The Moderation Trap: Yoga and the Alchemy of Restraint.

Via on Jun 29, 2011
Photo: Justin Graham

A Response to “Crack Smokin’ Yoga Teachers.”

Candice Garrett’s revelations about bad days, booze, and yoga in her article, Crack Smokin’ Yoga Teachers (and its predecessor, Tomorrow Yoga, Today Gin) are, as she says, passionately honest.

And the responses—from what I’ve seen in my own social media-verse—have mostly been positive, with people praising her defense of a balanced and moderate lifestyle, and her courage in, as she puts it, ‘calling bullsh*t’ on the yogic fundamentalists of the world.

I fully agree that there is no reason for a yoga teacher to negatively judge another yoga teacher’s practice, their life, their choices or their relationship with themselves and the Divine. So critics who rush to turn a harsh lens of yogic purity on Ms. Garrett might want to take that lens and apply it to their own lives and their own practice instead of chastizing her.

However, the article does raise some interesting questions about the place of alcohol in spiritual practice and the much lauded lifestyle of ‘moderation’ that we practice in the west.

Given the historical context of yogic practice as a path of total spiritual commitment and strict discipline, for people to say things like, “If you’re drinking you’re not doing yoga,” is actually perfectly fair. Historically—with the exception of certain Tantric schools—anyone who was seriously working with a spiritual teacher within the Indo-Tibetan context and was practicing any of the thousands of disciplines loosely known as yoga, was doing so under a vow to refrain from drinking alcohol.

Yes, traditions change, value systems morph, and traditions liberalize. Certainly, it is not the current reality that all of the tens of thousands of yoga teachers around the world are refraining from drinking. And I’m not going to devote this article to bemoaning that liberalization.

But let’s assume for a moment that the reason spiritual traditions from around the world have all, almost without exception, required people to refrain from drinking while practicing is something more than arbitrary rules and regulations imposed by authoritarian powers in order to keep people from having fun or expressing themselves.

Photo: Alejandra Mavroski

Let’s assume for a moment that there are reasons for the collective ban on alcohol in spiritual circles, and let’s look at what they might be.

I won’t dwell for too long on the extreme examples. Suffice to say that alcohol abuse, in its worst form, kills people and destroys lives—lots of them. An exhaustive study that came out last year found that the effects of alcohol, in terms of individual deaths, wrecked relationships, broken homes, and disrupted communities are worse than crack cocaine, crystal meth, or heroin.

On an individual level, when we are drinking to the point of numbness or emotional obliteration every day or every other day, or using alcohol regularly to escape our selves or our lives, clearly, we aren’t on a spiritual path.

Of course, the reality is that most yoga teachers aren’t doing this. Most yoga teachers who drink do so, from my experience, as part of a self-termed lifestyle of moderation. And that’s where it all gets interesting.

“Everything in balance,” the statement generally goes. “I try not to be too extreme about anything.” Or: “Even the Buddha said to follow a middle path.”  (Of course, the Buddha himself did not drink, and for him, the ‘middle path’ meant not starving himself to death or driving a spike through his genitals for the sake of realizing God.)

The issue with this lifestyle of ‘moderation,’ as it is often called, is that, in relation to spiritual practice, it has basically come to mean a lifestyle in which we make all our own decisions about what we want to do and when we want to do it and we are therefore in control of our own lives and our own spiritual development from start to finish.

Moderation can mean that I go to yoga whenever I feel like it (Tomorrow Yoga, Today Gin). I meditate—or don’t—whenever I feel like it.

If I’m feeling like having a drink, I have one. If I’m not feeling like practicing, I don’t practice.


However, when we ‘practice’ like this, we are skipping over a huge part of the essential experience of practice—working through those moments of obstruction, those obstacles, those discomforts—practicing exactly when we don’t feel like it—holding that pose for ten breaths longer simply because our teacher told us to, or not taking that drink even when we had the bad day—methodically breaking down the child mind in ourselves that, whenever given the opportunity, will say: “I want this!” or “Why do I have to do this now? I don’t feel like it…”

Being a mom, Ms. Garrett knows more about the process of turning oneself over to someone else’s schedule, and letting go to physical forces beyond our control than I probably ever will, but from my limited experiences with yoga practice, and not-so-limited experiences with alcohol abuse, I can offer this: simply put, there is a whole lot of yoga waiting for us right in that exact moment where the impulse to escape our bad day drives us to want a drink.

Photo: lululemon athletica

In that small, subtle instant, there is the opportunity to know a lot more about ourselves and to transform our habitual behavior.

In the practice of recognizing an impulse for what it is, truly breathing into it and exploring it, and setting it against a larger context of our long-term practice and our long-term relationship with ourselves and with the Divine—we have the opportunity to directly practice the transformation that is yoga.

On the flipside, even the knowledge that the possibility of escape through a strong drink at the end of the day is there, has subtle and not-so-subtle effects on the nature of our mindset and our practice. What would we change in our lives, what would do differently if we knew there was no option at all of escaping? If we knew that drink was never going to be there for us, how would we align our lives differently?

It is a given that if yoga is followed as the path of spiritual transformation it is intended to be, it will take us to places ten or twenty or thirty times worse than the bad day described in Tomorrow Yoga, Today Gin and, while holding us there face down in the mud, will demand that we not take an easy out.

It will demand that we keep our drishti strong, that we keep practicing, that we keep breathing, and that we work through it. It will demolish “us” as we are comfortable knowing ourselves, and it will do this over and over and over and over and over again. Gradually, over many, many years, if we open ourselves to this process, a little bit of transformation starts to happen.

Transformation in yoga and in all spiritual practice, as in physical alchemy, involves a tremendous amount of friction.

The source of that friction is the conflict between where our reactive self-serving minds want to take us, and where our commitment to practice—or if we are lucky enough, our actual teacher—demands we stay. If we don’t have that commitment, or we don’t have that teacher, then we don’t have the friction, and we don’t get to do the practice.

We need something or someone to tell us precisely not to do that thing that we have told ourselves its okay for us to do. We outgrow our need for physical parenting; we never outgrow our need for ongoing spiritual guidance and accountability. This is the role of our community, this is the role of our teacher, this is the role of the ground-rules we set before we even start down the spiritual path.

Personally, it is important to me that anyone I take on as a yoga teacher follow these ground-rules. There is value in our teachers being peers we can relate to, but there is also value in our teachers providing examples for us when we are in need of spiritual direction.

As a yoga teacher, Ms. Garrett may be approached by students who have faced problems with addiction. People may look to her for guidance in how to deal stressful situations from the yogic perspective. Honesty in relation to ones own practice is admirable—but it is also important for anyone who calls themselves a yoga teacher to be able to speak clearly about what traditional yoga teaches in regards to these same issues.

And there is no school of yoga that I am aware of in which the practice of restraint—nirodah—is not absolutely central.

My direct experience along the path of yoga has been that the spiritual fortitude we gain from continuing to build these delicate structures of restraint over long periods of time is very, very real. It becomes palpable in teachers who have practiced for many years and exude the soft and strong prana of a deeply committed sadhana.

I’m not speaking of the pedestal-perched, holier-than-thou yogis. I’m speaking of the truly golden, the truly humble. The benefits of yama and niyama practice are, in a word, beautiful. I aspire to be like the few that I’ve seen, and so I practice the fundamentals, as best I can.

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About Josh Schrei

Josh Schrei is a producer, writer, athlete, and yoga instructor who splits his time between New York City, Santa Fe, and India. Through his teaching and practice he hopes to help others open the door to the real promise of Yoga—the total transformation of the human individual through physical practice, meditation, ethical conduct, and alignment to the Divine. Josh currently travels the country teaching and his writings appear frequently in Huffington Post. / Follow Josh's writings and teaching updates at


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50 Responses to “The Moderation Trap: Yoga and the Alchemy of Restraint.”

  1. athayoganusasanam says:

    "simply put, there is a whole lot of yoga waiting for us right in that exact moment where the impulse to escape our bad day drives us to want a drink."
    here here! thank you for this post. what a refreshing and sane piece. this is the kind of honesty i like to see, rather than just another post about someone's mini breakdown after weeks without practice.

  2. Thaddeus1 says:

    Bravo! Clear, concise, bold and on-point…not to mention, totally refreshing.

  3. […] Worth Reading… By athayoganusasanam Love this recent elephant journal post – “The Moderation Trap: Yoga and the Alchemy of Restraint” by Josh Schrei. […]

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  5. AngelaRaines says:

    Wow, Josh. Thank you so much for this. You've put words to a nagging unease I've had around the "moderation argument," but had dismissed as simply my own sadistic penchant for fundamentalism. This is a relief, an inspiration, and a challenge to me in my practice. Well done, sir.

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  7. Hi, Josh.

    For me Yoga starts when I STOP striving and disciplining, and start relaxing and realizing. Striving and disciplining is what I've done in every other area of my life.

    If Yoga was just another thing to strive and discipline myself toward, I would have no interest. Yoga is my spiritual relief from over-striving.

    Yoga allows me, as for you, to lead a healthier and even a more restrained life. But for me healthy habits stem from relaxing and letting go of effort, not from more effort.

    The greatest glory of Yoga, though, is that neither one of us is right or wrong. As I'm sure you're aware, the Bhagavad Gita itself embraces both your path and my path, and several others as well!

    Enjoyed your article. Thanks for being here.

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    • Thaddeus1 says:

      It is true that Bhagavad-gita discusses many paths toward our attaining ultimate union with the Divine and even explicitly states "All these different types of sacrifice are approved of by the Vedas, and all of them are born of different types of work. Knowing them as such, you will become liberated." (BG 4.32) However, within the context of Josh's piece, I am wondering how you see your path as different, and in addition, from where in the Bhagavad-gita do you find inspiration to "stop striving and disciplining, and start relaxing and realizing?

      • Hi, Thaddeus. I think much of the Gita is about this, starting with detaching one's ego from results and realizing one's inherent divinity–not something one achieves, but something one already is and just needs to pay attention to. See Gita in a Nutshell.

        The individual blogs of Gita in a Nutshell are not quite complete yet, but the last on will be:

        Yoga calls for direct experience & straight-forward wisdom
        (over scripture, dogma, and ritual).
        2.40, 2.42-46, 2.52-53, 4.33, 4.38, 6.46, 7.2, 8.14, 9.2, 11.53, 18.55

        But many of the other Gita in a Nutshell sections are highly relevant to your question as well, particularly EACH OF US IS ALREADY INFINITELY WONDROUS (GN #4)

        Thanks for commenting.

  8. dharma_singh says:

    I dedicate this article to all yoga teachers who are afraid of sounding to fundamental when it comes to discussing alcohol with their students. Well done Josh.

  9. Rachel says:

    I read once that if you can comfortably (and honestly) live with the idea you will never have something again then you are not attached and your having it is fine.

    This is the problem I have with the other side of the argument. I go through waves with alcohol, sometimes going months without drinking but always coming back to the bottle and the exact reason is this; it is uncomfortable being the sober one.

    I would prefer if socializing in our country didn’t revolve around drinking. But it does and I am not strong enough to stand on my own aside from the alcohol driven social scene.

    Ultimately yoga is a purifying practice and alcohol is a poison. I don’t think people should shame others for drinking but I feel very uncomfortable with people rationalizing poisoning themselves to escape from suffering.

  10. Josh,
    I just want to give a shout out that this is a really interesting post and I love that it continues Candace's discussion. I have no sides to pick but recognize all views, including these comments as wonderful. I have lived like an ascetic, in a tiny gold mining cabin outside of Boulder with no running water or electricity, never mind drugs or booze or even sugar. It was stellar.

    I have also had some interesting experiences with plants, grapes, grains that grow on this earth and I think have a worthy purpose at times.

    I'm just glad for the outpouring of thoughts. Lovely. Hilary

  11. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Candice, Josh,
    After taking my yoga teachers training I spent many years pursuing the 'ideal' yogic lifestyle: ascetic, disciplined, dedicated, committed, etc. It took me far. It also led me to a fairly dark place where I disconnected with friends and ended up feeling pretty lost.
    Eventually I decided to become a Swami, and went into that training, only to meet my future (present) wife. Now, 5 years later, we have a 7 month old baby…
    And my yoga practice is very different. Almost entirely 'off the mat / meditation cushion'.
    I've learnt that spiritual practice changes as we do; that it really doesn't matter one iota what anyone else thinks of my personal practice; not to be 'precious' about it; not to force my Western self into an ascetic Easter practice; and to accept that everyone out there is at a different stage than I'm at, so what use is it to even discuss this?
    My thoughts on this 'discussion', for what they're worth: you're both 100% right, just from totally different perspectives.

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  13. ARCreated says:

    I really didn't see at such chris, I guess it's all in the reading. I love candice and I just saw this as a discussion.

    • athayoganusasanam says:

      i agree. This article is not an attack, but a clearly stated follow-up piece of reflection on a very important and much debated subject in the yoga community.

  14. Thaddeus1 says:

    Look, if you post something to a public forum, then it's open for reflection by the community at large. Making citations of a piece within that forum does not constitute a personal attack by default. Josh's piece is well-written and historically supported, if on those grounds it contradicts our modern western sensibilities, why is that a problem?

  15. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    It was great talking to you this morning Chris! Brother from another mother! LOL I can't wait to see you again in Flagstaff. I'll buy you a drink 😉

  16. athayoganusasanam says:

    Thaddeus really is lovely – he can be hard and fierce and can really push one's buttons – but this is part of what makes him an amazing yoga/life teacher and a beautifully authentic person :)

  17. See Candice's next article The Mama Sutras.

    Many thanks to Josh and all the other participants here for generating such a robust and interesting discussion. One of the best of the year so far.

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  18. Daniel Tanzo says:

    Would like aclarification on this – But let’s assume for a moment that the reason spiritual traditions from around the world have all, almost without exception

    So I know many people from many walks of life devoted to many spirtual practices from Catholicism to Paganism
    and am not familiar with the fact that these practices demand abstince frankly the Dionysians sort of demand it.
    So are you speking of strictly yogic practices here or speaking to the vast moajority of Spiritual practices alive and flourishing reagardless of your belief in their validity ?

  19. Daniel says:

    ooops the Dionysians demand drinking sorry

  20. Leslie Anne-Marie says:

    We are all on our own journey, who's to say what that journey………Sometimes we need to eff up to really see ourselves, our intentions and our way back!!!! No-one can decide which experiences are of value to our spiritual evolution and which ones do not serve us.

  21. Holly Meyers says:

    Yes. Simply. 100% YES.

  22. jprayne says:

    Excellent article. Having had "not-so-limited experiences with alcohol abuse" myself, this totally resonates. Moderation is impossible for some people. Recognizing *that* is the hardest part for many. btw, I recently heard that six months of regular crack cocaine use will transform the users' brain so quickly, that in just 6 months their brain deteriorates and looks as bad as an active alcoholic's brain after 30 years of drinking. Brutal!

  23. Olive Dinwiddie says:

    I’m having trouble with picking up the stitches to make the border I did it with WS facing and ended up with a rather large seam-like bump all the way around…doesn’t look like the picture at all. Should I pick up the stitches with the RS facing?? Any help would be GREATLY appreciated! I’m trying to finish this for a shower next weekend!

  24. […] are told that one can find yoga in any number of things from eating chocolate, drinking alcohol to having great sex. I won’t deny that such things, properly approached, may have within them […]

  25. […] are told that one can find yoga in any number of things from eating chocolate, drinking alcohol to having great sex. I won’t deny that such things, properly approached, may have within them the […]

  26. ilona says:

    Yes, ultimately we have to work with our own lives, but for folks at the beginning of the path, or even in the middle, there are times along the journey when submitting to a guru, or even a strict or disciplined schedule, is required. The traps of ego are multiple and sneaky, and it's very easy to get off course (by having that drink, or turning on the TV, or wasting hours on the Internet). I see this happen to myself every day. So, perhaps the guru is not someone who MAKES us do it but it's someone whom we respect, admire, and wish to emulate, and the strength of that relationship can help us move through the difficult places, help us truly encounter ourselves rather than escape through some other way.

  27. Yes, Josh. Great to have you here. This is an interesting and perennial debate we have had frequently on Elephant.

    I guess it all depends on how broadly you define discipline. If "discipline" includes lying on the couch, staring up at the sky through the window and contemplating the cosmos, and if it includes reading ancient Yoga texts that teach "Sat Chit Ananda" (Reality Consciousness Bliss) and "I am That", and that if you get these things, you've got Yoga, and if it includes going to a Mark Whitwell retreat or hanging out at Kripalu, and if it includes everything else we do in our lives, like play music and raise children and go to the office, and drive our car, or learning about Albert Einstein's non-practicing but exceptionally Upanishadic spirituality, then I agree with you.

    If, on the other hand, "discipline" is meant to be specific Yoga practices or schedules or routines or habits, or moral codes then I would say that's way too narrow, and only one important aspect of Yoga, not the whole, not even the central aspect of Yoga, in my opinion. A non-practicing drunkard who deeply experiences "Reality Consciousness Bliss" and "I am That" is not less a practitioner of Yoga than a teetotaler 2 hour per day meditator who doesn't get these things at all.

    See First It Was Yobo, Now There is Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga

    I have also enjoyed this discussion, and I look forward to your next article. Thanks for being here.

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  28. I didn't say the drunkard was experiencing infinite wonder because of his drinking, just that the drinking is irrelevant.

    However, surely you're aware even the Yoga Sutra says that you can also achieve similar results with "herbs" (= hallucinogens). And some of the most traditional sadhu practices in India still use mind-altering substances heavily.

    The range of attitudes and practices of Yoga in a book like Feuerstein's The Yoga Tradition, from sadhu to busy warrior show that this has nothing to do with East and West. Einstein had a more Yogic spirituality than some Indian commentators I have known.

    Different strokes for different folks. Yoga is timeless reality that doesn't depend in any way on what humans practice or don't practice.

  29. ARCreated says:

    I don't understand why people get so obsessed with the asana. It is only one part. AMEN to that :)

    I have posted similar things candice so I feel your pain, but be careful — I hear a little defensiveness, you don't need to apologize or explain yourself. You really don't. There will always be those that judge. But I think Josh's article is lovely and I really don't think he meant to attack only show a different idea. I, Like you and bob, firmly believe in the middle way as you see it, I see myself as still a householder and not an ascetic..but I do also see josh's point and in many ways I practice like he suggests. Just yesterday I drug my sorry butt to class, all I wanted to do was sit and eat popcorn and watch a movie – but I figured I would tell my students to practice (this was a tantra class so it was less asana and more meditation) in some manner everyday. I don't consider asana my only practice though, so in my opinion I am ALWAYS practicing! 😉 But it's true sometimes we can take the take or leave it attitude to far and the just do it attitude too far — hmmm that darn middle road again. One of things that usually comes up is that this yogi or sage didn't reach enlightenment with a lazy practice. I think everyone needs to remember that we all practice for different reasons. I don't seek "enlightenment" I really don't – because I firmly believe in the beauty of human existence and that being enlightened just means living NOW. So my yoga isn't about revealing nirvana – it's about recognizing nirvana in the day to day. it's recognizing ananda in sharing a good meal and a glass of wine w/friends. it's being happy even when I can't pay my bills. Yoga isn't a destination it's a way of life and sometimes that life is quiet and disciplined, sometimes that life is trance dance w/a cocktail. I intend to enjoy this life and all it has to offer. and love it. and if somedays I CHOOSE something other than what some else thinks I should — well sorry this is my path and although I will study and learn from the sages I will not mimic them — – If you meet buddha on the road kill him.

  30. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    I think the difference between you and me and this writer, is pretty classic Vedanta versus Tantra. Vedanta: there is one way to practice, and it looks like this, the world is bad, enlightenment is found by disengaging from the world. Tantra: there are many ways to practice, the world is good, enlightment is right HERE. I think you hit the nail on the head there. Though the "drink" might be the scapegoat, I think this is the true argument.

  31. Thaddeus1 says:

    While it's true there is a difference between the traditional Vedanta and Tantra schools regarding accepted practices, the point remains that both schools are composed of practices. It is not acceptable to use "Tantra" as a code-word for "doing what feels right to me right now." I think this is the main point that Josh is striving to articulate from an historical perspective.

    It seems without fail that whenever discussions of this sort rear their head on EJ, the path of "Tantra" is asserted to explain behaviors. However, historically and traditionally speaking, practitioners of all schools accepted and learned their practices from teachers within a disciplic succession. They found and surrendered to a teacher and followed the practices they were given in order to realize their connection to the Divine. Even if these practices included the use of "medicines," they were utilized in a ritualistic, ceremonial way. Adherents just didn't walk into the woods, or around town for that matter, freely engaging in whatever activities struck their fancy.

    From my limited experience, it is only in the modern western world where we have become so "drunk" on our senses of ourselves that we have begun to believe we can accomplish this most sacred and difficult of tasks (moving beyond the ego) without the guidance of authentically self-realized souls. We learn how to walk, talk, read, write and eat from others who are more experienced. Why should yoga be any different? If one chooses to follow the path of Tantra, there is no problem, but again, this path is not just composed of the practices we deem acceptable.

  32. Hi, Thaddeus. No reason to create strawmen (strawpeople???) that no one here is arguing, just so you can make them sound ridiculous. We didn't say those things.

    As I wrote above:

    The range of attitudes and practices of Yoga in a book like Feuerstein's The Yoga Tradition, from sadhu to busy warrior show that this has nothing to do with East and West. Einstein had a more Yogic spirituality than some Indian commentators I have known.

    Different strokes for different folks. Yoga is timeless reality that doesn't depend in any way on what humans practice or don't practice.

    Thanks for being here.


  33. athayoganusasanam says:

    "Being a mom, Ms. Garrett knows more about the process of turning oneself over to someone else’s schedule, and letting go to physical forces beyond our control than I probably ever will, but from my limited experiences with yoga practice, and not-so-limited experiences with alcohol abuse, I can offer this: simply put, there is a whole lot of yoga waiting for us right in that exact moment where the impulse to escape our bad day drives us to want a drink."

    Josh does acknowledge that you are a mother and the challenges this presents. Your many children were your choices. Just as it's your choice whether or not to use them as your excuse.

  34. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    My children are the divine embodiment of the love between myself and my husband. They have been and continue to be the greatest teachers I will ever know, because they challenge me to grow and change, because they are simple, their world is small and beautiful, yet unlimited. Because they take joy in running and laughing and have yet to develop the conditioning that limits our potential. . But they are never an excuse for anything except finding joy in every little mundane moment, and even in the challenging ones.

  35. athayoganusasanam says:

    "It was the frustration I felt that my kids were keeping me from my asana practice. They do that you know, get in the way of what I want to do."
    I read this comment as an excusing sort of statement Just as you seemed to be stating above that since Josh apparently does not have children of his own, that he would be incapable of understanding your challenges. I'm sorry if I mis-read your statement and took it to mean something different from what you intended.

  36. Thaddeus1 says:

    I can assure you Bob it was not my intention to create a "strawman."

    In fact, my comment was more of an attempt to contextualize your comment that, "However, surely you're aware even the Yoga Sutra says that you can also achieve similar results with "herbs" (= hallucinogens). And some of the most traditional sadhu practices in India still use mind-altering substances heavily."

    Often these practices are referenced so as to justify one's use of "medicine" outside of a ritualistic or ceremonial context, which is simply not supported within the lineages of yoga whether they be Tantric or otherwise. And given that my proclivities fall much more in-line with the Fundamentalist side of yoga, I think this is an important point to be made.

  37. How much time do you think Arjuna the warrior had to engage in all the Yoga disciplines you and Josh love so much? Your practices I'm sure are great and just right for you. But others choose different paths.

    Arjuna was a busy warrior, just like Candice here (You know, of course, that right after the Bhagavad Gita, the two sides went out and slaughtered each other almost down to the last man. Even THAT doesn't change the timeless truth of Yoga philosophy.)

    Candice is like Arjuna, going into life's ordinary battles everyday and relying on Yoga to help provide spiritual relaxation and relief from the challenges of her day-to-day life, just as Yoga did for Arjuna.

    Great discussion. I appreciate everyone's energy and comments. Thank you.


  38. Thaddeus1 says:

    Suffice it to say, I'll go out on a limb and assume that our understandings of the Bhagavad-gita is significantly different. But perhaps we should save a discussion of varnasrama-dharma for another day.

  39. Vive la difference! My understanding is laid our in some detail in Gita in a Nutshell and Gita Talk, where I welcome you to join in the debate.

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  40. Josh Schrei says:

    Arjuna did 12 years of yogic austerity before the great battle, Bob :)

    Seriously thanks to all of you for the comments on this thread. Looking forward to more tapas-inducing discussions!

  41. Josh. Not that this particularly matters, but let's not mislead our readers here. These 12 years were hardly a choice of Yogic austerity for Arjuna. They were in fact exile as a penalty for disturbing his brother in bed with their joint wife , and not all that austere an exile at that. Here are the facts:

    The brothers agreed upon a protocol governing their relations with Draupadi, their common wife. No brother would disturb the couple when another brother was alone with Draupadi; the penalty for doing so was exile for twelve years. Once, when the Pandavas were still ruling over a prosperous Indraprastha, a brahmin came in great agitation to Arjuna and sought his help: a pack of cattle-thieves had seized his herd and only Arjuna could retrieve them. Arjuna was in a dilemma: his weaponry was in the room where Draupadi and Yudhishthira were alone together, and disturbing them would incur the penalty agreed upon. Arjuna hesitated for a brief moment; in his mind, coming to the aid of his subject in distress, especially a brahmin, was the duty of a prince. The prospect of exile did not deter him from fulfilling his duty of aiding the brahmin; he disturbed the conjugal couple, took up his weaponry and rode forth to subdue the cattle-thieves. After finishing the task, despite the opposition of his entire family including the two people whom he had disturbed, he insisted that the penalty of exile be carried out.

    …During this 12-year period, he visited numerous neighboring kingdoms and entered into marital alliances with their royal princesses, in order to strengthen the Pandavas' support-base, especially in view of the Rajasuya Yagya planned by Yudishthira. Some scholars[Who?] view the "exile" as a scheme to throw the major rivals of the Pandavas, including their cousins the Kauravas, off-track.

    For those who are interested, the rest of the complex and fascinating story is at

    And how austere could his life have been when he had over 40 wives and was one of the greatest warriors of his time?

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