"The sign of a true yogi is thus not how flexible their bodies are, but rather how willing they are to be philosophical about personhood, and critical of their own prejudices, while being serious about living in the Natural world." (Shyam Ranganathan, author of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra)
D oes a Yogi need to be a philosopher? Is being able to debate philosophically important to your personal practice? According to York University professor and author of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra (Penguin Classics 2009), Dr. Shyam Ranganathan, yogis must, at the very least, be able to engage in a philosophical argument. Maybe you're thinking, "Wait a second, that sounds a bit intense. Can we not practice yoga a-la-carte, grabbing what we like as we shop"?
Well, not according to Shyam Ranganathan. And, he'll be the first to tell you that according to his reading of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a yoga practice without philosophical agility is not yoga. It's something Ranganathan calls "pseudo-yoga".
As contemporary yogis who practice an assorted grab-bag of practices, we likely have little daily interaction with philosophical debate vis a vis yoga. We know this makes the practice easier to integrate into a mainstream lifestyle; making it a practice that anyone, anywhere, can dip into without getting ponderous. But what if it's the philosophical questions that do the heavy lifting when it comes to finding out what you're made of??
So how are we to develop skills at argument? Well, I took a stab at it by asking Shyam a few questions; and his answers illustrate just how much careful consideration the process of philosophical inquiry requires. Time and attention knot together in these answers; and untangling each question takes the same delicate patience and eye for detail that you would reserve for untying a knot.
Shyam Ranganathan has an MA in philosophy, an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in philosophy from York University. He is author of Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy (Motilal Banarsidass 2008) as well as translator and commentator of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra (Penguin Classics 2009). He is the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s area editor for Indian Philosophy. He has written articles on Yoga, and taught yoga philosophy both in an academic environment and to students of yoga in the community. In addition to Indian Philosophy, his research focuses on ethics and the philosophy of language, with a special focus on the role of translation across cultures and languages. He teaches philosophy at York University.