Be forewarned that this article is a bit of a ramble that grew from a comment that got out of control to an interview that Thaddeus Haas did with The Babarazzi—a blog claiming to be “giving yoga culture the star treatment.”
The site (and my response) has nothing particularly to do with “yoga” at all—it is more about rhetoric, being genuine and the dynamics of presentation.
I dislike hypocrisy, so the site has bothered me since its inception; its acceptance of harmful language, praised by people I had assumed would have been wise to this (Haas himself has written—seemingly directly—on the value of humility and good company), has helped fuel and encourage the blog despite its hateful ways (hence the rant).
Below, I’ll try to explain why I feel the site is cruel, misleading and intentionally ugly—despite the blogger’s insistence and (twisted) logic that it is not; I do not take my argument outside of the single site but hope some of the ideas extend themselves naturally.
The blog was started early this year by “Baba” (who has chosen to remain anonymous) and refers to himself using the royal “we.”
In an earlier interview, “Baba” said that he draws inspiration from the Aghori, whom he says are, “outcasts, the left-hand of the tantra, as it were. Their thing is that they induce hatred in people in order to overcome the ego. They are considered abrasive and aggressive and they are all about subverting the social order.”
That is, “Baba” is your guru—whether you like it or not—and he will use dark means, especially hate, to get you beyond your ego.
This rationale permeates the site, which generally focuses on what he sees as “yoga culture” of the west, with writing full of snark and wistful humor, occasionally speaking directly—and lots of name calling.
By claiming he is using this dark approach, he attempts to excuse his hypocrisy, saying in Haas’ interview that,”Being cruel is not what we’re about,” yet when it comes to hate, “We like to take the things we say ʽnoʼ to and say ʽyes,ʼ to such a degree that you can’t but end up hating the thing.”
So, for this self-appointed “Baba,” hatred and inciting hatred, is good for you.
I did just repeat myself…but that “Baba” is out to proudly incite hatred has seemingly gone largely overlooked, in both the interviews and comments.
This position is, I think, based on some perverted notion of līlā, where rather than looking to the universe as the play of the dynamics of the universe, your teacher (bābā means father and teacher) assumes the role of God and anything goes.
The metaphorical (or real) house is torn down, so you’ll learn the lesson on how to re-build it.
This is called ego-breaking and those who play this game can pick anything and declare it is or is not genuine, to suit whatever cause they claim to be for.
Ego-breaking is common throughout the world and seen most commonly in military training—but also in “cult” tactics, possibly-legit spiritual practices (Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson comes to mind), as well as the legit practices (like wearing certain clothes, all the time.)
Assuming there is an enlightened someone capable of such a thing (a Marpa for your Milarepa), a close master-student relationship, ego-breaking would presumably be effective, because the master can mediate the variables and be a guide—but to expect such intimacy from some disembodied “Baba” on the world wide web, given his hateful intent and harm without responsible legitimacy is totally bizarre to me.
“Baba” intends to use this path as a means of avoidance, a tactic based on a pick-anything instability and as a system, any position taken will have already predicated itself as false and therefore discardable.
In Haas’ interview, “Baba” expands on this dark means with further excuses, saying that anything he does as “okay” because the “intention is noble,” and, taking it even further, saying at even if it’s not okay, it’s okay, because “the critique is valid.”
This allows him, no matter what he does, to say he wants non-violence, while pricking the Shylock, who should find a way to enjoy the pain. (Shylock is a term for the “money-grubbing Jew” stereotype and the character who Shakespeare had ask rhetorically, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”)
According to “Baba’s” logic, Shylock should have said, “If you prick us, we are grateful because we recognize the the body is not the Self.”
It is by this logic that “Baba” applies “the star treatment” to the Shylock, the “celebri-yogi,” he thinks ought to (and deserves) to be taken down some pegs, by way of snark and satire.
To me, something like Gradschool Barbie is good satire, bringing up issues of our ideals and expectations—and shades of these—but “Baba’s” satire is low grade, pointed, with little nuance or layers, made of such things as calling something poop, exaggerating his own popularity and saying someone’s breasts are too small and their butt is too big.
This last one, featuring a picture with arrows pointing to the breasts and butt of Sadie Nardini (his favorite target) was, I think, trying to compare body image with weightloss, saying they are the same and that by advertising “yoga for weightloss,” it is just as appealing to people’s unnecessarily negative body images.
Still, Haas laments to “Baba” that “people just didn’t get it. It’s almost to the point of willful ignorance with regard to understanding or appreciating this [satirical] approach.”
For satire to be understood, the audience has to be in on the joke before hand; it is indirect speech, passive-aggressive and has, at its core, the intent to shame, at one degree or another.
For these reasons, I have doubts that any satire can create change, as it is always a gamble if it will get through, in any meaningful way, to those being satirized—and usually, it takes a more natural intent, to give a jolt of righteousness to those who already agree with it’s position. Ad homenim/ad absurdum are ways to hide flaws of eloquence, as well as systemic rhetorical flaws and speak more to the character and intents of the critiquer than what/who is being critiqued.
But again, none of this applies to “Baba,” because he has committed himself to a system that leave him outside of rebuke, even for his violence.
Even when being (seemingly) direct, he shames, as when he names the names and the websites of two girls who had their feet inappropriately on, what he calls, murtis, despite trash on the ground by the statues and his (intentionally disingenuous) “always draws a line” policy, that he puts forth to misdirect; one that is supposed to distinguish between personality and person—apparently, if it’s shared on Facebook, it’s as fair game as any ad in a magazine. (And of course their intention, good or ill, has been decided by “Baba”—as if it would matter to him in the first place!)
In these cases, his fallback excuse is not that his hateful intentions are noble but that because a person has puts oneself out there (as a “star”), the person somehow deserves to be dissected, insulted and dismissed as fake, a dictate he tries to avoid being placed on himself, by remaining anonymous. He somehow knows the fakes and can parse the real self from the ones they present—yet he cannot define what a yogi is— I think because his anonymity shows he is not one in any sense, despite his insistence that inciting hate is noble and some sort of “authentic” India.
Anonymity is great and can be a useful tool for introducing new ideas without bias—and of course protection—but in this case “Baba’s” claim to be protecting his family is only because he insists on his being hateful, which in modern parlance is called the right to be an asshole.
We have that right, I think—but only if we can be called out on it.
In Haas’ interview, “Baba” claims that he was shocked when Nardini responded directly to an article that attacked her; as if in the small yoga blog world he has a hate-on for, word wouldn’t get out to those he attacks.
At best, his shock is disingenuous; he claims, “It isn’t a joke. And, for a lot of people it’s definitely not a joke…our own missteps are part of the critique…if you think we’re being mean, just ask us something and we’ll talk to you about it,” yet, “Baba” is more than willing to dismiss the response, because they don’t get the joke/satire/point…which isn’t actually a joke.
“Baba’s” objections to the sins of “yoga culture” are also smothered in hypocrisy.
He claims to not be critiquing yoga (which he says will always be just fine) but yoga culture, reminding us of something he hasn’t said: “Remember, to us commercial yoga culture isn’t yoga practice.”
That is, he is not critiquing people who do yoga—but people he has decided are only saying they do yoga. But to what yoga practice is or should be, he has to fall silent, not only because any practice he practices will be “false,” and up for discernment…but also to protect his anonymity. (As he says, “You should have some sort of working definition of what [..yoga..] is and it shouldn’t just be asana.”)
To what he thinks it is, he hedges, saying he is, “not necessarily the person to answer that.” What of that noble hate?
“Baba’s” final words in the interview begin with a full flowering of his hypocrisy, speaking about how advertising and teaching yoga is just ways to get people in the door, “…the ends justify the means—is just so disingenuous.” Yet, “Our own missteps are part of the critique and this is how it should be.”
Does he also think all his talk of noble hate and intention is disingenuous—or is this just another sleight of logic on the path of noble hate? Of course, I don’t know…but it would seem so.
I may agree with some of “Baba’s” ideas but I have no idea how to tell when he is just messing with me and when he is being genuine.
Perhaps, there are places he is able to articulate his opinions without being nasty, although even in his latest piece on marijuana decriminalization, he can’t seem to help overstating the position of whom he argues against for effect.*
The interview ends with “Baba” speaking vaguely about “caves,” by which I think he is trying to talk about having a consciousness that is inward looking. This is quite a feat for those who can get it going—but it is not something most people are willing to spend the time developing.
So, I hope to have shown that “Baba” (the constructed identity-thing we have to believe in) is knowingly and intentionally hateful, a hypocrite and wanting some sort of yogic purity he cannot describe or explain—and the he has taken several dishonorable ways to avoid responsibility for all of these; all the while, trying to make some sort of cultural shift.
I do not think anything I say here will influence “Baba” in any meaningful way (especially as it justifies his end-means, critique-as-the-message, hypocrisy and hate) but I hope some understanding was given regarding to how satire works, the diligence it takes to be truthful and honest…and the quality of having a clear and straightforward approach to being.
Or even better, that on seeing hate’s shallow waters, rather than wading through them, you choose to skip past them, to a place that is more productive and joyous.
*I agree that decriminalization is better than legalization—but I will be voting yes on I-502, as Washington State has no state income tax, a tradition of state-funded social services and I am a non-smoker, who keeps purism for “the cave.”
Paul Morris likes language, logic, cartoons, mantras, triangles, love and bicycles. He can be reached at [email protected].
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Like elephant I’m not ‘Spiritual’. I just practice being a good person on Facebook.