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Book Reviews / Indo-Iranian Journal ()

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray, Samadhi: The Numinous and Cessative in IndoTibetan Yoga (Albany: State University of New York Press, ), xi +
pp., ., ISBN .
This book is an expanded and revised version of the authors doctoral
dissertation completed at the University of Michigan in . It includes,
as chapters three and five, two reworked articles previously published in
academic journals.
As clearly defined by Sarbacker, the books goal is to develop a new
methodological approach to the study of yoga and meditation in the context of Hinduism and Buddhism, i.e. one that tries to balance both psychological and sociological standpoints in the study of religion. This approach
as one may expect given the title of the bookis developed through
the paradigm of the numinous and cessative dimensions of yoga, which
roughly corresponds to the ecstasis vs. enstasis dichotomy coined by Mircea
Eliade. According to the authors own words (p. ), the numinous represents the manner in which a practitioner of yoga embodies the worldsurmounting power of divinity, while the cessative dimension emphasizes
the attainment of freedom through separation from phenomenal existence.
The author finds this methodological orientation to be the key to a significantly more sophisticated understanding of the relationship of Classical
Yoga and Buddhism (p. ). An attempt is made to link the tensionand
not real oppositionexisting between the qualities of numinous and cessative to that existing between the categories of samapatti and nirodha in
the context of Classical Yoga, and of samatha and vipasyana in the Buddhist
Mahayana context. A fundamental point in Sarbackers analysis is the idea
that samadhi is composed by both numinous and cessative aspects, against
previous characterizations, such as that by Eliade, stressing the enstatic
element only.
Sarbacker devotes a large part of the introductionwhich I found engaging and thought-provokingto contextualize the object of his research,
i.e. meditation, taking into account the theoretical issues that have been
object of debate in the field of Religious Studies since the pioneering work
of Eliade. Starting from the characterization of contemporary attitudes
towards meditation, the author declares his intention to overcome the
polarization between empathetic and critical approaches to the study of
religion through the development of an integrative and interdisciplinary
approach, which would eventually make that discipline act as a medium
for social and cultural renewal (p. ). He then declares his study to be
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden,

DOI: 10.1163/001972409X12645171002054

Book Reviews / Indo-Iranian Journal ()

based on this conscious recognition of the reflexive relationship between

the method of study and the object of study, integrating them together in
such a way as to create interpretive parity (p. ). Revolutionary claims of
this kind, scattered over the introduction, may sound rather inflated; yet, I
think they retain some value insofar as they reflect a genuine intention by
the author to address important issues that are seldomif evertouched
upon in the majority of scholarly writings on the subject of Indic yoga,
meditation and religion.
A similar theoretical focus is taken up again in the well-crafted chapter
two, addressing such pivotal issues as how the concepts of mysticism and
religious experience have been used by previous scholars with respect to
meditation in the context of the study of religion, and weighing standpoints
advocating constructivism (or contextualism) vs. individual, and unmediated, mystical experience. Pointing out the limitations of both approaches,
the author propounds the adoption of an incomplete constructivism, valuing both comparison and contextuality, and trying to integrate historical
work with a closer attention to the dynamic relationship between the practitioner and his or her environment.
The book is characterized by a remarkable degree of synthesis. Sarbacker
does full justice to the complexity of the theoretical and methodological
issues he discusses, although this inevitably results in the use of a dense,
and at times dicult, style. The authors analysis of yoga in the light of the
numinous-cessative paradigm is original and generally sound, although the
pervasiveness of such a dichotomizing tendency in his argumentation may
result at times in a slight reductiveness. A major positive point of the book
is the eective treatment (mainly in chapter four) of such fundamental
issues as the textual genesis of the Yogasutra and its relationship with the
Bhasya attributed to Vyasa, or the relationship between those two texts and

sources such as the Abhidharma.
The above themes are tackled in the usual way implemented through the
book, i.e. by synthesizing the theories of previous scholars one after another.
In this respect, the author has been successful in surveying in a clear and
informative way the academic dialectic from the early th century up to
nowadays. The long citations of the theories developed by previous scholars
that characterize so many pages of Sarbackers book are no doubt useful, but
not always well balanced with the exposition of the authors own views. I
found this defect to be particularly evident in chapter three Yoga, Shamanism, and Buddhism, in which the juxtaposition of the theories of Eliade,
Lewis and the ones by the author is often confusing. On the other hand, in

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such (few) cases where Sarbacker appears to draw his own conclusions, he
often does so by way of approval or criticism toward previous works of other
scholars, keeping the citation of original sources to a minimum. As a student of Sanskrit texts, I found this aspect to be the most serious flaw of the
book. I believe, in fact, that the authors claims to a revolution in the current interpretation of Hindu and Buddhist yoga through the numinouscessative paradigm are often not suciently backed up with evidence gathered from textual sources, which are in any case essentially limited to the
seminal Yogasutra of Patajali and the Bhavanakrama of Kamalasla. Given
the general scope of the book and wide-ranging analysis attempted by the
author, this limitation is hardly acceptable. Even those two sources could
have been put to a better use, for example by actually quoting passages
enlightening the non-specialist reader about technicalities of yoga that are
referred to at every corner but not suciently explained or contextualized,
or by reading problematic passages of the Yogasutra in the light of the most
significant commentaries besides the Yogasutrabhasya.
Another fundamental handicap is the authors choice to not take into
account in his studynot even in an endnoteimportant systems of
yoga, such as the yoga of six ancillaries (sadangayoga)as opposed to
atajala yoga)widespread
the yoga of eight ancillaries (astan gayoga, i.e. P
texts. The authors failure to mention the

in Saiva
and Buddhist (Tantric)
existence of sadangayogaon which a significant amount of literature has
Zigmund-Cerbu ; Pensa ; Grnbold ;
been written (see
Sferra )is hardly justifiable, especially when he tries to limit his
scope and define which yoga he is referring to in his work, contrasting
it to Upanisadic yoga and hathayoga only (p. ). This is especially true
in view of the programmatic statements made by the author to revisit
Tantric sadhana on the basis of the numinous-cessative paradigm that is
applied to Classical and Buddhist Yoga, without taking into account the
fact that the overwhelming majority of Tantric sources of both aliations
only knew about sadangayoga (on the other hand, it is not clear what is

meant by the label Tantric

Yoga referred to at p. , which, according to
Eliade, formed one of the four divisions of Yoga along with Brahmanical
Yoga, Classical Yoga and Buddhist Yoga). I believe that even a cursory
exploration of the characteristics and dynamic relationship between the
sadangayoga and astan gayoga in their historical context could have refined
the authors analysis
and added new interesting elements to it. Think, for
example, about the dierent characterization of samadhi or dhyana in the

two traditions (the treatment of the latter ancillary in the Saiva

context is

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exhausted simply by quoting, at p. , the following statement by Gonda

: Saivite
thinkers saw dhyana as a method to reach the absolute, which

was in essence the intellectual state of Siva).

The overall treatment of the complex phenomenon of Tantrism, which
constitutes the main focus of chapter five and an important aspect of Sarbackers analysis, leaves much to be desired. For instance, the term (coupled with that of sadhana) appears to be used by the author as referring
uniquely to Vajrayana Buddhism (often without a clear distinction between
its Indian and Tibetan varieties) in contexts where it would seem to point

at a more general category. No mention of the Saiva

variety of Tantrism is
found in the book. Several of the authors generalizing conclusions based
on a circumscribed set of data drawn from a limited number of sources
(among which stands prominently the Sadhanamala) are, in my opinion,
nothing but mere hints pointing at future directions of research. Thus,
the authors promise to demonstrate how sadhana represents an extension of pre-tantric conceptions of meditation, presupposing the integration of numinous and cessative qualities and posing a challenge to mainstream religious ideals in both the Hindu and Buddhist contexts (p. ) is
bound to remain only marginally fulfilled after the essential core of his argumentation had been developed in just two-and-a-half pages (). I
also find questionable the idea, alluded to in several passages of the book
(, , etc.), that Buddhist Tantrism was largely a peripheral and liminal cult as opposed to the mainstream; in fact, the more textual-historical

research on Tantric Buddhism (and Saivism)

proceeds, the more it appears
that this phenomenon had a central position in the panorama of Indic
religions, to such an extent that it may well have constituted the mainstream. Furthermore, Sarbackers addition of (Eliades and Lewis views
on) shamanism to the picture and the stress on the similarities between
elements of that phenomenon and Tantrism are, to my taste, too reminiscent of the kind of phenomenology the author himself is trying to transcend.
A last point of criticism concerns the authors views concerning the relationship between yoga practices and the historical development of Hinduism and Buddhism. While in chapter four Sarbacker carefully presents
and weigh the views of previous scholars about the issue of intertextuality
in the context of Classical Yoga and non-Tantric Buddhism, elsewhere he
extends his conclusions to an unwanted general dimension. For instance,
Sarbackers claim (p. of the conclusion) that his book has helped
weaken the notion that Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina traditions are not

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autonomous and self-sucient entities is highly exaggerated. The author

throughout his work adheresas enthusiastically as uncriticallyto the
theory of a pan-Indian common religious substratum to explain the common elements shared by dierent traditions without even referring to the
theories challenging such a standpoint. I refer, for example, to Sandersons

() views explaining the great similarities among elements of Saiva

Buddhist Tantras as a case of plagiarism and interpolation occurred among
texts belonging to the two traditions, a standpoint that polemically stands
against the notion of a religious substratum advocated by Seyfort-Ruegg
(). This is just another example to justify my impression that the book
does not always keep its promises, and should therefore be read critically.
The above shortcomings notwithstanding, the book still makes stimulating reading, presenting a topic as much researched as Classical Yoga
from a dierent perspective. It is hoped that scholars will find there some
inspiration and will further develop Sarbackers analysis. The book may
also serve as a handbook suitable for introducing students (not too early in
their career, given the density of dicult concepts and Sanskrit words left
untranslated) to meditation in the South Asian context. A word of warning,
however, for the enthusiast Tibetologists: there is a rather small amount of
material in the book to justify the label (Indo-)Tibetan appearing in the
A few remarks have to be made about certain editorial aspects of the
book. That it did not undergo careful proofreading is evident from the
presence of a number of typos (and mistakes) in the spelling of Sanskrit
words, such as sabija and nirbija (samadhi) instead of sabja and nirbja
(in each and every instance throughout the book, including the index),
mahavrata instead of mahavrata (p. ), sunyata instead of su nyata (p. );
tanrikas instead of tantrikas (or tantrika, p. ). Other mistakes are the
unnecessary addition of the word dhyana in constituting the yoga
[dhyana] system (p. ), a repetition in the YS is not a composite text
but rather [is rather] a unified soteriological vision (p. ), and the drop of
the preposition a in the sentence connected to (a) variety of dierent
philosophies (p. ).
Gonda, Jan, . The Vision of the Vedic Poets. The Hague: Mouton & Co.
Grnbold, G., . Materialen zur Geschichte des Sadanga-Yoga I. Der Sadanga .

Yoga im Hinduismus, Indo-Iranian Journal , pp.

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Pensa, C., . Osservazioni e riferimenti per lo studio dello sadanga-yoga,

Annali dellIstituto Orientale di Napoli , pp. .

Sanderson, Alexis, . History through Textual Criticism in the Study of Saivism, the Pacaratra and the Buddhist Yogintantras, in Grimal, F. (ed.), Les
sources et le temps. A colloquium. Pondicherry, January . Pondicherry: Institut Franais de Pondichry-Ecole Franaise dExtrme Orient.
Seyfort Ruegg, David, . A note on the Relationship between Buddhist and
Hindu Divinities in Buddhist Literature and Iconology: the laukika/lokottara
Contrast and the Notion of an Indian Religious Substratum , in Le parole e i
marmi. Studi in onore di Raniero Gnoli nel suo compleanno, pp. .
Serie Orientale Roma XCII. Roma: ISIAO.
Sferra, Francesco, . The Sadangayoga by Anupamaraksita. With Ravisrjanas
tippan. Serie Orientale Roma LXXXV. Roma:

Zigmund-Cerbu, A., . The Sadan gayoga, History of Religions , pp. .

Leiden University