I Had to Talk Life Directly—This Was the Understanding: An Interview with Youngbear Roth. ~ Sidney Bennet

Via elephant journal
on Mar 27, 2013
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Youngbear Roth 2010

{Part one of two. Read part two here.}

Youngbear Roth is yoga’s enigma for the West.

He claims no students, no disciples, no fortune modest or otherwise and he doesn’t much care for the titles swami, roshi, master or healer.

He rises above an impoverished criminal revolutionary past: feeding starving Palestinian refugees under gunfire in Israel, finding himself homeless in two countries and clandestinely helping arm the 1970s National Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua through the drug trade.

Youngbear Roth: I accomplished the Palestinian feeding out of a mix of youthful passion and compassion. But my participation in the Sandinista uprising had nothing to do with my politics or humanitarian beliefs. I barely understood the story behind the Somoza regime. I was back in the United States, hungry and homeless, and it was all about my survival fears and the money.

Ahbe [Eden Ahbez] had been trying to help me set things straight. I was just a kid and shitting in my boots because I was facing an interview with and, ultimately I thought, a bust by the United States Treasury Department’s firearms division. Ahbe and I spoke a great deal about eastern philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism and world religions and various approaches to an engaged yoga. We spoke about these things because Ahbe viewed me as a young man, 19-years old, whose life was not so much in trouble as it was in transition. At our first meeting he told me,

“Give the best of yourself freely and your life will change.”

Since I grew up with a background in Buddhist philosophy, these were the universal perceptions that felt warm, at home, and kept my head straight.

Reminding myself of the yogic infinite overview kept me from emotionally drowning in the midst of a hopeless finite life.

The Feds and I negotiated a peace treaty, and I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards anyone. It was a time in our history when all of us were doing what we felt was right on all sides. In fact, we were all being lied to and nobody knew what was right. I do know that they weren’t after me. They were after my suppliers. The organization was big and nobody really knew what anybody else was up to, and we didn’t ask. The fact is that when the Feds realized that I couldn’t provide them with the details that they needed they allowed me to walk on condition. I was told that eventually this organization was going to be brought down and that I was still young enough and unimportant enough to anyone on any side—that I could just leave and start a new life.

I did just that, I thought.

The problem was that I understood the repercussions, the deaths and the drugs and destruction that I had become a part of. One afternoon I couldn’t keep it in any longer and I tried telling my wife what I had been a part of. She was so sweet, you know. In a way she understood, but she couldn’t really understand and we held each other while I cried. It took years for me to reconcile my youthful transgressions. I became ill from somewhere deep inside and often the pain in my gut was so horrendous I couldn’t get out of bed.

It was then that I searched my eastern spiritual roots even deeper and became interested in devoting my life to yoga in all of its complexity. I knew the answer was in understanding why I had to go through certain episodes in my life; really understanding my life from a universal point of view and I knew a journey into various yoga modalities might hold the answers I needed. Aside from that, there was God. I had no idea if there was a god, any god: personal, impersonal or otherwise. I felt that God must be infinite, too all-encompassing for me to get to know.

However, on the slim chance that I could come to know God, learn God’s language, the language of the universe, perhaps we might form a partnership whose mission statement would be to balance out the devastation that I was surely responsible for. And, you should know that Buddhism is not godless. Although, the concept of god in Buddhism is so broad spectrum, so profound, that it can be a challenge to wrestle with.

Years later, I heard a film clip of Ram Dass being interviewed and he said something to the effect of his being afraid that if others learned the truth about him they wouldn’t love him. And, he said,

“…so, I decided to tell the truth, and they loved me anyway.”

I thought to myself that I’d been hiding my past for so long from my family and friends, from people who came to respect me and trust me, that I was worn out just from carrying all this crap around inside.

The years passed and I already had an established private practice as a research scientist and therapist-journalist in integral yoga therapy and I started a Facebook group, Yoga in Sciences and Humanities, as a social experiment. I got on line and blew my past to the world. Facebook loved me. The response had me in tears. I decided to be another Ram Dass and use my own life as an open book from which to teach yoga.

I think at first the idea of emulating Dass was an attractive ego game, but it got serious almost overnight. I mean, for the first time I began feeling deep community-supportcompassion for some of the people I was working with over at Facebook. Some were in genuine pain and searching 24/7 for answers. Some had done hard time and now they were in search, afraid they couldn’t make it, that they’d go back if they couldn’t find answers. Guys who’ve done time like that, you can’t lie to them. They see every lie. I couldn’t emulate Ram. I had to be myself if I stood any chance of being accepted.

I couldn’t talk Buddha or Brahma directly; I had to talk life directly—this was the understanding.

Slowly I began to receive private messages from my ‘hard guys’ exhibiting to me that the light was beginning to shine, that they had evolved a different way to dialogue with the universe and with other men. These guys who had done their time in solitary began to value themselves, their viewpoints, and they wanted to express themselves to others without alienating others. They wanted to build bridges using others to help them back into the world. Sometimes one would fall back on old ways. Then the rest of the group would help him by writing criticism based on wholistic yoga style thinking. Most of the time the regular members never knew who they were writing to and with Facebook as a buffer it offered a sort of safety zone.

Eventually, I had bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder cases, even child abuse cases. It wasn’t perfect and there were times when the group was just a mad house and those on the public platform didn’t understand why. About 70% were on their way to recovery, and I’m not even sure they knew why. It wasn’t perfect; yoga modalities are not a miracle panacea.

Does yoga work? Did you find your answers?

Y.R.: It took patience and a long protracted practice. I chose zazen and shikantaza as my practice. Yes, yoga works. It works because it evolves into a contemplative transpersonal practice where the finite mind is opened to the awareness of the infinite mind of our universe. That mind is love in the broadest sense of the word. From that transcendent perspective I was able to achieve an overview of how and why the universe works. You see, I am a part and expression of that universe, and knowing just that much makes a sweeping difference in seeing the yes and no of one’s actions. A solid committed yoga practice can bring empowered creative balance to one’s personal journey.

Knowing that much, I was able to advance the social experiment over at Facebook to actually include doing eastern consultation therapy with patients through Facebook’s private message platform while continuing to educate others on the public platform. It was taxing and my life was moving in a new direction, so, I eventually decided for several reasons to turn over the actual day to day work of group administration to a trusted friend.

YB (pron. “Why be?”), as he likes to be called, became inspired by the writings of Ram Dass and educated within the structure of his 17-year friendship with master yogi, poet and composer of Nature Boy, Eden Ahbez. His talent to laugh at adversity during any crisis he credits to his friendship with Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

The foundation for Youngbear’s yoga is Gautama Buddha’s Flower Sermon, Nagarjuna’s emptiness doctrine, the integral yoga offerings of India’s revolutionary poet and yoga master, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi’s life journey, and physics from ThomasYoung’s wave-particle theory to Einstein’s theory of relativity. His primary focus is expanding yoga for the West using music from Krishna Das’ kirtan and Tibetan monks chanting to Led Zeppelin, Hindu surfboard designs, poetry and whatever he can wrap his infinite mind around.

He is the always popular, sometimes shocking founder of Facebook’s Yoga in Sciences and Humanities and mighty mega tweeter on Twitter.com; both virtual lecture halls where he is known to speak his mind to friends and followers such as Rodney Yee, Shiva Rea, Ram Dass, Bhagavan Dass, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, Eckhart Tolle, Professor Huston Smith, et al.

Youngbear’s extended hammering away at an extensive body of philosophical, spiritual and scientific works at universities, and writings in magazines and journals over 25 years makes his name synonymous with tough unforgiving east-west argumentation; his expose on the reiki movement in America took two years to find a publisher and drew death threats along the way.


Sidney Bennet bio picMr. Bennet is thirty-six years old, married and from Netanya, Israel. His wanderlust and studies in media, politics, photography and journalism at Tel Aviv University led him to Egypt, Africa, France, India, and to the United States where he lives in Los Angeles, California working six months out of the year as a freelance story analyst in independent radio news and the film industry. The rest of Mr. Bennet’s time is spent photographing Israel and enjoying his family.

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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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One Response to “I Had to Talk Life Directly—This Was the Understanding: An Interview with Youngbear Roth. ~ Sidney Bennet”

  1. bcxists says:

    Profound words about a most poignant journey. Thanks, Youngbear, for bearing all.