Do Not Drink the Kombucha: the Watering Down of Wisdom.

Via on Nov 13, 2011

Dear Yogis,

If someone reposts another positive affirmation up in their Twitter feed or on their Facebook profile, I swear I will scream.


There was a time when a person really had to work to acquire wisdom and when it was closely guarded. (Think Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) Deep insight into human existence wasn’t always available so easily in books like the hundreds that Thich Nhat Hanh has tirelessly written.

The involvement of authentic spiritual masters in the world writ large benefits us all, as does the dissemination of their wisdom.  Hanh commented on phenomenon himself, noting that his exile from Vietnam (which ironically happened when he went abroad to speak about peace during the war) spurred him to teach the world what he was practicing at home. He considers this a healthy development in human spiritual evolution; an essential step in the progress of humanity.  Westerners have benefited immensely from Vietnam’s cruel expulsion of Hanh.

But it seems these days that everyone who can quote or repackage the wisdom of these true masters fancies themselves one by default.

A parrot that can quote Einstein is not a genius. (Like that quote? Credit Jackie Summers.)

As I see it, there are two issues at work here—one is that of the supply and demand of ideas, and how that relates to their value.  Another is the question of what investment a person needs to make in order to command a certain body of knowledge as their own.

Today we live in the economy of Free. The United States lives on credit—without credit card transactions, what would you really be able to purchase? Food is largely subsidized, as is clothing. H&M? Sponsored by cheap labor from around the world. We know this, and yet we indulge.  We expect a lot for free without seeing the bigger cost.

The evaluation of information works similarly.  The Internet has made information widely available, and free.  Laws of economics show that when something is in ample supply, its value decreases.  Thus, the value of your million-times repeated inspirational message becomes null and void.  What used to be wise and freeing is now nothing more than a platitude.

This might well be why the masters kept their secrets close and harshly vetted students, sending away those who didn’t show ample evidence of sincere interest in studying seriously.

Despite the watering down of the wisdom, I believe that if our people didn’t brandish uplifting and wise insights thirty seconds after they read them in their Twitter feed—and instead actually took the time to sit with them, work with them, run them through their life systems to see if they are truly effective—we would be in a far different plane of evolution than we are now.

When you work with a concept and apply it repeatedly, like a practice, you gain your own insight. This is what makes you more than a parrot quoting Einstein. Succinctly put by Ralph Helfer, in Modoc: “Good teachers teach what they were taught. Wise teachers teach what they have learned.”

To learn something means not just to read and reiterate it. It means to pay your dues. To master spiritual wisdom, like Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill character masters the fight, the lessons have to run through your cells. The lessons are beyond thinking. To truly learn means you have to practice and do so with dedication and regularity. This is the beauty of yoga—it creates structure for regularity, and for the acquisition of embodied knowledge.  And when you learn—in your skin, bones and blood—you will have your very own wise things to say. You will become your very own genius and we all will be improved by receiving your very original perspective on existence. And, I will no longer be so hoarse from screaming. Thank goodness!

When does one know that they truly command a body of knowledge?  As a teacher and life-long student, I really think that depends on the person involved and the lesson at hand.  But, in Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery and expertise are attained when a person has logged ten thousand hours of practice at their particular skill.

Perhaps it’s time Yoga Alliance created a 10,000-hour certification.

What a world we would live in when surrounded by masters of that level.  Perhaps you’ll be one yourself?  I really hope so.  Let’s get to work.  Time to practice.



Photo credits:

About Erica Mather

Erica Mather, M.A., E-RYT 200, is a lifelong teacher. She has been teaching yoga in New York City since 2006. Erica created "Adore Your Body," a Signature System for addressing body image challenges, and is the Founder of The Yoga Clinic NYC. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.



46 Responses to “Do Not Drink the Kombucha: the Watering Down of Wisdom.”

  1. Kim says:

    Erica, I so agree. I’m a yoga teacher and I see the term “master teacher” being thrown around so casually these days, it’s loosing its meaning. If you haven’t been studying/teaching yoga for over let’s say at least 25 years there’s no way you’re a master teacher. And now days folks are so keen to try to "improve" yoga and blend things with yoga (i.e. Pilates, food, a silk cloth hanging from the ceiling, hip hop music ☹) before they’ve even put in their time to truly study it in the way it has been handed down for over 5,000 years. We need to remember that the knowledge of yoga is considered shruti, or “heard”. The ancient Rishis were gifted this sacred knowledge, this "cosmic sound of truth", by the Source when they were in deep meditation. I think a 10,000 hour teacher training program is a good idea.

  2. Brent Binder drbinder says:

    Awesome, you must be a master :-)

  3. Valerie Carruthers Valerie Carruthers says:

    Powerful writing, Erica. Being a teacher for over ten years and a student way before that, I have always treasured genuine wisdom teachings. Especially when received directly from a great master of yoga or meditation. Sometimes all it takes is but one sentence or phrase uttered by such a teacher during a retreat that can become the cornerstone of a lifetime's spiritual practice for a dedicated seeker.

  4. Sarah Beth says:

    I am also a teacher of sorts and a student~ an “unlearner” of all things mistaught.

    I found your article to be uninspiring and joyless. Why spend so much time feeling threatened when you could be spending that energy full of joy that others are awakening?

    Your article makes as much sense to me as people complaint about Eco-friendly being “too popular”

    Perhaps you should spend less time screaming and more time revisiting the Beginner’s Mind. A lot can be learned from starting over again and again.

    Spread some joy and love.

  5. Thaddeus1 says:

    First off, let me express my gratitude for contribution. I found it very thoughtful and provoking. Several things stand out for me.

    One, is that you seem to be implicitly discussing the difference between knowledge (jnana) and realization (vijana). This is a classical and crucial distinction to be made on one's path. I can know on a theoretical level (jnana) that I am not my body, but it is a whole different ball game when it comes to actually realizing within myself this most basic of yogic principles. Having recently dealt with an illness offered me a perspective on just how far I have to go.

    Two, while I think it is interesting to compare the commodification of knowledge with the law of supply and demand, I don't think that it is actually true that "This might well be why the masters kept their secrets close and harshly vetted students, sending away those who didn’t show ample evidence of sincere interest in studying seriously."

    First off, truths of the kind spoken by Hanh and other self-realized souls cannot in anyway be cheapened by usage. If this were the case, then they would not be truths in the first place. Secondly, it seems that masters kept their secrets and only passed on their knowledge to the most "worthy" students, because of their intimate connection to their realizations. Perhaps a better analogy here might be that of a family heirloom. Such items are valued and treasured independent of their monetary value and instead treasured and held dear because of our very intimate connection and association with them.

  6. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    You already know how I feel about this. :-) Grateful you are here. Looking forward to Monday's!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. Eric says:

    I believe we're still living in the time of Hahn. I just had the opportunity to attend one of Thay's teachings and he appeared alive and well.

  8. Denise says:

    Why does the passing around of wisdom equate to a devalue of the information? What about old wives tales? the farmers alamanc? The internet is the medium of today.. roll with it

  9. The wisdom is in the passing and sharing of information. And sitting with it in our own lives. Evolution of mind and soul occurs regardless of our sharing. Evolution never ceases. The information each of us receives will reach us as it is meant to and in it's time. Let's not judge what evolution is creating with each moment.

  10. irina says:

    i retweet to reread later the tweets that i particularly liked :) that is th e key reason for me, not to preach to the world!

  11. Wendy says:

    The masters didn't express their wisdom for the sole benefit of the already-enlightened, or to be secret. They expressed it for everyone's benefit, and to be available to everybody. None of us can anticipate how or when what we say or do will have an effect on another person. The tweet that annoys the heck out of you could be life-changing for someone else.

  12. Despite the negative feedback from other readers, I really enjoyed your take on this – not to say that sharing information devalues it, but I truly don't believe that many people who are tweeting Rumi quotes are spending enough time with that information to practice it – and that's what devalues the intention. I feel like much of this online quote sharing and repeating of quotes in class is a means of sounding more wise than one has become (of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions to everything, but this is a trend). Thanks for your thoughts.

  13. James Short says:

    Sorry I thought Kill Bill was just another gratuitous slaughterfest ala Tarantino. I agree it is important to free ourselves up from what we consciously opine about something for the truth to emerge from our subconscious. However brother Thich's work is not on the same plane as Tarantino regardless whether it might be a contextual hook in for some. The ability to instantly reblog or post stimulating words of wisdom is a detraction from the process of contemplation, which is likely in most cases to mean the wisdom only scrapes the surface. Nonetheless it disseminates that wisdom instead of puerile and fatuous celebrity gossip tittle Tattle and scandal which has a more profoundly distracting effect on most of us, demotivating us from attaining any form of transcendence.

  14. Liz says:

    Aren't you, by writing this post, effectively doing…the…same…thing?

  15. I get what you are saying. The places where it tweaks my ego a little are probably places where I need to let go and keep growing…

    Here is where I agree:
    "Despite the watering down of the wisdom, I believe that if our people didn’t brandish uplifting and wise insights thirty seconds after they read them in their Twitter feed—and instead actually took the time to sit with them, work with them, run them through their life systems to see if they are truly effective—we would be in a far different plane of evolution than we are now."

    Yes…we should sit with these things rather than just regurgitate them. Absolutely.

    Here is where I disagree:

    1. When you consider all of the mindless crap people put on twitter/fb/etc, sharing of an uplifting truth is a much better choice in my opinion than "OMG Jersey shore totes made me LOL ROTLF WTFBBQ!" KWIM? To make my point with another truth that is often used as a platitude, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." If a quote has affected me, changed me – I want to share that light with others. If I pass something on, it is often something that I did indeed sit with and allow it to change me. When there is so much hate, negativity and mindlessness being passed around, I would much rather see something true, even if the intention of the giver was shallow.

    2. There are no masters. There is no "there." The greatest, most enlightened "masters" would be the first to acknowledge that they have so much more to learn. The more that I "know" the more I know that I don't really know anything. So if I read something (from Hanh, or Einstein, or Pema Chodron) and it resonates in my heart and I feel like I've tiptoed a little bit closer to something true, I am going to share it in the hopes that someone else has the same experience.

    **edited to add** Wrote a response post:

  16. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    WORD! nicely (and gutsily) done.

  17. Nonfanaticyogagirl says:

    Disagree. I followed this link from Strong is the new Skinny's FB page. While I agree that people should reflect on the things that they say or hear, we should share all knowledge. The idea of hiding away knowledge so that you can feel special and more "enlightened" than everyone else is elitist and stupid. If you wish for humankind to evolve do your best to educate everyone, even if that is through a tweet. Adam is right that many do not have the stomach to evolve. I fell many also lack the brain to evolve. If 75% of people are never touched by a specific inspirational message, but the other 25% were, and it made them kinder or happier only for that day, is that something that they should be denied? If it saves one life? was your secret knowledge worth that person dying because they thought no one cared? You just sound pompous and self righteous, like most "yogis" I have personally met. The true masters consider themselves practitioners not masters of yoga. I enjoy yoga, its a calming, revitalizing part of my day. However it doesn't lead me to believe I know ro can learn the secrets of the Universe, because I am a rational, thinking, evolved human.

  18. […] noticed Erica Mather’s post the other day, and thought, “Ooh, what’s this? I like Kombucha! What’s going on? […]

  19. Satyananda says:

    I think this is the most pathetic article I have ever read…

  20. Nathalie says:


    Your article is very well written.
    I find it a tiny bit limiting, because I am not sure that individuals who post inspiring quotes online are non practicing. Many persons might have undergone a process to reach to that realisation and find inspiration in a wise quote and have the desire to share that realisation. Just as you have had the desire to express your doubts as to whether such a free dissemination of knowledge was valuable. I think being able to freely share words of wisdom and knowledge is one of the highest privilege and blessing of our time- our abundant time-as you outlined it. Believing that this abundance is for free is up to oneself. No one ever said it were free.

    There is also something which is eternal in words of wisdom- no matter how many times one might hear or read it, their Truth is eternal and speaks to the heart, the value is non-existant because it transcends it.
    Lastly, I always cherish opening facebook and reading one sentence-anything- that keeps me in touch with the less material. When a friend posts something uplifting and inspiring it compels me to ponder over it and let go of the petty thoughts and concerns which-after all we are humans- still sometimes find their way in. I' d rather hold on to the small ray of light than curse it…ocean is made of many drops put together.
    (Excuse my english which is not my mother tongue).
    Thank you for sharing this article.

  21. findingyoga says:

    What if I want to tweet this one? Ralph Helfer, in Modoc: “Good teachers teach what they were taught. Wise teachers teach what they have learned.” Is that kosher?

  22. What bothers me more than young yoga teachers making clueless remarkes in the guise of higher spiritual truths, is when established "Masters" do the same. In particular, I've seen a number of major revered figures in yoga and Buddhism whose statements about depression reveal that they don't know what the word means, have no idea of the difference between a sometimes deadly disorder and normal, everyday sadness (admittedly, doctors who overprescribe antidepressants don't seem to know the difference, either, but that doesn't let the gurus off the hook–both are potentially hurting a lot of people). Unlike your neighborhood yoga teacher, these people's words are taken seriously by millions.

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