Like trite New Agey feel-good generalizations! Me neither! An encouragement to read deeper.*

Via elephant journal
on Jul 30, 2010
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A friend of mine just tweeted this:

“Love all with love that none have felt, and brave the battle of life with strength unchained.” ~ Yogananda

As Oprah said (can’t believe I’m quoting Oprah) it’s not about what we should do. We all know doing the right thing is the right thing to do. It’s about how to do the right thing. Very few of us know how to do the above, let alone lose five pounds, or be happy, or like ourselves, or be better parents, or anything.

* This reaction is offered with all due respect, and there’s a lot of respect due, to Yogananda: genuine teachers deserve more respect than having their wisdom bottled and pruned into sound bytes that we tweet out via our smart speed phones.

Yogananda taught extensively about “how” we might love all sentient beings with a full, genuine sort of love, and brave the often difficult trials and tribulations with unceasing exertion. But the above quote risks “coffee book wisdom”…skimming only from the top of a mountain of wisdom can turn the real thing into trite, unhelpful, nice-sounding fortunes, and little more.

To actually learn something about Yogananda’s teachings, click over to our longtime colleagues and friends at Self-Realization Fellowship. Click here to see video and my photos of SRF itself.


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49 Responses to “Like trite New Agey feel-good generalizations! Me neither! An encouragement to read deeper.*”

  1. ???

    What's this all about. Please explain. Did I miss something? Whose "trite New Age Generalizations"?

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Hey, Bob, I'm in a damned cafe that has horrible wireless so I published just the title of this blog before I put in the text encouraging folks to read deeper and move beyond, and below sound bytes.

    Now the text is up, let me know if my point is off or unclear, always love to hear from you.

  3. Yeah, Waylon. I'm still baffled by this.

    I'm not sure this is the place and time, but I suggest Elephant rethink its whole derisive treatment of the term "New Age". The derision is right there on every Elephant page in the fourth item on the header menu, "NON-NEW AGEY SPIRITUALITY" (although nothing shows up when one clicks on it.)

    Before I end up writing a whole blog on this in a comment, I'll try to keep this very brief. Then, if you and others are puzzled, I'll write more.

    1) Many, many fine people and movements are generally called "New Age" today, including some, like Chopra, whom I know you admire.

    2) Some of your current authors enjoy and relate to some of these movements.

    3) I challenge you to listen objectively to your own recent interview with John Friend and tell me how his responses, and your own statements, differ in any way from "NEW AGEY SPIRITUALITY". Whether one thinks it's profoundity or fluff, it's definitely the same kind of stuff. (Now I'm starting to sound like Muhammad Ali–the rhymes just pop out without me even trying.)

    Enough said for now. My simple suggestion, drop the negative slant on the term "New Age", which contains a lot of good and a lot of bad and everything in between, just like Yoga, Christianity, and yes, even Buddhism.

    Aren't you glad I decided to take a little break from Gita Talk and check in on a few blogs?

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. While I confess to using "new age" derisively sometimes…oh, okay, all the time…the line can be fine…and, for that matter, I have even bigger problems with a lot of old time spirituality (aka religious dogma and myths taken literally). A more pertinent point, though, might be that people use the term "new age" in a lot of different ways. For instance, I've heard yoga teachers I like and respect refer to the yoga we practice as "new age"–and, for that matter, I get the impression that, for some people, "new age" means essentially "any spirituality practiced by westerners that breaks with the conservative traditions of western religions".

  5. While that may seem a bit too broad, it's perhaps no worse than the definition used by critics of the new age (like myself), which is essentially: "any spirituality practiced by westerners that breaks with the conservative traditions of western religions and which I happen to think is stupid and cheesy." Perhaps it'd be more honest, if a lot more risky, as honesty often is, to simply refer to what we see as stupid and cheesy spirituality as "stupid and cheesy spirituality" and prepare for the inevitable fight…

  6. That said, I can't help wondering if Bob here is outing himself as a connoisseur of crystals and Wyndham Hill CD's…

  7. I agree with you, YfC. I'm not against satire or making fun of New Age, God Knows. (My former wife, who was a classical pianist, used to refer to all New Age music as "mystical mush". That still makes me laugh.)

    I'm just against any serious knee-jerk stereotyping of any kind, but particularly when, as you point out, the term is so broad.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Is flamenco guitar "New Age". Napster seems to think so:

    Just shows you how confused the term is. Although to be fair to Napster, when this came out, all "World" music was classified as New Age, which is still true of a lot of yoga/relaxation music today, by the way.

  9. I am glad! I've missed your challenging, in-depth comments.

    This could be about what we think of when we say "New Age." When you say it, you think of many different, er, modalities, to use a "new agey" term. When I say it, I think about vomiting in my mouth a little—you know, spiritual materialism—you know, USING spirituality casually, searching out pleasure and avoiding pain, or reality generally. All in hopes, and fears, of avoiding "negative" and "insecurity" while striving toward perfection of our self.

  10. Bob, have you seen my dreamcatcher? Jay, I totally resonate with what you're say. Om shanti Ommmm.

  11. I'd call it "World." I wouldn't call it "New Age." I'd call the dozens of sickeningly sweet, saccharine albums our ele home/office and staff gets to review (or, have mercy and ignore) each month that will wind up rejected even by massage therapists as New Age.

  12. Don't think I was being too broad. Tweeting a quote that offers nice-sounding words but no instructions, even worse from a respected teacher, is offensive. You could call it cultural appropriation. I call it turning wisdom and compassion into trite aphorisms that will never bite.

  13. I think you need to consider whether that's the way a very high percentage of your readers will think of it. If so, I guess I'd say I'm off base.

    But I'm guessing it's not a vomititious term to a great many of your readers, so it might not be communicating what you think it's communicating. Am I the only reader who thinks it's strange and, at best, inappropriate and narrow-minded sounding?

    Hopefully we'll get a lot of comments here that will help answer that. All those for whom the term "New Agey" instinctively invokes vomit, please raise your hands…

    Bob Weisenberg

  14. Gee, Waylon. What else can anyone do in a 140 char. Tweet?

    You had almost 20 minutes with our Friend John. (I actually liked the interview, so I'm not criticizing the interview itself.) But I challenge you again to listen to the whole thing objectively and tell me the whole thing doesn't sound pretty "New Agey."

    Now, you're going to say that you know John and the great depth underlying his and your fuzzy generalizations. But how does that differ from the Yogananda quote on Twitter?

    Bob Weisenberg

  15. Waylon, I'm not sure if you read Jay's comments enough to realize he his point of view is probably, on balance, more supportive of mine than yours, i.e. anti-stereotyping.

    The only thing one can say for sure about New Age philosophy and music is that millions and millions of people love it and get a lot out of it. Are these people simply incompatible as Elephant readers, sort of like Republicans? (That's a joke. I'm sure Elephant has many fine Republican readers.)

    Bob Weisenberg

  16. ARCreated says:

    sometimes an appetizer is needed…I find it just as offensive for "spiritual" people to be "offended" by others connections.
    so what if it isn't as deep as YOU think it should be…what if that one line leads many people to research yogananda?
    what is wrong with people seeking aphorisms to get through their day? What's wrong with a little light heartedness?
    Who are YOU to judge?
    I say bring on the trite coffee table books and let those that are ready to seek, seek as they see fit. A little here a little there…it sinks in…I'll take a yogananda tweet over a Gaga tweet any day… Use the modern media to break through the cracks.

    I'll take my new agey, affirmation spouting, enya listening, aphorism touting, tye-dye wearing friends that don't think they are better than anyone over those that think they are "deeper" "more advanced" or some other ego ridden version of spirituality any day.

  17. ARCreated says:

    Hey – I am guilty of it too and I thank you for the reminder — when I get all high and mighty that people who only do asana don't get how "deep" yoga really is…I'm going to kick my own pretentious ass…everyone is where they need to be…get over ourselves and we can go to the next level.

  18. Yes, of course it's "World" and not "New Age".

    (I was just using this as an example. Like I said, "Just shows you how confused the term is.")

    I'm not particularly New Agey myself, not that there's anything wrong with that. (That's a Seinfeld joke. If you didn't see the episode, just ignore it.)

    Bob Weisenberg

  19. Thanks for writing, Charlotte. As you probably already know, it's quite common to meditate for an extended period on a single Sutra. I'm trying this one:

    Focusing with perfect discipline on the powers of an elephant or other entities, one acquires those powers. (Yoga Sutra 3.25)

    Hasn't worked yet. But I'll keep at it.

    Bob Weisenberg

  20. Funny you should mention that. Last night I got up at 3:30am in a burst of creative energy to complete my last Gita Talk (to be published on August 2nd). It's called:

    In a Nutshell: The Big Ideas & Best Quotations

    Bob W.

  21. Charlotte says:

    I get it. I haven't been able to reduce myself to the size of an atom yet either.

  22. Charlotte says:

    I'll look forward to it.

  23. Linda-Sama says:

    new age, shnew age. I never burned my Hippie Card.

  24. Oh, that one I've done.

  25. Charlotte says:

    What a yogi! How about becoming invisible?

  26. Hey Waylon and Bob,

    You all asked me to take part in this discussion and here I am.

    My take on the whole new age thing is that I think many people claim to be spiritual because it is fashionable to be spiritual.

    The way I see it, there are people who are truly on the path. And then there are those who throw around terms like karma without really knowing what the heck they are talking about.

    Sometimes I see people who claim to be all spiritual and yet they have no clue about Eastern thought or what is meditation. Then I have known people who never utter a spiritual term and yet they are truly on the path.

    When I lived in India, I saw the whole gamut of spiritual seekers. One of the big lessons I learned over there is that you never can tell the intensity of one's dedication because you just never know.

    Labels mean nothing. How we live is more important than the labels we place on ourselves. Action speaks louder than words. That said, someone can utter trite generalizations and truly be on the path. It all depends on the individual and how they have chosen to live their life.

    So I guess the best thing to do is to not assume and to just suspend judgment. To each their own.

  27. I was just responding to his "That said, I can't help wondering if Bob here is outing himself as a connoisseur of crystals and Wyndham Hill CD's…"

  28. elephantjournal says:

    Since this convo is about language, terms, semantics, perhaps we ought to distinguish further between "New Age"—a category…and "New Agey," an adjective that is what we're talking about as a negative.

    New Age, however, even as a category or term, has earned such a bad rep that, years ago, one of my colleagues at Shambhala Publications, who had been the head honcho over at New Age Journal, told me they'd decided to change their name to Body & Soul. Which was bought up by Martha Stewart. I think its name was just changed again.

  29. Actually, I had almost four hours, or two hours, depending how you want to judge our dialogue.

    I don't think it sounds New Agey. I think it's highly possible to talk about yoga and Capitalism, cult of personality and clique issues without getting airy-fairy or love n'lighty. That was my hope, anyway. Thus the question about "Spiritual Materialism," which is a fancy term for the New Agey tendency to treat the spiritual or religious path like a salad bar (just take a little of this, little of that, whatever you like, avoid what you don't like).

    I love that you, Bob, an insightful and critical leader in the yoga community, are defending the use of the word New Age for positive things. You're encouraging all of us, particularly me right now, to re-examine our assumptions.

    And, I've re-examined the term "New Agey," and it still makes me want to gag.

  30. How New Agey of you. To aggressively assert that judgin is BAD, in all CAPS, and then judge whoever you're insulting (me, thank you) ("…ego ridden version of spirituality).

    If you weren't so agro, I'd be inclined to open up and agree with you. An appetizer can be most helpful. That said, if a meal doesn't follow, it's just a sample, and then you've got to throw away your little plastic spoon, which pollutes our environment.

    BTW, I love Enya.

  31. Okay, now that you're being nice I've got to go and kick my own reactive ass. Thanks for helping wake me up from myself.

  32. In a way, it's like that phenomenon where if you observe something, it changes. What's that called?

    I think it's hard for those who practice deeply, with integrity, in context, like Bob and Charlotte, to sometimes remember that most of the world doesn't go deeper into the Yoga Sutras, or sit arond contemplating them. Was just hanging with a teacher friend of mine who works in a district where no one recycles at all in the whole school system. The principal, when asked about it, literally said it wasn't their job to educate the children (!#$!%^&*!&*!*!), as it might offend the parents.

    The point is: we get tunnel vision, living our lives. We all do. We forget that happy holy tweets don't lead to intense practice, usually. We forget that spirtual-less yoga doesn't lead to the study of alignment, breath, anatomy, or meditation—usually. And that's fine. It's great. It is what it is.

  33. Yes! Exactly. Should have asked you to write the above. You're much more precise.

  34. Yeehah! Good.

    I'm down with the true hippies. But faux hippiesm—wearing a headband you bought at Urban Outfitters, which you drove to in your SUV—doesn't reflect a love for the earth or a desire to take responsibility for one's own karma. My parents were, and to a great extent still are, hippies. By that I mean they walk to their own drummers, explore, are curious, fiercely delighting in the mundane details of every life, and they never settle for superficial salad bar approach to spirituality. Or anything.

  35. While I disagree with your conclusion, I love the rest of it: "many people claim to be spiritual because it is fashionable to be spiritual."

    Prajna, translated as discriminating wisdom (or insight, or knowledge, etc.) is the embodying of being present. When we're present, we can distinguish between good and bad, and nothing's wrong with that. This might be unhealthy, while that might be helpful.

    Judgement or the act of judging isn't always bad. Don't judge judging!

  36. You are right…sometimes you have to discern what is good and what is bad. However, I was using the term in the sense of when we hold an opinion about someone and we think we are superior to another or we think we are less than another. We cannot judge the actions of another person since we do not know what it is like to be another person.

    We just are responsible for how we live and we cannot judge other people for how they live unless we know their entire story (and that includes all their previous lifetimes because the motivation of our actions are based on the sum total of all our embodiments…at least that is what I believe.)

  37. Nothing wrong with judgment, Waylon, just mass-judgment without discrimination, which is what stereotyping and labeling are. This is what you're doing with the the term "New Age", in my judgment.

    Thanks so much for joining us here, Nadia. Very helpful thoughts.

    Bob Weisenberg

  38. Are we talking about the same interview? I'm referring to the 16 min. video. Sounds like you're talking about something else.

    I guess I have no choice but to ask you who you consider to be New Age. Is Chopra New Age? Tolle? Dyer? Wilbur? That Native American flute player? Which of these gentlemen make you want to gag? I'm guessing if you actually make a list you'll find yourself that some are great and some not so great.

    We probably need some definition, now, because I'm not sure any longer what you mean by New Age. Surely you're aware that many commentators would call your entire green movement New Age. What exactly do you mean? Or is it a "I know it when it makes me gag" kind of thing?

    My definition is the same as Wikipedia's.

    Bob Weisenberg

  39. Sorry, I thought you meant his original two comments. My mistake.

  40. Charlotte says:

    Well, I am a Taurus, after all…Thanks for the discussion!

  41. ARCreated says:

    yeah it would have been better had the whole comment been in one message but I get the "too long" message a lot …. its good we were both able to help each other "see" ourselves!
    Love and light

    PS … I purposefully used the enya line becuase of the previous article :0 hehehe

  42. ARCreated says:

    amen sister πŸ™‚ thanks!!!

  43. ARCreated says:

    I might go so far to enter in semantics to the equation…I would say that when we use "discernment" to decide what is good/bad (don't even get me started on that discussion but for the sake of this discussion I'll leave those words in) for ourselves that is useful "judging" HOWEVER to JUDGE others as both Nadia and Bob have brilliantly elucidated is a seperate entity… discerment necessary….judging dangerous.

    YOu know "don't judge a book by its cover'
    "judge not lest ye be judged yourself"
    "what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves"

    πŸ™‚ I'm VERY fond of aphorisms, quotes etc…it's the bread and butter (??? what shoudl we vegans say instead??? lol odd) of my teaching …

  44. Hi, YogiOne.

    Good observations you've made here. See related discussion and my rebuttal at Mindfulness is Not Positivity

    Bob W.

  45. Zoe says:

    Hey All!
    I agree with a lot that has been said and I just wanted to add my two cents. Looking back at the article when it said "…risks “coffee book wisdom”…skimming only from the top of a mountain of wisdom can turn the real thing into trite, unhelpful, nice-sounding fortunes, and little more" yes it does "risk" it. Saying anything is a risk. Its a risk because one can't control what someone else will do with it when it is read and that's okay. It shouldn't stop people from saying and quoting things.

    Like ARCreated Wellness said, a little here and there and it sinks in, hopefully. If something about love couldn't be said or shared unless it was in a larger and more controlled context, then people would be missing out on a lot of little leads and thoughts that guide them to something more. People are loved in different ways, one of those ways is through words (hello mantras!) and having quick reminders about something in the form of quotes or music is a great companion on the path. I know that there have been times when I was feeling off kilter and saw a quote that helped me get back perspective.

    I wonder if the uncomfortable feeling around potential shallowness comes from wanting to share what is dear and near to the heart and feeling a disconnect from others with a different experience which can be lonely. It bites to want to share something with someone and they just don't seem to get it or a person sees someone else spouting off and explaining or doing it "wrong." I think that means its a time to take a step back, nurture one's self with one's own community, teachers, own practice, whatever is centering and makes one feel connected again. Then, if so moved, share, share, and share some more your own deep insights and experiences, write a book, tell people to go to India, whatever. Focus on what is important, share that & then who cares what others do with it. Or don't share and let others figure it out for themselves.

    As for the term "new age", I don't think we will actually know if anything "new agey", like a real new age, for at least 1-2 hundred years when we can look back and see if anything seemed to make a huge shift worthy of the title. But it is a label that is used often, it scares some people and makes others feel at home. I think its something that most people have their own definitions. I don't use it to describe anything really, it doesn't seem definitive enough. Perhaps a different term would work better, something such as… Well actually I can't think of anything right now, do you have any ideas? I think that perhaps part of the problem is that to me, like I said before, none of it seems "new agey." It just seems like the experiences of people, religions and various spiritual practices have changed somewhat and innovated for the time, mashing up old and new, which seems to me like normal growth. It also seems like a normal thing for a person to wade through it all finding what speaks to them the most. Does this make sense?

    So to recap what I'm trying to say is, 1. annoyance with someone's seeming or real shallowness I think comes from feeling frustrated with seeming like an experience can't be shared which leads to feeling lonely & disconnected. And those feelings can easily be nurtured back to feeling grounded. 2. Who in the world came up with the term "new age"? It doesn't seem to mean much. Ok thats my 2 or 4 cents.

  46. Cheryl says:

    This is the journalistic/blog equivalent to a group of teenaged girls gossiping about another group of teenaged girls behind their backs; in really poor taste. The author's views could have been expressed much more intelligently and meaningfully than be referring to a friend's facebook status, followed by publicly judging this person. Reads like an amateur writer's knee jerk emotional reaction – lower consciousness stuff. Lost a lot of respect for EJ with this one, less likely to continue as a reader.

  47. greateacher says:

    well, the article is NOT an article!

    The emperor has NO clothe!!!