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By Bernie Clark, January 13th, 2014

What Yoga Stories and Western Myths Tell Us About Ourselves

The original title for this book was From the Gita to the Grail. However, when our publisher decided to bring out a soft cover version of the book, they decided the name Shiva Dancing at King Arthur’s Court would be more appropriate. Thus, the book had a name change, but everything inside the book remains the same! The same stories and journey through the myths of yoga and the myths of the West than so many people grew up with.

FAQs and Questions & Answers

  1. What are the key points that the book is trying to get across to readers?
    1. It is important to realize that our ideas, our theories, our ways of looking at life, our philosophy and our stories are maps. They are all representations of reality, not reality itself. The point of a map is to be useful, not to be “truth.” The stories and myths shared in this book are likewise maps: do not see them as truths that are correct for all time and for everybody. Rather, see them as either useful, or not useful. If a map is not useful for whatever intention you have, find another one that is.
    2. The stories and myths that Westerners grew up with are very different maps than those found and used in the East. Stories East and West may use similar sounding words, but their meanings can be drastically different. This creates confusion and misunderstand: when people in the East state that one must kill the ego in order to experience liberation and true freedom, they are not talking about the same ego that we in West know. Same word: very different meaning. Very different map.
    3. There is a great divide between the dualistic concept of creation which is the base map underlying all Western Religions and the non-dualistic concept of creation found in the East. These religions objectives lead to very different goals: in the West, because we know that we are not divine, we are not God, our religious goal is to come into a relationship with the divine creator of everything. In the East, where the philosophy is based upon the realization that all things are divine, the goal is to realize our identity as the creator of all things.
    4. The maps of time, East and West, are also quite different. In the West we use a linear map – time flows from one point where it began and it will culminate at the end of days in the final point, where time will stop. In the East, the stories point to a circular nature for time: time flows in never-ending, always repeating cycles: the universe has existed before and will exist again. This incarnation is just one of many that we have experienced and will experience over and over again.
    5. Understanding the nature and sources of your base maps, your stories and myths will answer the fundamental question about your purpose: What is the reason you are here? Is it to atone for the sins of someone who lived long ago (Adam)? Or is it to undo the damage that you did yourself in a past life; to remove the stains of prior karma, as taught by the myths of the Indian Jains? Or are you here to fear God, or act as His servant, like the Old Testament’s Job? Do you obey your god, like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, or find your own path like Prometheus, the Greek Titan who defied his god? Maybe, like the medieval knight errant Parzival, you are here to become whole, and this journey is your unique journey, unlike anyone else’s who ever lived?
    6. The role of women has evolved, especially in recent history, but what is the proper role of women today? Why is Romantic Love unique to the West: the story of Tristan and Isolde is so different from the story of Radha and Krishna. Does the subservience of Sita, Rama’s devoted wife, serve women today, or is the proper role for women today not found at all in the old stories East or West? Myths evolve and change as the need for them change: the myth today of Princess Atalanta is nothing like the ancient Greek version. Today, women are approaching equality to men, but the work is not quite done: we still need better stories to teach us.
    7. Myths serve four great functions, according to Joseph Campbell: they tell us how we came to be, our grand origins: the cosmological function. They tell us how to act, what role we should take on in life: the sociological function. They tell us how to deal with the passages of life, from infancy and dependency to adult responsibility and old age, and through that grey gate at the end of life called death: the psychological function. And myths explain the mystery of life, telling us why we are here: the mystical function. Each function is served by our stories, but we need lots of stories to completely create the mythos of our age. Do you know which stories form your base maps, the maps by which you live your life? This book may help you understand yourself and why you believe and do the things you do.
  2. What is the point of this book?
      • The purpose of Shiva Dancing at King Arthur’s Court is to make us aware of the grand functions of our myths, of our stories, and to test out which ones still resonate today, and which ones no longer work and don’t serve us very well; for these are the ones we should drop and replace with better ones. But until we understand how stories move us and which ones shaped us, we can’t really decide to change them or not. Will the Eastern stories work better? Maybe. Some will, but others definitely will not. This book shines the light of awareness deep into the part of our psyche where these stories lie and allows us to choose to either keep these stories, if they work, or find better ones, to help us live the life we intend to live.
  3. How do I read this book? It is so big and intimidating.
      • There are three ways you can approach Shiva Dancing at King Arthur’s Court: you can read it all from cover to cover, like a textbook. The serious student of yoga is advised to do just that: study the book to understand the vast history and meaning of Yoga and Western spiritual practice. Or, you can scan the Table of Contents and pick a theme that interests you today. Enjoy the chapters like enjoying inviting foods from a great buffet table. The final option: open the book at random and soak in the first story you find. Do this every day for a few months and you will have gained a deep understanding of the point and purpose of the stories that have formed your life’s base map.

From the Back Cover:

What is the meaning of Shiva dancing on a dwarf named Avidya? Why does Vishnu sleep upon an endless snake? To what did the Buddha awaken? What do we mean by soul? Is the emotion of love different in the East from that experienced in the West? Did the West’s prototypical lovers, Tristan and Isolde, feel the same kind of rapture that Radha and Krishna reveled in? And, what are the proper roles for women today, according to the stories found East and West?

Despite the popularity of Yoga, the stories from its land of birth are very strange to Western ears. What do these ancient symbols mean, what are they trying to teach us, and how should we incorporate this knowledge into our Western lifestyle? Every myth is a map to some deep cultural and personal landscape. By looking at the myths of the East along with the stories that people in the West grew up with, we are given opportunities to select the best maps available, or to create new ones to help guide us through the uncertainties of modern living. By exploring myths East and West, this book shines a light on the landscapes within, and allows us to choose the appropriate map we want to follow.


Bernie’s new book covers mythical territory any student of yoga should be aware of. Diving into both unfamiliar and familiar stories of creation and the path of the hero, Bernie’s readable style is like the voice of an Elder. If you could record Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung’s conversation over a game of chess, it might sound something like this.” ~ Daniel Clement.

Bernie Clark weaves together stories from the far ends of the Earth with clarity, ease, and humor. A text that treads closely in the footsteps of such predecessors as Carl Jung, Roland Barthes, and Joseph Campbell, Clark’s nuanced reading of these myths provide a perspective that helps make them relatable in today’s global society. A must read …” ~ Michelle Trantina – co-founder of My Yoga Online.

By contrasting the metaphorical maps of different cultures we become aware of our own, unquestioned assumptions. Bernie’s book does this in a wonderfully entertaining way. It reflects his years of practice and teaching.” ~ Paul Grilley, author of Yin Yoga

“In his insightful new book, Bernie reminds us that we have a choice in how we live our lives; we can hold tight to our beliefs, allowing them to dictate our reality, or we can invite every story (or even encounter) to be a gateway into the poetic, multifaceted dimensions of truth, and the fluid nature of reality.” ~ Sarah Powers, author of Insight Yoga and founder of the Insight Yoga Institute.

Bernie Clark is an incredible gift to us all. Only someone as brilliant as Bernie could take such wisdom and deliver it to us in a most meaningful way. He doesn’t want us to get lost in the stories, he wants us to truly understand them and use them as catalysts for transformation and growth in our daily lives. It would take many lifetimes to reach the level of understanding that Bernie graciously delivers us in this book. Thank you for sharing this with us!” ~ Gloria Latham, owner Semperviva Yoga College

Other Reviews

“It is a magical journey of stories that are sometimes very light-hearted and other times quite poignant and troubling. For me, the book gave me so much appreciation for all matter and species and their role in our amazing universe. It gave me a much deeper insight to the vast array of beliefs and where they came from while at the same time showed me how similar we all are with our search for our purpose in life … This book is a great read that gives you a choice in how you live your life. ” From Mugs McConnell, creator of the prestigious South Okanogan Yoga Association (SOYA). To read the whole review, visit the SOYA web site.

“Although it’s written for ‘Western’ yogis, Bernie Clark’s enjoyable exploration of the world’s spiritual stories reaches beyond the needs of Western yoga practitioners and teachers to a much wider audience. Thoughtful readers who love to curl up with a good book; anyone who wants to understand their dreams, desires, and behaviors; all who want to stop sleepwalking along an unconsciously chosen path and make real choice possible in their lives; and all who have found their own cultural myths lacking will find their minds and hearts expanded here, in Shiva Dancing at King Arthur’s Court: What Yoga Stories and Western Myths Tell Us About Ourselves.” From Kristine Morris of ForeWord Review

“Clark draws upon the teachings of psychotherapist Carl Jung and the 20th century mythologis Joseph Campbell, whose assertion of the four functions of myths influences the book’s sections: Cosmological, Social, Psychological and Mystical. Of the 20 plus chapters, I most enjoyed “The Creation of All Things” and “Myths of Love.” This book will appeal to yoga practitioners, budding anthropologists, travellers, history buffs and storytellers. For me, its become a bookshelf staple.” Marina Chetner, LA Yoga – page 60 of the March, 2014 Edition.

Where to find a copy of the book?



Table of Contents

A Note On Mythologyix
An Introduction to Myths, Maps and Modelsxv
Chapter One: The Creation of All Things2
Chapter Two: The Magic of Myth31
The Cosmological Function of Mythology: Summary49
Chapter Three: Living in Accord with Our Neighbors52
Chapter Four: The Great Cycles69
Chapter Five: Varna, Dharma and Karma87
Chapter Six: Boundaries105
The Sociological Function of Mythology: Summary119
Chapter Seven: The Arc of Aging122
Chapter Eight: The Goals of Life148
Chapter Nine: The Soul Question163
Chapter Ten: Matter versus Spirit190
Chapter Eleven: The Individual in Society206
Chapter Twelve: Myths for Women237
Chapter Thirteen: Myths of Love284
The Psychological Function of Mythology: Summary324
Chapter Fourteen: The Horror of Life330
Chapter Fifteen: Three Characteristics of Life344
Chapter Sixteen: Three Attitudes Towards Life365
Chapter Seventeen: Aum in Four Syllables391
Chapter Eighteen: Mahayana Buddhism395
Chapter Nineteen: Tantra Yoga415
Chapter Twenty: Guru Yoga436
Chapter Twenty-One: Living with the Mystical454
The Mystical Function of Mythology: Summary479
Epilogue: Transcending Boundaries Going Beyond Your Map481


Excerpts and Selected Readings

You will find in this section a series of excerpts from the book. It starts, naturally enough, with the beginning of all things. Look for future excerpts, which will appear here.

  1. In the Beginning Was the Self
  2. Understanding the Symbols Found in Yoga Myths
  3. Om in Four Syllable
  4. The Heroes of Yoga: the Rishis and the Story of Vikra
  5. The Demands of Dharma