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Kama Sutra? Yoga Sutra? What’s the Difference?

In a word – much!

They were both written in India in Sanskrit about the same time and have the same word in the title. So genre, time, place, language are common to both texts, but as you would learn from listening to the recommended BBC interview on the Kāma Sutras – many other topics were written about in that time and place and language on a variety of subjects in sutras.

Sutra means thread or line that holds or threads ideas together. The Kāma Sutra’s were written about 2000 years ago and is about sensual pleasures (among other lifestyle tips). Vatsyayana is thought to be the author. The Yoga Sutra is estimated to be written between 1900 and 2400 years ago and written or compiled from an oral tradition by Patanjali.

I briefly wrote about the Yoga Sutra a few months ago here. The Yoga Sutras offers four chapters, while the Kāma Sutras is seven chapters, so the Kāma Sutra is much longer. And sex comprises only the second of seven chapters. So there is much else there to explore and learn.

There is a new translation of the Kāma Sutra just published, and The New York Times printed a laugh out loud hilarious and favorable review on Sunday. When to Quote Poetry or Moan like a Moorhen: The Kama Sutra, Newly Translated by A.N.D. Haksar. Reviewed by Dwight Garner.

There is this:

You might not think the Kama Sutra and “Downton Abbey,” the warm <a “=”” abbey”=”” downton=”” href=”http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/” style=”color: #004276; text-decoration: underline;” title=”Web site for “>PBS soap opera about intrigues on a large rural estate in England, would have a great deal of thematic overlap. You would be wrong. Both are to some degree investigations into the kind of life a gentleman (or gentlewoman) should aspire to lead.

And then this:

your partner might find this sleek new Penguin Classics edition an intellectual aphrodisiac, though it contains no erotic illustrations, except several sublime ones on its cover. (For a certain audience, all Penguin Classics are trance-inducing objects of lust.)

And then this:

There is an impressively esoteric list, for example, of varieties of moaning during sex. These include: “the whimper, the groan, the babble, the wail, the sigh, the shriek, the sob and words with meaning, such as ‘Mother!’ ‘Stop!’ ‘Let go!’ or ‘Enough!’ Cries like those of doves, cuckoos, green pigeons, parrots, bees, moorhens, geese, ducks and quails are important options for use in moaning.” America’s porn actors have clearly not made anywhere near a proper study of this sonic landscape.

See? Funny! I’ve had a tiger but not a green pigeon (?!) or a geese, quail or duck!

If you don’t have time to read the book but are still curious about the origin and context of Kāma Sutra, I can very highly recommend this BBC4 Radio broadcast from the show In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg . There I learned that the arts and culture of India was at a height. And how the Kama Sutra is part of a popular genre of the time. Not only the yoga and kāma sutras were recorded then but also on a wide range of topics including logic, astronomy, politics, aesthetics, medicine and social ethics.

The discussion about 42 minutes long, free and you can download from iTunes here. He interviews:

  • Julius Lipner, Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge
  • Jessica Frazier, Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
  • David Smith, Reader in South Asian Religions at the University of Lancaster.

Check it out. Or if you don’t have 43 minutes, you can also download this eight minute free podcast from SoundsTrue on Taoist Sexual Secrets. At eight minutes, it’s only a teaser but the entire series is about how to transform lovemaking into a spiritual practice informed by ancient and somewhat arcane material.