Book Review: Monastic Wanderers

Monastic Wanderers: Nāth Yogī Ascetics in modern South Asia
Author: Véronique Bouillier
Manohar, 2017
ISBN 978-93-5098-154-2


The Western academic study of the Nāth sampradayas is really in its infancy, but in the last couple of years a few people have had a fair crack at making sense of the impenetrable mysteries of this rather heterodox cult.

One is David Gordon White with his rather sensationally titled Kiss of the Yogini and Sinister Yogis. Phil Hine, at enfolding.org has many interesting things to say about the origins and nature of the traditions.

Now Véronique Bouillier – through Manohar Publications – has had published her Nāth Yogī Ascetics in modern South Asia, which we’d say is really a tour de force. I guess we have to blame the copy editor for forgetting to translate French sometimes  in the book, and also for the sometimes very confusing use of different calendars so that you don’t know which one is being used. This is definitely the best book I’ve read by a Westerner on this tradition since Briggs’ Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis was published in the 1920s.

There is now an English translation of a seminal text attributed to Gorakshanath, the Siddhasiddantapaddhati – this book, in five chapters – gives the central inner precepts of the Nath tradition.

Bouillier – a French anthropologist –  covers a number of the different manifestations of the different subsects of the sampradayas today, and her work is very revealing as she’s travelled through greater India – so including Nepal – to reach her conclusions. Did you know there’s a Gorakhnath temple in Sri Lanka in the vicinity of Kandy?  I do, and there is.

The author comes to the conclusion that the different traditions in India and Nepal have somewhat diluted their core message and indeed the different monasteries she visited do have some variations that are adopted for modern life.  While in the past the cult had kings as their patrons, to a greater or lesser extent the merchant classes have taken over that role.

Siddha Shri Ratnanath ji

She is particularly interesting in the details she gives about separate ashrams, really maths, that she has visited recently.  She explores, in particular, the story of Ratnanath (pictured) and the weird goings on in Mangalore. A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of his book, Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India, which makes interesting reading.

Shri Narharinathji and Mike Magee

She has a deal of interesting information about the monastery based in Fatehpur in the Sekhavati district of Rajasthan, which allies itself to the division allied to the Mannath panth. I’ve been to this monastery and to surrounding Mannath monasteries twice – on the latter occasion for a big festival for the 150th birthday of Amritnath, the saint responsible for the inauguration of the monastery.  I also met Véronique Bouillier when I was there in 2002. The surrounding monasteries are also most interesting, one of them containing the samadhi (tomb) of the founder of the Mannath panth. Pictured above is the current mahant (abbot) of the Fatehpur ashram.

Matsyendranath. The inscription reads Matsyavahan Mahasiddha Matsyendrath

Bouillier makes the point that Matsyendranath (pictured), the supposed founder of the sampradaya, isn’t held in very high esteem amongst modern day naths. Matsyendranath is the supposed author of the Kaula Jnana Nirnaya – a work of the Yogini Kaula school, and Bouillier’s book sometimes hints at  the tantrik bases of the modern sampradayas.

If you’re seriously interested in this tradition, I thoroughly recommend this book.

The book costs Rs 1,395.  I tried to order it from Manohar’s site which only apparently works with US dollars and Indian rupees, but my kind friends in Seattle bought me a copy and posted it to me in Oxford. Hence the review.

 

 

 

Mad Mike Magee is dead: thank the fuck for that

ABERDONIAN and self-confessed individual Mike Magee has passed on into the vale wherever the vale is.

He was a lazy, self-obsessed bastard and often got cross at things, even things that he didn’t need to be cross about. In fact, I can’t think of a positive thing to say about the git.

He leaves, as his legacy, nobody that gives a flying fuck. He paid all his bills and left his puny life without owing the taxman anything.

He will be missed, grievously, by HMRC, the tax people who had hoped to extract more from him before he croaked. Let’s hope and pray that he goes to a tax free zone. (Not Switzerland, Ed.) 

Oxford University’s Old Power Station is a dangerous place

Old Power Station

AFTER the recent explosion in Gibbs Crescent, following hard on the discovery of dangerous seeds the week before, I decided to exercise my rights under the Freedom of Information (FOI) act and ask the University what is stored in the Old Power Station (OPS).

The OPS is a stone’s throw if you’ve got a pitcher’s arm from Mill Street. I’d say the University’s reply is more than equivocal – you can read it here – and it does confirm the place contains many dangerous substances, including the fascinating element we now call Mercury.

Still, to look on the bright side, the University doesn’t have any radio isotypes stored in there.  It probably has asbestos though.  Ruskin used to hold its annual exhibition in there. I wonder if Ruskin College was informed about the dangers of “falling masonry” which prompted the University to obtain a pretty fast anti-squatting order?  

Oxford University reacts to power station squat

Last week, a group of homeless people known as the Iffley Open House (IOH), occupied a space in the Old Power Station – by the river and just yards from what was The Kite.

Homelessness has become a big problem in Oxford, with numbers of poor people being forced to sleep on the streets.

Now we local residents have received a letter from the University – reproduced below. The University wants to develop the power station into luxury flats for the Said Business School, which is now too far from Mill Street.

The University wants to kick out the IOH because, it claims, the building is unsafe.  Us people in Mill Street know it’s unsafe because just a couple of weeks back two people touched some deadly seeds in the power station and had to be hosed down.

It is quite an adventure living on Mill Street, what with explosions, poisonous seeds, unexploded bombs and other goings on. ♥ 

oldpower

The Valentine’s Day massacre near Mill Street, Oxford

IT HARDLY seems a week ago that I was having a wee in Mill Street when a massive explosion made me almost evacuate myself.

One poor soul, whoever it may be, was killed by the explosion that toppled a three storey house and other houses nearby will have to be demolished too.

The first big explosion happened at 16:45 and was soon followed by a series, a very regular series, of smaller explosions.

All credit to the emergency services – within 10 minutes a fleet of fire engines, ambulances and police cars shattered the normally quiet atmosphere (some mistake?) of this quiet backwater (eh? Ed.)

The fallout from the explosion’s been considerable.  Quite a number of the folk living in Gibbs Crescent have had to have been re-housed, all over the shop.

We suppose that Gibbs Crescent was probably a council estate until HMG mandated that they should all be sold off to either the tenants or to a Housing Association – in this case an outfit called Dominion.

There’s a considerable degree of community spirit here in Mill Street – it’s one of the things I like about living here.  Everyone, OK not quite everyone, chips in.

Shame the Kite has temporarily closed its doors until it re-opens as the Porterhouse sometime in the summer – it would have been nice for folk to gather there – that is if they could have got into Mill Street.

They couldn’t because of the police cordon as the emergency geezers struggled to contain the catastrophe.

 

Time for a nice cup of TEA?

I was recently diagnosed with transient epileptic amnesia (TEA), which as far as I can gather from witnesses has manifested itself from maybe September 2015.

Clinical information on TEA can be found here.

Generally it manifests itself as a period in which your brain doesn’t take in memories, but you still retain the ability to function more or less normally – although some of the episodes that have happened to me have been rather more dramatic.

At first I was diagnosed with having had an episode of transient global amnesia (TGA) which is often a one-off experience.  But during 2016 I noticed other symptoms associated with TEA, such as smelling strange smells, being able to recall recent or comparatively recent events, and also the bizarre topographical amnesia. Bizarre because I was walking round Oxford and every building and road looked as if I’d never seen it before.

Luckily the prognosis for TEA is good. The doctors have put me on anti-convulsants which, since they’ve kicked, in have resulted me in getting large swathes of my memory back, not all at once but over a period of weeks.

The clinical report I linked to above is interesting because the medic who wrote that piece penned another article where he said that the existence of such a condition has implications for the understanding of memory in general.  

The BBC doesn’t spend a penny on poppies

Over here at Volesoft, we did wonder why every BBC presenter was wearing a poppy on the day to remember the dead.

So we put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

It transpires the BBC claims it doesn’t spend a penny on poppies, and, indeed has never bought a poppy.

Which makes it all even more mysterious.  You can find the BBC FOI answer to our request, here.