Throughout the history of Indian religions, the ascetic figure is most closely identified with power.
Power is a by-product of the ascetic path, and is displayed in the ability to fly, walk on water or through dense objects, read minds, discern the former lives of others, see into the future, harm others, or simply levitate one's body.
Using religio-philosophical discourses and narratives from epic, puranic, and hagiographical literature, Indian Asceticismfocuses on the powers exhibited by ascetics of India from ancient to modern time. The discourses and narratives show ascetics performing violent acts and using language to curse and harm opponents.
They also give rise to questions about how power and violence are related to the phenomenon of play.
Olson discusses the erotic, the demonic, the comic, and the miraculous forms of play and their connections to power and violence.
His focus is on Hinduism, from early Indian religious history to more modern times, but evidence is also presented from both Buddhism and Jainism, whichprovides evidence that the subject matter of this book pervades India's major indigenous religious traditions. The book also includes a look at the extent to which contemporary findings in cognitive science can add to our understanding about these various powers; Olson argues that violence is built into the practice of the ascetic.
Indian Asceticism culminates with an attempt to rethink the nature of power in a way that does justice to the literary evidence from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sources.