Sati: Yoga & Philosophy


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Image by Christine Hewitt. Kathmandu, Nepal.

I generally equate fundamentalism with materialism. A dynamic that occurs when fear causes us to cling to the material (a.k.a. relative) world. It happens in Yoga even though embedded in the various Yoga systems are plenty of warnings and practices trying to reduce our tendency to fall into this trap.

Reading comments about “‘this yoga style and that yoga style”‘ and which is “best” I am pretty sure makes Yoga weep a tear or two. For the heart of Yoga and its teachings (no matter how diverse they are) for the most part remind us that there is no BEST and there is no PERFECT in the relative realm at all. Yoga practice is a collection of imperfect, specific, limited channels created to sift through and clear out this afflicted body/mind matrix so we can wake up to what is not relative or limited, sometimes called The Absolute. But fundamentalism is a minds way of clinging to phenomena and trying to squeeze the absolute into a relative object which I imagine, could be really uncomfortable for the boundless universe (ouch!) and not to mention a direct affront to the values, teaching, and mission of Yoga.

This constant stream of articles and ridiculous chatter about which Yoga technique is better and how the other one is worse is only a discussion that can maturely be had when we choose a relative point in which to determine the discussion to be based around. Once this has been agreed, then this relative point or aim can serve as a theoretical destination from which it can be determined if a practice is closer too or farther from. For example, If you want to cool down the body, then some practices may be better for this purpose. Your relative aim is to cool the body. So you evaluate accordingly. If you want to heat up the body then another practice may be better for that. If you were born without legs and wish to pursue a yoga practice, perhaps seated meditation or pranayama is better to start off with than a jumping asana practice! There is no absolute best yoga anything. There is only appropriate to a specific set of conditions and relative intention/factor/goal, call it whatever you wish. Though none of these practices are universally THE BEST.

If we are to use physical yoga asana practice for another example: Saying Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga does not have enough leg strength building postures in it or enough calming aspects or circular motions makes one have to ask, “In relation to what?” What is the relative point we are using to measure this against? Leg strength in relation to a bodybuilder? Then sure, I totally agree. But the thing is, Ashtanga asana practice does not seem to want the body to have legs as strong as a body builder. This system has another intention. That is not the point of its methodology. Do you see how this critique of any asana system or for that matter breath or meditation system could be endless? It is not this enough or that enough. Why stop there? The Eiffel tower is not round enough. The Mona Lisa is not cute enough. A cactus is not soft enough. The sun is not yellow enough. Our human mind’s ability to critique is a great asset along the path, but it needs to be grounded around a shared theoretical intention or reference point, and if we are dealing with something like Yoga it needs to be resting on the Yoga’s metaphysical framework to actually work well!

Few seem to see this obvious problem when critiquing Yoga. This is because, I am assuming, that many are criticizing and launching their own changes to a system because they think they have found or wish to create the ULTIMATE and PERFECT Yoga practice from their (probably) fractured, klesha-induced, pea-sized brain. If that is the case then Yoga itself would say, you are quite mistaken.

What do the great texts of Yoga say your body and thoughts are anyway? A limited, dynamic reflection of the creative jungle of Citta that itself is made up of a spinning web of ignorance that is lost, so lost. So maybe we can bow our heads and hearts down in humility for a second and remember that we are all lost and Yoga loves us unconditionally, because it says that eventually, when we get as close to our own potential luminosity as possible before breaking open, we will have to let Yoga practice go too. For one, because it is NOT PERFECT and NOT ULTIMATE. The tradition openly states this and that is exactly why we can trust it. It is not clinging to us! It does not want us for eternity. It wants us to be liberated. It does not want us to confuse the vehicle of practice for the destination.

So if we are to ask Yoga’s formal opinion, there is no ultimately best anything here in this samsaric disco dance. Only relatively appropriate to ones condition(s) so only in that context is something “best”.

To say there is an ultimate yoga practice is the same mentality of looking for some object to be the holy grail of spiritual deliverance. The holy grail of awakening is not your practice materially, it is what it invokes from you. And what determines your ability to embody the highest wisdom is in HOW you practice.

So how do you practice? Are you committed or are you arrogant and self-righteous? Are you humble or are you insecure? Are you focused or are you flighty? Are you ignorant of the whole Yoga tradition you yourself say you practice or are you inspired to truly understand it and devote your life to developing knowledge? Maybe we are all a little bit of both most of time.

Funnily enough, with so much rambling going on about this asana practice or that one, this breath practice or that one, this meditation and mantra or that one, few are talking about the much more elusive and perhaps powerful forces that make these practices work their very best: non-attachment and absorption or said another way—surrender and profoundly saturated focus.

These seem to be ingredients that can, appropriately enough, be infused into any practice and I personally believe either make a practice abundant and effective or toxic and poverty stricken.

The thing is, if what we are walking towards is not Yoga as a philosophy, practice and tradition, then that is actually, “ultimately” speaking, a good thing. Because really, it should be an unchanging truth. And truth should be accessible to anyone from any culture, background, body, and thought process. People who have never encountered this tradition from India have a birthright to awakening to their basic essence or at the very least, to a somewhat harmonious sense of themselves. I have seen people stack stones, dance, and play music more ‘yogically’ then I have seen some students practice formal “Yoga” per se. So who is more thoroughly doing Yoga, at the end of the day?

Nonetheless, Yoga formally, is a tradition and construct. And I think a damn good one when it comes to healing negative emotions, cultivating a sense of well-being, making you face the recesses of your own mind and helping you navigate your way through it. But without a strong embodiment of its finer points, in particular non-attachment and being able to work deeply into the subtle layers of the mind, the dance of practice will be a rough ride causing a greater divide between “us and them” when indeed, it should be closing it.

For my own karmic dollar, I would prefer to see more discussions on what Patanjali, Shankara, Vyasa, and Kapila, really believed healed people from the bottom up and less discussions on shoulder placement. I would love to hear how the deepest wisdom teachings have been expressed in other spiritual traditions and other lineages. I would love to assess my practice by testing my basic levels of compassion, tolerance, and discrimination in the face people acting out in ways I totally disagree with and in ways that cause obvious suffering. I want to close the gap between self and other. I want to discover a glimpse and then another glimpse and then another glimpse of “my” own mind where negative vrittis (thoughts and mental fluctuations) are not sprouting.

Sometimes I think that the reason there is so much insignificant banter about the mundane practicalities surrounding Yoga practice is because few students actually aspire for the greater gifts Yoga seeks to bestow upon them. Few actually think it is attainable and so, few reach that far into the tradition and into themselves.

But I disagree. It is attainable. It is workable. It can be a valid, rising, heated aspiration nurtured by every positive AND negative thought we have! Heck, our suffering is a great way to get excited about attaining clarity of mind, pure surrender, and final liberation!

So consider this:

Yoga’s song to us may be this: “Use me. Study me. Practice me until you reach through to the depths of your ignorance to the point where the light of your inherent, boundless, luminosity is almost blinding. And finally, when you reach that place, let me go. Let go of the idea of being a yogin, or yogic, or of a path and destination, of practices, ideas, sanghas, gurus, yamas, niyamas, kleshas, tradition, rules, discipline, practice, and more. Because where I am taking you is beyond all such temporal constructs. You need them now and you should use them now. And that is why I have been created. I am map and a shovel to use fully. Navigate your mind using my map. Take the shovel and dig out all the obstacles in your way. And when you see the holy land in the distance, lay them down on this samsaric ground…and go.”



This entry was posted on February 18, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , .
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