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January 29, 2011

Are Traditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers?

Yoga is whatever you make it, right? This is a line I often hear from people who also often call me—first a traditionalist, then a pretentious preacher. Or a purist. You have no right, they say, to tell us what to think yoga is or should mean.

Of course not. Only those who believe “yoga is whatever you make it” has the right to tell others what yoga is. See the hypocrisy; the contradiction; the conflation of yoga to mean and be only whatever you want it to mean?

Let me be a bit more specific. The same people who say that yoga is whatever you make it also like to quote Patanjali whenever it suits their conflated anything-goes worldview.

They seem not to have noticed that Patanjali himself said exactly the opposite—that yoga was the absence of an anything-goes attitude, that yoga was indeed the absence of anything but Spirit.

Now, think about it: If yoga is anything you want it to be; if yoga is being absorbed in Rock and Roll, your abs, your biceps, your near-perfect pose; if yoga is to be self-absorbed, period, then yoga is basically being one with your ego, your mind.

But that’s not what Patanjali said. He was, yeah, a freak’n purist for Christ’s Sake. He said that yoga was the absence of ego, the absence of mental disturbances, and the presence of Spirit.

This comes from a total yoga purist, from a fanatic traditionalist, from someone like me who thinks everyone should believe a spade is actually a spade and not a rake, from someone who actually has the wherewithal to believe there is a difference between what you think yoga is and what it is not (yeah, I am not a recovering yogi, you see!)

Here’s what I believe yoga, in its finest moment of ecstatic joy, is:  a singularity of mind that is absorbed in Spirit, that is One with Spirit in all its cosmic glory. That is Samadhi—total absorption in Bliss, Oneness, Spirit.

That’s why in Tantra it is said that yoga means union, a singular drop (your mind) being absorbed in the ocean of Spirit. How many of you yogis out there had that experience while listening to Rock and Roll? How many had it while doing asanas or biking down to the grocery store? Not many.

I am not saying it is not possible. I am simply saying it is rare. Because the ultimate experience of yoga is the crown glory of yoga practice. And it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Indeed, it’s  a lot more common people have Samadhi experiences in deep meditation than on a bike ride. A lot more common. That’s what lotus pose and half lotus pose are for. Hard to do those poses on a dirt bike down the mountain while still being able to meditate with your eyes closed.

So, if it’s wrong to say this, well then go and enjoy your average yoga moment of minor transcendence  all you want. Call it whatever you want. Believe whatever you want. But don’t say that what you believe is the same as I believe or have experienced. Because, not all experiences are the same. Not all yoga is the same, not all yoga experiences are the same. That is to cheapen yoga.

That is to make yoga no more than scratching your ass! That is to say a spade is actually a rake. And that’s plain yogic ignorance, if you ask me. That’s like saying Samadhi is like having a transcendent experience while bike riding. But I, the purist, the fanatic,  I the vain and mean yogi, am here to tell you that having Samadhi on your bike would most likely be severely bad for your physical health. And yoga is all about maintaining good health is it not?

Yoga asanas were traditionally meant to develop the body as a temple for that ultimate yoga experience of Samadhi. That said, you may practice yoga asnans all day long to get that Tara Stiles body and call yourself a yoga rebel. But if you have the right to do that, I, the yoga purist, the yoga fanatic, the yoga traditionalist, the out of the closet self-righteous yogi, I reserve the right to say that yoga is a bit more than that. I have the right to say that yoga is this, yes, but also this, and then be able to tell you what THIS is.

So, folks, all of you who believe that yoga is whatever you make it, I am sincerely sorry to have to ask you the following: if yoga is scratching your ass, how come I am not able to replicate that Samadhi I have been graced with a few times in this life while simply scratching my ass?

I am a mean, self-righteous fanatic, you see, and I really want that Samadhi back!

But hey, there’s another way. There is a state in yoga, some call this Sahaj Samadhi, some call it being a Siddha, some call it being Enlightened. In that state, you may scratch your ass, listen to Rock and Roll, stand in Head Stand, and still be in a state of Samdhi or spiritual Absorption.

To paraphrase some ultra-famous yogi: “I had that experience for 15 minutes and it felt like scratching the ass of God!”

Spirit, you see, transcends and includes your ass and your Rock and Roll. But it’s not the other way around. Your ass does not transcend and include Spirit. (Unless, that is, you are absorbed in Spirit. Because in that state, all contradictions dissolve in Oneness).

So, I’m sorry to have to tell you—you, the believer in yoga as whatever-you-want-to-believe-it is—you got that ass of yours mistaken for your brain!  Or maybe it’s the other way around. Hard to tell, the way your asana body twists and turns all week long!

Or maybe that’s simply because you’re too much of a self-righteous asana fanatic! That said, yoga is also about practicing asanas, of course. But the ultimate state of yoga, don’t tell me it’s the same as scratching your ass! Unless you’re Enlightened, that is!

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