On one level, and with reference to a specific frame of reference, embodied forms of practice that have come to be associated with Yoga and Taoist philosophy appear to be very similar if not identical in terms of form, structure, and purpose. However, there is no clear-cut history of communication between eastern and southern Asia concerning the exchange of ideas linked to these practices, and where some scholars presume direct, linear exchange, and obvious congruity, others see radical difference and discontinuity. Taking the inspired work of the Bengali scholar Prabodh Candar Bagchi as a point of departure—and eternal return—the argument presented here is twofold. First, it is highly problematic to conceptualize cross-cultural contact in the premodern period not just in terms of the modern geopolitics of nationalism—which is fairly obvious—but also in terms of a history of ideas that is itself structured by modernity. Second, secret knowledge transforms what is in fact impossible—immortality, transcendence, enlightenment—into a historical vortex that is both local and global. Mimetic history is the recursive pattern, structured through the paradox of secrecy, whereby the impossibility of embodied enlightenment is reflected in forms of practice that, in terms of both time and space, endlessly anticipate perfection.
Joseph S. Alter; Yoga in Asia—mimetic History: Problems in the Location of Secret Knowledge. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 August 2009; 29 (2): 213–229. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2009-005
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