Are Traditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers?

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Jan 28, 2011
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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!


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


79 Responses to “Are Traditional Yogis Pretentious Preachers?”

  1. ARCreated says:

    When I teach my classes have intentions, meditation and asana…and each person has their experiences in each. Ultimately I tell my students when in lotus (or whatever approximation their bodies can muster) and breathing that they are "doing" yoga…just there nothing more…but in the end that's just so they don't feel they are missing something if they can't do poses as I am fond of saying "doing the splits doesn't make you more enlightened, just more flexible" "sometimes being "enlightened" is NOT doing something" blah blah blah…whatever, I'm kind of middle of the road gal…I am a purist "lite" I love my sanskrit and traditionalism and meditation but I dont' presume this makes anything else wrong or bad…(she says knowing she will never attend a class name yogafit…'cause she doesn't feel it's "yoga" LOL — but that's MY experience — I let others have theirs)

  2. ARCreated says:

    bob….you complete me :p

    as my motorcycle license plate says "myom"….I think it's awesome Ramesh that you experience what you experience in meditation…but it can not be quantified therefore you cannot compare and say that moment when I am IN the music or the stream of life doesn't live up to your experience…you just can't know…hell bob's mozart may transcend your experience…I mean how could you tell?

    sorry Ramesh I have often loved much of what you have written — but recently it has all been a little too — I get it you don't for me…what retreat are you on??? and have you checked the Kool-aid??? 🙂

    What's funny is ultimately I agree that yoga is more than the asanas, however I don't diminish their importance, their qualities and I still contend that someone that has never meditated at all, or done a single yoga pose can experience samadhi….and I will contend that in head stand or supta bhadha konasana someone can experience samadhi as well as someone in lotus (I mean lotus is just another asana after all)

  3. ARCreated says:

    OH and the short answer might just be YES :p hehehe

  4. dan says:

    How can there be recognition of sameness if there is no understanding of separation? It is ignorance that the seer, the instruments of seeing and and the seen are a jumble.

  5. Ramesh says:

    Because Oneness, or Cosmic Sameness transcends yet includes duality, or separation. That is essentially the state of Enlightenment, you are in this world of duality, you know it is real but you are not of it. You are the One Eye of the Cosmos that embraces all duality, all separation. Hence, it is an ordered level of transcendence, not a jumble.

  6. Ravindra says:

    A profound mystic and a Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi vasudev talks about the way Yoga is being imparted in the world and the consequences of it. I think its very important that Yoga is taught in the right way not just to cure back ache or stress or reduce weight. It is a tool for deciphering the greatest mysteries of life. Here is a video relevant to this thread.

    and to hear him live today…

  7. YesuDas says:

    No one says you have to do anything, DG–but if you aren't writing a fugue the way a fugue is written, you are writing something other than a fugue.

    Having said that, I think a lot more brilliance can accrue in 5.000 years than in 5 minutes.

  8. Ramesh says:

    Thanks for sharing the wisdom of Yogi Jaggi Vasudev, Ravindra!

  9. Sherry says:

    I had a knee-jerk reaction when I first saw the book, "The No Ohm Zone." I felt the same way you did and said as much to friends of mine in the yoga community. Why not just call it a yoga-inspired stretch class or workout? That would be great and would appeal to those who are uncomfortable with the non-physical traditions associated with (and define) yoga, while giving them all the benefits. It troubled the place deep in my heart that reveres this practice and looks to it as a life-long discovery. I have a good friend, a beautiful yogini, whose main interest is getting people on the mat with the hope that they may choose to go deeper. Yes. And no. And why not?

    At least we're talking about it.

  10. dan says:

    It's ordered when it goes in order, not when spat out as a bunched bundle; why slam the breaks when you can downshift?

  11. YesuDas says:

    Well said, Nathan; it seems that in a consumer culture, the attitude is, "It's my money–let everything adapt to me." God forbid that I should be expected to show humility and adaptability in the face of received wisdom.

  12. Dharma says:

    Well, this comment really shows how ignorant some people are about yoga.
    Let me tell you that YES, you CAN actually understand when somebody experience a real Samadhi and not an "ass scratching experience".
    If you would spend less time sweating on your rubber mat, trying to impress the girls with your acrobatic performances, and you would actually dedicate some time practicing a real sadhana or even just reading some traditional tantrik text you will discover that there are several forms of samadhi that can be recognizable even from outside. For example, some people experiencing the feeling of Union with the Divine Consciousness start having physical reactions like: crying, shivering, having the body completely cold except on the top of the head in the area of the Sahasrara Chakra. There are also post-reactions to the experience of Samadhi. In fact, if your subjective consciousness is merging with the Infinite Objective Consciousness even for a few minutes of pure Samadhi, after that experience you will feel totally transformed, you will be able to feel more not only your self, but also the others. You intuition will increase, and for somebody this "siddha" (special power) can even come to the point to be able to know the samskara (the past actions) of people. It can come to the point to be able to know basically everything simply thinking about it, like if your mind is in "connection" with infinite "psychic Wikipedia links", so to speak.
    Not only that, your Compassion will increase, you will care more about who or what is around you, you will feel it as part of yourself. Your sense of Justice will increase.
    You will even discover that your body will become naturally flexible even without practicing any acrobatic fancy asana, 'cause your nadhis (your internal channels of energy) have been purified, so your nervous system will be more balanced and your muscles more relaxed. You will feel and your will transmit to others a deep sense of bliss.
    And, in your specific case, even your cynicism will disappear.

  13. Ramesh says:

    Dharma, thanks so much for your detailed comments. I very much resonate with your views and insights!

  14. sadienardini says:

    Amen, sister…:)

  15. jody says:

    There's one yoga where anything goes: bhakti. It's all between you and your Beloved, and it renounces enlightenment in favor of surrender.

    Folks should understand that we all have our own lanes to the Self. Each of us. In that way, it kinda IS anything goes.

  16. Donna Davidge says:

    I have seen other articles by this author and I really like his thinking..thank YOU!

  17. Donna Davidge says:

    had to add a bit..I don't think yoga purists don't want regular people in yoga! Most yogis say we should be householders and show our yoga practice off the mat too with yama and Niyamas, how we live/act..are we there to please students or show them what yoga IS?
    I do agree though that spirituality cannot be does come to you!

  18. L. Gould says:

    Maybe the reason Ben can’t reach Samadhi very often is because he is too angry, intolerant, and worried too much about how others are doing their yoga to calm his mind.

    The difference between people like Ben and me is that I don’t care how anyone does yoga, how they view yoga, or how they reach a state of Samadhi. Ben, in contrast, not only feels compelled to tell me how to experience yoga, but he also feels compelled to be insulting if I disagree, then revels in the fact that he is “a mean, self-righteous fanatic.” None of that is in the spirit of yoga, Ben. So you keep ranting, and I’ll just go enjoy my yoga practice in my own style.

    I never thought much about Tara Stiles, but it is people like Ben that make me support her out of principle.

  19. Dharma says:

    well, to not care about what the others are doing, usually shows a not very high level of compassion, a not very developed awareness that we can help others also trying to give them proper information about how things are in the reality, instead of let them play with easy illusions. So, in other words, to not care about what others are doing and passively accept any possible mistake made by the people around is just showing that probably who feels in that way has not experienced Samadhi at all, because Samadhi makes people feel closer to the others, without separation, an so makes people feel also the will to help others when is possible, even writing information that may be considered provocative or even offensive from the point of view of a proud ego-oriented mind.
    If people like Buddha or the Bodhisatvas, or the avatars, or the sadhus, would not have care about what other people were doing, all the cultural and spiritual treasures that we are discussing here on Elephant Journal would simply not be there.

  20. Eek... you! says:

    Not much of a difference between 5 minutes and 5000 thousand years. Or 14 billion years. Or a sandwich.

    None of the above is meant as a joke.

  21. Eek... you! says:

    I scratch my ass. Just one inch off the ground.

    I really like this Bob guy. He knows the difference between a hawk and a handsaw.

    Mozart sandwiches!

  22. Bhaeravii says:

    Inner journeys are envisioned and described in many vernaculars due to cultural and language programming. Any word, idea, concept, or practice can be used in any way, at any time, in any context since knowledge and truth are relative to the level of understanding.

    I agree with nathan…""I think many of the yoga purists don't want ordinary people in the yoga community." There are some people trying to keep the gates closed. There are huge issues that come when yoga becomes a tool to make piles of money."

    But spiritualists and professional yogis are into making money off yoga as well, which also contributes to the gates being closed…so there are not any fixed boundries and it depends on your mindset if you think there is not enough to go around…

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  24. […] my body to the will of the world. I am going back to the sages and yawning my vertebrae for the yogis. The road is always unfolding, laying down dominoes of demands. I have circled the block and come […]

  25. Prem Dhan says:

    To pharaphrase it without emotionality:
    You are saying that asanas and nonjudgemental attitudes were paths for you and are paths for others. This is valid, but it does not exclude what the gentlemen above are saying – that asanas and non judgemental attitudes are not yoga. If yoga is the altar, the asanas and other attitudes are offerings to it. Without this clarity, the practisioner is lost in delusions.

    It is compassionate to keep this in mind for the students and uncompassionate to have a anything-goes attitude.

    A note on the feelings of closeness to god: "Experiences" is not yoga – yes even "experiences" of closeness to god … since yoga is the stillness of the mind … and not the thrill of the heart or overflowing of the heart. Even kirtan is not yoga. It is just as asanas, an offering of practise, so that yoga may happen in the silences of the heart. That is why Yoga is described also as the emptiness of the heart.

  26. Prem Dhan says:

    "I still contend that someone that has never meditated at all, or done a single yoga pose can experience samadhi…"

    As far as I know, there has never been a single Master in the known history of the East who has done this. Is this your personal assertion? Or is it your faith in Bob?

    There are insults in the above post. There is so much ego on display here and so much emotionality and disturbances of heart. Can you please back up your assertions with facts — this is for Bob and ARCreated

  27. Hi, Prem Dhan. Thanks for writing. I stand by my original comment above, bolstered, if you like, by Elephant's two separate 16 session series on the Bhagavad Gita (see links in blog that follows). I hope you will join our new Gita Talk discussion and express your critique there, too, for debate:

    Look forward to seeing you there.


  28. Prem Dhan says:

    Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things

    "Infinite Wonder" and "All Things" are to be taken together and not seperately as in the english seperated notions of an adjective that embelishes a noun. These roots are in sanskrit. If you have accomplished Infinite-Wonder in All-Things you are practising yoga. But if you can accomplish it in Mozart but not others, and in Grand Canyon but not NY, you are not practising yoga. There is nothing wrong with baby steps, feelings, experiences etc, but let all of us have sanity where yoga is.

    Lets not flex the Bhagvad Gita once again to our needs. Krishna was one man. His message is complete only if you take all of what he said as a path. Taking pieces of the path is misleading and an appropriation of the whole message to suit oneself. That was Ramesh's point with "Moderm" yoga, and now you are committing the archetype of that mistake with the Bhagvad Gita. Take pieces of what you want, to suit your "experiences" and discard the rest.

  29. Prem Dhan says:

    Bhakti is far from anything-goes. It may start from anything-goes like all the other yogas, but it purifies you along the way and does not encourage being stuck at the start. At the end it is also union, not anything-goes. The bhakti literature related to Meera vividly helps one to understand the consequences of the fire of Bhakti, operating in a very similar way to the fire of Yoga mentioned in Gheranda Samhita. It is a very definite path as much as hatha yoga. Differences are only in minor personal adjustments and its not anything-goes. It purifies you, melts you and makes "you" disappear. You progress surely to that singularity, objectivity, enlightenment and again certainly not anything-goes. And ofcourse it has its own set of very definite unique samadhi experiences such as bhava samadhi.

    And Bhakti is one path where nothing is renounced formally certainly not enlightenment. And it is not just singing kirtans!