Generalizations are always fun and always allow one the opportunity to NOT be correct 100% of the time. So I am going to make one now, while drinking my morning coffee.
After being in a Tibetan Buddhist community for some time now, I cannot help but examine and compare the Western Buddhists to the Western Yogis and Yoginis. What I find is that ‘in general’ (there it is) Western Buddhists tend to be more articulate about their path than most Western Yogins. They study textual work and historical analysis in depth, giving them, at the very least, a formal understanding of what their practice is in relation to their traditional philosophical basis. They have a clearer understanding of where they are now and where they are going. Quite frankly, I dont know one yogin who would not benefit from more philosophical and historical study of their own tradition giving them the same level of articulation. However, I have found most practitioners of Yoga (and here I mean those who specifically practice an asana vocabulary as part of their path) much more embodied, and trusting of their instincts, and felt experience and dare I say—a bit softer. More readily to embrace someone with a wide open heart.
About 2 weeks ago a student came into the shala to practice who was leaving Rangjung Yeshe Institute, a monastic college he had enrolled in to attain a degree in Buddhist Studies. He said he felt that he was done with all this “intellectual study and wanted to focus more on practice..” He said he felt that in comparison, he couldn’t help but find most established yoga practitioners genuinely, “happier” than so many of his Buddhist counterparts. Of course, I disagreed with him. He was new to the world of Yoga, and I clearly stated many of the common pitfalls I see in Western Yoga practitioners.
Ultimately, though, the most common pitfall I keep finding again and again in various practitioners is this grasping and attachment to one’s own spiritual practice and tradition itself AND to one’s highly composed identity of being a “Buddhist” or a “Hindu” or a “Yogin” or any subcategory of that, “Ashtangi, Vajrayana student, etc..” This grasping is what closes the heart and turns our practice and our tradition into a JOKE, because our practice is supposed to soften our grasping and our attachments, and soften this hold the ego has over us. It is this attachment, this hardening of the ahamkara (ego) that kicks everyones ass and it is the antithesis of what practice is supposed to do for us. And it is this—that seems to linger over both sets of practitioners from both traditions—like a disease, in equal measure.