapalikas and Pashupatas – among other sects – in the context of so-called ‘tantrism’. The figure could equally well be identified as depicting a yogic position (2002: 86). denies the reality of the universe and regards it as maya. 7 REFERENCES Apter.S. and this is most clearly linked. however. and mada (‘wine’). 15 This. Whicher 1998: 63-4. NY: Cornell University Press. principally because of this doctrine. Nevertheless some key points should be noted. emphasizing the way in which it should be understood as the convergence of Shaivite asceticism and Siddha alchemy (1996: 97-101). rather than insisting that a later icon be imposed on an earlier period . particularly his analysis of the representation of the activities of members of these groups from the vantage point of those who conceived of themselves as being normal. and the creative self-explication of man in history’ (Halbfass 1988: 84-99).) 12. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . Introduction. illusion. is a specific instance of the broader discourse against so-called ‘tantrism’ that was generated by Orientalists and reformers in colonial India (Urban 2003).S.. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. Ithaca. 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Chicago: University Press. Joseph S. diet and the politics of nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press. Albany: State University of New York Press. Pittsburgh PA 15260. Une analyse critique de cette évolution étend la fétichisation des relations sociales dans les objets au niveau de conscience de soi dans le corps. Yoga Vasishta Laghu 1896. l’auteur aborde la critique de la religion par Marx et la récupération de la valeur sociale par une analyse du yoga.S. le yoga représenterait un changement paradigmatique dans le développement historique de la conscience religieuse. University of Pittsburgh. À partir des théories anthropologiques et philosophiques actuelles du fétichisme. 1995.) Madras: Thompson. USA. The alchemical body: Siddha traditions in medieval India. 2000). Asian Philosophy 5. The integrity of the Yoga Darsana: a reconsideration of classical yoga. y compris marxiste. Alter is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. 2004). Among his publications are Asian medicine and globalization (University of Pennsylvania Press. Narayanaswami Aiyar. est basée sur une critique de la relation entre religion et société. D’autre part.G. ¯ Yoga et fétichisme : réflexions sur la théorie sociale marxiste Résumé La théorie sociale classique. and Gandhi’s body: sex.Joseph S. une critique de la fétichisation du corps et de la conscience dans le yoga étend et élargit la critique par Marx de la valeur sociale obscurcie et rend possible une politique écologique plus holistique concernant la valeur de la vie. Il formule deux hypothèses interdépendantes : d’une part.edu Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N. Cessation and integration in classical yoga. I. ——— 1998. Department of Anthropology. K. Alter 783 Whicher. D. jsalter+@pitt. La toile de fond philosophique qui sous-tend cette problématique est celle de la conscience et de sa projection dans les choses. (Trans.) 12. 47-58. White. 3302 Wesley W. Yoga in modern India: the body between philosophy and science (Princeton University Press. 763-783 © Royal Anthropological Institute 2006 . 2005). Posvar Hall. 1996.

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