Anusara: The Great Chasm. ~ Richard Hudak

Via elephant journal
on Mar 22, 2012
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A great chasm, or rather canyon, separates the Yoga Coalition and the Kula Evolution

After reading Betsey Downing and Suzie Hurley’s Honoring Truth on elephant journal, and having had a few days to reflect Bernadette Birney’s Under the Influence, I had the distinct impression that a great chasm, or rather canyon, separates the Yoga Coalition and the Kula Evolution, the latter affiliated with the Interim Steering Committee that is trying to negotiate with John Friend over the eventual disposition of Anusara, Inc.

The Yoga Coalition has ridden the shiny new social media bus to the top of one side of the canyon, and is trying to speak through the megaphones of elephant journal and Facebook down into it, where they think the Kula Evolution folks are. The latter are actually halfway up the opposite side of the canyon, and scaling the sheer face of it. In the belly of the canyon only John Friend himself remains, holding the ropes of the climbers.

It’s really hard to climb with the speeches coming from the megaphones, and it’s hard for the speakers to feel they’re being heard with all of that climbing.

I remember one lesson, taught to me by my undergraduate anthropology teacher, which may be drawn from the work on conflict of the sociologist Georg Simmel. Conflict presupposes a relationship. All parties to this one seem united by the common canyon. This can be difficult for any of them to accept, for each takes a different role. This reminds me further of what my graduate professor made us read, work by Albert O. Hirschman, on Exit, Voice and Loyalty as responses to decline in organization. The Yoga Coalition folks have chosen exit, the climbers have chosen voice, and still others have chosen loyalty. Curiously, the Yoga Coalition also has chosen voice, of which loyalty increases the likelihood and exit increases the effectiveness. In truth, there is interplay, and interdependence of all three choices, and a reread of Hirschman reinforces this.

Only onlookers seem to be fully cognizant of the commonality of the canyon, and some of them, too, are shouting down there through similar means. With all of this shouting, the students of those on either side of the canyon have great difficulty hearing their teachers’ instructions, much less their wisdom. Indeed, with all the focus the climbers have on the technical instruments of their climb, their students also have trouble getting help from them.

A wise one close to me whispered, “Where is the Opening to Grace in all this?”

Where, indeed, is the evocation of the first of the five Universal Principles of Alignment? Certainly, I thought, the canyon is a big enough space to accommodate any opening. Thinking about space reminded me about “holding space,” which seems like another one of those things yogis say. But I’m actually thinking of a Quaker, Parker Palmer, who said it about conflict. He who has reflected on the courage to teach, and on leading from within, has also suggested that the ability to “hold space” for conflict is essential to healing the heart of democracy.

If we can’t recognize the commonality of this canyon and the opportunities it holds, can we have any relevance for living our yoga “in the world,” as the Tantric vision insists?

Many of the resignation statements I have seen from former Anusara instructors assure that they will continue to teach the Universal Principles of Alignment, or that they still believe in them. Without a doubt, those are among the things that those who have chosen loyalty or voice seek to preserve. These are principles of physical alignment, but not merely. Whenever I get stuck on the mat, or in my life, it’s very often the first principle I’m forgetting.

If we’re going to continue to converse about Anusara, can we commit to remember to Open to Grace?

After nearly fifteen years in the software industry, Richard returned to his first love, teaching sociology to college students. He has focused on social movements, and complex organization, especially religious organization. In teaching the sociology of war and peace, Richard revisits his undergraduate double major in sociology and peace studies. Recently he has been called upon to teach death and dying, and has combined his industry experience and sociological background in a freshman seminar on “the social impact of social media.” The stress of finally doing what he loved on a full time basis led him to find yoga in 2005. He discovered Anusara in 2009, and is currently in the middle of immersions with Sara Davidson Flanders, a Certified Anusara instructor. For the past year, Richard has kept a blog about the intersection of sociology and yoga at The Considered Kula.


Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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19 Responses to “Anusara: The Great Chasm. ~ Richard Hudak”

  1. William Tibbet says:

    The characterization of those engaged in conflict as "shouting" is insulting. These are former employees of and teachers for corporatized yoga. There are ethical, structural, and professional issues they have to figure out. A lot of it is not reached by the pseudo-spiritual, abstract vocabulary of Anusara. That's why it's hard.
    Anusara is not a religion or "system" handed down by the gods. It was created by John Friend and Douglas Brooks, who turned certain poetic notions from Tantra into a very Americanized feel-good yoga. They parted ways in 2005 over philosophical & ethical differences. Friend drew from Iyengar for the UPA among other things, He also used up Doug Keller & blackballed him. Anuasara is a cobbled- together mish-mash of other people's work, most of which has not been properly acknowledged or respected. As such, it (Anusara), is far from sacrosanct.
    This revolution will be neither corporarate loyalty-driven nor kool-aided. Nor can it be shut down by quasi-spiritual evocations to questionable concepts.
    Meet community conflict with class, generosity, and forbearance. Let it roll out on its own terms

  2. macpanther says:

    I do so like that word "forbearance," and will be sure to include it among the adjectives I think of when I brainstorm about "Open to Grace."

  3. Terry Post says:

    Opening to grace is an alignment with your deepest personal truth. It's a fierce love of truth. It knows we are all one, but it's beyond coddling as a method of affirming it. These teachers don't need a lecture on OTG.

  4. Brooks Hall says:

    Hi Richard. My supportive impulse is thinking that you are in a place in your yoga where you are freely roaming in concepts you are enjoying. It is a personal right of sorts to discover these things for ones self. 

    My critique of what you are saying to the community of readers at Elephant is that it sounds like you’re prioritizing a nondescript spiritual state over a real-world situation. Loving the world means engaging it and each other in both pleasant and unpleasant ways. Caring about others is a high art.

    Here is a post about “how transcendent ideals might limit us”

    I wish you well with your yoga journey.

  5. macpanther says:

    Yet it is interesting that the conflict for me evokes certain very practical findings from a social scientist who sought to combine notions from both economics and politics, which we consider to be among the "dirtiest" endeavors associated with "the world." As Terry Post suggests above, Open to Grace is a fierce engagement with truth, wherever it may be found.

  6. macpanther says:

    Open to Grace is for me also about humility. As a teacher, though not a yoga teacher, I would be a lot less far along if I was not pushed in the humility that enables me to learn from my students. In yoga, I have learned to trust most teachers who are also themselves students. I see a non duality in the roles.

    Parker Palmer, in his work on the Courage to Teach, suggests that there are pitfalls in both teacher-centered and student-centered education. But there is a third essential component to the equation, and that is the subject. Whenever a teacher gets stuck in the extremes, it becomes necessary to keep the subject at the center. Palmer quotes the Frost poem in this regard "We dance around in a circle and suppose / But the secret sits in the middle and knows."

    That's all I'm suggesting, that we realize how much space there is for us to do this. All it may take for us to flip the figure-ground phenomenon, to see commonality where there is dissonance, is to be open.

    Conflict is increasingly resolved by the determination of ordinary people, like one of this past year's Nobel Prize winners, Leymah Gbowee. For such people the common interest in resolving the conflict becomes more important than the differences.

    Lastly, the idea to frame this in terms of open to grace was a late addition, a reminder from someone further along the path than I. As it is an issue that keeps coming up in my path, I naturally gravitated to the idea.

  7. James Madson says:

    "Opening to grace" is a concept, a notion invented by John Friend and Douglas Brooks and venerated by the Anusaris. That's all it is.. Invented. If you want to make it mean something, great, but I also find this commentary a bit moralizing and stifling, like some one saying, "What would Jesus do?" For all you know, people debating and writing and defining and arguing terms — that process is, for them, an exploration of, defining of, and alignment to deepest truth. Yet these things should always happen in dialogue — conversation as a way of building knowledge, and therefore finding deeper truths, even when we find that our truths are in opposition to anyone else's. So be it. Let it "flow" as th Anusaris say — just not on your terms.

  8. macpanther says:

    The terms you describe, however, are very similar to those described by Parker Palmer: being in dialog with people with whom you may find it very difficult to be in dialog. The existence of dialog means there is a rift, and a "hidden wholeness" both.

  9. Douglas Brooks says:

    There are many good points made in this post and reply. Since I am mentioned here as a "creator" of Anusara Yoga it seems a good idea to clarify since that strikes me as far too much attribution. John worked out the vision for his yoga entirely in his own terms (and certainly as it evolved past 2005 without my input) and I was one among several scholars who collaborated with him closely in those early times. John and I also worked together for some years before Anusara was created and we both enjoyed a great deal of conversation and learning about yoga traditions. I provided John the name, offered my counsel when asked, and taught with him and other fine teachers over these years in various collaborations. As you correctly point out we had an amicable split in 2005 so that we could each articulate our own paths. I have had nothing but positive associations as an educator with all of these teachers as I have had with those interested in studying yoga and the history of south Asian spiritualities.

  10. Douglas Brooks says:

    Again to reply since I'm mentioned in this post and to clarify: I had nothing to do with the invention of the phrase "Open to Grace", at least insofar as I recall (I'm pretty good with recall). This was entirely John's nomenclature and, if I can be so bold, I would suggest that it comes from his own studies and then conversations about the role of non-dual Shaiva Tantra as an inspiration to his work. Of course, there is no doubt that the concept of grace plays a vital role in understanding particularly how non-dualist Shaiva Tantra is constructed and how it has been adapted and brought into more modern, popular parlance.

  11. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  12. krishna Barney says:

    you broke ties with john friend? why are you touring around the country to events with anusara teachers?
    To a complete outsider like me it still looks like you are involved with anusara.
    Since you were so close with john friend you must have know how he treats people.
    You think the way JF treats people is nice?
    Why are you trying to spread this mumbo jumbo to the masses for profit along with these ansuara yoga teachers.
    i was looking at your tour schedual
    do you find it odd that ansuara inc is selling your book
    6 books including yours on the Bhagavad Gita a book you can get at Hare Krishna Temples world wide for basically free or a donation. You can read the Bhagavad Gita online for free.
    What affiliation do you have with The International Society for Krishna Consciousness?

  13. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  14. IRM says:

    Thank you all for this discussion, which still seems vitally important to me!

    Thanks also to Douglas Brooks for your clarifications. I have appreciated your voice in the AY debate, with your crucial early articles, one of them calling for John to resign to save AY. I think your voice & inside knowledge carried a lot of weight in helping people navigate the stormy waters & make up their mind in the midst of the turmoil.

    I strongly agree with your eloquent explanations on why the single guru/teacher authority is a set-up for power abuse & is not longer viable. In that context, I do have burning question for you… As a former Siddha Yogi, I remember you from those years. When I came across the negative information on SY, I also listened to the tapes at the conference of religious scholars where you had the role of defending SYDA's editing of the "Meditation Revolution" book.

    So far, I couldn't find any current information re your stance to SY, where we certainly saw the dark side of the single guru authority play out. Could you explain a little bit more about your transition out of Siddha Yoga (if that is correct) & your relationship to it now? That would help me tremendously with understanding where you are coming from. On another comment thread, someone shared that you were outraged when you saw the power abuses in SY, by the current leader & her inner circles. I have been waiting for a good opportunity to ask you this, maybe this is a good forum for it, if you don't mind.

    Obviously, Siddha Yoga & Anusara Yoga have a lot of common history & overlap, which I think are an important part for us to realize in the AY puzzle. For instance, the AY invocation to Grace that Richard Hudak refers to, came straight from SY, as Friend explains on the Anusara Inc. website. In many ways, I see the two as sister corporations, and many followers of AY came through SY – at least in the earlier years, I would say, before the SY controversies & power abuses became more widely known.

    I know John (somewhat) from SY ashrams when he first started teaching there and became more and more well-known. Most of the AY teachers in my life are also in SY. I still care for them deeply, but it is hard to speak openly with them about any of this. Maybe that leads back to the theme of the article, the chasm between the different parties. The idea to find a way to keep communicating beyond the ideological differences & through them, is very relevant, I find.

    Thank you in advance!

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  16. Katy Poole says:

    Dear Krishna,

    I decided to comment on your last remark because I'm not sure Dr. Brooks will respond given the caustic accusations made about him in the first half of your post and I think you've provided an important opening for some education. Religion doesn't have neat boundaries around it. In the Judea-Christian-Islamic world, there may the assertion of one uber Book above all else and little room for interpretation of its meanings. But in Indian spiritualities, the many has always been celebrated over the one. The Bhagavad Gita is such a "book" that allows for multiple interpretations. As a basic starting point for understanding, the version of the Gita that you can "get" for free at Hare Krishna temples stems from an interpretation arising out of the Madhva school of Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta. It has a distinct philosophical bent that is obvious if you read it in comparison with other translations and commentaries. The "bent" is that humans and God (i.e. Krishna) are separate. The inherent dualism of the Madhva system gave rise to the beauty we observe in Vaishnava temple rituals and artistic expressions that depict the longing for love that can only arise when there are two entities—Lover and Beloved. (It may also account for why the prasad is so divinely delicious at ISKCON temples around the world!) On the other hand, Dr. Brooks' reads the Gita from entirely different point of view. The fulfillment of the Tantrik path (in general) is the supreme identification with the godhead. The performance of rituals is not to make offerings in love to a deity entirely separate from you, but to establish identity with the divine. If you read the versions side by side, the differences will become abundantly obvious to you and open you to more questions and more learning opportunities.

    This is a broad generalization, but an opportunity to make an important point. We read multiple versions and interpretations of sacred texts to enrich our inquiry into the nature of reality and divinity. To question whether Dr. Brooks has an affiliation with ISKCON means that he still has more work to do in his educational endeavors—as do the rest of us who within the field of spiritual/religious education—because it's ludicrous. The question shouldn't even arise, but then again articles like the one composed by William Broad in the NY Times shouldn't bear any legitimacy within an educated and informed public.

    As for why Dr. Brooks travels around with Anusara teachers, I think it's commendable. There are very few if any other professors who are willing to engage with popular yoga. One good thing that John Friend accomplished was to form a bridge for scholars to enrich the yoga community with deeper knowledge that would otherwise only be available within the elite corridors of academia. If yoga is going to continue to impact the popular spiritual landscape, there's an even greater need for quality scholarship to influence its growth—and to avoid this kind of misinformation from continuing. And Douglas Brooks has been a profound influence in this very positive direction.

  17. Krishna for PROFIT?? says:

    Katy Poole, (is this douglas brooks girlfriend writing this?)
    you think its commendable from some pony tailed dude trying to push religion to people for profit? He broke ties with JF in 2005? Now he is selling his version of the Bhagavad Gita "the white mans watered down version?) on the Anusara Website?
    Didnt he break ties in 2005?
    I met Doglas Brooks in 2004 and I he really did not strike me being the end all be all. If i remember correctly his girlfriend was a Ansuara Teacher. How funny that is.
    Here is two reviews on Professor Brooks:
    Douglas Brooks may be the most incomprehensible teacher I have ever had during undergrad. He goes on random tangents that completely misconstrue the main point of the class. He has no idea what an intro class is supposed to be. Most students think he is intelligent, but actually he is just an exceptional ****ter. Sometimes has good stories.
    Professor Brooks clearly did too many drugs. He rambles on about nonsense in such a way as to make it totally unclear to his students what the hell he's talking about. He may or may not know his stuff, but the way he presents material to students leads only to confusion. He doesn't give enough background to make reading worthwhile. Bad Professor
    Report this rating

    John Friend and Douglass Brooks are both selling and profiting off peoples stupidity

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