Note to the Yoga Critics: Educational Model of Yoga

I’m going to start this in a very easy way with a discussion of the various levels of education and how this is related to yoga teachers and teaching. I will make broad reference to the kinds of yoga discussed in the Gita, which in many ways parallels the upayas (means of liberation) outlined by Abhnavagupta among others.  In many ways the books of yoga are about knowledge and how we can come by it. Of course I will be speaking broadly and simply so as to leave plenty of room for criticism.

Everywhere we find stages thru which one must progress in order to gain entrance into higher realms. Of course it’s always best to just know everything, but most of us have to work at whatever level we are at to get us whatever benefits we happen to want. First you have to do one thing before you can do the next. Yoga is no different. Most of us begin without any knowledge at all; without even knowing what knowledge is; we have merely heard of this thing called yoga.

So it should be no surprise that many people begin with social yoga/beginner yoga; a kind of bhakti primary education where people are told to do this or that without being given much detail or depth about what they are doing. As long as they know “A” is for “apple” and “B” is for “butterfly,” we are happy; and if they are inclined, they will eventually learn that “A” is also for appendix and “B” is for “buxom.” Many people will come to this next step, but how many will do their PhD in grammatical theory. So at this primary level, we just want to make people sensitive to the teachings of yoga. We want them to have fun, know the names of the main deities and a few of their qualities; just enough so that they maintain their interest and continue learning: some music, maybe some singing and dance, just some program to give them a broad spectrum and help them absorb the basics and get a nice feel for yoga. If they are inclined, they will continue to study more deeply or not; that is in their own heart; but in the mean time almost all of the scriptures agree that even this primary path can bring moksha.

Many of those who move on from this primary path will go to yoga for health and fitness (what we could call Ayurveda yoga) to maintain or improve mental and physical health. This is a natural direction take. Many will choose to continuing with some broad spectrum yoga while others will find some specific program for their personal constitution. For most people with families and careers and positions in society this is likely the preferred direction. If someone is satisfied with their life, what need is there for moksha. And even if they are not satisfied with their life, but are satisfied with this platform of yoga then again scripture agrees that this is enough.

Some few people will not stop with Ayurveda. Thru either love of wisdom or complete dissatisfaction with society they will go even deeper into yoga seeking a Masters or PhD level knowledge in some particular path of their personal practice. This will be a small number; each to his own dharma. I suppose the more rabid commentators on the modern yoga phenomena feel themselves in this group. They have themselves wandered they various paths of yoga for many years before discovering some path that they consider true yoga.

Each level, of course, needs it’s own teachers. A distinguished professor of astrophysics doesn’t even bother with teaching the teachers of primary mathematics, much less showing up to teach 2+2=4. So we end up with teachers at the primary level who may very well know 2+2=4 without knowing anything about Pathogorm theorem. Why should we expect yoga to be any different? It’s true, there will be many bad yoga teachers, but this is true also in India. How many bad guru’s does India have? And what is a bad teacher? Not everyone needs a model of sattwic saintliness to tell them not to smoke, not to eat meat, to wake up a 4am every day and do practice and meditation for the next four hours before going to work to serve society in some altruistic fashion. People need teachers who are at their level. We can debate forever who are bad teachers and who are good teachers; in the end there will be very little agreement just as there is very little agreement about the greatness of great men like Ghandi, Baba Ramdev, the current Sankaracharayas, or the Pope for that matter.

We need teachers who can not only help guide us on our path, but who are also on our path. If I’m Christian, the Pope is likely closer to my path than Baba Ramdev and if I’m a young Indian, then Baba Ramdev is closer to my path then Sankaracharaya. But of course few of us will ever actually meet these luminaries or even meet people who they have personally instructed. We might gain something from the lineages that they represent; and we will decide for ourselves if it is good for us or not. In this regard, the Gita has a powerful lesson for teachers and students alike.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty. (Gita Chapter 2, Verse 47)

Much of our identity is merely the measuring our of Maya to form karmic agents so that that which is above Maya (i.e. Our Svasvabhava, or who we really are for real, or universal self) may take enjoyment. In any case we, as karmic agents are bound to carry out the various functions and activities that are within our power, but “never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities.” This, of course, is ethically dangerous territory for the those who are not acquainted with the laws of karma which are based on our place and time in the universe; and many people are very much attached to the idea that they are personally responsible for the fruit of their actions. In absence of such personal responsibility mayhem is imagined without ever stopping to think that mayhem is very much the case regardless of the laws and social codes which are supposed to keep such irresponsibility in check. In any case, the thief is no more personally responsible for stealing from you than you are for punishing him. None of it is personal, it’s universal karmic agents colliding in the way of atoms as they dance destruction-creation.

It’s often said in healing professions that one is merely an instrument of healing. We cannot personally take credit when a patient is healed. It was their luck to be healed and that luck is merely reflected to the healer. Perhaps any instrument would have healed them, but doctors luck is that the patient came to them. The healing arises from within. Everything arises from within. This is fate, the inner cosmos which is reflected outward.  Whatever someone has inside will come out. Any judgement is merely politics: my school is better than your school children games. High School kids bullying elementary kids. There is of course no truth in any of it. Such bickering can only lead untruth, greater ignorance, division; none of which has anything to do with yoga.

This is not to say yoga is not happening; yoga is always happening. Just think of the sort of connection we are making with Remsky every time we mention his name. Such karma that will surely get us a kick in the ass someday if the opportunity should ever arrive for him (a bit of benevolence can be as much of a kick to an enemy as the sole of the foot), that, of course, will be up to him.

This doesn’t mean it’s not fun. This doesn’t mean you’re wrong in doing it. I think Remski is as much of a clown as anyone doing the circuit and I don’t mind a little controversy, a little masala sometimes. Of course masala mixes with yoga about as well as espresso mixes with meditation. But that’s the way things are, just because we stop for a shot of java in the morning doesn’t mean we have to skip yoga class.

So I suppose in the end, I support the “anything goes” mentality to yoga. I also support  the critics who like to give out a thorough thrashing where ever they see fit. In the end, the students will decide, and our favorite kicking posts like Remsky will be supported or not. Once again we all just have to keep doing whatever it is we do without expecting some result.


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