What is the responsibility of yoga teachers to their students?
We are talking about the importance of healthy boundaries for yoga teachers and students. In this section Yoganand clarifies the roles of monks and teachers and discusses the difficulties modern yogis have in straddling both roles.
The conversation started after John Friend’s dismissal as the head of the Anusara school of yoga. In 1994, Yoganand went through the experience of feeling betrayed by the actions of his Guru, Amrit Desai.
Our conversation began as a way to examine his past experience to bring clarity to the present situation.
Y: As Western practitioners, I think if there were a few things we understood about yoga and its culture we’d be different than we are.
RD: What are those things?
Y: If you went to a party, and I was at that party and said ‘I want to introduce you to someone’ and this person is a priest, or a rabbi, and they’re over there by the dessert table, and you walked over and met this person—You’re from the Jewish tradition, right?
RD: Yeah, yeah.
Y: Okay, so let’s say not a priest, a rabbi. Now, if you went up to that rabbi and you said ‘I’m going through a spiritual crisis, are you willing to meet with me?’ What do you expect that rabbi to say? He’s just met you.
RD: I would think that he has taken an oath to be a spiritual guide, and he would say ‘yes, you can come to my office on Monday, at the Synagogue.’
Y: And if he were a Catholic priest, it would be the same thing, if he were a Baptist minister; it would be the same thing. They’ll be there for you. They will give the best help they can to anyone who comes their way. That’s their job. If we’re at that same party and I said to you ‘I want to introduce you to a monk.’ I take you over and introduce you to the monk and you say to him ‘I’m going through a spiritual crisis, would you be willing to help me, to meet with me?’ What would he say? He might say yes, but what else might he say? Would it be appropriate for him to say ‘I’m sorry; I don’t meet alone with women.’
RD: Yes, that would be appropriate for a monk.
Y: Might it be appropriate for him to say ‘I don’t interact with other people on that level cause that is a karmic connection I’m not prepared to make’? Might he say ‘I’m sorry I’m meditating 10 hours a day, I don’t have time to meet with individuals’? So, the monk’s job is to get free, and he has every right to put himself before you. His needs are more important than yours. As a monk, you just sort of expect that. If he is willing to meet with you, that’s great. But, it’s his option. He has every right to say no. But, you see how a monk and a priest are two different things?
RD: Sure! A priest is the person there to guide you, help you, help take care of you, and the monk is the person who’s there to go deep, learn more, to just commune with God, and they’ve devoted their life to God. They haven’t devoted their life to serving God’s community.
Y: Yeah. So, a yoga teacher is like a priest, or rabbi. A deep yoga practitioner is like a monk. See the difference?
RD: Yes, so being the teacher is saying ‘I’m putting myself out here. You’re paying money to come to my class, because you want to learn something from me.’ A monk is saying ‘I’ve devoted my life to my spiritual practice and that’s between me and God.’
Y: What you have in modern yogis is a combination, and you can never really be sure. The monk wears a robe and a priest wears a collar and so you can tell them apart. With the yogi, you can’t tell if they’re in the role of priest or they’re in the role of monk. It’s a combined role.
RD: They’re conducting their own personal practice, but then they’re helping you to cultivate your practice as well.
Y: Exactly. And, you see, sometimes that person who’s your yoga teacher—they may be the monk (the yogi), or sometimes they’ll be the priest (the yoga teacher), and they may oscillate back and forth because the role isn’t clear. If I say to myself, my students really love me; they’re really good to me… And, I notice I’m feeling good around them—I’m getting attached to my students! If I were a monk, do you think it would be totally appropriate for me to renounce all my students?
RD: Totally, yeah. ‘Oooh… I’m getting attached to my students. Better leave and go meditate in a cave!’
Y: This has happened. How about if I send a letter to all of my students and say ‘this has been really great, but I see that I’m getting attached, and freedom is really important to me so I’m not going to teach anymore.’ That’s an appropriate decision for a monk to make. But, for a teacher—it’s not. As a teacher, there is a commitment to you and part of my career and livelihood is working with you. If I’m a monk and I’m walking through the grocery store and I look up and see some of my students and then as I’m walking I notice I’m going to go put some Twinkies in my cart, and a 6 pack of beer, and it comes to mind if my students see me, they will think less of me. What’s the monk going to do?
RD: I would assume the monk would avoid the Twinkies and the beer? Or do the monks not really care what the students think of them? I don’t know—is that not his responsibility?
Y: Okay. Ram Dass. I don’t know if you know it, but Ram Dass is a gay man. It’s not a secret. It’s quiet. Because he felt he didn’t want to be a gay activist, he wanted to be a yoga activist. Ram Dass tells a story (and I think of Ram Dass as more of a monk than a yoga teacher) Ram Dass tells a story (This is from the book: The Harvard Psychedelic Club, Don Lattin, 2010. pages 193-4) back in the 70’s before VHS cassettes were available. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a theater.
Y: He went to California to give a workshop, when it was over, the next day, he decides to drive to this adult gay movie theater (to watch some gay porn.) He drives across town, and he’s standing in line to buy his ticket, and he looks up and sees a student from the workshop coming towards him. He says to himself, Well, yeah I could just keep going and act like I’m passing through this line to get to the coffee shop, or I could stay here (and this student will see that I’m doing this thing…) and, the student might judge me. And, guess what, he did?
RD: He bought the ticket.
Y: He bought the ticket. Why? Because it burned his ego. Ram Dass focused on himself. I feel ashamed, and I’m wanting to hide, and if I’m wanting to hide—that’s not good role modeling! I want to grow! So, I’m really embarrassed by this, but I will stand here and be embarrassed because that’s how I’ll grow. I’m seeing myself. So, the yogi or the monk is out to see himself. Now, if I’m a yoga teacher and I’m going to the grocery store and I look up and I’m getting ready to throw some Twinkies and beer in my cart and I look up and see some of my students, I think Oh no no no! I’ve gotta be a good role model!
RD: …Because I’m a teacher!
Y: I’ve got to inspire my students! I don’t want my students to lose faith in me, or yoga—that’s bad. You see the difference?
RD: Yes, I do.
Y: Now, as a monk, or a yogi, you’re job is to grow. That means responding to what’s in front of you. You see, there is no code for yoga, if you’re practicing a Jewish faith or a Christian faith, there’s a code. You do this or you don’t do that. There are stages to that code and you go through the stages.
RD: And, you make those choices of whether you’re going to do it or not but there’s a framework within which you have to wiggle.
Y: For a yogi, it’s about seeing truth. Deeper and deeper and deeper truth. Stuff’s going to come up and when the stuff comes up a monk explores. That might mean doing things that would be harmful to students, but traditionally a monk wouldn’t have students other than students at the level where they would understand what the monk was doing. Does that make sense?
Y: …The idea is that the monk’s students would be advanced enough that they would still learn from that teacher and they wouldn’t make a judgment or an assumption. There’s a story about the Buddha—how he was fasting and he had all these students who were into all these austerities, and one day the Buddha realized he was fasting too much. He needed water, and he walked down to the river, so emaciated and weak from fasting, and he fell in and almost drowned. When he got out, he realized he was in danger. He looked up and saw a woman walking past who had been milking a cow, and she was carrying a bucket of milk. He asked her for food. The woman came and gave the Buddha milk, and he drank it. His disciples saw it, and renounced him. They renounced him as a failure because he had broken his vow. From his perspective, as a monk, it was the right thing to do.
RD: Sure. He was weighing death vs. continuation of his work.
Y: The right thing to do, I guess, is what he had been doing. But to his students, it was a lack of integrity. He said one thing and he did something else.
RD: So part of the moral or teaching is that the burden that is placed on a teacher or a monk is in part placed on the monk or teacher by that monk or teacher’s students. So, it comes a little bit back to what the idea of the students projecting what they need onto the teacher. I guess the teacher can only deflect that as well as they can because they’re simply human. They’re not a deity.
Y: No. Definitely. What we have in our culture among yoga teachers, like John Friend don’t know him personally, so I’m projecting a little bit here—I just imagine that he is unclear on his own role. Is he a yogi trying to learn and grow? Or, is he a spiritual teacher leading an organization?
RD: And, how can he be both?
Y: Here’s a story. I have a friend who’s been a meditator for about 20 years. This man is very very sincere in his practice. He still meditates several hours a day. Very very dedicated, very sincere. I was talking to him a couple of years ago and he shared with me that he got started on a spiritual life when he was in college when he took LSD. He took LSD, he had a very powerful experience, and that led him into Eastern thought and he’s been meditating ever since. He’s been meditating for over 20 years. A couple years ago, he had a thought. He said, you know what ‘I wonder what would happen if I took LSD now. Would it be a setback in my practice, or would it take me deeper?’ The first time he did it, back in college, it totally shook his world and led him on this path. He started thinking, you know, maybe getting shaken up like that now would be a good thing. Now, my friend was very sincere. He says, ‘Is this my mind trying to escape? Is this me wanting some fun? Is this me hitting some new stage and wanting to backpedal to an earlier stage?’ He spent about a year exploring it. In the end, this practitioner said… ‘you know, the reason I’m not doing it is fear. I’m afraid of what people will think. I’m afraid of what I’ll see. I’m afraid of what I will think of myself. I’m afraid to do it.’ Guess what he did?
RD: He did it?
Y: He did it! He went off and found some connections, he got a hit of LSD, he had the whole house for the weekend (his wife was away) and he tripped. He says, ‘you know, it was interesting. It was good. It didn’t do much for my meditations, but I’m not afraid anymore.’ That’s what a monk would do. Do you see what I mean?
RD: Because a monk’s purpose is to grow. So, for the monk, the idea wasn’t so much was it right or wrong to take the LSD? The idea was What’s the fear around the LSD? Was the fear the block? The LSD wasn’t the block, the LSD was just a symptom of his fear. For him, taking the LSD was a way for him to force himself to deal with fear. It was just a vehicle.
Y: My friend didn’t have any students. I don’t know the whole story, I’m projecting, but imagine John Friend saying, you know, back when I was a teenager, I used to smoke pot and meditate and do yoga, and that was really cool. I wonder what would happen if I did that now? I think he made a mistake because he enrolled his students into doing it with him. Or, getting it for him. Do you see the difference? My friend went off on his own and did something that didn’t affect anyone else. John Friend, it seems, got his students to do it with him, or help him get it.
RD: So, that’s the distinction between the monk and the teacher—the teachers’ responsibility to their students.
Y: Okay, so here we go, let’s say you’re a celibate monk and you’ve been celibate for 30 years and you’re deep in this practice and you say, you know what, I haven’t had sex in 30 years, I’m getting old, and I think I’d like to have 1 final fling before I commit the rest of my life to celibacy. Now, for a monk, would that be the wrong thing to do?
RD: No, because the monk is allowed to make his or her own decisions. The monk is making the commitment for the monk, the monk isn’t making the commitment for anyone else but themselves. My sense is that if they decide to change their commitment, that’s on them.
Y: But, you see if you combine the roles, if you’re teacher/monk it gets really weird.
RD: Sure, cause if you combine the roles, your students (like the Buddha’s students seeing him drink the milk) say you’re not walking the talk. You’ve betrayed us.
Y: It can go the other way, too. Imagine you’re a well known yoga teacher and you’re charismatic and you’ve got all these students who feel so much love when they practice with you, and that love is of course on a spiritual plane. And you, let’s say you, as a male teacher, go to a female student and say ‘do you want to have sex with me?’ What’s she going to say? What’s she going to hear?
RD: She’s going to hear that…my teacher wants me. I’m special.
Y: Do you see how he’s doing one thing, and she’s doing something else?
RD: Right, he’s just indulging in his sexual desires, she’s indulging in ego building and feeling like she’s closer to the guru. She’s special.
Y: Exactly. A yoga teacher should (I believe) take total responsibility to protect and care for students. My job as a teacher is to protect my students 100%. It gets weird when you combine the roles, when you combine renunciate and householder, teacher and practitioner. In our culture, we just don’t make that distinction. With John Friend and anyone else… if we sat down and discussed it with him, I wouldn’t know if they’d have thought it out in their minds… Another piece, too, is that you’ve got this rock star mentality around our teachers. And, I’m hoping there won’t be anymore rock star yogis. I’m really hoping that a yoga teacher would develop as many students as they can handle and no more. Know what I mean? And, not come to a place where my students are paying for my castle.
Y: You see it in all fields, and we don’t pay much attention to it, in most other fields. In all fields, power corrupts. Power corrupts. It just does. Another piece we talk about in teacher training which is extremely important—when a class is over, or when you’re in a class (especially a private class) it’s a very easy to feel a profound level of intimacy and connection with your students. That just comes from doing yoga well. A bunch of people in a room doing yoga are going to feel very connected to each other. It will be very easy (especially as the practices get deeper) and the intimacy gets deeper, there comes a place where it becomes hard to discriminate between what’s external and what’s internal. You can be in a place students where (and I do this, I have groups that- we do a deep practice together…) When I’m with that group, when it’s over, it’s so easy to feel like we’re one person in this room. I call that a spiritual intimacy. Yoga generates that. You feel it on a base level; you feel it from a class, more in a private class, perhaps. More when a class is deeper and stronger.
R: A spiritual intimacy.
Y: Traditionally, a monk would be doing that deep practice, and that intimacy would be so great, they would do it alone. Why? Cause if there were another person in the room, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between you and them. And, the intimacy that was happening could be so great; it could just flow from one level to another. However, if I’m with students, my responsibility as a teacher is to keep that intimacy on a spiritual plane (not let it come down to the physical.) If I don’t know that, it’s really easy to feel like, this spiritual intimacy feels so good and I don’t want it to end…
R: And, that’s where the idea for this interview came from, to spread the word about teacher’s responsibility to their students.
Y: There are teachers who aren’t prepared for that. They can go deep. They can go and communicate these deep and profound experiences that it just feels so right to follow the intimacy, and somebody gets hurt. I wish we had better ethics training for our teachers; it has to be the teachers, because you can’t expect the students to do it. If I lead you in a very deep experience, I can’t expect you to be in your right mind. Especially, if I’m a good teacher and I lead a very deep experience, when that experience is over, I can’t expect you to be in your right mind! It’s my job, as your teacher, to keep you grounded enough to get out and drive your car after the class.
Y: And, if the teacher was in it, too, there would be a problem. The teacher needs to lead the experience, but stay outside the experience. I lead you. That’s not my practice. I’m the designated driver. When I go and do my practice, whatever comes up, I will respond to. But, I won’t do it with a student in the room. See the difference?
Y: I think on a very positive note, we’re potentially bringing something to the world that can shed a little bit of light on this messy situation. John Friend did amazingly good work. He popularized yoga to many, many people. And, some people got hurt. Same as Amrit Desai, he brought yoga to millions of people and a few people got hurt. Maybe there’s a way this process can be streamlined or illuminated so we can keep the good and avoid some of the pain.
RD: That’s why I think it’s important to examine the idea of putting a guru on a pedestal, and then smashing that guru when the reality of humanity rubs up against the idealized version of who you think they are.
Y: There’s another important piece to look at here. All modern hatha yoga comes out of the tantric tradition. Tantra uses ritual. Rituals are extremely powerful. Say for example, you had a mother or grandmother or close relative who died, and you never got to say goodbye. If you were to sit down and create a ritual where you evoke her presence and make it really real—bring her into the room and you say the things you needed to say and bring the closure, and then you send her away. You’ve got closure! That’s what psychotherapy is about. For example, you put this chair right here and you say ‘there, that’s your mother. Tell her about the time…’
RD: That’s similar to Gestalt therapy.
Y: Yeah. Tantra is rich in ritual. A very common aspect of ritual is you evoke God’s presence, okay? In tangible form… and one way you can do that it, there’s a very common tantric ritual where you take your teacher, and sit them on a chair, and you evoke the presence of God through that teacher. And then, you see it’s easier with a teacher who’s led you through a deep practice, who’s been beneficial to you and you feel very expanded in their presence. Rituals are powerful. If you look at a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah, a baptism, if you look at a marriage… those are powerful rituals. Tantra creates powerful ritual. Sometimes in the past (I saw this back in the 80’s) yogis who got into trouble in the West (because these yogis aren’t prepared for these liberated women) and they’re having to face this cultural thing and they aren’t prepared for it, so they get into trouble. They blamed western women.
RD: They blamed western women?
Y: Yeah! I mean, you know, we talk about the liberated feminist from the 60’s, 70’s, they’re liberated, they’re sexually free, and here come these yogis, they’re celibate, they’re out of the monastery (India is a very conservative society) …They’re not prepared for women to come onto them! I don’t want to blame the women, but there is a cultural thing. Okay? We don’t understand the ritual.
RD: We as Westerners, you mean?
Y: Yeah. When Swami Kripalu would come out to speak, we would all be in the chapel (chanting) and he would come in and blow the conch shell, and the conch shell is piercing… if you’re sitting there chanting and someone comes up from behind you and blows the conch shell, you jump out of your skin. Everybody would stand up, an aisle would part, and Swami Kripalu would be wearing his red robe, he’d walk down the aisle, and he would sit on a chair. Amrit would go up to him and sprinkle him with flower petals, sprinkle him with rice, put a tealock on his forehead. He would do all this ritual. For us, we had just been chanting and were so open (from chanting) and now here’s this center piece on the altar, and we’re all participating. We’re all doing this chant in praise of the guru. This worship ritual is happening. When that was over, when Amrit Desai would sit down, when Swami Kripalu spoke, it was as if the voice of God were speaking. Do you see how that could be?
Y: That was wonderful, in a way. Because his words were so deep, and we felt so connected. We felt like we had connected with something mysterious. I had practically no personal relationship with Swami Kripalu, but when I would sit down to meditate (I still do) I feel like he’s right there in front of me. There is a presence I can feel to this day, and that presence came from those rituals. Yogis, throughout history, they’ve recognized the power of rituals, especially around your teacher because your teacher leads you in a deep meditation in a class you’re very open to the teacher and you can take that openness and do stuff with it and that’s a part of yoga. You see how easy it would be to corrupt that.
RD: Sure, I mean it’s a lot easier to worship Neem Karoli Baba because Neem Karoli Baba is no longer living. So when you’re worshiping someone who’s no longer living, it’s a lot less sticky, messy. There’s no room for inappropriateness, really.
Y: Exactly, and now take it a step further… Swami Kripalu lived in seclusion. His followers almost never got to see him. Three times a year he would come out and do this ritual and give a talk, and people could come up and bow down and kiss his feet. Do you see how their whole relationship with him was a fantasy? But, he served a purpose. You can have a relationship with a saint, you can have a relationship with Moses, a prophet. But, that prophet isn’t in the room. In spirituality, what we do is we create a personal relationship with God, and then we draw that relationship. God’s not really there, in your face. What a yogi said was when you make that tangible, when Swami Kripalu is living in the next village over, and next July, on the holy day, I get to go and see him and sit in his presence… You see?
Y: In the tradition that honored the guru, that made the guru as a God, you did not want to have a personal relationship with that person. Cause then, you couldn’t project. The idea was that guru is like the pope. When you’re sitting on the seat, you’re God. When you’re not, you’re just like everybody else. That guru had no illusions that they were special. When they came off that seat, they knew they were no different than anybody else. It was a job. They were playing a role, giving people something to project on for the intention of you having a deep experience. At your graduation ceremony, I did a ritual. I put on my orange robe (I don’t wear those robes around the house!) The only time I ever put on that robe is once, twice maybe three times a year, to graduate a group of students. It’s a ritual. I was doing my darndest to make that special for you! Do you have any illusions about me being special because of that? No! It’s sweet. I take off my robes, you know that I’m Michael Carroll… I’m not a yoga teacher.
RD: So, you are able to separate yourself from that person in the robe on whom we are projecting adoration?
Y: See, I was taught to do that. Back at Kripalu, when we took our renunciate vows and became monks, we were the equivalent of the priests for the community. We officiated at ceremonies. We all knew that as soon as you took off the robe… you’re Bob! You know?
RD: So just to clarify, for me, the idea is that when you put on the robe, that’s you as the guru, or you as the teacher or ritual presenter… that’s your ritual. That’s the way you ritually become closer to God and take on the persona of he who can be projected upon, and when you take the robe off, that’s your ritual of just becoming who you are again…a human being walking the sidewalk?
Y: Exactly. In the Indian tradition, you knew that your guru, Bob, walks up on the stage and took on this thing, and when it was over, he took it off. It doesn’t mean anything other than– It’s a role that is played. It’s a role in a ritual. It only works because everybody wants it to work.
RD: Got it. So, you knew that because it was part of your culture?
Y: Exactly. So what we’ve done, is we’ve made the guru not just the person on the chair, we wanted a kind of integrity that’s not there. If you’re that way, you must be that way all the time.
RD: You can’t just be that way when you’re on the chair with the robe; you’ve got to be that way 24/7. You’ve got to take that robe off and maintain that level of purity upon which we can project
Y: All the time.
RD: Therein lays the contradiction.
Y: That’s the problem. You’ve got some Indian weirdness, too, where you’ve got some gurus who got stuck in it. They got up there; they liked being on the chair. They wanted to be on the chair all the time, you know? But, we would say that the deeper you grow, the greater your challenge is to maintain your discrimination. The longer you hold a posture, the greater the challenge that you’re gonna hurt yourself. The more advanced the posture, the more discriminating you have to be that you don’t overstretch or over strain. So, we would just say that you’re level of non attachment should continue to grow and this is an opportunity to continue to practice your non attachment on a deeper level. Some teachers got stuck.
RD: Sure, and that’s a tall order. That’s a really tall order to maintain non attachment in the face of adoration.
Y: If you look at the Indian gurus who’ve fallen… some of them are, like Desai for example, folks who got stuck. He believed he was the guy on the chair all the time, and then wanted all the privilege that he thought should go with that. He had to work really really hard to be on the chair all the time; he felt he deserved a special reward for the work he was putting out.
Y: So, in the West, the whole thing is new. You take a workshop with John Friend, or you take a workshop with me, and you see me up there… when I’m teaching workshops—that’s me at my best. That’s me at my most selfless, my most discriminating. When I change clothes and go out for dinner—often (not exclusively) but, often at workshops I’ll eat alone. I go down to the coffee shop and watch the news on the television. I want to chill out. But, it’s very easy for the students (who only see John Friend, or me, when we’re on) it’s easy to think that’s who we are all the time. If you’ve got a bunch of people saying ‘this is who you are all the time’ it’s really easy for you to believe it.
RD: And then, once you believe it, that’s when it’s easy to take advantage?
Y: Yeah, and at the same time by projecting, the students are holding out a possibility for themselves of living at a high level of consciousness.
RD: Right, so projecting is not a bad thing.
Y: No, it’s just that the teacher needs to be able to manage that projection so the students don’t hurt themselves and so the teacher doesn’t hurt the student, and so the teacher doesn’t get caught. That’s a tall order.
RD: Sure, because that means the teacher has to be really really clear about who they are, what their purpose is, and their own ego. Who is that clear? It takes so much time and so much work to get that clarity and maintain it.
Y: Someone might be clear for a period of time, but who doesn’t lose their clarity? Mind-body enlightenment—a lot of people are enlightened a lot of the time. When I finish my practice, I’m pretty enlightened. But, by the time I have breakfast, I’m not enlightened anymore. We go in and out of it. Your energy levels are constantly changing, and when your energy levels change, your perception changes. You can go through one level of perception when you’re enlightened, but what happens if you lose it? Rather than think someone is there all the time, let’s honor the state of enlightenment that we all pass through, and work really hard to spend more time there, and don’t get down on ourselves when we can’t be there all the time. That seems a whole lot healthier to me.
RD: Yeah, that is a whole lot healthier.
Y: We should be challenged to rise to the occasion. Someone asks you to sub for them, to teach their class, he trusts you to teach his students. You want to be at your very best! You don’t want to do anything that’s going to cause him to lose some of his students. You don’t want to do anything to upset anyone. The challenge brings out the best in you, and we need that. We need those situations. But, you can’t be there all the time. When you see someone, when you walk in and they’re up there being their best, then the idea would be that he’s role modeling for you being your best. That should be inspiring. We all want to be our best.
RD: Sure, that’s why we like our yoga teachers. They can give us inspiration so that we can see an example of growth; where we can go.
Y: You know as well as I do that when that yoga teacher gets off her mat, changes her clothes and gets in her car and drives away, she might be worrying about her bills. She might be upset about something a friend did. She’s no different than anybody else. Because she goes there from time to time, perhaps, she’s working on herself, and that’s great. I think continuing to work on yourself is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to project on somebody who has already done it; someone who is already there.
RD: Are you ever all the way there? You’re there for that moment, and then you’re somewhere else. You hopefully get a little further the next time and then you might go a couple steps back…
Y: You can also think of it as energy levels. They rise and fall. They’ll fall back down. I read another article about John Friend a few months ago. It was talking about how he was traveling all the time. He’ll be home for a few days and then he’s off to do something else. It’s really easy when you’re traveling a lot (there’s 2 benefits) or when you’re teaching a lot…. First of all, you’re in that high state a whole lot— 2, maybe 3 times a day, you’re in that state. But, you also get really tired. So, what happens is you get a swing. You get more polarity. You’re on more, but you’re also tired more. And, when you’re tired more… You know, nobody’s conscious when they’re tired. When we’re tired we don’t behave as consciously… that’s when people make mistakes, when they’re tired, when they’re exhausted or frustrated. It’s easy to get it to spin out to where— when I’m with my students I’m together and organized and when I’m not I’m a basket case. If that was my experience, I’d want to be with my students all the time. If I’m with my students all the time, where’s the time for me, you know?
Y: We don’t want to focus on the person too much, but look at the principles behind. I think that’s where we can learn. We know a few events that he did and what I’m doing is looking at those events and saying well ‘this is a teaching moment. This is what was happening for him, and this is what we can learn.’ We don’t know really exactly what was happening, but I think we can project all sorts of things that are very very realistic, very possible, that could be very good teaching tools or teaching experiences.
Y: In the West, if we’re going to have people who go deep into yoga, they need real finesse. They need to understand how yoga works, and how the student-teacher relationship works. I think some distinctions like household/renunciate, monk/teacher… those models can be very valuable. If you don’t have them, it’s going to be a pitfall.
Y: I think the best lesson that Amrit ever gave me was basically seeing him ridden out on a rail. All the people who loved him turned against him, and were booing him. That was so horrible. I was like; I want to make sure that never happens to me.
RD: So the best lesson you learned from Amrit was watching him slink out of that room?
Y: Yeah. So much pain. You know, you see someone driving and they’re a very skillful driver, you think … oh, driving looks like fun, you know? And then you see a wreck. That can be so grounding. Driving can be fun, but you can have wrecks. They both go together. If you’re going to drive and not have wrecks, you need to be very skillful.
RD: Yoganand, thank you so much for your time! I look forward to reading your book when it is published.
In case you missed it, check out the first interview with Yoganand here.
Rachel Dalinka lives with her husband and two kids in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where she writes and teaches yoga. One of her goals is to show the humans in her life the same level of love and compassion she shows her dog Ollie.
Like elephant yoga on Facebook.
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan