I recently read The Yoga of the Yogi: The Legacy of T. Krishnamacharya, by Kausthub Kesikachar. It's not my intention to review it here, I'm not qualified to comment on his organization of Yogic theory and philosophy. I picked it up to learn more about the founder of modern yoga, who he was, his education, and his training. It does cover that material in a terse way, but as an American reader of history, I would have benefited from a lot more inclusion of historical context and clues about how his relationships to specific people influenced his decisions to pursue knowledge. Anyway please don't take my opinion as a review of the book.
The one thing that really caught my attention was that the author maintains a ritual practice of putting his guru's sandals on his head. He also tells us that the tradition dates all the way back to the time of the Ramayana. He frames this ritual practice around faith and devotion, but he also says that everything can be transmitted this way--meaning that because the practice is pure revelation, it transcends method.
What's that? I can learn Yoga from putting sandals on my head? But who even thinks about questions like this? They just throw these comments away. Even people who do the sandal practice just talk about faith and devotion. Only someone of the highest level would even think of suggesting such a practice.
It just occurred to me that if my students were to put my old shoes on their heads they might learn a lot faster. I have new found respect for Yoga. After 30 years of martial arts practice I understand why and how this works, however; 1) none of my students would do it, 2) if I explained it, none of them would understand it, 3) if by chance they did understand it, I would have to kill them.
Which brings me to another book which I am also not going to review: When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms, Discourses and Practices of Power in Kalarippayattu, a South Indian Martial Art, by Phillip B. Zarrilli. I believe I wrote a review of this book some time ago and decided not to publish it. The two things that interested me about Zarrilli's work, the theater connection and the China connection, don't get worked out in this text. Too bad. One thing I loved about the book was that he put everything he had to say about "Paradigms and Discourses" in the first chapter and outright tells the readers to skip that chapter unless they are a disembodied head stuck inside an academic box! Yes.
On page 45; "[In] playwright Bhasa's version of Karna's story, Karnabhara, which illustrates the divine gift of power (sakti) which requires no attainment from the practitioner. When a messenger gives Karna Indra's gift of an 'unfailing weapon whose sakti is named Vimala to slay one among the Pandavas', he asks, 'when shall I gain its power (sakti)?' The messenger responds, 'when you take it in [your] mind, you will [immediately] gain its power.'"
What? No hard work? No training? This is correct, this is the highest level. Do you really know what it means to put sandals on your head? Do you really know what it means to put a sword inside your mind?