Yoga & the Religious Attitude.

Via on Mar 23, 2011

by Matthew Remski with Scott Petrie

Modern yoga exists at the juncture of faith and faithlessness, on the cusp between belief and inquiry. It begs the question in a thousand ways: can faithful people have substantive conversations with those for whom faith is an open question?

A month ago, we published our introductory piece to our ongoing series in the 2.0 reading of Patanjali. Since then, 55 comments have been appended to that post. Scott and I have been puzzling over one of them ever since.

The commentator “Mahatma” had two points. One was technical. Mahatma pointed out that modern western yogis should be aware that the ascendency of the Patanjalian sutras in our culture is not representative of the broader tradition, and that the majority of the Hatha Yoga lineage that follows Patanjali evokes a more tantric ethics of relationship, involvement, and embodied action. We agreed in our reply, and added the additional observation that the ashta-anga of the sutras meshed very nicely with the Neo-Platonic reading agendas of early 19th-century translators. In other words, we agreed that we have adopted Patanjali as our modern yoga bible because it resonates nicely with our vestigial Judaeo-Christianity. It divides spirit from matter, disciplines the unruly body of its desires and assymetries, surrenders to authority – whether external (the perfection of a divine agent) or internal (the perfection of your unseen soul), and tells a general story of redemption from a natural state of sin. Its aesthetic is quietist: classical yogis and Christian saints radiate nimbuses of mildness. This was all very clear, and gratifying for us to have the opportunity to sketch out in brief as we prepare more complete reflections on this intersection for a later post.

all you need

But Mahatma’s second point was much different. S/he began by casting an aspersion on our training and our relationships to teachers, and suggested that the ethical dilemmas that we raised to begin our interrogation of Patanjali’s relevance to our postmodern age were the product of our unfortunate disconnection from “authentic” yogic learning. Now, we don’t think we know the commentator personally – s/he posted under a pseudonym – so we can’t really say how s/he came to any conclusion about our education. According to them, our very questions seemed to place us beyond the pale of valid inquiry. Without the right teacher, Mahatma seemed to be saying, we don’t even know what questions to ask. Besides, a good teacher would go farther than answering questions,– a good teacher could actually unwire the mind that asks questions.

Further, our apparent outsidership was presumed by Mahatma (albeit tacitly) to be psychologically stressful to us. S/he kindly reassured us that our answers were indeed available, but only accessible to us through a corrected relationship to authority. Other commentators went further in their psychoanalysis of our questioning stance, worrying aloud about the amount of internal pain that our professed uncertainty must be causing.

We appreciated the psychological concern, but found it a bit unnecessary and overreaching, because we both honestly love our questions and their elliptical jet streams. We are bhaktis of inquiry. And we don’t even really have any problems with authority, either. We either ignore authority, resist it, or accept it provisionally. For us, authority is plural, and the more the merrier. We compare amongst them, short-circuit their hierarchies of knowledge through analysis and discussion, and disperse their power amongst everyone who comes to the party.

Over many pots of Ethiopian coffee since that post, we’ve come up with a few thoughts about these comments, and we’d love to open a new level of discussion: about how yoga inquiry is produced and received, and what this says about what knowledge is, who owns it, what it is used for, and, most importantly, what it shows us about where religion and philosophy tangle.

Modern yoga exists, it seems, at the juncture of faith and faithlessness, on the cusp between belief and inquiry. It begs the question in a thousand ways: can faithful people have substantive conversations with people like us, for whom faith is an open question?

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Scott leaned back in his chair and opened with a bright volley. “In what way is the statement: ‘You will understand Patanjali when you meet an authentic teacher’ different from the statement: ‘You will understand the Bible when you accept Jesus as your personal saviour?’” (You can substitute any religious text or figure for “Jesus”.)

I was puzzled – I said: “Well, presumably an ‘authentic teacher’ would sit before you in the flesh, would know you and your learning needs, would be able to improvise and time the most relevant examples and so on. ‘Accepting Jesus’ doesn’t involve quite the same kind of dialogue.”

“True,” said Scott. “But the end result is the same from the perspective of the learning process. Both statements attempt to generate a feeling of certainty that forecloses on all future questions by deferring to an external power. I don’t think Mahatma is simply empathizing with our lack of mentorship,” he continued. “I think he’s saying that we’re non-believers, and we won’t get anywhere or know anything verifiable or useful until we develop a faith relationship to authority. He’s saying: ‘Everything will be answered when you finally put your faith in a teacher who answers everything for you.’”

Scott’s point was simple. Whether you are accepting Jesus as your personal saviour or accepting an “authentic” teacher’s interpretation of Patanjali (or anything else in the yoga tradition as whole and complete) you are doing the same thing. You are giving your authority away. This may not be a bad strategy in some cases, but there’s a catch. You can only really do this with pleasure and comfort if you also enjoy the psychological support of a faithful attitude. In other words, accepting first a teacher’s authenticity, and then accepting their authority over whatever they choose to interpret, is an act of faith, plain and simple. Acts of faith are not designed to advance knowledge. They are designed to soothe the anxious mind. They are religious, in the sense that they manufacture certainty, as opposed to philosophical modes, which produce discourse.

Imagine someone saying: “When I come to have faith in Jesus, I will see that the questions I ask without faith are meaningless.” Well of course! This is so obvious that it can’t be meaningful. But we have no desire to come to have faith in Jesus! So can we get on with the discussion, please? Or is faith in Jesus my entrance fee to your church, which is the only place we can legally talk about him?

When someone writes to encourage us to find and surrender to the authority of an authentic teacher, they are appealing for the development of our faith. They are saying: “If you take a religious stance towards these issues, your questions will cease.” The assumption also seems to be: we’d be happier without our autonomy, and so would everyone else. Sometimes, there also seems to be some underlying resentment: “I gave away my autonomy — why do you get to keep yours?”

When this agenda is uncovered, it suddenly makes sense why no commentator who takes this tack would be excited to actually engage the content of the original article. (If you read through the criticisms, you’ll see that almost none are substantive. Rather, most focus on issues of tone or presumed attitude. Ramesh provides the notable exception.) Such critics don’t address the questions we raise, because the questions are irrelevant. Their target is the questioning and faithless mind itself. If they did actually engage on the level of content, they would have to do so by forfeiting their language of faith.  They would have to climb down out of the private certainty they hold in relative solitude, into the uncertainty that everyone shares. This is very hard for a certain kind of person to do. We think that that person is likely harbouring a religious attitude towards life and knowledge.

Really – what would be the point of telling a writer “You don’t know enough because your training is incomplete”, and then failing to concretely engage with the alleged shortcomings in the writing? Does this serve knowledge, or community? Or is simply about power? Does Mahatma not care about the actual content, or worse – about how Scott and I may be endangering ourselves with falsehoods? Is it more important for him or her to simply tell us that we are outsiders, and would be better off silent until we join the Light Team?

Mahatma implied that we were wrong, and then seemed to have nothing to offer. It might be that s/he just didn’t have time that morning. But still: s/he could have taught us something. It feels like the message of exclusivity was a higher priority.

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nice bindings!Postmodern yoga culture has a very complex relationship with religion. On one hand, it has Universalist strands, presented most clearly by Vivekananda and his lineage, which suggests that yoga provides an ecumenical forum for the blending of all religions. This looks good on paper, but it seems rare for it to reach out beyond the level of abstraction and multicultural sentiment.

On the other hand, many modern yogis are insistent that yoga is not a religion. This claim is useful in the support of at least three different agendas: the yogi’s wish to differentiate herself from her own (presumably bankrupt) religious heritage; the yogi’s wish to simplify the marketing of her brand (whether she’s trying to open a heartland studio or a corporate call-in business); and finally, the yogi’s wish to elevate the process of inquiry over the product of certainty. This last agenda is probably the most fruitful and forward-looking.

Then (if we can add a third hand), on the third hand there is outright religiosity in a large portion of modern yoga culture. The same studio that hosts an Iyengar intensive on femoral grounding on Saturday afternoon can easily host a devotional kirtan on Saturday night, in which the pleasure of psychological surrender is the desired experience. Murtis of Ganesh or Siva sit on the reception desk, blessing the key-chain pass-swiper and raw vegan snacks. More than this, many practitioners affect a religious and/or faithful attitude.

This is to be expected. Even the most jaded Judaeo-Christian culture will likely retain its religious sentiments as long as they serve the psychological need for comfort and certainty. We will surely nurture our religious heritage for as long as it hints at that expansive state we know can’t be limited by dogma. The imagery and prayers of other religious traditions may even be particularly useful to us, because they have not accumulated their own dogmas like so much dust. We are like children amongst the Hindu pictures: enthralled on the levels of colour, form, and story. We are inspired by the devattas, perhaps because they haven’t yet begun to tell us what we should do, or how we should exclude those who don’t share our fascination, or how we should discipline those who develop incorrect philosophies.

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If there are religious aspects to modern yoga, does yoga 2.0 view them from inside or outside of faith? Where do we stand? Do we need to choose?

The Outsider/Insider conundrum is famous in Religious Studies, where Scott and I both did hard academic time. The question revolves around who has the right and ability to study and describe a set of dogmas – the one who holds them, or the one who doesn’t?

The Outsider to a religion can’t understand it, says the Insider, because she lacks the ecstasy of faith. The Insider to a religion can’t understand it, says the Outsider, because he lacks rational perspective. The Insider defends his private feelings against intrusive analysis. In so doing, he pushes the Outsider further to the periphery. The Outsider’s language must become more penetrative. As Outsider intelligence becomes more penetrative, Insider defensiveness recommits, and recommits.

If Scott and I don’t sit with an authentic teacher that matches Mahatma’s unstated (and probably indefinable) standards, are we outside the tradition? We don’t feel that way – certainly not after 20 combined years of teaching and community organization across many strata of yoga culture: studios, retreats, teacher training programmes, and in the satellite disciplines of Ayurveda and East Indian Astrology.

But at the same time, we don’t really feel like we’re “inside” of anything, either. We definitely feel the same moments of expansiveness, pleasure, wonderment and empathy that lie at the heart of religious sentiment. But for us, our samadhis do not suggest or define or prove a worldview to which we must pledge allegiance, or defend against something that will attack it. They are simply the gifts of life itself, thankfully made more accessible and magnified through yogic technique. When they occur, authority is nowhere to be seen. Nobody asks us to recite a creed on the threshold of the sublime. No priest has led us to joy. No article of faith has brought me to orgasm, or sufficiently explained a single petal on a single lily of the field.

Religious yoga reminds us of Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t join any club that would need me as a member!”

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At a certain point in the inside/outside discussion, a strange dialectic takes hold. The Insider begins to prove her insidership by measuring it against the Outsider’s misunderstanding. The Outsider begins to prove her outsidership by measuring it against the Insider’s irrationality. The sides polarize, not because the substantive differences are increasing or harming anyone, but because the perceptions of those differences are closing down the language and the willingness to connect. Emotions run high: the Insider needs to protect the soul he has claimed for himself, and the Outsider seeks for soulfulness in the cracks between claims.

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Our first yoga studio was in rural Wisconsin, surrounded by various Christian church compounds. One Lutheran evangelical minister stood in his pulpit one Sunday and expressly forbade his congregants from coming to our studio. Sometimes our building was vandalized. We never found out if that was discriminatory, but we often felt uneasy and untrusted within the larger community, even though the folks that came to our classes seemed edified by what we were able to offer.

My partner also taught theatre classes in the space. Over time we made the acquaintance of the only other theatre-teacher-woman in town, who sent her children to my partner’s classes, played Sonia to my Astrov in a community production of Uncle Vanya that we staged, and began to chat with us about collaborating further. I’ll call her Marian. We got along well. It all had that upbeat Midwestern feeling I still miss.

But one day, somebody at Marian’s church gave her a good talking-to about her association with us. Shortly after, while helping my partner with costumes for a kid’s production of Peter Pan, she announced her concern for our souls. Our practice of yoga, according to her, would prevent us from forming an adequate relationship with Jesus, and it fell to her to let us know. She looked at us gravely, her normally-cheerful colour now ashen.

But she wasn’t upset enough, in my view. When I pressed her about the implications of her concern, she confirmed that it ran deeply: she claimed to believe that my soul would be damned because of my practices and faithlessness. I asked her what damnation meant to her. She replied that it meant eternal separation from God: eternal loneliness, eternal pain.

“That’s bullshit,” I said. She was taken aback. “If you were really concerned that my eternal soul was in this moment being primed for endless torment because of choices I could change right now, you’d be on your knees right here, begging me to convert. If you really were convinced that I was lost, you’d be out of your mind with horror and empathy. And I know you have a big heart – I’ve seen you with your children. So I think this faith of yours is shite. You don’t really believe that stuff. You just want to feel certain about something in your life. And you’re using your projection of my uncertainty to prove that you can feel certain about something. I don’t think it’s going to work out for you in the long run.”

We lost touch with Marian. Everything we shared and everything we had in common was washed away in a pathetic tide of religious misanthropy. It was such a waste.

_____

faith and despair in chekhov

In the closing speech of Uncle Vanya, Sonia masters the poetry of religious despair. I was off-stage: my Astrov having exited in drunken springtime existentialism.

Marian stood centre stage in that tiny regional theatre, and wept openly as she delivered her lines.

Chekhov has built it sublimely: Vanya is tortured by loneliness and class misfortune, driven to servitude at the hand of his pompous brother-in-law, in late middle age, a bachelor, longing for a love he knows will never come. He weeps with angst, and Sonia rebuts with tears of faith.:

SONIA. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile–and–we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith…. We shall rest…. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [She wipes away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest.

I watched from the wings night after night, knowing Marian’s tears were real. She really did have faith, and it gave her equal parts of poetry, despair, and intolerance for the incompatible feelings of others.

I think that what ultimately separated us from Marian was that we simply couldn’t share her (and Sonia’s) religious morbidity and psychological disempowerment.

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While our Wisconsin experience may be a crude example of a religion-stoked impasse, the same thing can definitely happen in yoga as well. Mahatma’s words must only be nudged a little bit further to the right before they turn into a faith-based standoff in which s/he says: “Whatever we do share is outweighed by our differences in belief. I have access to an authority that you do not, and it gives me enough power to say you are mistaken.”

What a way to end a conversation that’s just getting started!

______

But why pull punches? We actually know that religious exclusivity that derives its power from hierarchy, from defining, reifying and claiming ownership over indescribable experiences abounds in yoga culture. We can feel it: yoga often separates as much as it joins, and it does so through the religious posture of assumed certainty. Assumed certainty provides comfort that decays.

You can feel it whenever you get close to a group who allows you to stay by trying to force your internal reality to wear a particular public mask. You can feel it whenever you are told how to feel or think about authority. You can feel it whenever someone offers you consolation with a vague but insistent promise of certainty in your life – if only you follow their instructions perfectly. You can feel it when you keep going to satsang long after your learning curve has plateaued, and you blame yourself for your declining enthusiasm. You can feel it when it seems like you’re depending on someone for constant propping of your self-worth. You can feel it when you feel relieved to be forgiven by someone you never wronged. You can feel it when you begin doing things to appease authority because appeasement will make you feel welcome, included, and part of the tribe again.

It feels so good to be the prodigal son. It feels so good to be the good boy or girl once again. But this is not empowering for those who are actually growing older, and actually wish to step into the authenticity that they alone can define. It’s no surprise: religion is not about sharing power. Yoga is.

photo by julie daniluk

Matthew Remski is an authoryoga and ayurvedic therapist and educator, and co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto. With Scott Petrie (who provided essential wing-man services for this piece) he is co-creator of yoga 2.0, a project in writing (one book done, eight more in the sushumna-chute) and the embodiment of all things post-dogmatic.

yoga 2.0: shamanic echoesis now available for kindle and other e-readers.

About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.

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56 Responses to “Yoga & the Religious Attitude.”

  1. AMO says:

    I'm freakin' exhausted and I didn't even finish this. I got too tired half way through to keep reading. This is the sentence that turned me off:

    ‘Everything will be answered when you finally put your faith in a teacher who answers everything for you.’

    If you are correct in assuming that was the commenters point then nothing else he has to say has any meaning to me. Why would I want only one person to learn from? Why would I want a relationship that assumes information flows only in one direction?

    The idea of "guru" is a major turn off to me. I won't go to yoga studios where teachers talk about gurus or act like gurus and I won't be treated like one by my students. I love hatha yoga, and I love the idea that the meditation present in the breath and the movement can lead me deeper inside myself, can lead me to a more peaceful relationship with the world, can lead me to a more open heart.

    I don't believe in any of the gods humans have ever believed in through time. I think it's time we acknowledged that the reason all the god stories are the same, is that we are all the same inside. The divine is within you, no guru required…

  2. Michael Texeira says:

    Because I would likely lose my commentary by the time I read the whole thing, I will comment in bits and bobs. First, regarding the teacher. I am as about as unconformist and resistant to authority as one can be, but I have sat once in the presence of a teacher. Knowledge was imparted without words, doors opened without knowing that the doors had been there, and the pertinent questions were woven from the answers arisen spontaneously. Not saying that this could not be done without a teacher, but certainly, someone who is capable of holding the space that you are seeking is a major boon on any path. He did not require I submit, but merely stated that if I did, I could achieve the state he assisted me in experiencing, much quicker and with less pain. He was probably right, but I chose to enter Maya once again. The only relevance that faith had was in allowing me to let go of the questioning mind.

    The thing about the questioning mind is, it inherently starts from the assumption that it doesn't already know. For if it already knew, why would it ask questions? And from my personal experience, when in the state beyond questions, all the answers to the questions I had seem completely obvious. I don't stay there, because, for the time being, I enjoy the drama created by pretending that I don't already know everything, and that I'm not already connected at the core to the core of all being. But lets be serious…it's a pretense.

    Certainly, a little analysis makes clear that autonomy is antithetical to Yoga. Yoga is union, merging oneness. Autonomy is separation and identity. Certainly, neither is better or worse than the other. Really, it all becomes a question of where your attention is. Is your awareness on your identity, that which is definite, discernable, and separate? Or is it on your transcendental being, that aspect of you which is amorphous, immaterial, and unknowable except through direct experience? This is where the discussion of the various qualities of Samadhi can come in. What are you seeking? Nirvakalpa or Samprajnata samadhi?

    On the issue of a Guru, you can find one externally or be your own. The only purpose of a Guru is to guide. If you are going into the depths of the Amazon, would you not hire a guide? Since, according to Yogic philosophy, the innermost depths of each of us is the same energetic core, the same source energy, many choose to follow someone who has done the work within themself, and hence knows the way. Is faith required? Not really. No more faith than you put constantly in the world of form. Kirkegaard discussed faith quite comprehensively. When you sit down without looking behind you, do you not exercise faith that the chair will still be there when you expect contact? Have you ever thought you were coming to the bottom step in a series of stairs, only to find the shocking revelation that one more step remained? The faith you had in that firm foundation, in this case, created the condition whereby you were disillusioned and perhaps frightened. On the other hand, life is impossible without a certain amount of faith. One would exhaust themselves in worry. For most, it is faith in the scientific method, or the socratic method, or in sensory stimulus. As is mentioned, the faith itself is not important. It merely provides a buffer for us to interact with a world of ungraspable uncertainty. Each of us use it to some extent.

    Having spent some time with The Twelve Tribes, I have seen some of the uglier sides of faith, as it creates myopia, confirmation biases, and insular groups which are unable to access new information. It's a real bummer. But, if you happen to meet someone, where, just sitting quietly in their presence, brings out aspects of awareness you had never experienced before, not in your deepest meditations, then perhaps you will understand the faith of guru and disciple. I left my guru, because it was not time for me yet, but it is fine. Since all of material reality is merely a manifestation of my divine will, when I am ready, I will create another body with that same timeless and powerful spirit, who I may sit with and enjoy time with. Or maybe this time, I'll do it with my wife, or by myself. I haven't decided yet.

    Be mindful of resistance. Be mindful of when you fight against something because it reflects and elicits the darkness within. That is all I would ask of you. Open-mindedness even in the face of the closed minded, for everyone has some truth to offer.

  3. ARCreated says:

    I want to hang out with you guys…I think that's about the best compliment I can give….LONG LIVE THE QUESTIONS!!! I will have many many guru's I will be my own guru…and I may never know "Rest" becuase I have found peaceful faith…but I'm OK with that too… I "ran" from religion because of dogma and this idea that anyone freakin' knows anything and I rest in Yoga because it (at least for me) is a place of exploration and discovery not dogma…if others want/need that authority they can have it…but as with other religions keep your dogma off my psyche :p

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Yea yea yea….The Guru can be more than one individual. No wonder 99% of self proclaimed "Yogis" are resistent to a Guru is because they have no teachers who would qualify being a Guru. The tradition of American Yoga is a self reliant "yogi" that has no investment in a tradition. They want to ascribe to the false Ghandian ideal that all paths have the same goal or finality so they shop for what "FEELS" good. An authentic Guru would not accept that style of student. Furthermore maybe we should discuss what a Guru does…that would be laborious.

  5. Brilliant essay. Loved every minute of it.

    I hope we get a response from "s/he".

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  6. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. There is a third alternative I'm not sure you're taking into account here. You're saying it's a choice between "surrendering to certainty" or "don't surrender and continue to question".

    There is another route–"surrendering to uncertainty".

    If one defines God or No-God (either works fine) as the "infinitely wondrous unfathomable life force of the universe", then that certainly shortens the discussion about what God is or isn't, but it opens up endless discussion about what the implications of all this infinite wonder are for our lives, which, it seems to me, is what most of yoga 2.0 is really about.

    The religious people and the Yoga teachers I admire have this in common–Heschel, Merton, Cope, Easwaran, etc.

    They surrender, but to an infinitely wondrous unfathomable uncertainty, not certainty.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  8. TamingAuthor says:

    Whew. What would be fascinating would be for teachers or more experienced practitioners to share views about what one would do if they encountered a student like the author of this article. What the heck would one do?

    My first response would be to quickly and quietly walk away. The tangle of confusion, the proverbial bramble bush, is quite daunting. How does one explain to someone that they have been led far far off the path into a line of thinking that is "off the reservation"? That seems insulting. It may seem arrogant. (Which is the reason one walks away not knowing what to say.)

    Mahatma probably faced this problem and tried to finesse a response, probably knowing it was a futile effort. Perhaps the only possible way to enter the conversation is to ask what the author hopes to achieve in the practice and then follow up with what the author imagines is the most that is possible through the practice. In other words, what are the limits the author imagines serve as boundaries in the practice. What could the student expect to be the absolute pinnacle if one were to practice diligently, properly, and with all correct views.

  9. […] or Santosha (sometimes spelled Samtosha), is one of the niyamas (observances) given in the Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga as described in his Yoga Sutras. The yamas (restrictions) are habitual actions […]

  10. Padma Kadag says:

    One more thing….I sat in a series of structured teachings with a Tibetan Khenpo, scholar, who also happened to be quite realized. Everyone knows this. Khenpo's are the intellectual phd types in Tibetan buddhism. But a Khenpo who also has deep realization is very valuable. He was like this. There sat all of his usual students and they were requesting Dzogchen teachings like they always do. The Dzogchen teachings are the pinnacle of everyting. He did not want to give these teachings to the group. Much individual preparation needs to show itself through actual accomplishment before you should even whisper the name of the teachings. Well he proceeded to spend all day and into the next teaching on why he could not give the teachings they requested. Going over in minute detail every condition which needed to be satisfied in order to be ripe enough to understand the Ati teachings. He had given them what they wanted and they did not even know it. This is a Guru. Yet they still discussed at each tea break their remorse for not having the karma to recieve Dzogchen teachings!!! hahaha

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  12. matthew says:

    Thank you Padma. I am familiar with this process from my time with Buddhist communities. What I don’t understand is that if I were starving for food that alone should qualify me for the kindness of someone with infinite food. I don’t think it’s ethical for the food-guy to make choices about feeding me based on whether or not he likes how I eat.

    I understand that certain mentors and students will rub each other the wrong way, and perhaps should steer clear of each other. But I get lost when karmic theory (who’s linked to who from a past life, for instance) overrides what’s plain to see: someone needs something, and the person who has it claims it is the path to end suffering, and is willing to withhold it. Why would anything precious be withheld? It would be like taking royalties for the polio vaccine.

    I’m going on about this because the teacher’s prerogative to reject the student because of an attitude or view that s/he doesn’t like seems like the opposite of teaching. Does the real guru simply accept yes-men and yes-women?

  13. Padma Kadag says:

    There are Gurus which will teach only a few students…a handful. These Lamas are discerning because they want to be true to their lineage requirements. I understand that you are thinking that if one is a truth seeker and a Guru has the truth to show then why would he refuse that seeker? Because though a Guru is a Guru does not mean his/her style matches with the seeker. My daughter lived in Nepal and her first day there a very important older Tibetan yogi lived upstairs. She went up to meet him and make an offering and he refused to see her. He said return aon a more auspicious day on the Tibetan calender. She did and he treated her as a daughter. He said if they had met that first day there would be no connection. It is that tenuous. Especiaaly with Yogis who are less inclined with teaching large groups. This kind of Guru, with the karma, can lead one all of the way on the path.

  14. TamingAuthor says:

    In the example offered, the McD's approach to yoga, we would be able to establish it was a wrong view when we see the results. We would be able to match the view with the outcome in the practice. The pre-class regimen counters the expected results, makes them more difficult to attain. We would see how the regimen works against the desired results of the asanas.

    Of course, we could read Satchidananda's commentary on Patanjali, understand the goal of the asanas, and with that in mind, realize the regimen makes no sense. We would abandon McD's without running the experiment.

    This analogy works as we consider other types of views and assess how they enhance or detract from the practice. Of course, we would have to have some idea of where the practice could take us. We would have to understand, through studying with those who have achieved results, what those results might be. Then we could assess our views and determine if they help or hurt our practice.

    In the instance of St. Francis, we might assess how living according to his precepts helps us attain our practical goals for living a good life, a divine life. We might look at his views on poverty and humility and determine if they help us avoid unnecessary conflict. We might look at how he eschews prestige and status and the use of power to coerce and dominate others—and we might find this leads to a better life.

    With Francis we might consider if his approach to spirituality actually takes us to a better understanding of our essential nature. We might consider how it helps us understand the divine presence within all creation. To do this we would have to move into the more advanced works, such as Bonaventure's The Soul's Journey into God which lays out the path of Franciscan spirituality in stages.

    Then we might compare the lessons we receive from Francis with other paths to spirituality and discover he taught ideas we find in Buddhism (in particular) and in yoga, in general. When we see a common thread, with repeated themes, appearing in common with the most advanced teachers, we begin to understand the nature of correct views. We then compare our views with those views, as a preliminary step before we test the views in the actual practice.

    We might recognize a common theme regarding enlightenment regarding the true nature of things. We could then inspect our views — and perhaps see they stand in direct opposition to views expressed by those most advanced and most enlightened in the various disciplines. This would at least put us on notice that we might be holding a wrong view.

    Now, if we must cling to wrong views, there is no hope. There is impasse. So we would have to first take time to become familiar with our tendency to cling to wrong views. We might have to chip away at that foundation of samsara before moving forward.

    At the end of the day, however, we will find the McD's example beneficial. There are wrong views that are the mental equivalent of eating a few Big Macs before heading to class. They create an impasse in the practice. We cannot move forward, but rather we advance in a circular manner, one minute going for the goal and in the next moment going against the goal. We get nowhere.

    And, yes, just like the McD's example, it is not a matter of belief. It has never been a matter of belief. It is a matter of experience, a matter of firsthand observation, and, in the early stages being able to listen to the firsthand observations of others without the need to dismiss those observations as a result of a compulsion to cling to wrong views. Does that begin to make sense?

  15. Mat says:

    The underlying problem of this is that drawing a conclusion that either hypothesis is true is impossible based on what is a common (and Western?) misunderstanding that wants to set form and content – or perhaps substance and essence in an over-simplified and cliched (black and white) relationship with each other.

    This is what TamingAuthor is (I think) explaining with McD fast food metaphor – here we are being led along the unsatisfactory method of answers informing our questions – just like the tails wag the dogs – right ?

    Now – the trouble with TA's evidence-based, somatic rationalism is that it relies on some fairly cumbersome noetics.

    To be frank – as these boxes are painfully small for informed and useful debate – the "suck-it-and-see" yoga is for pussies, since our salvation is not dependant in resolving these – and other (false) dilemmas raised by 2.0 but rather in how we might unfold this very cross (bound and angry) pentalemma of form, sensation, perception, formations and consciousness.

    The ("Buddhistic"), atomist conception, especially as expounded in the "Higher Teachings" of the Abhidharma manages to at least capture these false conceptions through analysis but comes up a little short on emphasising the philosophical dimension and instead does well at outlining a psycho-therapeutic analysis of phenomena that TA would probably feel quite at home with, it is all very "cosy".

    But a more advanced and challenging position is available to us, one which I suggest can help us move beyond these cosmetic (well – if that is too harsh – maybe aesthetic) concerns.

    The (relatively) unknown Yogacara fork sets us on a course towards the perspective of a mereological nihlist – especially in the (later) Madhyamaka school – the assertion is that debates such as these, (in that they hinge on a complex phenomenological rendering) are actually… rather self-obsessive.

    In good time we might consider what is right under our self-obsessed noses – reality.

    Reality is empty of "substance", meaning it has no substantive, independent reality apart from how we might want to notionally and conventionally want to describe it, we are simply doing the best we can to follow the causes and conditions from which this reality arises.

    Derrida states: "Ascesis strip[s the messianic hope of all its biblical forms, and even all determinable figures of the wait or expectation; it thus denudes itself in view of responding to (…) the 'come' to the future that cannot be anticipated"

    Ascesis for me, and insofar as yoga can be described as such – is not about explicit / implict expectation – or the lack of either one (and hopefully not invoking some dreadful holistic or transcendental cliches) – yoga is both an alternative beginning and an alternative end of the problems that we create for ourselves, and also the ones that are created for us.

    Yoga is the question and the answer – and this I think brings us nicely back what we might consider as being Mahatmas position – although I would say the guru is actually a bit of a Red Herring (sorry PK and Mahatma). @Bob btw – I don't see any universalism here – as previously discussed – universalism is only useful if one wants to offer horse meat (that is: after the flogging) to a large number of vegetarians.

  16. Mat says:

    I hope I am not arguing with myself, so – just to be clear, the problem/enigma is: whether or not religion is a specific example of a general structure of ("false/synthetic/dubious") messianicity (another, rather petty concern of 2.0) or an absolute event, an irreducible event which has unveiled a ("true/authentic/unequivocal") messianicity (read: Padma K's comments above about "go seek a guru").

  17. jaltucher says:

    A couple of thoughts:
    A) I wonder if Mahatma feels that he doesn't really have an authentic teacher and he's projecting that frustration out on you. Authenticity ultimately comes from the inside. Krishnacharya studied from many teachers but (from what I can gather) ultimately trusted his own heart over the course of a 90 year studying of the sutras as to what was right and what was wrong.

    B) yoga in western world is affected more by marketing than philosophy. Its marketed and branded as exercise. not as spirituality. So this has to evolve. But I have a feeling it is (thanks to efforts like EJ, etc) .

  18. TamingAuthor says:

    An excellent statement of the problem, the dilemma.

    There is a significant collection of individuals—the Buddha Shakyamuni, numerous Rinpoches, Patanjali, Satchidananda, advanced yogis, numerous Christian mystics (the list goes on)—who agree on the basic axioms. The basics are universal. Observed over and over. Very similar testimony regarding observation.

    Then we have the view "how do I know they aren't making things up?" Valid question. The way to answer that question is to: a) attempt to understand what those who have such experience are actually saying and, b) follow the practice to see if one has the same observations. (If one does not follow the practice it is certain one will not experience the same observations.)

    At the same time, one has to consider (honestly and with diligence), "What barriers exist that might prevent me from viewing as they do?" This question aligns with the practice which states the problem to be overcome is obfuscation, ignorance, and attachment to that which is false. In other words, rather than clinging to the cynical question (are they making things up?) one turns to "what views might obscure my vision?"

    This takes us back to the beginning of our exchange. What would a master teacher say or do that allows someone to set aside attached views in order to observe beyond delusion and illusion that keeps one attached? How does one dance around the implied threat contained in the comment, "You might have wrong views that prevent you from observing."

    Your statement of interest (who we are and what is happening to us and how are we changing) is precisely the subject covered in all these disciplines. They speak precisely to who we are (in our true essence). They speak to what is happening to us (in the most fundamental manner possible). And they speak to the changes taking place (with uncanny accuracy).

    In the practices mentioned the approach is primarily concerned with taking away that which obscures vision. The question is almost always "what is preventing me from seeing?" It requires an ongoing inventory of that which stands in the way.

    One possible barrier is inherent cynicism; there are views we become attached to that distort and evaluate so that we automatically, without observing, reject. This phenomenon prompted my comment at the very beginning of our dialogue regarding "how does a master teacher cut through the bramble bushes blocking willingness to consider observing?"

    Certain views expressed in your analysis betray cynicism that obfuscates. There is an a priori rejection of possibilities. The task for a good teacher would be to determine how to bring about a situation in which you could, for even a short period, detach from cynicism so you could observe that cynicism with an eye toward discovering "what is this view?" How does this view protect me? What does this view block from sight so I do not have to see? What could there possibly be that I do not want to see? And so on…

    One could look at the basic axioms and list the opposing view. That opposing view could then be inspected. What is there about the other view that is valid? Why? What observation verifies the opposite? Or in what ways might the opposite view be part of attachment, obfuscation, and illusion? There is much work that can be done just with this simple exercise.

    Good discussion. Thanks for your willingness to kick the tires and see what might happen.

  19. Padma Kadag says:

    Mathew…what i stated previously is not an argument, as you state. It is a method. Your view of Buddhism is a little off. If you see that understanding the real suffering of others as being a condemnation then there is nothing I can say which could make sense to you. If you feel that a method, of which you are not engaged, is less effective than "charity" then you do not know the method nor the blessing. Then the entire message of the Buddha is one which you should not, at moments, pretend to understand.

  20. […] Until my first year of college, I had never given much thought to the relationship between science and spirituality. I, like many of you I would guess, had accepted the paradigm I had been given by my foremothers and forefathers without much skepticism—science and spirituality existed on opposite ends of a continuum, and if there was any relationship between them it was one of discord and disagreement. Science, I had been told, was devoted to logic and empiricism; while spirituality was rooted fundamentally in that esoteric thing we call faith. […]

  21. […] recently came across a post on Elephant Journal called Yoga & the Religious Attitude by Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie that helped me find a new way to think about this problem. Their […]

  22. Ramesh says:

    Matthew and Scott, Great questions. But do they lead to the place where no questions are needed? The authentic teacher to me, and I think I have one, encourages questions, deep questions, because inquiry is in itself an authentic part of being human, of having an intellect, of living and dancing in duality. So questions are part of my yoga, part of my dialogue with my teacher, with myself, with others, with the inside, with the outside. But there is an other aspect of my yoga, of my relationship to my teacher, to myself, to my inner self, in which the teacher, the process of the practice, becomes a doorway, a nonspoken movement, a shift in perception that is based on an other form of inquiry that is subtler than questions, that uses the energy, the flow, the dynamic movement of the breath, the sound, the focus, the thirst, the longing for the unknown, and in that process questions are not useful, what is useful is love, flight, the willingness to jump, to let go, of questions, of inquiry, and to just experience what there is to experience when you take the plunge into the unknown ravine of consciousness, of the One wind. This is not faith in authority, faith in something outside, this is faith in the inside, faith in yourself in your ability to fly even though taking that jump sometimes makes you shake shitless in awe, or dance with ecstatic love.
    Rumi takes me there with his sensuous and fierce poetry, my guru takes me there with his fierce bhakti reminders, but mostly i go there in deep inner silence when I meditate and my questions become the many drops that flow into my one drink of sacredness.
    So, while i need my questions to figure out how to use a GPS, to figure out my left brain meanderings, there is a power where left and right brain are synchronized into a third force that is beyond questions yet not a blind follower, but an openeyed inquirer that needs not questions but a different inquiry the inquiry of allowing oneself to flow, the sight of expansion to that which just is. The authentic teacher thus allows for all the questions whenever these are useful but also reminds you that there are times when you enter a depth of being when questions are crutches no longer useful for walking or dancing. So to me, questions and faith are not antagonistic but two tantric sides of the same being, twin aspects of my yoga–one of musing intellect, the other the love of spirit. Moreover, the authentic teacher reminds you that he or she is not to be loved for how he or she looks, or talks, or makes you feel, but for simply reminding you of that which is authentically you. And to be that authentic you, questions may or may not always help. The questioning mind will lead to more questions, which is fine and natural, but it will not necessarily lead you to the place where questions are out of place, are a crutch no longer applicable to being.
    As you have full faith in your orgasmic ecstasy during lovemaking, you have the same faith when meditating… no questions needed and the authentic teacher will simply be the doorman to your own apartment of flow and awe.

  23. Ramesh says:

    Matthew and Scott, Great questions. But do they lead to the place where no questions are needed? The authentic teacher to me, and I think I have one, encourages questions, deep questions, because inquiry is in itself an authentic part of being human, of having an intellect, of living and dancing in duality. So questions are part of my yoga, part of my dialogue with my teacher, with myself, with others, with the inside, with the outside. But there is an other aspect of my yoga, of my relationship to my teacher, to myself, to my inner self, in which the teacher, the process of the practice, becomes a doorway, a nonspoken movement, a shift in perception that is based on an other form of inquiry that is subtler than questions, that uses the energy, the flow, the dynamic movement of the breath, the sound, the focus, the thirst, the longing for the unknown, and in that process questions are not useful, what is useful is love, flight, the willingness to jump, to let go, of questions, of inquiry, and to just experience what there is to experience when you take the plunge into the unknown ravine of consciousness, of the One wind. This is not faith in authority, faith in something outside, this is faith in the inside, faith in yourself in your ability to fly even though taking that jump sometimes makes you shake shitless in awe, or dance with ecstatic love.

  24. […] This is a key theme within the yoga 2.0 method, which we explore most fully in our piece on yoga and the religious attitude. He is concerned that the deconstructive and evidence-based bias we employ ignores the sincerity of […]

  25. Just reposted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  26. […] dye on it. She had a big laugh about the beautifying disaster it turned out to be. It was as if the prodigal child had returned, fixed and whole. I could do not wrong. She even told me that she had envied my leaving […]

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