A thought-provoking interview with
Daniel Simpson, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Daniel Simpson- The name says it all!
He is a voracious reader who has mastered scriptures like Yajurveda, Atharveda, Upanishads, Puranas, Bhagavad Gita, Smritis mantra science and tantric scripture at an early age. He has instilled his enthusiasm for the Vedic knowledge in all his courses, his teachings are unbiased, fresh and contemporary, yet very real. At the individual level, Daniel’s self-development programs have helped many people around the globe experience stress relief and a state of calm and well-being. These programs are rooted in the ancient techniques of Yoga. He has developed unique, impactful programs that empower, equip and transform individuals to tackle challenges at global, national, community and individual levels. Daniel’s primary passion in public education has become professional development and research within best practices. He currently tutors at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
I had the pleasure of being a student of Daniel Simpson in a study of The Yogic Philosophy. It is no surprise that he has written a beautiful book on the Truth of Yoga – it would have been irresistible! The readers aren’t left to navigate long passages and numerous books by themselves, trying to understand what Yoga really is and what it means in the 21st century. Daniel also anticipates questions which are likely to come up as you read, pointing out difficult areas and inconsistencies, and suggesting ways to understand them.
It is also useful to learn how Daniel’s book- The Truth of Yoga relates to the Upanishads and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
I admit to choosing his course because after a lifetime of being taught by those with Indian and Tibetan heritage, people with Sanskrit at their core – I imagined learning from Daniel would be easier, if only because I would understand his language foibles. Yes, his diction does have an “Anglo” influence, which does not detract from his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the subject, which is comprehensive and infectious. This “voice” also comes across in his book – always the mark of a good writer I think, academic or popular.
Knowing his readers to be mostly Western, Daniel has not fallen into this trap. Sanskrit can be a barrier to the Western reader. I was especially drawn to Daniel’s comprehensive and copious background notes (yoga students love “context”), careful dissection and translation into English of the Patanjali’s verses line by line, the scriptural basis of the commentaries, the main themes (karma-yoga, the nature of God and the worship of God, interpretations of the Samkhya concepts, Dhyana yoga, Atman, Dharma), Key Concepts (Dharma, Karma, Moksha, Bhakti, Yoga, Yamas).
Daniel’s approachability has made the understanding of Yoga especially from the Bhagavat Gita’s perspective, simple and clear.
I would recommend his impressive book- The Truth of Yoga and other courses to beginners and academic readers alike. It is not only “enlightening” but also very enjoyable.
It is a privilege to be able to understand Daniel’s personal Yogic Journey. He shares his story for us to inspire and motivate us on the path of Yoga.
Khushi: How old were you when you first started showing interest in a Yogic lifestyle and what inspired you to take the path of Yoga?
Daniel: I first visited India in 1998, when I was 23. Before that, I knew little about yoga, but was intrigued by the yogis I met, who seemed to exist beyond the ordinary world. This inspired me to attend the Maha Kumbha Mela in 2001, joining millions of pilgrims at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna. I felt a bit confused about what it all meant, but was nonetheless fascinated. I'd made a few attempts to teach myself to meditate without much success. However, once I started a regular practice of postural yoga, I began to embody some of what I'd been reading about, and slowly deepened my focus. This got me immersed in the philosophy of yoga, which led to frequent trips to India and back to university for a master's degree (in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation, at SOAS in London). I now teach courses at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and elsewhere.
Khushi: Who are your teachers who inspire your daily Lifestyle?
Daniel: I feel fortunate to have had many teachers – some practical and others more scholarly. I can't really single one out at this stage, but I will always feel grateful for their insight and guidance. I've dedicated my book, The Truth of Yoga: "To all my teachers, and all that inspired them." As the book explains, the ultimate source of inspiration is beyond the realm of words, so it's hard to say more. Nonetheless, I've done my best to sum up what I've learned, both from teachers and texts.
Khushi: Is a Vegan/ Vegetarian diet important on this path, including a progression on the academic side of the Vedic knowledge?
Daniel: I think the principle of not harming others makes it hard to defend eating animals. At the same time, it's interesting to note that vegetarianism isn't actually mentioned in traditional texts such as the Yoga Sutra. Nonetheless, the earliest commentary – which may have been written around the same time, perhaps by the same author – does say clearly: “Non-violence and the other [rules] must be upheld in all respects, without being limited by these [conditions of] species, place, time and circumstance. They are said to be the great vow when they are all-embracing, i.e. when they [are observed] in all situations with regard to all objects in absolutely every way, without exception" (translation of the commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.31 by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, from their book Roots of Yoga).
Khushi: What is your daily motivation & is the study of Yoga a major part of your Dincharya?
Daniel: I try to see the world as it is, instead of how my mind might prefer it to be. This can sometimes be a challenge, so it helps to have practices. I have a daily routine that's become a bit more varied after almost a year of home-based working due to Covid-19. However, some form of practice (usually a mixture of asana, pranayama and meditation) combined with some study is a vital component.
Khushi: Are you inclined to say you are more a Jnana Yogi or Bhakti Yogi?
Daniel: I think the two are intertwined. Without faith that there's something to know, there'd be no path – and unless there's some insight, devotion is blind. Having said that, I guess my scholarly tendencies draw me to knowledge, but I've also noticed that being analytical gets in the way sometimes. Pranayama is a helpful tool to calm the mind, and chanting is also effective, though I do it less often.
Daniel’s practical & academic approach to the ancient science of Yoga is balanced & authentic. Daniel doesn’t conform to the traditional code of being a sadhu or monk. He remains non-traditional, independent and unchained.
Daniel can be reached through his blog &
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