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“Just as it takes years to be a doctor, so it can also take many years to understand the art, science and depth of yoga.” ~ Swami Brahmananda
In the late ’60s, when Ed was training at the Bihar School of Yoga in India, his yoga master turned to him and said: “Yoga or bhoga, what are you into?”
There’s an important difference between being a yogi and what is known in India as a bhogi.
A yogi is one who discovers that the greatest joy and peace of mind is within themselves, they see the exquisiteness of inner silence, and their actions are for the good of others; this leads to an inner enfoldment that reveals the unshakeable truth that at the core of our being is basic goodness and sanity. Alternatively, a bhogi is more concerned with their outer appearance, putting themselves first by enjoying and even over-indulging the mind and the senses; a bhogi is lead by greed and delusion.
This difference is seen in many of the yoga accroutrements now available such as, for example, expensive skin-tight and brightly colored leotards. And we see it in the idea that a “good” yogi is seen as someone who can do every posture well, rather than someone who is using their yoga experience to spiritually extend themselves and to help others.
There is nothing wrong with being a bhogi—having desires and enjoying worldly pleasures—and it’s natural to fluctuate between being both a bhogi and a yogi, between desires and the divine.
But the desire realm is endless and ultimately unsatisfactory, like the hungry ghost in the Tibetan Wheel of Life who has a long but very thin throat and a huge belly. No matter how hard the hungry ghost tries, it can never consume enough to satisfy its hunger. So it is with the diehard bhogi. As Mick Jagger said: “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
A yogi is someone who, through experience, knows that all the actions of a bhogi are ultimately fruitless, that cravings and indulgences are only temporarily satisfying. Then the desire for something more real and authentic arises. A yogi is one who is the embodiment of compassion and kindness, who rejoices in the welfare of others, as the true meaning of yoga is self-realization, to wake up to the intrinsic wisdom and love already within us.
Swami Satchidananda used to say how just one taste of “true yoga” is more beautiful than anything in this world, and that taste is the beauty of our essence, the wonder of who we are. Swamiji told the story of the musk deer that lives in India and has a beautiful smell in its belly but searches the forest looking for the smell. Like that deer, bhogis look outside themselves for happiness, while yogis discovers it within themselves.
Author: Ed & Deb Shapiro
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Neon Tommy/Flickr