SOAS University of London

Centre of Yoga Studies

Yogabīja: A Robust Defence of Yoga

Jason Birch

Date: 22 October 2019Time: 1:00 PM

Finishes: 22 October 2019Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: 26 Russell Square Room: G10

Type of Event: Seminar

The second in a series of events in collaboration with the Sanksrit Reading Room.

The Yogabīja is a fourteenth-century Sanskrit text that outlines a fourfold system of yoga, consisting of Mantra-, Laya-, Haṭha- and Rājayoga. Apart from being one of the earliest accounts of this particular system of yoga, the Yogabīja is important in the history of yoga because its author argues against the idea that liberation can be achieved by knowledge (jñāna) alone. It is possible that the author was responding to methods, such as contemplation (vicāra), and doctrines of the Mokṣopāya/Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha. Indeed, the main thrust of the Yogabīja’s argument is that both yoga and knowledge are necessary for liberation, and liberation is defined as an embodied state in which the yogin remains alive, though invisible, forever (jīvanmukti).

The Yogabīja is one of ten texts being edited by the Haṭha Yoga Project. A preliminary edition based on fifteen manuscripts and testimonia from over a dozen Sanskrit works is being prepared by Jason Birch and James Mallinson of SOAS University of London. The edition, along with an English translation, introduction and notes, will be published at the end of 2020. Jason Birch will read and translate selected passages from this fascinating yoga text.

This event is free but registration is essential. Contact to book your place.

Speaker Biography

After completing a first class honours degree in Sanskrit and Hindi at the University of Sydney under Dr Peter Oldmeadow, Jason was awarded a Clarendon scholarship to undertake a DPhil in Oriental Studies at Balliol College, University of Oxford, under the supervision of Prof. Alexis Sanderson, All Souls College. Jason was a student of Prof. Sanderson for six years. His dissertation (submitted 2013) focused on the earliest known Rājayoga text called the Amanaska and included a critical edition and annotated translation of this Sanskrit work along with a monographic introduction which examines the influence of earlier Śaiva tantric traditions on the Amanaska as well as the significance of the Amanaska in more recent yoga traditions.

In 2014 Jason was a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a visiting associate professor at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. In 2015 he was invited to research the histories of yoga, āyurveda and rasaśāstra as a visiting post-doctoral fellow on a project called Ayuryog at the University of Vienna. He is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at SOAS University of London on the Haṭha Yoga Project, which has been funded for five years by the ERC. His area of research is the history of physical yoga on the eve of colonialism. He is editing and translating six texts on Haṭha and Rājayoga, which are outputs of the project, and supervising the work of two research assistants at the Ecole française d' Extrême-Orient, Pondicherry.

At SOAS Jason has taught two courses for the MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation and a Sanskrit reading course for fourth-year undergraduates. He has given seminars on the history of yoga for MA programs at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Italy and Won Kwang University in Iksan, South Korea. He also collaborates with Jacqueline Hargreaves on TheLuminescent.