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Interview with James Mallinson "Sanskrit and paragliding"

As BBC reports, Sir James Mallinson is perhaps the only baronet to wear dreadlocks. He started growing his hair around the time he first travelled to India in 1988.

Having studied the Sanskrit at the Oxford university, as his doctoral work he translated the ancient hatha yoga  treatise "Khecharividya", and also "Shiva Samhita" and others.  In addition, he is the author of a number of remarkable articles on the history of hatha yoga and various ascetic orders of India. In 1992, Sir James was initiated into a Hindu order with the monastic name of Jagdish Das. Sir James was ordained a mahant, or abbot, of a Hindu religious order Ramanandi Tyagi at the last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.

Also, Dr. Mallinson no stranger to modern extreme. In particular, he is interested in paragliding for many years and, in the manner of mythical yogis, flies in the Himalayas. This is an experience he enjoys sharing with the general public in the popular documentary

Nowadays, the flying yogi teaches the Sanskrit at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), gives lectures and works over own researches.

Sanskrit and paragliding

Questions: Ilya Zhuravlev, Daria Mets.
Interview: Daria Mets.

Daria: When and how did you become interested in studying Hinduism, Sanskrit and Yoga? 

Jim: I started studying this when I was seventeen, I decided then that I want to read Sanskrit in Oxford, but I think that my interest appeared before that. I have been thinking of that recently. I think that first impetus for that I got when reading “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling, I read that when I was about 14-15 and I had to read that at school like 3 or 4 times. And looking back now, well, I loved reading it at a time, it was about a young English boy traveling around with a holy man in India, and that’s where I ended up spending my age at 20 to 30, spending most of my time traveling around. Because then when I was 17 I had a year off between school and university. I went to India and spent 7 month there traveling around. And I go back to India every year since. I literally haven’t missed a year. I came back and did my PA in Sanskrit. It wasn’t until after that I went to SOAS London University and I did an MA doing kind of anthropology, ethnography of yogis in India. And it was then like I was drawing into all this different disciplines anthropology, using Sanskrit and Hindi, a bit of sociology, history and so forth.

Daria: So basically you got interested in languages and traveling around East rather than yoga at first? 

Jim: Well, it was then I guess that I got interested in yoga, when I was traveling around. I did an MA in anthropology, but I got slightly frustrated by the amount of theory you had to do to do the anthropology and I wanted to do a Phd and my main fascination was hanging with these yogis in India that I have spent most of my time with. And I wanted to use not the anthropology but to use the Sanskrit instead. In fact the only Sanskrit text you can study these guys through were the texts on yoga. I was interested in fair amount already and I have started practicing but it was through that, through wanting to study them and wanting to do Sanskrit. And the only available text to study the wandering kind of ascetics, yogis of India, that are in Sanskrit are the ones that are about yoga. There are no any other practices, other things they do that are written down in texts, only yoga. 

Daria: Yes, but you could have started with Advaita, Shankaracharya texts or something alike, but you have chosen hatha yoga. 

Jim: But I would say that doesn’t apply much, they are not really philosophers - these guys, the people I have been living with in India, they don’t really read philosophical texts and complicated commentaries. In fact they are almost anti-scholastic in some way, they not preaching very much. They have changed a little bit over the last 50 years or so. But I have been told that within living memory of this Kumbha Mela festivals, if one of these sadhus of the sect that I stayed with, if he got up and started preaching philosophy - people would come and beat him up, throw off his back, you know. They are just meant to do their yoga, tapasya and devotion, rather than be scholars.

Daria: So you just followed their example in a way? 

Jim: Yes and no, now I’m a scholar as well…     

Daria: For long time academic orientalists have been studying Hinduism only in theory but you have personally traveled around India, lived with sadhus etc. Can you tell us more about this experience of living with them? 

Jim: I got interested in my first two trips to India in whole yogi and sadhu way of life. And then in 1992, just before I did my MA, I was in India again on another long trip. And I knew that if I want to get deeper into that whole world I need to get initiated within a sect, within a sadhu tradition. And I went to Kumbha Mela in Ujjain and I met my Guru there first time in 1992. And then I have spent years on the road with him or in his ashrams. He’s got two places, one in Gujarat and one in Maharashtra. With hindsight, again, I have realized that I was really lucky to meet him because I would say he is totally special, an amazing character and if he hadn’t been so kind of true to his heart and so genuine - I think… He wasn’t particularly interested in me but I was drown to him and his charisma. And also he is famous within his sect as a yogi. He spent several years as a boy, he started practicing yoga and he became a sadhu when he was 11-12 years old. And his Guru is a very expert yogi the Dewraha baba, he is kind of famous sadhu in North India, so the kind of yogic lineage came through that. 

Daria: Which lineage is that? 

Jim: The sect that his is a part of is the Ramanandi Sampradaya and the Terah Tyagi is a kind of sub-lineage within that. So I has been years on road with him. And I think that has been a great influence in my academic work. Now I don’t write so much about that side of it in my work but it totally informs me and gives a better perspective on textual side of it. 

Daria: And it makes your theoretical work much more interesting for us. 

Jim: And more interesting to me as well. If I didn’t do that, if I hadn’t spent all that years there, and I still do as much as I can, but I wouldn’t have a buzz and the drive for the academic work. And actually to a certain extent vica versa because quite a lot of that sadhu life is quite boring to be honest. There is quite a lot of sitting around the ashrams with not much going on. But because I’m able to think about it and my devotion to my Guru was great, but I’m not good in just sitting around and chanting my mantras days on in. So, I’d rather take notes and ask questions or think about what’s going on. So yeah the two, definitely.. is a symbiotic relationship to help each other, the academic theoretical work and the field work, if you want to call it that. 

Daria: But what did you do there? I mean did you practice some kind of sadhana?              

Jim: Well, he has taught me yoga. Yes, certainly practicing yoga through him and even on my own. But also, living the sadhu life, even though I would never say I’m a sadhu. I have for moths or sometimes for years on in lived the sadhu life. It’s just having one small bag and a blanket and wondering around, going to festivals and pilgrimage places and meeting up with other holy men, other yogis. And then also seeing how they interact with young people. So, I’m fascinated by this world, but I’m also generally fascinated by India all-round. And it’s an amazing way to get to see India as well, because Indian society is so restricted into these different categories of casts and so forth. And actually within Indian society different groups don’t mix very much. But the sadhus have managed to cut across all of that. So, you get to see a wide cross section of Indian society through the sadhu world. So, my Guru has deputies from all different sections of Indian society, high casts and low casts, man, women, children. So, through that side of it you get to learn more about Indian society too. 

Daria: When you started living and traveling with him, did you already know Hindi and Sanskrit?

Jim: Yes, I already picked up a bit. But it’s basically through him that I have learnt to speak Hindi, I mean he speaks lovely, very purely. My Hindi is quite kind of academic in a way, it’s very Sanskritic. I only recently had to sit someone down with me to teach me swear-words and stuff. My swearing wasn't very good.

Daria: What was the most difficult and most interesting part of that lifestyle?

Jim: Difficult I guess, in some way, is not really being in for 100%. When I first met my Guru I was with my girlfriend at the time, she is now my wife we have been together 25 years or something. So, I kind of knew, I mean, if it hadn’t been for her maybe I would have ended up a sadhu. But I had a love of a very good woman for all my adult life and I kind of knew I was never going to throw that away and become a sadhu.  Occasionally threatened through after a big argument or something, but deep down on you it’s never going to happen. So, yes, sometimes there is kind of awkwardness to wonder who am I, why am I doing this, feeling that I don’t fit in there completely. And then also feeling, I don’t necessarily fit in when I come back home. But actually it’s only after these transitional periods in fact, changing from one place to the other, the first few days of weeks, can be slightly difficult. But then when you settled, you find it’s ok. 

What was the other.. the most interesting… the all of it really. I’m still fascinated by my Guru. I just find he is an amazing man. Every time I see him, I’m more impressed, I have more respect. You know, you think that over the years as you live with someone you see weaknesses and find faults. But I have been very lucky to have met this guy. He has looked after us incredibly well. I have spent more time with him by now than my wife does with our kids at home. You know, he has always shown us so much love and given us such an amazing access to this whole world of sadhus. I love the interaction between the different groups of yogis or my Guru`cs old friends who are yogis and sadhus. So, at the Kumbha Melas when we all get together it’s like old friend you haven’t seen for a while. It’s bands, the conversations, the repartee and just catching the eye, I love all of that.              

Daria: Hatha yoga in modern world. It’s not a secret that the West has developed and is still developing its own hatha yoga focused on asanas as a priority, and it has gone in such anatomical details with it that Hindus could never even imagine. But is the original Indian tantric hatha yoga as described in Nath texts and Yoga-Kundalini Upanishads still alive?  

Jim: Is it still alive, yes absolutely I think so, in India.

Daria: You mean the same original one or it has also changed? 

Jim: Well, it’s always changing, it has been changing all the time. Funny enough, there was this conference last week in Vienna, lots of yoga scholars there. And I don’t really see myself as an expert in modern yoga at all. I’ve been to two yoga classes in my life. But they were talking about what defines the modern yoga and it were things like democratization, comodification, the clash between the subtle body idea and then the medical ideas and the medicalization of the body. And in fact we find all of that going on thousand years ago, it’s nothing new there, ok it takes different forms but the same… particularly when this kind of yogic texts first appeared in 11-12 century, it’s exactly the same issues they dealing with. Well I argue actually in my work that the Nath tantric kundalini tradition is kind of only half of the picture. And there is older ascetic, more body oriented yoga that combines with it to produce the traditional hatha yoga of the texts. And that combined yoga very much is still going on. That’s what my Guru does and I have met plenty of other traditional yogis who are still practicing it. I’m not so sure among the Naths. I haven’t spent  so much time with them, but I’ve got some good Naths friends and I see them quite often in the Himalayas. Some of them do some yoga practice but I haven’t really asked them about deep kundalini experiences and so forth. But I’d be surprised if they are not doing that. And they are also still doing some pretty far out magical tantric kind of rituals, more so than the other sects of the yogis certainly. I’m not initiated into those, so I don’t really know exactly what’s going on. But there are some quite interesting modern Nath manuals of their tantric rituals. And it’s completely different from the Naths earlier texts. They don’t speak of yoga very much, they are more talking about propitiating Goddesses and so forth through tantric rituals, not sexual rituals but kind of mantras and visualisations and offerings and worship - puja

Daria: Do those original ascetic orders have their own original scriptures as well? 

Jim: Not necessarily original but within the body, the corpus of text on hatha yoga yes, there are two early ones. One called Amritasiddhi which is from about the 11th century and one called Dattatreya Yoga Shastra from about the 13th century. They are like the earliest texts to teach hatha yoga. And they don’t have the kundalini, the chakras and so forth. It’s much more about the physical and breathing practices rather than the tantric visualization. So it’s all about the control of the breath, the control of bindu or the semen in the man. And then this tradition combines with the yoga taught in the Nath texts and also in the earlier tantric works of the kaula traditions. Those two then joint to produce this kind of classical hatha yoga that we find, say, in Hatha Yoga Pradipika which combines the two methods together. 

Daria: But for the contemporary yoga practitioners in India doesn’t this mixture of tantric and ascetic traditions create a problem? 

Jim: Well, I think it happened so long ago. And it’s only through my work and looking into the texts that are only available in manuscripts that people haven’t looked at properly. And then working at relative chronology, working out which texts came when. So, it’s through this kind of really pains taking difficult philological work. Looking at the text you can work out what came when. You can see exactly that this certain practices that were given towards manipulating breath and bindu are then taught in slightly later texts as methods of manipulating the kundalini and so forth. And when they are first taught they don’t mention kundalini at all. Then you can see and work out which text has borrowed from what and then why it’s doing it and see the process. Basically the kundalini traditions have taken this bindu-yoga, absorbed it and changed into their own purposes.

Daria: You know, when I was taught yoga in the university, I was taught quite opposite. I was told that when the first hatha yoga texts were written, the tantric tradition was refined in them and kind of cleared in order to be accepted wide. 

Jim: Well, that is true to certain extent. I mean, that is the process that is going on within the tantric hatha yoga texts. They were first taught by these early Nath traditions who were celibate yogis. They are in the same lineage as earlier Kaula schools of tantric yoga. They were not necessarily celibate and they did do sexual practices, drinking alcohol and so forth. But they cleaned all of that up and to some extent they internalized the tantric ritual, so there is no need for the externals. And also what’s going on in these texts is that they are becoming less exclusive. And that’s why one no longer has to be a part of the secret tantric sect in order to get the teaching. They are making these teachings more public. So, yes, they are cleaning them up and also they are making them more available.    


Daria: Where does hatha yoga really originate? It is mostly known from the Naths texts. But we know that Naths themselves have not been practicing it much for long time. Even in the main Nath ashram in Gorakhpur, hatha yoga is taught by acharya with Bihar school diploma. What are the sources of the medieval hatha yoga?

Jim: Well, what I would argue is that you’ve got this tantric traditions of visualization based yoga with very few physical practices. They have some breathing techniques and maybe some clenching of muladhara, like mulabandha. But really rather than that there is not much of physical practice and it’s from this other tradition I’ve been talking about. This is more ascetic one and I’d say much older. So, what I was saying in the beginning about the fact that the only text on the world of sadhus and yogis that really did shed any lights on them and that are in Sanskrit are the ones on yoga. Because on the rest of the practices they do there is nothing written down, it’s all kind of oral teaching. We do get some kind of bleak references in other texts, earlier texts. So, for example, in the Mahabharata, from two thousand years ago more or less, you get stories of ascetics who were doing for example the penance, various tapasya including sitting surrounded by five fires and it also says they are doing yoga. Sometimes they are said to be standing up for long time, also hang upside down, perhaps they were doing the head stand. The same guys are said to do yoga and said to be celibate. So, my argument, although I can’t prove it, the theory I have, that best fits the facts that I see is that this ancient ascetic celibate tradition is in which the bases of hatha yoga practices have developed. And also we get references from the time of the Buddha. The Buddha went to try the techniques that these other ascetics, the holy men that were around where he lived in his time. And he tried various techniques including fasting, but also including turning his tongue back and pressing it against his pallet in the manner of the hatha yogic khecari mudra. So, we get these bleak references but nothing actually teaching what they doing. And what I think is that this sort of ancient rishi tradition of India is in which the hatha yogic practices developed. So it has been around for more than 2.5 thousand years and then it’s combined with the tantric yoga tradition around a thousand years ago to produce what we now know as hatha yoga. 

Daria: By tantric here you mean Nath? 

Jim: When I say tantric, well it’s a difficult thing, but I’m basically talking of the doctrines and practices that we know from a body of texts dating from about the 5th to 10th century AD. The Naths weren't around then. The Naths were a kind of later ascetic development at the end of the tantric period. In around 9th to 10th centuries we get to know these various traditions known as Kaula. And one of these is called Pashchimamnaya which means the “western stream”, there are four different streams, sometimes five. And we can see within the Nath texts that they are clearly coming from that, they have developed after that stream of Kaula tantrism. But they are a cleaned up development, like I was saying that they are not doing the hardcore practices that those guys used to do. Within that Pashchimamnaya tradition, that relatively late tantric tradition, the first text comes from about the 9th to 10th century. One of the biggest texts of that tradition is called Kubjikamata. So, it’s mainly worship of the Goddess called Kubjika. Who is actually within those texts identified with kundalini. So, it’s within those texts that we first get the kind of classical treatment of kundalini as a serpent goddess at the bottom of the spine.    


Daria: Chakras, kundalini, mudras – what are the sources of this knowledge and what are the results of your research on them?

Jim: Chakras and kundalini is a very interesting topic. In fact no one has done very systematic research on the history of the development of what I might call a subtle body, the yogic body or whatever. Within this tantric corpus of texts… that’s when we get very early references in Upanishads too about centers in the body, nadis – vessels moving things around. But these only get developed within the tantric corpus between the 5th to 10th centuries. But there a quite a few different systems, it’s not very well established. And even later on, even up till recently texts teach different systems. So, this idea of the seven chakras is by no means the only one. There is couple of traditions, the Sri Vidya tradition which is best represented amongst the yogic text by the Shiva Samhita. Within that tradition this idea, the system of seven chakras is dominant. So, it’s thanks to that and also thanks to Arthur Avalon (John Woodroffe) who wrote the “Serpent power” in about hundred years ago by now, in which he translates the Shat Chakra Nirupana which has this idea of six chakras and maybe plus one of kundalini. So, through that it became much the best known system in the west. As I said there are lots of different systems historically. But it is also that system that is originally associated with this Pashchimamnaya, western stream of Kaula tantrism, which then the Nath sect grew out of, which is why it has a big place in their texts.

Kundalini also develops in these late tantric texts of 9th to 10th century. And then mudras are very interesting. A lot of the words in hatha yoga texts are taken from tantric texts. But they have completely new meanings. Mudras in tantric works are kind of physical positions, that you can hold yourself with mainly hand gestures which you use in rituals for propitiating, sort of making happy your chosen God or Goddess that you are worshiping. And also, perhaps, to help bring on the certain states of mind. In the earlier texts a lot of ritual was about bringing about the possession, normally by Goddess that you’ve been worshiping. Making the essence of the God or Goddess you worship to sort of enter your body. But then within the hatha yoga texts mudra means something quite different and it comes to meet these physical techniques for manipulating the energies in your body. That’s not what they for in the earlier tantric texts.

Daria: Can you name some of these texts?   

Jim: There are loads, so many of these. The earliest one for example, a very fascinating book about to come out was written by a friend of mine who is a great scholar of early Shiva tantric Dominic Goodall. I said it’s written but it’s being with two other brilliant scholars: my academic guru Alexis Sanderson and the Harunaga Isaacson. And they pulled out an edition and translation of the text Nisvasatattvasamhita. And that is the earliest known tantra maybe 5th or 6th century. But it wasn’t so popular later on. And then there are corpora of tantras. Sometimes there is meant to be 18, sometimes 28 tantras split into different groups. And then the later tantric texts are split into 4 parts: yoga, kriya, ritual, jnana – philosophy and then charya is a kind of behavior. You don’t necessarily find that split in the early ones. The famous tantric things like the Malini Vijayottara, the Svachandra tantra. But a lot of these happened to be not edited properly and they are still only in manuscripts. If you go to my academic guru Alexis Sanderson, if you go on to his website, you find there is an amazing article he did in 1988 called “Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions and that just lays out the overview of the whole system. It’s pretty complicated, so I still go back and read it. It’s not so particularly long it’s only some 30 pages but it’s so tense and it just gives a really detailed overview of all the different parts of tantric corpus and how it all fits together. And then there are different levels of how esoteric it is, weather the rituals do involve sex and alcohol and so forth because certain schools don’t.

One of the tantras best known things in the academic world in particular is sort of 9th to 12th century there was a lot of interpretation and commentary of these earlier texts by these brilliant philosophers in Kashmir, best known of whom is Abhinavagupta, he wrote things like TantralokaTantrasara. They are giving you an essence, and overview but incredibly tense brilliant works giving a non-dual philosophical interpretation of earlier texts, which actually may not have been non-dual themselves. In a typical Indian commentarial style they are looking at earlier texts but putting their own spin on it. But it’s difficult for me to sum it up. And I’d say the best introduction is to read Alexis's piece.   

Daria: Are you acquainted with the tradition of Tamil siddhas, sittars, or the Tirumantiram text? This text also mentions hatha and kundalini yoga.

Jim: Yes, I am and I think there is a lot of fascinating stuff to be learned from there. Although there is quite a lot of politics involved over the texts. And so the Tamil scholars often want to say the texts are older than may be reasonable. And the Tirumantiram, I only went through it really cursively and I don’t know Tamil but from what I see it looks to me as it is the derivative of Sanskrit texts on hatha yoga. Well, that would be quite offensive to certain Tamil scholars who would tell you that it’s from 6th or 7th century and I take the earliest hatha text to 11th or maybe 12th century. But I’m not alone in this opinion, my friend Dominic Goodall whom I just mentioned, he too. And also Alexis Sanderson who have looked at this more closely than I have. Dominic has spent in Tamil Nadu 20 years and he speaks Tamil and he is also a brilliant Sanskrit scholar. And he says the same that in the parts of Tirumantiram is not older than 13th – 14th century. But still it is a fascinating tradition and there are certain things in fact. If you look at the history of the study of yoga it has a great influence on that. So, if you look at the earliest works particularly Eliade and Surendranath Dasgupta they actually relied on a scholar called… I’m forgetting his name right now, but he contributed an article to an earlier encyclopedia of Indian religion. Which they all then drew out of and that was all about Tamil siddhas. And that feeds into the works of David Gordon White so forth. And that has a massive overemphasis of these siddha and alchemical traditions.        

Daria: You are also taking a great interest in paragliding in mountains – please share with us how did you get interested in it and what does it give to you?

Jim: I got interested in it completely by luck, my friend rang me up and said: “hey, let’s learn to paraglide, there is school near your parents’ house.” That was in 1995. And I said: “yes, that’s great, what’s that?” I had no idea what it was. It was pretty new then. And he has hardly done it since and I got completely hooked. And I’ve been doing it a lot ever since. I don’t only do it in mountains I do it also here in England, as well, in the summer when the weather is good. I leave near these small hills but on a really good day I can take of the hill next where I live and I fly 100 miles, stay in the air for 8 hours or something and land on the other side of the country. Some people think, it is completely mad and I’m still doing it. Because it is quite dangerous but at the same time what’s amazing is the fact that you can do it… You can end folded up, it fits into the bag you can carry on your back. Basically like your own airplane that you put into the bag that you could carry. That keeps me doing it. And then doing it in the Himalayas is just amazing, really great. I made a film about it called “Temples in the clouds” Which is very a sort of jungly film. We didn’t really plan to make it such a serious film but in the end, like a proper film that we would broadcast but we did. So, what’s really lovely is when you put a bit of stuff in your harness that you fly with and you can land high upon a mountain you camp on for the night. And then carry on the next day and then just travel around the mountains like that. I love being in Himalayas obviously and it’s giving me a good reason to. And I turned it into a business for few years I was guiding people there. I just stopped that this year. And I guess you can’t help thinking of yourself as a flying yogi, it always meets the legends about people flying around in the Himalayas. And I guess we are adding to that. Funny, there are a lot of Russian people where we go. In the last 5 or 8 years perhaps there are more Russians doing it than anyone else.         

Daria: How is today’s indology changing, do scientists still have interest for the subject and which subject is of current importance mainly for indologysts? What are you currently working at? 

Jim: I think there is a very welcome swing back to the hardcore philology. Which is what I was trained to do. But there was for last years, especially in the studies of religious studies like yoga and tantra, there has been a school… What happened particularly in America, is kind of school, I think coming out of Chicago, this kind of history of religions where they actually think that the whole idea of traditions of texts.. which is what I do, when you get all the manuscripts and you compeer them and you work out what you think the original text is. They kind of turned against that and they think that’s just the work of these stuffy philologists sitting in their libraries who don’t really engage with what the subject is. But that has resulted in a really kind of flaky wishy washy studies of yoga stuff. Some of the stuff that has come out of America written about the subjects really does not stand up the scrutinise and it becomes apparent. What people are saying is almost like they are making it up, they are getting a few ideas of what tantra and yoga is and they kind of take it from there. But then often where it takes them you can’t compare to what is in the texts if you do look properly in our main historical sources. What they talking about often doesn’t match with what is found there. It seems to be over the last 10 to 20 years a turn back from there and scholars everywhere are beginning to appreciate more of philology. You know it used to be almost embarrassing. Philology for a while was almost like a dirty work within some University degrees or departments. One of my friends Harunaga Isaacson whom I mentioned earlier was absolutely brilliant Sanskrit scholar, well, he is brilliant in so many regions and areas. He is very good on Tantric Buddhism and so forth. He was in the university in the States for a while and they kind of just dismissed him as this Natha who is just abscessed with these manuscripts and texts. But now people are beginning to realize that without the knowledge of, the proper understanding of these historical sources which are the only resources, far in a way the biggest resources, biggest amount of data that we have got. If you don’t actually do the hard work of looking at the manuscripts and working out what’s going on and what they really said and try to work out what text came before that and try to work out the chronology so you can see the development of the ideas and so forth. Without doing that if you start trying to make announcements, you start talking about the history of yoga or whatever the subject is, you easily get tricked out. You make mistakes because you need to have the basic facts sorted out. So yes, that’s a welcomed development. There are other developments but for me that’s the most important, the very welcomed development.

Daria: What is the subject you currently working at?

Jim: I set up research project and at its heart, the basic essence of it is critical edition of the six earliest texts on hatha yoga. And then also, for a few years I’ve been writing a monograph, a book just focusing on the history of hatha yoga and its practitioners. That’s mainly what I’m working on. We still looking for the funding for the project. So I put together for massive application for government funding here but we got turned down. I think probably because we are asking for too much money. Government hasn’t got much money for funding things like that at the moment. But I’ve got a few ideas for possible private sponsors I might try. I think we will get there quite quick. A part of it we want to tie up with the library in the fort of Jodhpur, Western Rajasthan, which has got the biggest collection of yoga manuscripts in India. So, we want to see if we can have a kind of collaboration with them as well.

Going back to indology, a real shame for the subject has been a massive decline in the quality of the scholarship coming out of the India over the last 50 or 60 years. I was involved with this other project in India that fell through. But I’m hoping maybe with this research project we final to team up with some Indian scholars and try to bring on some young scholars and show them the great leaps forward in sort of computer technology that help in research, so you are able to search a masses of texts. You know on my computer I’ve got thousands of Sanskrit texts and if there is some obscure word or obscure practice I can search that word in all those texts and things like that. It makes huge difference to the research. But Indian scholars, unlike 50 or 60 years ago and then before that, the best minds of India have not really been going into study of Sanskrit and study of their literary cultural traditions. I think, perhaps, with the economic development in India that may change to certain extents. And of course Indian expats are also getting more interested in the history of their culture. Now, that they have established themselves as a force in the world and lots of them has become very rich. So, now there is time, space and opportunity for introspection. That would be a nice thing for the study of the subjects to flourish once again in India. 

Daria: What’s the most happening subject in present for the indologists in general?         


Jim: There has been obviously the Sheldon Pollock from Columbian University with his theories about the development of Sanskrit and then also the vernacular languages. He has done an amazing job of presenting, overarching theory of the languages as a whole which can then be applied. Language and power, and their interaction and how they were used. It’s very difficult to sub brief but he kind of looks at how Sanskrit about two thousand years ago suddenly evolved from being just a language of ritual in to becoming a language of power that was used by kings. And also in further development it becomes a literary language so beautiful poetry gets composed in it. And then a thousand years later Sanskrit gets eclipsed by the vernacular regional languages that then go through the same process to certain extent. So, this kind of overarching theory has been a driving force in a lot of peoples research in a kind of last 10 or 15 years.

And the other big thing which again Sheldon Pollock has been involved, with has been what they call looking at the early modern period. A lot of people have assumed that Indian intellectual life has been totally static for hundreds and thousands of years before the British arrived. But in fact a lot of people on the back of the big research project he had put together have been looking on that. So, 2-3 hundred years before colonialism and there is incredibly inventive and rich intellectual output in India that time.

And then the other big field over the last 20 or 30 years or more has been the one opened up by my tutor, my supervisor in Oxford professor Alexis Sanderson who has done a kind of revolutionary studies of Tantra. Through him and his students a lot of work has been done on the texts, the manuscript tradition of Tantra. It has kind of opened up the whole world. And Alexis in some recent kind of book lenght articles has shown how contrary to the idea of Hinduism being the same as Brahmanism to certain extent, being identified pretty much or at least high level religion in India being identified with Brahmanical Vedic traditions. He has shown that in fact in period from about 6th to 13th century Shiva Tantra was the dominant religion. So, for those a probably the most active fields of indology for a moment, in Sanskrit indology anyway.

Daria: Question about Eastern orthodox traditions and contemporary human spiritual growth. Many orthodox believes look very archaic and limited. They are difficult to accept for western people, just as cast system can hardly be accepted as a real gradation for the admission to the spiritual knowledge. And at the same time there are new interesting forms of spiritual culture being born in West – integral philosophy of Ken Wilber, transpersonal psychology, Past life regression and Life between lifes regression by Mikhael Newton etc. What would be the future of Indian yoga in West in this context from your opinion, if we exclude the primitive fitness aspects?

From your point of view – does the West need to develop its own integral system of spiritual development and include yoga into it, or it should try to research the orthodox sampradayas and follow them strictly?   

Jim: See, I’m not very good at that. I don’t really know much about Ken Wilber or transpersonal psychology. But my opinion would be that West has got to develop its own. In the same way like yoga has constantly developed in India. It has always developed to suit the environment and historical circumstances. And any idea that there is an authentic original yoga is not… I mean I would argue that the oldest thing that we can find is those guys who can stand up for twelve years and put their arms up in the air and hold the breath which we can’t do clearly. I think the reason for the text of hatha yoga is that these practices were brought for everyone they were not limited to just those ascetics in the forest. And the teachings were adopted so that anyone could benefit from that. And I don’t see why that process shouldn’t continue. These days in the West from my limited understanding it seems to be very much excessive emphasis on asana practice and the body beauty. I guess people get into it for different reasons and people who are interested in spiritual development and so forth will take the bits of yoga that they can find is good for them, for their purpose.

Daria: But don’t you find that Indian philosophy, I mean Yoga, Advaita etc. is quite contradictory to Western worldview and understanding of what is good and what is right, mainly based on Christian or meterialistic values and to go deeper into them you kind of have to give up those?

Jim: I’ve written a bit about this and I almost feel like a repeat it too often but there is this one early hatha yoga text that I have mentioned, the Dattatreya Yoga Shastra which I have put a translation up on my academia page. It has got these verses where it says that it doesn’t matter at all what you believe, what your philosophy is and it lists various different philosophies like Buddhism, Brahmanism, Kapalikas (a kind of wild skull-wearing teachers) and even Charvakas – the materialists, who believe in nothing, they just believe that you live your life and then you die and then it’s all over. And it says that it doesn’t matter what you believe if you practice yoga and you believe that it’s going to work  - it will get you were ever you want to go. So, the whole notion behind Christian yoga that anyone can do that and it will work. So, maybe because of that they have no problem with Christians doing yoga and so forth. I think the problem for the people in the West who study yoga is that they think not right that there must be some philosophy behind the yoga and then they get basically have thrown all of the Indian culture over them. And they think: “Oh, to understand yoga I’ve got to understand the whole India, all its entirety and its history.” when you don’t necessarily. Well, I mean if you want to understand the history and where it comes from that would help a great deal but I don’t think it’s necessarily essential for getting the benefits from the practice. I think that’s what the teachings of these texts are. That’s why these texts came about they were just trying to teach these method of spiritual development to everyone regardless of who they were or what their beliefs were. They say this will work for everyone.        

Daria: What do you think of the Lahiri Mahasaya kriya yoga tradition?

Jim: It’s been long time since I’ve read the Autobiography of a yogi and I can’t actually remember what it is that they doing. 

Daria: You never came across it? 

Jim: I happened, it’s in a film. 

Daria: But that was the only case? 

Jim: I think so, amongst the sort of traditional yogis that I have spent time with, they are slightly separate from that tradition. But what you mean by kriya yoga though? Within Sanskrit texts you don’t read about Kriya yoga you read about kriyas as kind of physical cleansing techniques. Can you summarize it? It’s a kundalini yoga, isn’t it? 

Daria: Well, kind of but according to Lahiri Mahasai you are not allowed to tell the details of your practice to others.

Jim: Oh, really? You have to have this sort of Shaktipat initiation something like that? That would be harking back to the earlier sort of exclusive tantric traditions. So, in some ways that goes against the spirit of early hatha yoga which has been democratized. I try to be as open as possible with everything that happens. You know in the Khecarividya there is a verse that I translated and it says that the person who makes this text freely available and known to everyone will be eaten alive by yoginis. So, I’m slightly nervous because I’ve published the book, but then I figured out that it has actually been published in a very obscure academic publisher and not very few people have read it. I think the people who would get the troubles are those who would make it available online for free. Then yoginis should come looking for them, not for me.     

Daria: You have done a great work translating the Khecarividya scripture. Why did you choose this particular subject? And have you practiced it yourself?

Jim: Yes, I have done this practice. Why… on a quite a kind of simple level I chose the text because it suited my purposes at the time. I had to find a text for my PhD and it had to be a text on yoga. I read a survey on early yoga texts done by French scholar Christian Bouy, a very good book. And he pointed out this text as a kind of early tantric hatha yoga work. So, it also fitted in very well with the work of my supervisor Alexis Sanderson. It was relatively short - only 300 verses. And when I looked in the catalogue that I had in my disposal I found mentions of only 7 manuscripts which was a reasonable amount. And also I knew I could probably find some yogis who did the practice. So, all that suited and remained appropriate. Though I emend up finding 30 manuscripts and I can do collide all of them and read all of them. I made it a part of my work to go and find practitioners in India. And then of course I wanted to do it myself. I’m not one of these scholars who can spend however many years on working on it and not try it. It took a while and I managed to and I still practice it. 

Daria: Did you also cut your tongue? 

Jim: I did cut my tongue, yes. But to be honest I don’t think that is essential. It’s more that stretching and then stretching the pallet that’s essential. You have to try and experience it. 

Daria: It’s actually also a part of Kriya yoga.

Jim: Yes, I remember that. But you don’t have to be initiated into it, have you?

Daria: Well, I was initiated only into kriya and it’s a part of it but I got it from other tradition not Lahiri Mahasaya. It was Nath tradition, Siddha Parampara. 

Jim: Yes, that’s slightly different.

Daria: Thank you for your time and sharing all of it with us.