Let’s Get Dirty Together: Towards Ecology in Spirituality and Medicine

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on May 16, 2011
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By Matthew Remski, Scott Petrie, and Jason Hirsch

A continuation of the yoga 2.0 Eight Limbs series. This article is a discussion of sauca: commonly translated as “purity”. The scope is broad: from the origins of asceticism to the biomedical view of the body; from the Oracle at Delphi and Ayurveda to the emergence of ecological medicine and spirituality. Enjoy the ride, and please offer your thoughts below.


The fact of self-loathing in the Yoga Sutras: 2.40

We have remarked repeatedly on the now-perverse view of Patanjali in Yoga Sutra 2.40, which states that the goals of purification (sauca) are to make you see how disgusting (jugupsa) your body is, how disgusting the bodies of others are, and to dissuade your deluded interest in contact with them. Swami Satchidananda translates the verse as: “By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies.”

In case we are tempted to apply the deodorant of apology to this stinker, Vyasa, Patanjali’s core commentator, clears up any ambiguity. When the yogi realizes, says Vyasa, that no amount of purification will ultimately cleanse his inherently impure flesh, why would he ever want to have sex with another, who might be even more filthy, given the fact that they are likely less virtuous? Vyasa hits it all of the ascetic themes at once: the body’s inherent dirt, the extra filth of non-virtuous people, and how dangerous and disgusting it would be to sleep with them. He unwittingly describes how the neurosis of personal cleanliness will infect our perception of the other.

Regardless of the esteem one holds for Patanjali’s incredible work and lineage, this aphorism cannot survive present knowledge. This particular yogic view on cleanliness is worse than irrelevant in our time. Even in its vestiges, it tacitly supports the alienating principles that mar the biomedical model. Covering it over or apologizing for it is disingenuous. We either have to ignore it, or radically revise it, and be honest and confident in doing so, as Nischala Joy Devi is with her interpretative version quoted by Ramesh Bjonnes a few weeks ago:  ““Through simplicity and continual refinement, the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the self within.”

Because we are postmodern readers, it is possible to read 2.40 ironically, against its original intention, so that it does not promote what most of the educated world would deem a destructive view.  The ironic re-reading might be: “Obsession with purification will reflect and promote a dissociative hatred of self and other.” In this reading, everyday truths of modern psychology emerge. Cleanliness can be a control-fantasy. Fascination with purity can break relationships. Purity-fetish and self-disgust can merge in instances of disordered eating, hypochondria, and psychosomatic sensitivity disorders.

In other words, we can be creative, and read Patanjali as though he’s describing a problem (uncleanliness), or as though he’s critiquing the potential neurosis of its solution (purity-fetish). Unfortunately, he intends the first.

But why is his attitude towards the body so negative? How does our natural impulse for orderliness, which we share with any nesting creature, bootstrap itself into this disgust for the body? The robin doesn’t arrange her nest and groom herself to become enlightened to her self-loathing. She does it because it’s pleasurable. Where do we jump overboard into this caustic sea of metaphysics and cleaning products?


Population density, disease taboos, and the birth of asceticism: a speculative history

Patanjali is compiling his aphorisms in a period of baffling social change. Along with other thinkers of the Axial age, who give rise to the roots of every modern philosophy, he is attempting to digest enormous shifts in the scope of human identity and consciousness.

The issues begin sociologically. Population density is swelling, which brings alien cultures into proximity. New diseases are communicated between previously isolated groups. Additional fears of cultural and gene-pool pollution arise. Various taboos are instituted, and those under taboo are often thought of as “unclean”. In the Indus valley and beyond, Vedic culture institutionalizes these taboos, giving birth to the caste system, which separates out hereditary lines and social roles. With time, settled agriculture and urbanization bring epidemics unknown to tribal life. Growing population density also increases the economic liability of childbearing. The conscious split between sexual pleasure and reproduction deepens. Mating can become “unclean” through its tendency to both violate social law and overburden detribalizing domestic structures.

These logistical issues provoke transcendent visions. The old Vedic reliance upon rta (rhythm, seasonality, everything in its proper place) cannot absorb the groundswell of social change, and becomes insufficient to quell the dread of disorder. Priestly culture responds by upping the ante of caste, taboo and ritual until an inevitable backlash occurs. The ascetics respond by rising up and dropping out. They proclaim freedom from caste, and allegiance to a deeper, non-denominational, apolitical identity: the individual soul, or atman. The poetry of the Upanishads is uttered, and then written on leaves in forest retreats.

The ascetic movement is a strange blend of rebellion, intellectual brilliance, universalism, poetic reverie, anti-social behaviour, and bodily dissociation. It develops a spiritualized escape for the social danger that previous centuries of exploding population density had exposed. Traumatized by the claustrophobia of civilization, and enamoured by the incorruptible atman, ascetics begin to describe the flesh itself as a liability, a vestment worn by the soul that hides its glory and true romantic purpose: something that must be cleansed to the point of transparency, or death. The body becomes a central problem, at most to be used as a vehicle for understanding that it is ultimately worthless.

The ascetic body-meme might be familiar with those of Christian heritage, who have been told that the ultimate expression of a body’s worth is for it to be tortured and executed – for the purification of immorality. The Christ cannot be contained by flesh, it would seem, and so his flesh must therefore be pierced and bled for its divine essence to be unbound. Jesus’ body is crucified because it is a body. To this day, in many yogic streams, the body is also a sign of fallenness, and extreme measures are necessary to hoist it back up, or to abandon it altogether.

Perhaps, along the way, a process of psychological transference takes hold that actually confirms the disease taboo: as your body is to your spirit, so becomes someone else’s body to your body: a contagious pollutant. The internal splitting of spiritual and bodily selves can then mirror interpersonal frictions. Heavy dualism envelops the body in conflict, from within and without. Long gone are the halcyon days of the original matriarchal and wildcrafted ayurveda, in which the body expressed an assumed harmony with the earth and its currents. The ascetic view begins with disillusionment as this harmony breaks down through wave upon wave of civilizing pressure. It sees the world as a cesspool of bodily ferment, to be escaped at all costs.


Ayurveda: ancient eco-medicine


Ayurveda, which predates the Yoga formalized by Patanjali by a millennium or more, was originally a medicine of connectivity. It belonged to an earlier order of consciousness, in which the bodymind contained and expressed elemental forces, all of which were necessary for the coherence between persons and places. There is no concept of inherent filth in early Ayurveda, nor is there an obsessive desire to escape it. Rather, the body courses with tissues-in-development (what we would call flesh), and tissues-in-dissolution (what we would call wastes). There are no literal “wastes” in Ayurveda, in the sense of useless and toxic byproducts of metabolism. Sweat (which we currently deodorize) has an inherent cleansing function, especially to fat tissue. Urine (which we currently dispose of in drinking-quality water) regulates bodily heat and glandular balance. Stool (at which we currently turn up our noses so reflexively we rarely assess the efficiency of our digestion) gives the grounding of earth element where it is most needed – the quivering hollowness of the colon.

In Ayurveda, the only filth that the body contains is accumulated from overuse, circulatory suppression, and the inefficient digestion (ama) of inimical experience.  In other words: the body is just fine when in natural relationship. This is a view that predicts the most powerful medical realizations of the 20th century, as we’ll suggest below. The ascetic view suggests the opposite: that the body, as a natural entity, is flawed from the outset by change and corruption, and its continued relationship with what is natural can only make it worse. This “problem” of the living body is solved only by its death, which is the end of conscious relationship.


Purification gets you into the temple, where you find yourself all alone

Another sentiment lurking behind 2.40 might be the nostalgia for invisible gods. Most purification rites in Patanjali’s day had been and would continue to be induction practices for temple worship. What has come down into our culture as “putting on our Sunday best” originated with intense cleansing rituals that allow the supplicant to be made presentable to an assumed spiritual presence.

Patanjali’s era straddles the decline of the tribal gods of the Vedic pantheon, the appropriation of these same gods into the Trimurti (Brahma, Visnu, and Siva), and the divinization of mythic heroes.  His Axial Age is a period of intense philosophical exploration, in part because the old gods of the forests and mountains have been shut out of the city walls, and have lost their voices to legal codes and writing. And the new gods have not yet found stable enough institutions to wrap themselves around. Patanjali is writing in an era of theological flux, in which the devas and sprites and elohim of former generations have vanished into empty altars and silent books.

The impact here upon cleansing is speculative, but surely worth further exploration: the farther you feel you are from the intimacy of divine help, the more you may have to scrub yourself clean in order to re-establish the connection.

Further speculation: although ascetic lineages such as Jainism, Yoga, and Buddhism built themselves in part upon a stalwart rejection of the ritualism (including, for some yogis at least, purity-rituals) of the late-Vedic and Brahminical periods, it might be argued that they simply internalized the meme of “the pure”. Whereas once the yagna or temple was a site of material and (somewhat) shared purity, now the individual body became the site upon which they struggled to establish an isolated spiritual purity. (In this, we might find the root of the homestatic body, upon which much of our biomedicine is based.)

purity can be a zero-sum game

The problem with purification is that if you think the body is inherently unclean and separating you from god, the only bathing ritual that can really satisfy you is the one in which you drown. Purity, whether physical or metaphysical, is an impossible ideal removed from real interaction with the world.  And it doesn’t strengthen us, individually, or socially.

Take our present fetish for hand-sanitizers. We’re starting to realize that they are simply provoking viral mutation and weakening our physical immunity. Similarly, the neurotic cleansing of an identity soiled by a legacy of dirty karma might well depress psychological immunity, by increasing paranoia and diminishing self-esteem. Cleanliness seems to hit an asymptote en route to both bodily health and enlightenment. The closer you get to purity on either path, the farther you get from dynamic immunity and personal integrity, which are both a kind of attunement between self, other, and world.

The annals (anals?) of ascetic history are littered with stories of sects battling to out-purify each other. The cleanest group is always the smallest and least relevant to the rest of humanity. At the top of Mount Sparkle sits some sorry fellow on a sterilized zafu, gritting his teeth to hold his poop, wiping away his lonely tears with a handful of sani-wipes.


The atman and the biomedical magic bullet

Vestigial beliefs in the “pure” dating back to the ascetic era may well be interfering with our health and well-being today. We don’t think that the cleanliness we commonly practice today relies on spirit-matter splits, caste taboos, or metaphysical escape-plans such as the atman. But it does, through the biomedical model that has enjoyed prominence since the late Renaissance. To this day, biomedicine embodies key aspects of the ascetic ideal: isolate the person from their environment, isolate people from each other on the basis of income, and meditate hard on the possibility of miracle cures. But there is a new medicine brewing – “eco-medicine” – that is increasingly informed by social considerations that express collective intelligence in the face of shared epidemiological threats.

Biomedicine is starting to show its weaknesses. A different approach is forming through an emergent eco-epidemiology, along with contemporary holistic health. We are starting to accept the fact that we need to include the social and ecological spheres in all of our health considerations.  Hearkening back to Ayurveda, holistic health understands and treats a homeodynamic body, in which the internal state is in constant fluid relationship with the external environment.  (For more on homeodynamism, see this report by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine — a short and superb read for anyone interested in health.) The primary view of the homeodynamic model is the environment and our social relationship to it. In the homeodynamic model, there is no body that you can permanently shield from its context with drapes and barriers and vaccines. (Read: There is no shining, extractable atman that you can protect from the corruptible world with prayers and solitary retreats. There’s just relationship.)

The difference between these two approaches – body-as-ecology, and body-as-isolated-fortress – can be told through the sibling rivalry of the two daughters of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine: Hygeia (who de-divinizes into “hygiene”) and Panakea (who de-divinizes into “panacea”). Hygeia inspires social cooperation towards a shared improvement of health, while Panakea seeks out the magic bullet for human impurities, whether in the form of a universal spiritual principle like atman, or – in the industrial era and afterwards – a vaccine, or antiobiotic.

Hygeia, in "Medicine" by Klimt, 1901.

The goddess Hygeia was recognized by the Oracle at Delphi immediately following the Plague of Athens (430-427 BCE), and over time became identified with the Italian goddess Salus, who governed social welfare. The worship of Hygeia expressed not only a shared wish for safer health conditions, but also a tacit realization that epidemics come not through inherent bodily filth, but from imbalanced relationship, and are healed through rebalancing. The anthropology agrees, showing that major shifts in human economy – hunting-gathering to settled agriculture, settled agriculture to early cities, and early cities to industrial cities – are always followed by precipitous drops in the health of the group, only then to be followed by a long, slow climb back up to better health – the result of an adaptive process that makes use of plain old better living standards.

Hygeia makes her modern appearance as “hygiene” in the Europe of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when infectious diseases are running rampant on the heels of industrial urbanization.  The Sanitary Movement arises in England and France, fronted by doctors who lobby for greater public cleanliness. Hygiene was thus a social response to an environmental problem. The human community comes together and literally cleans the shit out of the streets. It is an incredibly effective communal evolution in health, based upon problem-solving at the level of relationship, rather than self-scrubbing neuroticism.

But whenever Hygeia makes social advances, Panakea is brewing up physically fortuitous, but philosophically problematic solutions. Just as the “universality” of atman is discovered by the rebels of the ascetic movement and is deployed to combat the onslaught of spiritual and bodily defilements, the Industrial era witnesses the discovery of the universalizable germ theory of disease. The refinement of vaccination – a panacea – quickly follows, which is so starkly effective at eradicating infectious diseases that the biomedical model upon which it operates is elevated to near-religious status.

The biomedical body comes to be seen as a fortress to be protected against outside invaders.  When something gets in, you have to attack it through self-mortification (penitential pharmacology) to cleanse it, restoring self-contained balance (homeostasis).  In biomedicine there is little concern for healing interaction between the body and its environment, and so the environment and social space both come to be seen as areas less worthy of investigation. The antisocial streams of yoga take the same position.

On the medical side, the mistake has become plain to see. In 1970, Thomas McKeown published massive statistical evidence on the fight against infectious disease in industrial England, showing that while biomedical vaccines did indeed effectively contain viral contagion, most of them only arrived after the biggest reductions in mortality had already occurred through generalized health improvements. His findings were earth-shattering because biomedicine predicated its glory on the very same period. Researchers have since followed in McKeown’s steps to show that the basic practices of communal hygiene, public sanitation, and nutrition were by far the more important ingredients of health improvement.

Of course, Hygeia insists on equitable wealth distribution, rather than the specialized work of the lab or the temple. By contrast, Panakea promotes the divinely inspired or lab-invented miracle, to be administered universally from a central authority. Usually someone makes a lot of money. But if the panacea works at all, it’s because it rests on top of an infrastructure of general social welfare, which biomedicine usually ignores. The magic bullet is always a lot easier to shoot than the public-works project is to fund and implement. But in the end, it is public works health projects that elevate us all. Because real filth doesn’t come from caste or alienation from god, or even from one virus as distinct from another. Real filth comes from the inequality that depresses our collective immunity.


Ascetic medicine for contemporary disease?

Our dominant health rhetoric today suggests that lifestyle improvement will beat chronic disease: diet, exercise, smoking cessation.  This is the medical field’s attempt to respond to the anti-biomedical sentiment that followed the publication of McKeown, Ivan Illich, and even a world-famous report from the Canadian Ministry of National Health and Welfare (Lalonde Report, 1974).  The medical field is currently saying: “Yes, look: we are now seeing beyond the body to the environment!” But while it’s true that diet and exercise and smoking are considerations beyond the germ theory, the upshot of lifestyle-health is as old as Patanjali’s 2.40. The message is: you are unhealthy because you are corruptible, unvirtuous, and attracted to impure things.

The current healthy-lifestyle focus is no different from a pure germ-theory approach. We are still using the ascetic model of the body as a fortress to be protected from invaders. Fat, salt, smoke and sloth are the current invaders, where once it was cholera microbes, or malefic spirits. We still neglect the broader environment in our investigation, because of this individualized view of the body’s salvation. We can’t see how small a shift we have made from health that is the domain of the body alone, to health as the domain of “the body and its direct inputs and behaviours.” We can’t see that we are asking ourselves to be gatekeepers against disease agents entering our bodies, while swimming in a cesspool of chemicals and stress that generates enormous profits for people who, like gods, we never see or know. We can’t see that we are unhealthy mainly because we have built an unhealthy society. In 1986, Canadian Health Minister Jake Epp wrote: “…we cannot invite people to assume responsibility for their health and then turn around and fault them for illnesses and disabilities which are the outcome of wider social and economic circumstances.”We should strive for the same clarity in our yoga discourse, with regard to the difference between personal and communal karma.


Sibling rivalry: coping with change

By the grace of the daughters of Asclepius, we have two opposing visions of health strategy.  Each arises in response to our historical wealth and population explosions, some of which we’ve outlined – axial India and Greece, Industrial Europe, and Post-War consumerist global village. In physical terms, these explosions bring, respectively, the diseases of early cities (E.coli, et al), industrial cities (cholera, et al), and suburbs (diabetes, et al).

Metaphysical health strategies arise in a parallel arc, married to the same anthropological shifts. Tribalism through to early agriculture focuses on balanced relationship to maintain natural order and console the stress of rhythmic change. Ascetic scholasticism arises to cauterize the wound of consciousness-complexity that urbanization brings, along with its disease of existential realization. Currently, a spirituality of connectivity is emerging to confront the diseases of alienation.

Through these arcs, we can see that the vision that worships Panakea is held in varying degrees by Patanjali, ascetic culture in general, and later, biomedicine.  It is based on the trauma of dealing with massive social and consciousness changes, and it consists largely of separating from newness and complexity to concentrate on the control of internal variables. It can tend towards control fantasies.  It can play with reductionist generalization and miracle cures, both metaphysically and medically, to keep reality within a realm it thinks it can control.  This reductionism can become religious and/or neurotic, because it knows subconsciously that its control is always on the verge of failure.

The vision that worships Hygeia is held by the Greeks, the Sanitary Movement epidemiologists, the ecosocial epidemiologists, and holistic practitioners.  It is based on relationship and balance. It believes in trial-and-error in the restoration of harmony, gradually rebuilding the way we live together on the levels of public policy and community action to regain balance with the natural world.

Of course, the biomedical model has produced as many wonders for the body as the ascetic model has produced for cognitive theory and psychology. They share the power of focus, isolation, and control. The lessons they offer are now ready to be taken up by a new attitude of connectivity and interdependence.


Example: Patanjali, biomedicine, and eco-medicine on the disease of obesity

(Obviously, as Patanjali never addresses the issue of obesity directly, we are left to speculate as to the nature of his thoughts on this modern disease.)

Patanjali: The impure body can’t stop creating more of its disgusting self. Its desires are boundless, its infatuation with materiality is unstoppable. Impurity builds on impurity, to produced ever-thickening attachments to suffering. The atman is ever further enshrouded until the samskaras of delusion are exhausted. This will take an indefinitely long period of time, because the non-virtue of each desire-laden reach for every extra ladoo creates new karmic seeds.

Answer: The yogi must pull himself out of his samsaric cycle of food and filth through great austerity, bitter herbs, devotion to god and discovering the atman, and avoidance of influences that further corrupt his already-corrupted flesh.

Biomedical perspective: Psychological defects, neurological miscommunication, and unvirtuous behaviour such as overeating combine to produce an internal pathology of weak metabolism and diminished organ function.

Answer: The patient should change her diet and outlook, and should exercise more, or she will develop a serious illness, for which she will be responsible.

Eco-medicine: Obesity has numerous interpenetrating causes.  These include: social alienation, food-knowledge breakdown on the level of the family, overproduction of corn syrup manipulated in commercial food-labs to possess addictive qualities, poverty, unemployment, domestic instability, the thrifty metabolism of our ancestors colliding with excess calories, factory farming that squelches local production and produces excess calories, preservation methods designed to maximize profits from excess calorie production, alienation from land and backyard food growing, food derivatives brought to market with little or no testing, and the dissociative fetish for nutritionism (assessing food value through chemistry alone), as opposed to the natural medicines of whole food and wholesome preparation.

Answer: People can work together to change the many social, economic, and personal contexts of obesity, thereby coming to a greater understanding of their health interdependence.


Nobody profits from social hygiene and connective spirituality, but everyone benefits

Looking over the three options above, we can imagine how difficult it would be to manage #3, and make it feasible, especially in relation to options #1 and #2. To be blunt, there is money to be gained in not adopting the social-hygiene perspective.  Simon Szreter points out the tragic story of London’s private water companies employing legal measures to try to block water purification legislation in the mid-19th century. The dynamics of Big Tobacco and cancer research play out a similar scene in our day. Dr. Samuel Epstein’s 1998 The Politics of Cancer, Revisited explores how the big funding agencies (American Cancer Society, etc.) deliberately ignored cancer prevention because it would mean opening a can of whoop-ass on several industries: tobacco, primarily.  The funding agencies, Epstein argues, made a calculated bet that they’d be better off by raising big corporate donations for intervention treatments and miracle cures (Panakea is spinning her web!) than by shedding light on the eco-social issues, calling for wealth equality and cleaning up our air and food, which collectively would constitute political suicide. He also points a finger at the networks that connect the industries of cancer drugs, mammography, tobacco, pesticides and fiberglass in a carcinogenic-industrial complex. It sounds an awful lot like the revolving doors of sin and forgiveness: we pay the same priest for both diagnosis and cure.

The cancer story is one of big money, elite-driven campaigns and centralized authority. It is told by Panakea.  It is very different in substance and tone from the AIDS story, which at least recently tells of citizens’ movements suing governments to force the breakage of international patent law to make medications widely available. But antiretrovirals aren’t the central human story here. With AIDS, the new epidemiology has been field-tested with great success, promoting a sane balance of attention upon lifestyle change, treatment, sophisticated drugs, and root causes like poverty, depletion of natural resources and gender inequality. In stark difference from cancer, the incidence of new AIDS cases is going down. Hygeia is telling the AIDS story, and it is one of grassroots movements and political change.  There is less money to be made when Hygeia speaks, but there is far more benefit.

Cancer work tends to centralize profits, while AIDS work tends to claw away at profits, because eco-medicine is a grassroots, democratic endeavour.  The comparison may well apply to spirituality. The spirituality of profiteers seeks status in making and keeping the temple as a fortress, guarded and interpreted by experts, who are dispensers of miracles and boons. A spirituality of connection, however, tears down the temple walls, shares resources, and threatens profits.  It will be resisted.


A usable translation of YS 2.40

Through both biomedicine and vestigial asceticism, we become unhealthy from three directions.  First, we have such excessive scrubbing in search of the impossible ideals of sterility or enlightenment that our physical and psychological immunity fails.  Second, we so ignore the relevance of the material and social environment that we provoke epidemics of obesity, heart disease, cancer, asthma, food allergies, depression/anxiety, etc.  Third, we collude with the socioeconomic inequalities between people that constitute the best predictors of poor health. The Spirit Level, by Wilkinson and Pickett, is an excellent expose of the plague of the modern caste system.

Just as body-hating asceticism fails to produce happy and well-socialized people (who knew?) the individualism of biomedicine has made halting progress. Both tend to isolate and alienate. Asceticism falls prey to misanthropy. Biomedicine becomes myopic through the medical gaze (cf. Foucault).

Inspired by how eco-medicine has the potential to correct the isolationism of biomedicine, the 2.0 crowd feels it’s time to retranslate ‘sauca’ in a way that reins in dissociative asceticism. We propose that instead of “cleanliness”, which carries the ghost of social separation, or “purification”, which carries the ghost of metaphysical body-hatred, we simply use the word “ecology”. Thus, we offer this remix of 2.40 for consideration:

“Ecology allows you to honour your body, and the bodies of others.”

(This verse is excerpted from threads of yoga: a remix, which we’ll be presenting at Yoga Festival Toronto, on August 20th of this year.)


Mud and burrs and nits

It used to be simpler. For tens of thousands of years, we groomed each other within our extended family groups. Evolutionary biologists now believe that the intimacy of grooming is a key birthplace of complex language. We picked mud and burrs and nits out of each other’s matted hair, and chattered about life, and learned how to share, speculate, and ruminate. It seems that a little dirt brought us all together.


Jason Hirsch provided essential research and co-writing for this article. He has researched in Aboriginal health and eco-social health policy with the Ontario Government.


About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.


13 Responses to “Let’s Get Dirty Together: Towards Ecology in Spirituality and Medicine”

  1. Pradeep Maheshwari says:

    Relevant. This dirt business is behind this refining of food ingredients that has brought so much misery both personal and medical.
    There is nothing such as dirt. As one rises in consciousness everything rearranges in our lives. Physical to the highest we have arrived at.

  2. Open Source says:

    Frisking a decontextualised sutra misleads. Ascetic procedures are not as vivid a portrayal of self loathing as you want. Patanjali does not demand an escalation of commitment from the reader and neither is self-abrogation a heuristic life style model that requires an update from an unwashed crowd. Patanjalis yoga is a pre-Bayesian solution, he suggests that having got to the top of a mountain himself anyone wishing to go hillwalking are best advised to wear appropriate footwear.

  3. Ramesh says:

    A steel brush of a sutra scrub! I love the ecological sensibility you evoke in this blog, but the rather one-sided attack on asceticism smacks of ecological imbalance. There is certainly a historical precedent for ascetic denial and suppression which then leads to oppression and control.
    Patanjali interprets Brahmacarya in the Yamas and Niyamas, the yogic ethical codes, as celibacy, or as some of the Western interpreters do, as "proper use of sexual energy." Brahmacarya has nothing to do with sex, nor energy. Brahmacarya means movement, conduct, behavior in regards to Barhma. Hence, Anandamurti pointed out that the meaning of Brahamacarya is to "behave as if Brahma is in everything, to see Brahma in everything." In other words, a nondual, ecological outlook on life. He also pointed out that priests and monks used this ethical code to their advantage by interpreting it as "celibacy' as a form of superiority complex and thus enforcing social control as spiritual superiors.
    But not all ascetics are body-denying priests, even if they maintain celibacy. In other words, as opensource seem to indicate also, not all ascetics are living in a state of steel-brush-scrubbing denial. Many ascetics are healthy, ecological, well-balanced beings. Now and then. So, while 2.40 is undoubtedly unecological, That said, celibacy can be a healthy or unhealthy habit–it all depends on the individual or the group. Neurotics are found in any group–sexually active or not. So i don't think asceticism is the problem. Rather certain types of ascetics, priests who used religious dogma to their advantage. Happens all the time.
    But I do heartily support the ecological worldview, which I think reflect the below as in the idea that the above is also below, the idea that Shiva and Shakti are always walking hand in hand through life.

  4. luke says:

    Wow, obsessive (on 2.40) is still abusive (distorting the text to “win”).

    One can easily prove the wrongness of that sutra by surveying those who practice saucha. Or one could read on in the ys to discover saucha is also said to result in “purity of sattva, cheerfulness of mind, one-pointedness, mastery over the senses, and fitness for Self-realization (Satchidanada’s trans of 2.41. Yet nothing in this article that while you may find your own parts disgusting, you’re happy and focused), that tapas purifies the body and senses (2.42, that is, the body can be purified- avoid disgust with tapas 🙂 ), and the several places it gives advice on interacting with other people, and lo! Mt. Sparkles, eat shit and live, non-huggers are haters and other 2.0 new absolutes needn’t be so snottily snorted at the text.

    The branding in this article is also a bit silly (like the “Axial Age” of 600 years of “baffling social change”, yet Patanjali was at closest at the end of such a thing, but perhaps missed by 500 years (Bryant puts him at ~300ce; he is usually put at ~200bce-200ce), or the “fact” that puts the body as the Self but references a system that the authors supposedly recognize does not see the body as Self), as is the authors saying they know for sure all about the origin of asceticism (without references and ignoring the shamanic/”tribal” ascetics), as is pretending to decry purification while trying to purify the ys with a “translation” (using the the ys’s popular brand to push an agenda that both saucily opposes yet in practical application agrees with the ys; some kind of weird mashup of lolcatbible with an holistic-healer-atheist-socialist manifesto aimed at a small learned audience that probably already “gets it”), as is talking about embracing environmental health using snotty snot phrases (Mt. Sparkles) as if that really makes us feel good and serves the argument (but hey, disclaimers! so no problem).

    Please enjoy this 8 minute video of various zit poppings http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHGbSRkFh2I

  5. matthew says:

    Ramesh, thanks for reading, and, as always, for lending a Tantric interpretation to the terms at hand.

    Would you not agree, however, that the basic groundwork of the ascetic view involves a withdrawal from relationship, whether sexual or not? Withdrawal from economy, social duty, family? This is where I see the beginning of a lack of ecology. An ecological perspective finds its Self in the Other. The ascetic path seems to try to leave the Other to find the Self. I think it has disturbing implications that continue to confound us.

  6. Under Dog says:

    1) When it comes to his chronological seriation Jasper is using the texas sharpshooter trick 2) Apart from the linguistic and cultural problems that you will be familar with – and although you admit to speculation (bravo for that) you do not go far enough in countermanding your analysis. All you have is incomplete, abstracted, interpreted, unconfirmed, potentially uninformed and possibly incorrect knowledge of the writer, the content, the meaning(s) and intertextuality. You circumnambulate one isolated component for analysis without due regard to the disparity between the way we intellectually perceive the world and the way things actually are. Your extraordinary short focal length here then offers counterfactual definiteness – wheras if we were to take a step back a more amorphous subject would certainly present itself. This article is to the yoga community what the Sokyal Affair was to the science community – although it seems to be rather more of an unintended consequence of having ones nose right up against the wheel. If you are going to commit to the written word as a soteriological enterprise I would suggest that you reveal whatever meaning you prefer to the audience along with a more prominent and explicit disclaimer to that effect. Such a personal rendering of meaning tacitly upholds an authority in the writer, your project and the the growing hegemony of the EJ writing fraternity over those who are already suffering from a type of Dharmic paralysis from having questioned the traditional culture from close range – just like this. When it comes to insight, confusion and vagueness are in the a priori category. Please try harder to allow the more vague and complex situational contexts to fully emerge in your next piece – and perhaps look for a more appropriate venue for these other discussions than the monetised blog model of EJ with its clamour for page views. Your appeal to the populist paradigm is wasting your valuable energy and the universalists valuable time as they search for a more satisfactory solution to their diseasement with Dharma – which I assume they must think is universal too.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Principally, I think its unecological to draw such a separation between the ascetic self and the Other. By doing so you become what you criticize–dualistic. I agree that there's plenty of historical precedent for ascetic dysfunctions in society–the many sadhus who only smoke ganja and beg for food are one example–but there are exceptions, and i would argue that ascetics are a necessary balance to society, worldliness, the Other, materialism, and thus highly ecological. Moreover, withdrawal is part of the spiritual process; it is wholesome to a degree and is needed in order to reenter the world with new insight. Imagine how poor our world would be without Buddha, Ramakrishna, Mirabai, St Theresa, the Dali Lama. I define asceticism as a monk or a nun who are wedded to spirit and serve the world through teaching, song, ecstasy, wisdom and simple living. Highly ecological.

  8. luke says:

    An ordered text doesn’t necessarily imply a causative hierarchy. Layers of importance or usual sequence are I think more likely in the ys. Ignorance is explicitly said to be the basis for the other kleshas (more exactly the field, kshetra, a place where things grow), but no other klesha is said to lead to another. I do not think there is a required dominoes; though it makes some intuitive sense that clinging to life is necessitated by clinging to suffering, egoism and clinging to pleasure are equally arguable as culprits. Saucha is I think placed as the most fundamental niyama, as is ahimsa to the yamas and to the ashtangas (this last point Vyasa gushes about), but one can practice any of them in any order, and though difficult probably most effective to practice all of them.

    Vyasa takes 2.41 as its own series of causes from suci, unconnected to the previous sutra. Vyasa is a superior authority (the supreme authority on the text ought to be I think the text itself (though it under actual experience), but I can see the point that by disassociating with others there comes a purity of being, a take that conveniently meets the needs of awefulizing 2.40 for someone must go to therapy for the series to work, leaving me to wonder why that take was chosen. Further, this take makes svangajugupsa not the “goal” of saucha, but just the first stage of the real “goal”, fitness for Self-realization (and of course “goal” is an actual word used in the ys, artha, cf. 2.2 and a dozen or so other places, so why it would be “goal” and not a consequence (as Vyasa regards it, as does the ablative/pancami case) is, um, a curiosity). Further, such a take on how the sutras connect would seem to say that one has to arrive at the completion of saucha before attempting santosha, supreme joy before attempting tapas, etc (above I erroneously wrote 2.42 for 2.43 :'( ) , which I do not think is the intention.

    And this is what I mean by distorting the text- a particular world/existnetial-view has been applied and claimed to be the accurate filter through which the text is accurately seen, not the text itself, even though the filter makes the text make less sense, and so “prove” the point. It is not Self but one’s own parts that are said to be found disgusting; the ys do not equate the body as the Self. It is not asceticism particularly but small p puritanism, and a consequence not a “goal”. The ys do not prescribe abandoning the world (at the final stages it is the world that abandons/recede from the Self), and do say that a purified mind can be arrived at by moderating one’s re/actions when engaging with people (1.33). Objecting to celibacy or small p purtianism, or saying that practicing saucha does not result in svangajugupsa etc- I disagree but that is not my issue- nudging and twisting a text make it fit saucy talk is .

    The article takes asceticism to be body mortification, or a philosophical position against the body exclusively, not as the meditating saint in the hills (as an ej audience might), who may or may not practice body mortification, and this is where the argument lost me. Ascetic, introspective ideas reenforce if not bringing forth the need for a healthy “outside,” because health supports the inward journey. Asceticism is a natural evolution of introspection and experimentation, and is associated with bringing back wisdom- the vision quest, or the bodhisattva vow, getting through to the peach by promising to teach others the way, etc. The ascetic discovers the dhatus. Bears are ascetics. There are many ways to see those devoted to introspection beyond the body mortifying this article would like.

    The speculative (sorry I missed this word :'( ) history misses much by starting too recently with known unknowns about the ancient world (interface between tribal, nomadic, urban and rural peoples) and not from psychedelics, vision quests and shamanic practices, elders leaving for their fourth stage or final dreamwalk, “wierd tribal practices” of body mutilation and decoration, even sleep deprivation, brain parasites, life span, epigenetics, rape, war and psyhopaths (which is to say there is perhaps an innate need of sorts to “retreat”). It puts much on the vedic/aryan culture and little on what was influencing it (and how this was being influenced), and gives a huge amount of time- be it 500 or 1000 years—in which tumultuous change was happening, and uses examples of things still very much a part of our own time. Body mortification may be evidenced in harappa, and I would be surprised if it wasn’t around then as it is now.

    There is a very old tradition of an intimate (if only believed) relationship with “nature”, bad rulers and not-done sacrifices ruining crops, Pat Robersons are still around, 5000+ years later. Secularists too blame leaders before themselves (“Obama’s war/depression” etc.). Introspection/asceticism puts the burden on the individual to be/do “good”. Though there may be some tipping point where sorrow finds its way to expression, lingual or otherwise, where there is sorrow there is introspection, from which follow asceticism. Vedas and old guys etc stuck around I think because the people listening and following their teaching had established living spaces and a way to record language. These ideas, while articulated differently, and probably better, are not necessarily new.

    Personally I peg greed with the ills of modernity, including modern medicine, but this is just one of any “sin” – but asceticism? No! While you again push your own jiggered take to compare the ys with modern western medicine, I do agree that “cleanliness” is a fine word, particularly with the clutter that so quickly surrounds our materialist culture.

    ekh, late for work.. shame on me too long tee hee

  9. matthew says:

    Hi Ramesh. I appreciate that it takes all types, and that, like in India, there is always room for another one on the bus. I also agree that an oscillation between aloneness and togetherness makes for good personal health on many levels. I also advocate simple living. I suppose i feel that it is very easy for "simple living" to be inspired by a sense of alienation from the social, from relationship. I guess I have a sensitive nose for when withdrawal implies distrust and condemnation, as I have spent many years in and around religious institutions in which the two are colluded. But I salute the Benedictines, for instance, who have put me up for retreat since the age of 15, and make hard cider and cheeses and make bread by hand. And there are many others.

  10. matthew says:

    "Asceticism" may need a workaround, as I reply to luke below, but I generally could have refined it, it's true.

    Ascetic commodification is a rich vein to mine. Looking forward to it.

  11. luke says:

    It is not just a matter of jugupsa getting the ball rolling on the niyamas, but how this approach is used to centralize jugupsa (and not saucha particularly) to “stain” the rest of the sutras and the view they present. A dead horse perhaps, but one I can’t seem to help excusing my himsaism toward… I do see asceticism in cyclical hibernators.

    Stepping back I realize what I was trying to get at on asceticism and your take on the centrality of jugupsa- the history presented has body mortification (or modification as some who use it might describe it) leading to tyranny, whereby absolute domination is the “cure” for suffering, and so too disease , Triumph des Willens etc (finally, Goodwin’s law 🙂 ), for as the body is the most at-hand object to control, embracing it’s subjugation has broader implications to what the individual is, and thus how its environment is approached. This is compelling, but I think puts the cart’s occasional baggage (alongside hedonism) before the horse, with an attitude predisposed to subjugation (etymonline.com:early 15c., from L.L. subjugationem (nom. subjugatio), from L. subjugatus, pp. of subjugare “to subdue,” lit. “bring under a yoke,” from sub “under” + jugum (see jugular).(!!) = jugupsa! (not really, it is close to cittavrtti-nirodha though, but I wonder…), do see jugular and its related zygote for more logs on the union-vs-joining pyre (both are related to ‘yoga’)) incidentally preceding mortification, convinced as I am that ignorance/egoism/clinging are the point from which suffering begins, aswell as causing oneself and others to suffer. This also this leaves experimentation-experience out of the picture as modes preceding mortification, modes of thinking/action that imo are central to the creation of the ys, and to its practicality, which color what mortification does occur in a much different way than would lead to the tyrannical path, though perhaps if true would always be a danger (as so many things are).

    I read the ys as descriptive (experiment-experience), not prescriptive (subjugation) which is how it was introduced to to me why I found/find it so appealing, so this is my own lens (and probably why I’ve gone on a bit against the absoluteness of things “worse than irrelevant” that “cannot survive present knowledge”; for instance I avoided hanging out with my heroin-using (former) friends not because they were polluted lessers, but because I didn’t want to start using heroin), and I think the text supports this view, yet I wonder how prescription or the perception of prescription can really be avoided in any purposed statement (brush your teeth! nasya karma thrice a week! vs. teeth rot and head pains can be avoided by semi regular nasya karma).

    The ys has many do-this-then-thises, and obstacles and afflictions, but they are to a particular end: no thou-shalts-or-elses without explanation based exclusively on Authority; while devotion to Ishvara is given much lauding, Ishvara is described not as a giver-taker of justice and things, but “merely” as an omniscient teacher outside time’s and action’s bounds; no best or only path is suggested to get to freedom, and those offered are of many stripes and for-different-folks; social actions are given at the level the individual can actually manifest, so while giving, sharing and social equality aren’t mentioned at all, there is not stealing that is the way to wealth, a fenceless approach to property (aparigraha), no reinforcement of social class, and no mention of leadership; and of course ahimsa, so while the gunas may recede from the “done”, one’s actions should not support violence that could be done to them, and further it recognizes that the farmer can’t force seeds to grow, but can only set good conditions for them; in short while yoga is said to be bringing under control or to order the various stuff of experience, it is presented and practiced in a frame of experiment-experience, not of unquestioning prescriptivist subjugation. If it is all just to “get out of here,” why was there a bother to compose the text in the first place?

    Which is all to say that while certainly significant parts of all ancient culture nourished a subjugation-mentality, it is not something that ought to be placed on anything of that time just because that is the dominant narrative, and more particularly that 2.40, at least the contextualized sentiment contained therein, probably has nothing to do with making the subjugation-mentality and avoidance of so much of modern life suffers from (as in the our actual apocalypse, the melting world, beeless and greed filled).

    btw, do you know the clinical name of the pathology(?) where a person won’t let anything exit his/her body (vis your sterile teeth gritter)?

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