There’s been much discussion about a certain style of yoga based on a Tantric perspective, who’s well-known teachers have been lately leaving that system for reasons that are a bit mysterious. I’d like to explore a potential reason.
The word “Tantra” has been applied to a process of development of yoga in India, from possibly prehistoric times to it’s “golden age’ in Kashmir around the 11th – 13th century of our common era. The word has many meanings – “to weave” – as in to weave threads of various practices into an ever-expanding tapestry. It has been called “The great synthesis” or “process” for much the same reasons; cross-fertilization of ideas. In our age of great separation, a time in which even ideas can by copy-written and intellectual property rights expand each year, I think it’s time to take a look at what’s up.
A system, as defined by webster’s dictionary, is:
“An organized set of doctrines, ideas, or principles usually intended to explain the arrangement or working of a systematic whole <the Newtonian system of mechanics>”
A system is a closed loop. An example of a system is what is in your computer allowing the screen to show these words. Chances are the system you are using is proprietary – you can’t just go in and change things around within the code of the OS to suit you. You can’t do that because the system is closed.
If the operating instructions in your computer were Open Source, you would be able to add to, modify and change how it works, and then offer that to others. If you were skillful, over time you may create an even more refined Open Source software. This modification, evolution and sharing is Tantra – to synthesize ideas, to share, to weave threads of new understanding together.
Another way to look at it is your Mom’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. You are free to modify that recipe, because your Mom loves you and gave you the recipe with no strings attached. You could also say the strings go back to her mother, and her mother’s mother and so on, the recipe being modified along the way. Any ideas of owning the recipe would be strange, because of the recognition that the “lineage” of baking is in fact a shared human experience, and doesn’t stop with your mom. By giving you the recipe, your mom is practicing Tantra. (Don’t tell her though!)
There are no Tantric yoga systems. It is a logical impossibility. A closed system cannot be modified. It may be changed, but only from the top down (i.e. versions 1.1 from the software developer) The only way for a style of yoga to support a claim that it is Tantric is to allow the teachers of that style to modify, evolve and share their interpretations of that style of yoga. This does not diminish the value of the original articulation, any more than John Coltrane’s rendition of “My favorite things” diminished the original recording. If anything, his take on the original recording makes it that much more fresh to my ears.
Fear of violating imposed intellectual property rights – which are really just a taking of a piece of our cultural and intellectual commons and selling it back to us – hinders the natural expansion and evolution of the practices of yoga. (For a much deeper look at the underlying paradigms we live with, read Charles Eisenstein’s “Ascent of Humanity” – available online).
Thomas Jefferson may have said it best:
“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”
So, you could say exclusive property in the realm of ideas is just plain un-American. Thomas Jefferson’s explanation of the flowering of and idea is almost identical to the Tantric view of the expansion of consciousness – as it expands, it does so without lessening itself in any way.
When the creative impulse is stifled, the spirit yearns for freedom. The bright and creative would be the first to flee a constrictive system. This is so unfortunate because those individuals could instead have been instrumental in evolving and shaping the creation.
A friend of mine who is a certified teacher, clearly concerned with the flight of other certified teachers asked, (and I paraphrase) “So, am I going to find out something about this system in a few years that will make me want to leave?”
With all of our differences, we share a common source. This is the understanding of yoga. Where does our creativity and our creations – music, melody, philosophy – come from if not from this source? We’ve been claiming ownership over many things for a long time – property, people, ideas… for cripes sake there are six flags on the moon. Perhaps this grasping has been necessary – a birth contraction. Now there is an opportunity for the more conscious among us to begin to balance this contraction with expansion – letting go.
I think the response to my friend’s question is, the problem does not lie within the system. The problem is the system. My personal hope is that great teachers – all teachers – instead of branding new styles of yoga, continue to give the gift of their understanding, woven with love and gratitude.
Dan Clement is the director of Open Source yoga 200/500 hr. teacher training in British Columbia, Canada and author of “Teaching Hatha Yoga”. In addition to training teachers in this inclusive and evolving method, Dan writes and records songs, plays the banjo and enjoys a good session of Frisbee with his dog. Dan has been teaching yoga since “times of yore”. For more information visit here.
This article was prepared by Jennifer Cusano in support of the Elephant Yoga Editorial Staff.