image: Wikimedia commons (link).
For those still not fully convinced of the importance of the ancient art of Yoga, discussed in numerous previous posts including:
check out an article published on the Graham Hancock website and written by researcher Bibhu Dev Misra, entitled "Olmec Yogis with Hindu Beliefs: Did They Migrate from Ancient China?"
In the article, and in his website entitled "Myths, Symbols and Mysteries," the author applies his knowledge and insight to explore evidence of connections between ancient cultures and civilizations which point to the conclusion that important aspects of humanity's ancient history has been overlooked or excluded from the conventional academic narratives and theories.
For example, the article linked above which appeared on Graham Hancock's website presents overwhelming evidence that specific Yoga asanas are depicted in numerous figurines from Central America attributed to the Olmec civilization (1500 BC to 400 BC, with cultural connections stretching back as early as 2500 BC according to some scholars) and to the Western Mexico shaft tomb culture from the region of modern-day Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima (generally dated to the period 400 BC to AD 300, but with evidence of activity which also stretches back to 1500 BC).
For example, Bibhu Dev Misra identifies the ancient figurine above, from Colima, as demonstrating the Vrschikasana, or Scorpion asana. Readers can find various images of Yoga practitioners performing this asana using a simple web search, and can find the posture discussed on pages 386 to 388 in Light on Yoga by Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, who writes of this asana:
The lungs expand fully while the abdominal muscles are stretched. The entire spine is vigorously toned and remains healthy. The asana has also psychological significance. The head which is the seat of knowledge and power is also the seat of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice. These emotions are more deadly than the poison which the scorpion carries in its sting. The yogi, by stamping on his head with his feet, attempts to eradicate these self-destroying emotions and passions. By kicking his head he seeks to develop humility, calmness and tolerance and thus to be free of ego. The subjugation of the ego leads to harmony and happiness. 388.And there are many more examples in Bibhu Dev Misra's article -- so many, and with such clear correspondence to known Yoga asanas, that to maintain that these surviving ancient sculptures and figurines of Central America do not represent asanas would be ridiculous.
With this article, Mr. Misra has simultaneously established first that Yoga was anciently practiced by cultures separated by vast distances (cultures which conventional academic historical paradigms and narratives will vehemently maintain could have had no contact with one another) and also that the discipline of Yoga as it has survived in India to this day represents a stream of ancient wisdom flowing down from antiquity in a form that is clearly recognizable in extensive artistic representations dating back thousands of years, and in a part of the world undisturbed (until more recent centuries) by the violent suppression of the ancient wisdom which, under literalist Christianity, set about cutting off that stream in centers such as Delphi and Eleusis during the late Roman empire, and then subjugating and forcibly converting cultures and sacred traditions such as those found in western Europe and later continuing under European imperialism and colonialism to much of the rest of the world.
I would argue that this violent interruption of the stream of ancient wisdom given to humanity in extreme antiquity is directly responsible for much of the disconnection that characterizes "modern society," as well as the ongoing manifestations of violence, colonialism and imperialism which plague our world to this day.
Mr. Misra's important article examining evidence of Yogic practice in the ancient Americas also points to artistic and stylistic parallels between specific Central American statues and paintings and elements of ancient Sanskrit sacred texts, such as the conch shells that feature prominently in the action described in the Mahabharata, or the distinctive features of the god Shiva which bear striking correspondence to the Olmec-period cave art at Juxtlahuaca.
That cave painting, as Bibhu Dev Misra explains, shows a gigantic figure with abundant cascading locks of thick black hair, wearing a jaguar-skin garment, bearing a serpent in one hand and a trident-shaped implement in the other, and wearing a head-dress from which emanate wavy blue-green lines -- all of which have direct correspondences to the figure of the Lord Shiva.
I would add that these distinctive features can also be shown to have direct correspondence to ancient depictions and descriptions of the god Dionysos or Dionysus -- and that there are numerous ancient sources which explicitly link Dionysos to India and state that the god came from there, or traveled there ,and had devotees in that part of the world. Links between some of the aspects of Dionysos and the traditional practices of Hindu sadhus (as well as to the Nazarite vow described in the Old Testament, and the Rastafari tradition which has connections to both the Nazarite vow and to the sadhus of India) can be found in a discussion in this previous post.
Mr. Misra presents arguments and evidence that the Yogic influence in Central America may have originated in trans-Pacific contact between Asia and the Americas in ancient times -- and I do not by any means deny that this is a strong probability. I myself believe that overwhelming evidence supports the likelihood of ancient contact across the oceans between various cultures that the conventional academic paradigm vehemently disallows. I have listed just a small sample of such evidence in a blog post from 2011, and many more could be listed -- such as the amphorae submerged off the coast of Brazil, the ancient copper mines of upper Michigan, the inscriptions near Hidden Mountain in New Mexico, or those in Picture Canyon in Colorado, or the inscribed stone carried by Chief Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain (Chief Joseph), and many, many other examples.
However, I would also add that there is evidence that Yoga and similar disciplines were extremely widespread among some of the earliest ancient civilizations -- including the Indus-Sarasvati civilization (see the first image in Bibhu Dev Misra's article, often referred to as the Pashupati seal), as well as the civilization of ancient Egypt as early as the Old Kingdom (see discussion in John Anthony West's essential study Serpent in the Sky, on pages 92 - 93).
In my own discussion of the Pashupati seal and its significance, I also point to evidence for the antiquity and geographic dispersion of Yoga-like disciplines found in texts from ancient China cited by Professor Victor H. Mair which involve development of the "vital breath" and the use of physical movements taking their names from the movements of animals, such as "bear strides and bird stretches."
I believe it is very likely that, like the ancient system of celestial metaphor which can be shown to underlie the myths found around the world (including the stories collected in the Bible), disciplines such as silent meditation and "moving meditation" (such as Yoga and its parallels in other ancient cultures) may also originate with the same extremely ancient and now-forgotten source, possibly predating the earliest known civilizations by thousands of years (and of which the incredibly ancient site of Gobekli Tepe may provide some of the most concrete evidence discovered thus far).
I am also convinced that the purpose of the ancient wisdom preserved in the world's myths, scriptures and sacred stories, and the purpose of ancient disciplines such as Yoga, are very much related -- and that they both involve connection with an Infinite realm, one which (according to the ancient wisdom) is always present at every point and at all times in this finite and material realm, and to which we actually have access at all times (see for instance "The Inner connection to the Infinite" and "Why divinities can appear in an instant").
Finally, although much more could be said about Mr. Misra's excellent article and about the other important and extensive research found on his website, I would also point out that the fascinating connection he has uncovered between the Juxtlahuaca cave painting and the characteristic depictions of the god Shiva can also be shown to have connections to distinctive features of the constellation Ophiucus, a constellation who plays central roles in numerous Star Myths from around the world (and who often plays the role of various gods and goddesses).
Below is a star-chart showing Ophiucus, along with some of the characteristic features of the Lord Shiva which Bibhu Dev Misra lists in his article, and which are also present in the Juxtlahuaca cave art:
image: Juxtaposition of star chart showing Ophiucus and Milky Way (from Stellarium, with added outlines and labels) and the Juxtlahuaca figure (Wikimedia commons: link).
Again, those similarities between the Juxtlahuaca and the characteristics of Lord Shiva pointed out by Bibhu Dev Misra include:
- A serpent in one hand: this probably corresponds to the left (or east) side of the constellation Ophiucus in the above star-chart; this side of Ophiucus (the Serpent-bearer) is usually envisioned as the "tail" of the serpent the figure is holding.
- A trident-shaped implement in the other hand: this probably corresponds to the right (or west) side of the constellation Ophiucus in the above star-chart; this side of Ophiucus (the Serpent-bearer) is usually envisioned as the "head" of the serpent the figure is holding, but note that it has three stars and could be envisioned as a "small trident," just as we see in the Juxtlahuaca painting -- and note also that the mighty hero Bhima in the Mahabharata at one time encounters a powerful serpent described as having four teeth -- which is almost certainly the same part of the serpent of Ophiucus, counting the three stars that make up the tines of this "trident" plus the fourth star from which these tines emanate.
- A jaguar-skin garment: this is not as easy to definitively identify as a distinctive characteristic of the constellation Ophiucus, but note that the short legs of the constellation as outlined could give rise to the hanging-down "tail" of the jaguar pelt (or leopard- or tiger-skin, in other cultures and other mythologies) -- and note also that the Juxtlahuaca figure only shows clearly one of the man's two legs (the other is obscured), plus the hanging-down tail.
- A head-dress from which emanate numerous wavy green lines, which Bibhu Dev Misra sees as corresponding to the long and elaborate matted locks of the god Shiva, from which the heavenly stream of the Ganga or Ganges river flows down to earth: this celestial stream, identified with the lengthy unshorn hair of the Lord Shiva, is undoubtedly representative of the brilliant stream of the Milky Way galaxy, which can be seen to "flow gently down to earth" from the heavens immediately adjacent to the constellation Ophiucus, in the star-chart shown above.
Despite the attempts of some to suppress or even eliminate the ancient wisdom imparted to humanity, the evidence around the world -- as well as surviving streams such as Yoga which are still connected to that ancient inheritance -- continues to seek to convey the truth to our understanding.
We should all be grateful to researchers such as Bibhu Dev Misra for the insights and knowledge he is sharing in his articles and on his website, which includes knowledge of traditions, artwork, and cultural understanding from India itself which gives him invaluable, unique and essential insights that might otherwise go unnoticed.
And, even if we are not able ourselves (at least at this time) to perform some of the very challenging asanas such as the Vrschikasana (Scorpion asana), we can to whatever degree possible incorporate ancient disciplines such as vital breathing, meditation, other asanas, or related ancient arts, in order to diminish pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice ("more deadly than the poisons which the scorpion carries in its sting") and "to develop humility, calmness, tolerance and thus to be free of ego."