Health, well-being, and the ascetic ideal: Modern yoga in the Jain Terapanth
Jain, Andrea R.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation evaluates preksha dhyana, a form of modern yoga introduced by the Jain Shvetambara Terapanth in 1975. Modern yoga emerged as a consequence of a complex encounter of Indian yogic gurus, American and British metaphysical thinkers, and modern ideas about science and health. I provide a brief history of the Terapanth from its eighteenth-century founder, Bikshu, to its current monastic guru, Mahaprajna, who constructed preksha dhyana. I evaluate the historical trajectory that led from the Terapanth's beginnings as a sect that maintained a world-rejecting ascetic ideal to its late twentieth-century introduction of preksha dhyana, which is popularly disseminated as a practice aimed at health and well-being. The practice and ideology of preksha dhyana is, however, context specific. In the Terapanthi monastic context, it functions as a metaphysical, mystical, and ascetic practice. In this way, it intersects with classical schools of yoga, which aim at ascetic purification and release from the world. In its popular dissemination by the samanis, female members of an intermediary Terapanthi monastic order, it functions as a physiotherapeutic practice. The samanis teach yoga to students in India, the United States, and Britain whose interests are primarily in yoga's physical and psychological benefits. In this way, it is a case study of modern yoga, which aims at the enhancement of the body and life in the world. I demonstrate how the samanis are mediators of their guru, Mahaprajna, and thus resolve ancient and contemporary tensions between ascetic and worldly values. I also demonstrate how Mahaprajna and the samanis construct preksha dhyana as a form of modern yoga by appropriating scientific discourse and attributing physiological function to the yogic subtle body. I argue that preksha dhyana can be located at an intersection with late capitalist cultural processes as well as New Age spirituality insofar as its proponents participate in the transnational yoga market. Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the successes and failures of the Terapanth in its attempt to globally disseminate preksha dhyana.