Body Cultivation, Therapeutic Intervention and the Sowa Rigpa Industry

University of Vienna, 1st - 3rd August 2017

At the invitation of Dagmar Wujastky, University of Vienna, AyurYog Project Principal Investigator (An ERC Starting Grant).

University of Vienna

Yoga and Alchemy within fin de siècle Occultism

"In this paper I will investigate the astonishing relationship between interpretations and practices of yoga among German speaking occultists – especially within in the Habsburg Monarchy – and their new interest in alchemical theories and experiments. In particular, my analysis is based on a close reading of the writings of members of this milieu like Carl Kellner, Franz Hartmann, Gustav Meyrink and Herbert Silberer. Special interest is paid to the theoretical frame that allows them to connect yoga and alchemy."

AyurYog Project, London School of Economics and Political Science

Longevity practices in India during the modern period: Public health imperatives and individual aspirations

"The logistics and economics of how to promote health and longevity amongst the vast population of India is a perennial problem. Yoga has increasingly been seen by the government of India as a potential asset in their promotion of longevity for the general population. This presentation will outline the variety of pragmatic approaches that were taken to promote yoga as public health under the category of ‘Indigenous Medicine’ from the Usman Report of 1923, to the recent promotion of AYUSH to the level of Ministry in 2014. The range of approaches to yoga reflected in government reports will be explained with reference to the a-historical experiential emphasis of many practitioners and providers of yoga-based longevity and health interventions. It will be argued that the overarching narrative of yoga in the modern period alternatively identifies the idea of longevity with an immortal soul/atman/purusha, and the unlimited potential for the refinement and purification of the material human body. I will argue that the Indian government, by promoting yoga as public health, is not necessarily regressing into an anti-Enlightenment position on rationality (as Meera Nanda has suggested). Rather, yoga as public health is an intervention that works on an experiential level for those who participate in this milieu. This paper hopes to elucidate the pragmatics of this approach."

AyurYog Principal Investigator, University of Vienna

Rasāyana in Sanskrit alchemical literature

"In Indian alchemical literature, the Sanskrit term “rasāyana” is predominantly used to describe alchemical operations, i.e.  all that is involved in the making and taking of elixirs for attaining a state of spiritual liberation in a living body. Rasāyana in this sense describes a series of related processes, including the preparation and chemical processing of raw materials; the admixture and further processing of materials to formulate the elixir (this can involve ritual and the use of mantras); the preparation of the practitioner (cleansing procedures for body and mind); the intake of the elixir and finally, the process of transformation the practitioner undergoes after intake of the elixir. 

However, many alchemical works also include rasāyana sections that describe a type of therapy similar in aims and methods to the rasāyana treatment known from ayurvedic medical literature. Further, when the term “rasāyana” is used to describe the characteristics or effects of a substance or formula, it very often seems to be applied in the medical understanding of the term rather than in the sense of elixir. 

In my presentation, I will present examples of rasāyana sections from a selection of alchemical treatises to explore their connections to and divergences from ayurvedic literature. I will also discuss how medical rasāyana sections are positioned within alchemical works and examine how this reflects the development of iatrochemistry in alchemical literature."

AyurYog Project, University of Vienna

Longevity practices from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad onwards

"Vayas, a key term for “age” in the ayurvedic treatises, is a heuristic concept that is helpful in reflecting on issues of longevity, rejuvenation, and immortality. When considering longevity specifically, the Chāndogya Upaniṣad III.15-16 provides extensive material for reflection. In the context of ritual invocations aiming at longevity, it offers a meaning of vayas close to that found in medical treatises; it describes three periods of life, and provides us with a canonical human lifespan of 116 years. I propose to examine the conditions and reasons for prolonging life as explained in this passage, and to explore how the commentarial tradition attached to the Chāndogya Upaniṣad takes up the subject of longevity in further discussions."

Cardiff University

Tantric immortality: the factors of long life and the transcendence of time

"As a researcher on Tibetan longevity practices, I have been asked on a variety of occasions whether they work. An answer is by no means straightforward, in part because opinions vary as to what it is they are meant to do. As Barbara Gerke demonstrated in her field research with Tibetans in India, for many lay Tibetans, the practices are indeed directed at the attainment of a long and healthy life. Yet this pragmatic and easily understandable concern is entangled with other matters. Lamas stress that the only proper motivation for such life extension is to enable progress towards Buddhahood. Beyond this ideological commitment, which serves to reconcile the this-worldly aim of the practices with the trans-worldly orientation of the Buddhist tradition, lie more arcane matters. These include the extreme life–spans attributed to holy men in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and the Tantric siddhi of immortality, which may refer to the avoidance of physical death, or to its transcendence into a realm where it no longer exists or makes any sense. There is a history to this complex tangle of ideas, a history which appears to overlap, whatever the precise historical connections, with East Asian traditions of life-cultivation and inner alchemy. In this paper, I attempt to sort out some of this history, and to understand how its modern-day reflections help to create a productive ambiguity within which the apparently impossible can gain enough reality to be taken as a serious goal for Tantric practice."

Photographs of speakers and participants having interesting discussions and sharing meals:

All photographs by Jacqueline Hargreaves
Copyright 2017.