Samadhi by Sarbacker

Stuart Ray Sarbacker. Samādhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Into-Tibetan Yoga. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2005. Hardcover, 189 pp.
This book, which is an elaboration of the author’s doctoral dissertation, purports “to develop a new methodological approach to the study of yoga and meditation in the religions of South Asia, most notably in the context of Hinduism and Buddhism” (p. 1). Specifically, Sarbacker attempts to integrate psychological and sociological approaches into “a larger phenomenological model.” He thus intends to move beyond Mircea Eliade’s psychological orientation in explaining religious, yogic phenomena and more sociological approaches, such as I. M. Lewis’s. His declared hope is that his study will contribute toward the development of “contemplative studies as a subdiscipline of the History of Religions methodology” (p. 6).

His chosen foci are Classical Yoga, Indian Buddhism, and Tantra. Fundamental to his model is the distinction between what he calls the “numinous” and “cessative” aspects of spiritual practice. By “numinous” he means “the manner in which a practitioner of yoga embodies the world-surmounting power of divinity,” while “cessative” stands for the orientation of attaining freedom through separation from phenomenal existence.

Given the methodological nature of this book, the author is understandably preoccupied with definitional and hermeneutical matters, but the patient reader will be rewarded with a spate of helpful insights regarding the yogic process and the dynamics between theory and practice. The book’s primary value, however, is in that it generates a host of questions that invite deeper analysis.

Often Yoga is presented as having no or only a weak theoretical “superstructure,” but Sarbacker argues that there clearly is such a superstructure and that theory and practice are in a dialectical relationship to each other. He does, however, accept that meditation practice can involve a minimum of theoretical overdetermination, which is why a study of diverse meditation systems can serve as an excellent pivot for comparative analysis of distinct traditions. “The pursuit of the study of meditation and other contemplative methods,” states Sarbacker, “may be an avenue for exploring the psychological, social, and ethical ramifications of alternative approaches to living and may bolster the ability of religious studies to act as a medium for social and cultural renewal” (p. 6). This statement refreshingly goes beyond what most scholars would concede.

One of the most fruitful aspects of Sarbacker’s investigation is his comparison between Classical Yoga and Buddhism, which underscores the yogic roots of Buddhism on the one hand and the Buddhist influence on Classical Yoga on the other.

This book, like most books based on doctoral dissertations, has a conceptual density revolving around the discussion of the contributions of other scholars that makes for difficult reading. At the same time, the author is commendably sensitive to Yoga’s inherent complexity and multifariousness.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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