I was approached to review the book, Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, New York: 2009) by Stephen Phillips. Phillips is a man with serious credentials: professor of philosophy and Asian studies at the University of Texas, author of six books, and a long-time practitioner of yoga.
The book arrived a week or so before I would be taking time off to visit my brother. My sister had told me that she spent loads of time reading while she visited him because his chemotherapy required him to have lots of rest. I thought I would be able to apply some concentrated time on the reading so I loaded up on books and magazines for the trip.
Well, I was being ambitiously optimistic that I would be able to plow through most of the book while at my brother’s in Dallas. it turned out that I barely had time to crack open the book, just enough to get passed the Introduction. The first 15 pages let me know that this is not a book that would fall into the category of “summer reading.” It’s going to challenge me to set aside blocks of time, both to read and digest the content. Phillips aims to lay out the philosophic framework that undergirds the yoga practice and informs the serious Western practitioner who may not be familiar with the core principles. Phillips specifically writes for yoga teachers.
As a down payment on the moral debt that I have acquired with the publisher, let me get some initial information out of the way. Five chapters are: Theory and Practice, Yoga and Metaphysics, Karma, Rebirth, and Powers. That’s roughly half the book.
The other half is “Appendices,” but they are pretty meaty themselves. He included core selections from the yoga classics: the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tantric Kashmiri Shaivite texts, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, as well as the complete Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, all framed within Phillips’s commentary.
Finally, Phillips throws in a glossary of Sanskrit terms used in yoga philosophy, 65 pages of notes (Phillips is an academic, after all; even the Appendices have notes), a 15-page bibliography and an index.