Yoga Will Never Make You Enlightened (Unless You Become a Buddhist!)

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Jan 22, 2011
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…or start putting as much energy into a daily meditation practice as you put into your posture yoga practice. Period.

Why does yoga superstar Rodney Yee call himself a yogi yet encourages people to practice Buddhist meditation? Why do so few yogis practice yogic meditation?

The simple reason is that the renaissance men of modern posture yoga, such as B. K. S. Iyengar, put little emphasis on yogic meditation practices. Consequently, the Western teachers that eventually followed in his footsteps, from Brian Kest to Seane Corn, never emphasized nor have the knowledge to teach the higher lessons of yogic meditation.

Hence, my fellow yogis, if you desire Enlightenment with a capital E, then you better join a Buddhist Sangha where they spend time sitting instead of moving. Or, you can seek out one of those Indian yogis who still knows the art and science of pratyahara, pranayama, dharana, and dhyan—all those teachings you have heard of in class, but most yoga teachers do not have a clue about how to actually teach.

I am not talking abou paratyahara as sense withdrawal practice by staying away from watching too much sensationalist news on TV, see too many gratuitous violent movies, or surf the net at all odd hours of the day.

I am talking about pratyahara as part of your meditation practice, an inner technique in withdrawing the mind from the external world, so that one may enjoy the mind as it is blissfully reflected in the lake of its own inner essence.

I am talking about the process in meditation that prepares for and precedes your focusing on your breath and your mantra and your carefully chosen chakra. In other words, the process of meditation that distinguishes yogic meditation from TM meditation, for example.

That is, the process of meditation which enables the mind to withdraw the senses from the external world before you actually start meditating. In TM, you simply meditate by repeating a mantra. In yogic meditation—the way Patanjali intended but not prescribed in any detail—you prepare the mind through pratyahara before you actually commence the deeper process of meditation on your mantra, which is then synchronized with its inner meaning, its sacred sound, your breath and your chosen chakra (istha chakra).

That’s yogic meditation. That is at least one important aspect of yogic meditation. And you won’t learn that process in most yoga studios. Because most yoga studios do not teach the spiritual and meditative aspects of yoga.

Most yoga studios teach posture yoga. And the goal of posture yoga is not Enlightenment with a capital E. The goal of most posture yoga is to have better abs, a slimmer body, experience deeper relaxation and more general wellbeing.

That said, many yoga studios do teach pranayama, which is also part of the yoga of Enlightenment. However, the hatha yoga pranayama taught in most yoga studios is not intended for Enlightenment either, it is intended to energize the body and control the bodily airs, or vayus. Its main purpose is to increase wellbeing and health.

Spiritual pranayama (also termed raja yoga or rajadhirajayoga pranayma), as it was taught by Astavakra (ca. 400 BCE) and the tantric sages that preceded him, uses mantra and concentration synchronized with the breath to achieve sublime states of bliss.

It has a different goal than hatha yoga pranayama—its goal is to merge breath and mind in the ocean of Cosmic Consciouness. Its goal is not to exert mental force to control the body but rather to synchronize body and mind so that mind can merge with Spirit.

Because such techniques are not taught in most yoga studios, those yogis who seek Enlightenment, those who seek the deeper spiritual experiences of life, they go elsewhere to seek self-transformation. They become Buddhists, for example.

Yes, why is it that so many yoga students who have spiritual aspirations frequently quote teachers who hardly, if ever, spend time doing headstand and peacock posture—people like Thich Nath Hanh and the Dali Lama? Simply because you don’t need a yoga mat or a Rodney Yee yoga video to pursue the path of spirituality or to become Enlightened.

But you do need some form of spiritual practice.

Indeed, many of the great saints of yoga and Buddhism—people like Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Mai Ma, Milarepa and Marpa—they spent very little time doing yoga postures.  Instead they spent a whole lot of time meditating. An amazingly whole lot.

Milarepa locked himself in a cave for many years until he looked green from eating nothing but nettle soup. In other words, he had to do his home work before being considered the greatest yogi this side of the Buddha.

Ramana Maharshi meditated in his cave until ants started eating at his butt so fiercely that some of his disciples had to remove him and tell him he had better things to do—such as teaching others the art of spiritual Enlightenment.

However, there are other Enlightened yogic sages that took a more heart-centered approach to Enlightenment, such as poets Kabir and Mirabai. They danced and sang their way to Enlightenment, but not with any less fierceness as these other yogis. They often spent sleepless nights singing or chanting their bhakti hearts out to their chosen Beloveds, namely Rama and Krishna.

The point is, then fellow yogis, if you want more than what you got, if you desire more than what you got beneath your organic yogi pants, then meditation, either in half or full lotus, will have to become more frequently practiced than the yoga poses you have been used to doing.

Moreover, you’ll have to seek out a teacher or guru who knows how to teach you the lessons required to bring the mind beyond the body and into the realm of Spirit. Unless you just want to read your way into Enlightenment, which most yogis worthy of their sacred mantras would say is next to impossible.

Or, like so many other yogis, you can become a Buddhist. Or a Sufi. But why pick another path when yoga already has all you need? And more!


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.


63 Responses to “Yoga Will Never Make You Enlightened (Unless You Become a Buddhist!)”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Platitudes… thinly velied conceit… shameful waste of time… everyone at EJ shoots from the same place… everyone has answers… myopic pursuit of page views… dull… Mindlessly… stupid.

    Get out of bed the wrong side this morning did we Mat?

    If you were right, and there were conceit and contempt in this article (you're not), at least it would be thinly veiled (in the name of Ahimsa, remember that?)

    Actually it is written by a sincere, devoted, purist practitioner… so you couldn't be more wrong ironically.

    Your reply to Ramesh's sincere writing does not attempt to veil *your* conceit and contempt, and for that you should look at yourself. You may believe yourself to be 'above' EJ and it's 'stupidity', but here you are reading and commenting – in a totally negative, unconstructive manner.

  2. Ramesh says:

    TamingAuthor, great point about yoga being open to people from all religious traditions….

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    I disagree respectfully. I do agree with your point #1. Let me say also that "who am I to say this or that is not Buddhism". I will say that this notion of melding Buddhism with psychology is nonsense in that psychology is not a yoga…meaning a practice one does. It is a set of theories about behavior. I would also say… that to say that psychology is our "western" culture is not accurate. Psychology is a science not a cultural practice infused into the society. It is for those who attend Universities and write books. It is not practiced by you and me as a means of making ourselves better humans. Psychology is not western in the sense that for eaxample Tibetans are infused with Buddhism and westerners are not infused with psychology…if that makes sense. Inregard to Hindu-Yoga and its alleged influence on Tantric Buddhism…Both you and Ramesh need to find a Tantric Nyingma, Sakya or Kagyu Lama of Tibetan decent and ask the origin of Buddhist Tantra. Then take his or her answer and believe it to be the actual origin. Why would the origin of Tantric Buddhism be other than the Buddha? Because you and Ramesh, as well as hundreds of western anthropologists say so?

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    This so-called melding of psychology and Buddhism is humorous. Buddhism is boundless. psychology is a science which is evolving. Because we say it is evolving means that it is subject to change. Therefore it is impermanent. If we are under the illusion that we are bringing together Buddhism and psychology then why would we dilute Buddhism with a lesser school? Like mixing shit into a glass of perfectly good wine. I would also say that any attempt to meld Buddhism with psychology is impossible as you may have psychology to mix but I would doubt that whoever is doing the mixing does not know Buddhism. Buddhism swallows up psychology.

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    Ramesh….I will say it again. Go and find a Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu Ngakpa Tantric Lama, of Tibetan descent, practitioner and ask them the time and origin of Buddhist Tantra. Why would there be any other answer? Because you say so? Or 100 anthropologists say so? Your timeline on the historical Buddha and Tantra is wrong. You read too much. Your view is limited by scholarly opinions. Go and ask authentic practioners. But you discount those Lamas and Ngakpas as ignorant zealots who do not know the history of the Buddha? Furthermore…I challenge you to show me one Shaivite-Hindu or any other Yogic or Buddhist text originated in India, not a western interpretation, that supports your claim that the Buddha"s Tantra was borrowed from Hindusim, for no better term…..I am waiting

  6. vanessaf says:

    Ramesh, how do you know?

  7. Ramesh says:

    How do I know what?

  8. NotSoSure says:

    Great article. Full disclosure, I am a Hatha yogi. I am also a nightstand Buddhist meaning that I read about Buddhism in order to avoid actually practicing Buddhism. I wholeheartedly agree that the purely physical postural yoga taught is most studios today is missing the point. Not to mention waters down the practice and does a great disservice to my fellow yogis.

    But I do have a couple of quibbles. For me at my best, postural yoga is a meditation in action. Hatha yoga can/does bring calmness, awareness,sense withdrawal, concentration etc. And the fact that I have gotten stronger and can now beat up most Buddhists is just a bonus on my path to peace and enlightenment.

    Quibble 2: BKS Iyengar himself said that for the first thirty years his yoga practice was purely physical. However,the yoga he has been teaching since the 70’s evolved to be not primary concerned with the physical but the spiritual/mental/internal. Read “Light on Life” and you will understand how Mr. Iyengar believes that Hatha yoga is indeed a vehicle to enlightenment.

    Please keep up the insightful posts here on EJ. You are quickly becoming one of my favorite reads.

  9. Ramesh says:

    NotSoSure, thanks for your comments. Regarding quibble 1: i agree, postural yoga is by its very nature meditative, and it has all the mental effects you are describing. I agree. Imagine, then, how more meditative your asana practice could become if you had more advanced meditative tools to use during asana practice. There are levels of proficiency and experience in hatha yoga, so also in raja yoga, in the various meditative practices. if you practice the whole shebang, each aspect of yoga will reinfoce the other in a very harmonious way.

    Quibble # 2: As in my answer in #1, imgaine then if Iyengar had practiced a more meditative form of yoga from the beginning. Imgaine what an impact that would have had on him, and, more importantly, on how people would practice yoga in the West. It's never too late, as they say, better to start earlier than later, so add meditation to your practice, books are not enough, the rewards will be amazing!

  10. NotSoSure says:

    Ramesh, I cannot argue with the points in your response. And being contrary by nature I would love to make an argument. Bugger.

    As I said at my best my Hatha practice is meditative. But like most yogis, I am very often not at my best. Often my practice, like many/most Hatha yogis, degenerates into ego driven gymnastics.

    So why can’t I like so many others not make the leap from the mat to a complimentary mediation practice? Probably because I am still too addicted to the distractions (mental modifications) and fear what would come up in the silence of mediation.

    Please excuse me now, I’m going to stand on my head while forcing my legs into bone breaking, tendon snapping contortions.

  11. Silvar Elbsumas says:

    So you reach enlightenment in what ever way you do. Then what?

  12. […] the vajrayana we are presented with the full-blown enlightened view; and the path is simply the invitation to step into that view. So this unstained child is […]

  13. Kimstetz says:

    Ramesh, your title put a smile on my face! I couldn't agree with you more. 7 years into asana practice I was lucky to spend a weekend with David Nichtern for a required yoga TT at OM and loved the Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices. This has reshaped my teachings and put me on a clear path with daily meditation and what I am actually doing while on the cushion and off. Been 10 years of regular meditation practice since that weekend and I don't know want to know what happens without it.