Who owns yoga? Elephant Journal Discussion with Bob Weisenberg

Tara Stiles Who owns yoga? Elephant Journal Discussion with Bob WeisenbergBob Weisenberg says:

August 14, 2010 at 20:50

Brooks, This is a brilliant piece.

As you probably know by now, I’m a Yoga Universalist. I embrace and enjoy Yoga in all its forms.

I love that Tara Stiles and others are exposing millions of people to Yoga who would know nothing about it otherwise.

I also loved learning recently from Linda Sama’s blog about a 10-volume ancient Yoga text I had never even heard of, which Georg Feuerstein considers one of top four Yoga texts, in the same class as the Bhagavad Gita, written in Tamil not Sanskrit, called The Tirumandiram (See Linda’s eye-opening blog a classic yoga text…but not the one you think.) And I’m actually thinking about getting it. (This kind of blockbuster is common on Linda’s blog, clearly one of the brightest stars in the Yoga blogosphere.)

I personally see absolutely no contradiction between these two extremes. I Iove the diversity. I think the Yoga pie is infinitely expandable. There is plenty of pie for everyone and I see no need to push one thing over another. I see absolutely no turf or purity to protect. All forms of Yoga help support each other.

Let it all explode in every direction and each individual will gravitate to the type of Yoga that is right for them. We don’t need to lead anybody to the true path. We just need to keep it all out there and visible.

I have faith in the individual. I don’t think people are so malleable and manipulatable that they will end up in the wrong place for them.

People with a more spiritual bent will quickly move from the Tara Stiles introduction to more spiritual kinds of Yoga. Those for whom it is a good fit will quickly find Linda’s blog and learn about more traditional Yoga.

Those who aren’t so spiritually inclined, or, more commonly, have their spiritual needs met in other ways because they are already Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or whatever, will still be better off for the health and fitness-oriented Yoga Tara is offering them.

People will find what’s right for them, given their individual interests and other spiritual involvements they already have.

The only thing to keep people from finding the right Yoga for them is never hearing about it in the first place. So, in my opinion, the more entry points and exposure points of all types there are, the better.

So, I am unconcerned about the Tara Stiles approach to Yoga.

That said, your blog above is one of the most balanced, fair-minded, and eloquent essays I’ve ever read on why I should be.

Fantastic work. Great thinking. Great writing.

Bravissimo!

Bob Weisenberg
YogaDemystified.com

Baba Rampuri says:

August 15, 2010 at 00:39

Bob, the attitude that all people in their own ways should find truth, happiness, and knowledge is the mark of a yogi, and I highly commend you for that. And to be a Yoga Universalist, if that Universalism is devoid of ideology, is clearly a mark of the yogi. Bravo.

Yoga, being many different things to different people, has truly broken away from its original context in Indian culture, and established its own rapidly expanding identity. And why shouldn’t people be able to invent new forms of yoga, as we do regularly these days? Put their ideas and theories into practice. And by this, people have the freedom to shop for the brand of yoga that suits their requirements best.

My question is about the yogas not mentioned in Yoga Journal, such as the Yoga of War, Greed Yoga, Me Yoga, and the Yoga of Selfishness. Do these forms of modern yoga not have their place, so that all people have the freedom to choose? There’s a lot of people practicing the above. We can see that as in any marketplace there is also the Yoga of Competition, and sometimes the competition means that one person’s Greed Yoga interferes with someone else’s Eat to Survive Yoga.

Imagine how long it takes nature to make a diamond. And among all the magnificent diamonds She creates, there is the Queen of Diamonds, the Koh-i-Nur. Imagine using that diamond to cut glass. A practical person might say, “Well, at least it has a real use!” But then, using our human genius, we invent a technology with which we cut glass with even more precision, and no longer require the Koh-i-Nur, so we put Her in the attic, in the box of antiquated technology along with our old computers.

We are very gullible. We believe what has been successfully marketed to us by people who are good at marketing. We fell for George Bush and now Obama. We will fall for just about anything, if presented in a well constructed narrative.

Yoga, in its former context was about “connection,” not consumption, about the fantastic, not fantasy.

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 15, 2010 at 06:20

Hi, Baba. Thanks for writing this fascinating comment.

I know you’re living Yoga at its roots, but “Yoga in its former context was…not…about the fantastic, not fantasy”

Even the spare, bare-bones, austere Yoga Sutra itself finds the time to get all excited about:
–Levitation
–Invisibility
–Acquiring the strength of an elephant
–Seeing previous lives
–Walking on water
–Entering another’s body, and
–Traveling through space

The conservative translator Chip Hartranft goes so far as to imply that Patanjali probably didn’t believe in these paranormal powers himself, but felt compelled to include them to appeal to those who did, i.e. for marketing purposes.

I’m not an expert like you are, but don’t you think you’re vastly understating the tumultuous history of Yoga? It seems that from the beginning it’s been about competing forms of Yoga and the marketing of them.

Here’s a good quote from Hartranft which illustrates all three of my points above:

…in the millennium preceding Patanjali, the possession of superhuman capabilities came to be considered a sine qua non of spiritual leadership, as the brahmnical priestly class competed [emphasis added] with a growing cadre of ascetic spiritual teachers (sramanas) whose appeal derived not so much form ritual or sacrifice as from meditative attainment. Thus, nearly every new teacher and program–including even the budda-dharma–boasted or at least acknowledged a range of magical powers.

Thanks again for writing, Baba, and for forcing me to think these things through.

Bob Weisenberg
ElephantJournal

Baba Rampuri says:

August 15, 2010 at 08:45

Bob,
Thank you for turning me on to Chip Hartranft. I just read his very insightful interview, “The Yoga-Sūtra as Practice,” which is I believe what you quote. It’s so refreshing to read someone so knowledgeable & dedicated to understanding and teaching yoga.

We have a very curious challenge when we interpret events, texts, recorded things that happened many years ago. One of the great weaknesses in the Human Sciences, and I am pointing at History, is we make these interpretations as if they were happening today, in the midst of our own culture and discourse. We live in a very dominant culture that is especially adept at this kind of agency.

We assign cultural attributes such as consumption, choice, and ideology, as well as the machine of mass media and the marketing of ideas to all time and all place. Curious that the theory the Aryan Invasion of India arose as European powers ruled most of the world as colonies, and they could say, “It’s always been done like this.”

But, no, Patanjali was not into marketing. He didn’t have an office, and there wasn’t much of a market, anyway, for what he taught. He didn’t have any books, there was no such thing as flyers, and no media with which to reach the “public,” if we can even use that word. He did possess texts, however. But they were in his head. Things were not read, they were articulated. He sat at the dhuni, his sacred fire, among his disciples. No one was writing down his words. It’s not that they were illiterate, quite the contrary, they were master grammarians. Patanjali didn’t feel the sudden need to express himself and give future generations the secrets of yoga. He didn’t get ideas and develop an ideology he wanted to sell. To who? For what? The ideas weren’t even his. They belonged to his lineage, passed down from generation to generation. His culture, teachings, and knowledge even though local, had access to information from the entire known world. There was no competition for market share, the market didn’t exist!

How do I know this? I’ve lived inside of this for 40 years. Patanjali is spoken of as if living down the street or as if way back in the 20th century. Yes, we are a couple of thousand years down the road, but inside these traditions, there are many things that have no reason to change very dramatically over the millenia.

There is only so much truth one can glean from Academic research, and what you quote from Chip about the Brahmanical priestly caste competing with sramanas is patently untrue, as both sides were Brahmins. This is a symbiotic relationship that I guess one can only understand by living it.

One must never allow the Academy to hold authority over Esoteric Tradition.

All that being said, I see no problem whatsoever with “yoga business.” Compete by all means! Market yourselves! Think of how many of us would have to go out and get a real job, if it wasn’t there. But why not call it what it is: a wonderful business that makes people healthier, more relaxed, and possibly a bit more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Why confuse this with Yoga Tradition, such as that of Patanjali? That only obscures both sides.

Here’s the issue: there is enormous value that lies in the Knowledge of Patanjali and others, and we are losing access to that value. Not because the Knowledge is going anywhere, but because our Speech, which has been reduced to the Speech of Consumption, the Speech of the Marketplace, is no longer able to connect with it. Our most valuable of all yogic assets has been handed over to Mr. McDonald.

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 15, 2010 at 09:09

Hi, Baba Rampuri.

No one really knows that level of detail about exactly what Patanjali was like. Historians can’t even pinpoint when he lived beyond a range of a few centuries.

It seems to me the competition of ideas is very clear in the ancient texts themselves, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

I don’t know the full extent of what you mean by the Esoteric Tradition, but devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history, even though they can provide a lot of important source material and historical hypotheses.

I don’t know what you mean by “handed over to Mr. McDonald”. Any broad-brush statement like this about Yoga in America is wrong on the surface because American Yoga is astoundingly diverse, from Tara Styles to the Himalayan Institute.

I’m guessing that if one had the data, it would show that far more people are being exposed to good solid traditional Yoga Sutra training today than 10 years ago. Just look at the proliferation of ancient text and commentary book sales. (I am personally about to read Edwin Bryant’s 600 page “New Edition, Translation, and Commentary”, which just came out). Same with the number of Americans traveling to India for study in traditional ashrams.

In what way are we “losing access to that value”? It seems to me access is increasing along with access to everything else Yoga.

I wonder if you could address my response to your original point about fantasy.

Bob W.

Baba Rampuri says:

August 16, 2010 at 11:19

Bob, thank you for getting this going and for the important questions you are bringing up. I think this is an area that merits a lot of discussion these days.

I’m sorry for my long-windedness, I’m just taking advantage of not restricting it to 140 characters.

“No one really knows that level of detail about exactly what Patanjali was like. Historians can’t even pinpoint when he lived beyond a range of a few centuries.”

I think you mean “no one, that you know of, among Western academics know that level of detail…”  But among some traditions in India, there are those that know the minutest details about Patanjali and others.  I have known a number of yogis in my own lineage who have had this knowledge.  Historians may not know, but there are others that can tell you the day of the week he was born, under which star, and anything else you would like to know using the sky as the clock, because that’s how the oral tradition has always measured time.  When Western astronomy finally discovered the precession of the equinox, Indian historians had already been using it for thousands of years.

“It seems to me the competition of ideas is very clear in the ancient texts themselves, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.”

Certainly as represented by those who consider competition among ideologies the “normal” and it is in our current discourse, and translated and read by those assuming a universal competition among ideologies as always being the normal state of culture everywhere, it is not hard to interpret many things out of an old text, read out of the context for which it was composed and used.  For one thing, it was never READ!  It was heard, it was memorized, and it was articulated.  Sort of like our White House Press correspondents.

What you are referring to are sacred texts.  They were not available in any market – they were not even books.  You had to be an educated Brahmin to understand the recitation, and that’s the only access there was to them.  The texts were not arguments that people would agree or disagree with, there was no debate.  This is before literary criticism, which came thousands of years later, what we had in its place was “commentary.”  The texts, in fact, are so loaded, that their true value and magnificence could only be understood by an elite that had access to the commentary.  And commentary was also memorized and passed down, so these texts never stood alone, they were always accompanied by a very sophisticated context and exegesis.  Without the context, the content may be wonderful, enlightening, and beautiful, but what the text actually is, what value it actually possesses, is lost.

So, to superimpose cultural values of our present Age of Consumption, upon a sacred text of an elite group of highly educated members of a priestly caste living thousands of years ago can’t possibly produce results other than what some people can obtain by reading tea leaves in a cup, which some people can actually do.

We can become inspired by great literature even in translation, it can give us amazing new thoughts and directions, we can realize certain knowledge – but all this doesn’t put us in a position to now represent this text, or this tradition without having the authority to do so.

If we were in the Halls of Academia, playing by their rules, this discussion would be very different, because we would assign authority to the consensus of academic work on Sanskrit texts or Indian History or other departments of the Human Sciences.  But since we are dealing with Yoga, then let’s be clear about who is informing us.

“I don’t know the full extent of what you mean by the Esoteric Tradition, but devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history, even though they can provide a lot of important source material and historical hypotheses.”

Esoteric tradition means that whatever might be in a text is not enough, and if someone wants the real stuff, the inside knowledge, how something “really” works, he or she requires inside access and inside instruction.  If you want to make a blockbuster Hollywood film, you had better have inside access and inside instruction.  Reading a book about it just won’t do.

If the people on the inside are unreliable, then how is that people on the outside are reliable when they only have artifacts.  This is the agency a dominant culture assumes, that the locals’ knowledge must be represented by the Colonizer, because the locals are not objective about their own knowledge (history included), i.e., they don’t have the same categories and methodologies as the Imperium.

“I don’t know what you mean by “handed over to Mr. McDonald”. Any broad-brush statement like this about Yoga in America is wrong on the surface because American Yoga is astoundingly diverse, from Tara Styles to the Himalayan Institute.”

I mean by that, exchanging a Speech of Connection for a Speech of Consumption.  That the very way we read the signs in front of us, the way we make the signs by which we are known will determine to a large extent what value will be realized.  When we shop among competing ideas for something to consume, something to add to our life to make it better, or so we believe, there are many things to buy into, but the Sacred isn’t one of them.  In the category of The Sacred, I would include Knowledge of the Self.

American Yoga is diverse from the point of view of American Yoga.  From the outside, from an Indian Tradition of Yoga, one can’t help but notice amazing similarities, and can’t help but come to the conclusion that much of it is basically the same, at least, when compared to the Tradition itself.  I find even the Russian and Eastern European yoga movements to be vastly different from the American one.  Let’s not universalize an American view of things, especially in world that has considerable diversity.  In fact, lets get rid of Perennialism and Universalism altogether, as in the end everyone fights over who’s Perennial philosophy is truly universal.  It’s an imperial exercise.

“I’m guessing that if one had the data, it would show that far more people are being exposed to good solid traditional Yoga Sutra training today than 10 years ago. Just look at the proliferation of ancient text and commentary book sales. (I am personally about to read Edwin Bryant’s 600 page “New Edition, Translation, and Commentary”, which just came out). Same with the number of Americans traveling to India for study in traditional ashrams.”

What would that data have to do with yoga.  It’s information to which a statistician would have to determine what is Yoga Sutra, what is its training, and, what is good and solid and traditional.  Again we hand authority to people who can only represent something on the basis of some somewhat sterile artifacts, numbers, yeses and nos, ones and zeroes.

We are talking about markets, sales of books, people attending yoga classes, statistics compiled for their use in marketing.  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s great.  Much better than almost any other thing for yoga to be sold on markets.  Again, I question why not call a spade a spade.  Truth is our most precious commodity.  There is no need here to sacrifice it.

“In what way are we “losing access to that value”? It seems to me access is increasing along with access to everything else Yoga.”

20-25 years ago, a Japanese student of mine, knowing how much I enjoyed to cook, brought me one of those legendary Japanese knives that probably cost a fortune, and gave me great pleasure when I sliced carrots.  One day in my ashram in Haridwar, I took the knife out of a drawer and discovered to my shock that half of the blade was missing.  I called one of my Indian chelas and asked him if he knew what happened to it.  He admitted to me that the drawer was stuck, and as he tried to pry the drawer open with the knife, the blade broke in half.  I asked him if it had managed to get the drawer open.  He told me it did.  He accomplished his immediate goal, and I lost my knife.

Indian tradition possesses an intellectual capital, an immense treasure of uncalculatable value.  Much of the modern pharmaceutical industry is built on a random sampling of Indian knowledge of medicinal herbs in the 19th century.  The corpus of Ayurveda contains the knowledge to transform health and health care on the planet, and yet we sanitize it for the marketplace to the degree to which it becomes known as a new age massage technique.  The marketplace does not accept magic, but standardized science.  At least for the masses.

“I wonder if you could address my response to your original point about fantasy.”

Fantasy is a construction of thought, the fantastic is a compelling experience yet to be categorized.

Arun says:

August 16, 2010 at 07:50

It’s an interesting article, and the comments here reveal the range of attitudes and opinions held by many about yoga. It is important to note that the western style of historicism has limited application when dealing with oral cultures such as India, and the products of oral cultures, such as for example yoga.

Bob Weisenthal stated:
”devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history”

It is not a matter of piety (piety or devoutness is itself a western superimposition on Indian tradition and doesn’t make sense in this context) or belief (rational or otherwise), but of authority passed down through ancient lineage. Vedic Sanskrit was preserved for thousands of years by being passed down through word of mouth and memorised. It is almost miraculous that Vedic Sanskrit survives to this day as a liturgical language, through being passed on through word of mouth and human memory.

Therefore the authority of authentic lineages when it comes to the interpretation of the yogic tradition cannot be dismissed. Yoga is not a literary tradition but a system that’s passed down through these lineages. A guru teaches disciples, and authorises one or more to pass on the teaching of his forebears to the next generation. That is how it has worked since time immemorial. Baba Rampuriji is one of those who carries the ancient tradition of yoga that has been transmitted to him through his lineage of teachers, and has authority to speak on all matters relating to yoga. As Stephen Hawking has authority to tell us about theoretical physics, so the very few people in positions of authority in the ancient akharas, such as Babaji, have authority to tell us what’s what, in the field of yoga. The problem is that most people who pass themselves off as yoga teachers do not have authority, or license. They are just entrepreneurial opportunists or on some kind of power trip.

What place is there for western historians in all of this? Well, there isn’t really much of a place, as academia tends to rely on documentary sources and completely overlooks oral tradition. It is not valid to suggest that ‘historians’, in the sense of collective secular, western, liberal academic opinion, are the arbiters of truth and authenticity in the field of Indian religions. To ascribe them that right would itself constitute a sort of religious belief in historicism.

Regarding the article itself, I believe it identifies a real problem and that we should be looking in the direction of ancient Nordic religion and custom for the solution, as well as at the Greek and Roman mysteries. The problem here is that the vocabulary being used to express this tendency does not match up to the ideas in the mind of many modern ‘practitioners’ (practitioners of what?)
Therefore the tradition of yoga is being pillaged by consumerist, materialist forces that have, sensing some sort of lacuna in post-Christian western society, jumped straight to 19th century style Orientalist ‘othering’ for some cheap sense of the exotic, instead of looking at their own rich heritage. For example, the Roman cult of Venus (or Lucifer-Venus as the western expression of dualism through sexualised imagery), or Celtic fertility rituals, Babylonian mysteries or so many other things in the western heritage that make so much more sense in the context of the female coming-of-age rite of passage, consumerism, hedonism, etc. All of those things relate to the Primordial Tradition. But borrowing Patanjali’s language of yoga; ‘yoking’, or union with Ultimate Reality, makes absolutely no sense at all in the context in which it’s used in the western world. I am not trying to promote Luciferianism, Crowleyism or related ideas but things should be seen for what they are and ideas should have labels that connect them with their heritage. It would be seen as much more honest (as well as useful for the people themselves) if many more of the western people who describe themselves as ‘yogis’ or ‘yoginis’ or who abuse the Shiva-Shakti dualism rather tiresomely began to identify with more appropriate concepts connecting them with western primordialism rather than completely misinterpret the Indian tradition of yoga.

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 16, 2010 at 12:29

Hi, Arun. Thank for writing.

I have no comment on your last paragraph simply because I have no knowledge of any of those things.

As for history vs. lineages, let’s just agree that they are two different things.
They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let’s never confuse one for the other.

Let’s never think that history can possibly substitute for authentic lineage.
Likewise, let’s never confuse the sacred traditions of a lineage with historical fact.

These are two different things that offer different things to society,
and one cannot replace the other.

Bob Weisenberg
ElephantJournal

Linda-Sama says:

August 17, 2010 at 09:31

with respect, Bob, but I am very confused by your statement:

“Let’s never think that history can possibly substitute for authentic lineage.
Likewise, let’s never confuse the sacred traditions of a lineage with historical fact.”

can not “authentic lineages” be historical? I am thinking of the old yoga texts like the Yoga Rahasya or the Yogayajnavalkya Samhita. or the lineage of yoga texts that follow historically from the 15th to 17th-18th centuries with the HYP to the Gerandha-Samhita to the Siva Samhita. I don’t understand your statement that we should never think that history substitutes for authentic lineage.

and can’t “sacred traditions of lineage” be part of historical fact? thinking of the Buddha here. of course, stories were told about the Buddha just like about Jesus the Christ, in other words, sometimes the historical facts and stories get blurred. but are you saying there are no “historical facts” in “sacred traditions”?

very confused!

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 17, 2010 at 14:30

Hi, Linda.

I agree with everything you just wrote, and tried to allow for all that in my previous comments from which this conversation with Arun emerged. This is really an extension of my long exchange with Baba.

If you look at the whole stream you’ll see that Baba was arguing that the oral lineages, particularly his own oral history, trumps all Western oriented evidence based history. He explicitly debunks Yoga scholars I know you respect greatly, like Feuerstein and, I assume Edwin Bryant. He pretty much told me I was wasting my time reading Bryant’s recent 600 page Yoga Sutra commentary, which I’m really enjoying, because it’s just some more of those Western historians who aren’t really tuned into the truth as he and his authentic lineage collegues know it to be through their oral tradition. He claims that he and his associates know all the intimate details about Patanjali’ life, whereas Western scholars do not because they don’t accept oral history without corroborating evidence.

So in this final response to Arun, I was just trying to express my interest in and acceptance of both traditions and to state that they both have their place. It was my perception that Baba was unwilling to even consider the Western evidence based approach to history that set me off and led to my impulsive provocative response to Baba, which I have subsequently apologized for. But the issue of respect for the Western scholarly approach to history still remains. I think both Western history and the authentic lineages are important. But they’re two different animals.

All of the examples you gave above are clearly within the scope of both traditions, simply because your examples are all written down, and therefore accepted by both traditions, although Western historians like Bryant, will be trying to figure out whether any ancient text is literally true or just reflects the common thinking of its time, which, to the Western historical method, might be two different things.

I agree with you completely that there can and should be a lot of interaction between the two, and that’s what I was trying to say with my clarifying sentence: They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let’s never confuse one for the other.

Please tell me if I’ve answered your question adequately. I agree with everything you just wrote. I’m going to have to have some more discussions with Baba about this hopefully.

I would greatly enjoy hearing your thoughts on all the ideas I’ve tried to express above.

Bob W.

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 16, 2010 at 12:08

We are in different worlds, Baba.

The only difference between us is that I accept you and your world,
whereas you do not accept my world.

I encourage you to live and enjoy your very special spiritual world.
You seem to have nothing but derision and disdain for my world.

I will continue to read about you and study your world.
You feel you have absolutely nothing to learn from my world.

I embrace you the way you are.
You only want to fix me.

I will continue to enjoy reading about you and your spiritual exploits.

I will continue to love and enjoy my Western world and Western rational values
without ever having the slightest inclination to tell you you should be more like me.

You have experienced things I will never experience
and that I can learn from.

I can assure the reverse is also true,
but I have no need to push my values on you.

Thanks for writing.

Bob Weisenberg
ElephantJournal

Baba Rampuri says:

August 16, 2010 at 23:54

Bob,

What kind of response is that?

Don’t be so paranoid. Smile! I guarantee you that i don’t want you to be like me, think like me, or be anyone else but yourself. One of me is quite enough on the planet. I am not selling anything here, I’m pointing out what is obvious to many of us who have committed our lives to Yoga.

There is no need to be my agent, represent my feelings, my thoughts, and interpret them in such an opposite way. What you write are not my statements or intentions, but misrepresentations. I haven’t attacked you. This is not something personal. I thought that we were yogis in discussion, and that we were above pettiness, which is one of Patanjali’s main themes.

We are not in competition, Bob.

Of course we are in different worlds, it’s obvious. Is that a problem? Must the “Same” reject the “Other?” I suggest that unless the “Same” engages the “Other” there cannot be communication, love, or compassion. The fact we live in different worlds is the value. Magic happens where worlds meet.

I don’t reject your world, I haven’t a clue as to what your world looks like, your thoughts, feelings, relationships, and you couldn’t possibly accept mine as it is so obscure and has such difficult access. And I’m certainly not selling my world, there’s nothing to buy into. I don’t have an ideology to sell.

But I do fully accept the American Yoga movement, the marketing and selling of yoga, as I see it as a powerful alternative to a civilization in collapse. That people can finally sit on the ground again, on the earth, experience and tune their bodies, question what they always believed about their health, and for some to question even further – this is great. And that others may earn a living teaching, writing, and speaking about this instead of a boring, useless job is God sent. Selling Yoga mats instead of Coca-Cola is balancing for our society.

I tell traditional Indian Yogis the exact opposite of what I tell you. I tell them, “Look at these people in the West who have nowhere near the immersion in Yoga culture as you do – THEY realize the enormous value in this, be it monetary, spiritual, or health, and they have generated a multi billion dollar industry that is a sign, a mark of its enormous value while you guys take it all for granted, and sit on your asses. I really say it just like that. And its not money I’m talking about, it’s value, which is different. They don’t get offended, they understand I’m offering them some insight that I have because I have become equally a part of two worlds.

A number of years ago, I was having dinner with Bikram at his home in L.A., and in a tone not inconsistent with his public personality he bragged not untruthfully, “If I hadn’t done what I’ve done, there would be one million less people practicing yoga.” “Bravo,” I replied, “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.” I’ve known Bikram for many years, it’s the only time I remember him remaining silent.

Bob, we’re all in this together.

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 17, 2010 at 13:51

Hi, Baba.

Thanks for your very calm and measured response to my impulsive and ill-considered response. Thanks to your refusal to let yourself be provoked, I think and hope we’re back on track.

We disagree about many things, stemming from our very different and in some ways opposite life choices. But you can rely on me to stick to those things from now on, rather than question your willingness to listen to me.

I look forward to what I’m sure will be our many enjoyable future discussions.

Bob Weisenberg
ElephantJournal

Bob Weisenberg says:

August 17, 2010 at 15:54

Baba and I reconciled on another thread within this blog. He responded in a very warm conciliatory way and I apologized for my impulsive and ill-considered response above.

We still disagree on a lot of things, but we are on good terms, and the above response is now irrelevant and looking more and more ill-considered all the time!

Bob W.

AutSad thumbLink Who owns yoga? Elephant Journal Discussion with Bob Weisenberg


38 Comments:

  1. It must have been a different baba that he communicated with on a different thread. The above was my last communication with Bob.

    • No mystery here, Baba. My reference was to the very comment above the last one you refer to here, starting with "Thanks for your very calm and measured response…". There is no other thread. I meant that one.

      Bob

  2. This is such a great back and forth.

    Baba, I am in an authentic lineage that was brought to the West. Swami Muktananda brought it to the West on the command of his Guru. I am not a pundit nor a scholar, and my understanding of things intellectual is certainly limited. That being said, I see that the two worlds, that of the modern Western World and Your world are like the very different dimensions of Sea and Land. Ah, and at the beach magic DOES happen! A Whale can not have a real fight with a Lion! And this is what this dialogue between you and Bob remind me of. Both exist on the same planet, yet quite apart in most respects.

    I am curious about something. Do you feel deep inside yourself that the energy of Yoga itself is not enough to keep our Western civilization from crumbling? Do you think there are no authentic yogis and realized souls living in America or anywhere else besides India? I am not accusing, I am truly asking what you feel–not what you think. I contacted you on Facebook about feeling the world rather than using words to describe it which I felt 'cheapened' it somehow. And yet, I feel it is dharmic for me to use my words to communicate anyway.

    I worship my own Guru, and more specifically the Guru Principle or Supreme Energy which animates all of this. That is my direct experience. I don't wish to read books, but to become the living holy text itself in this very incarnation. That is the path of siddhas, that is my path, and it is all I have ever known in this lifetime.
    Love,
    Uddhava

  3. Maybe someone posted something else under your name to confuse our American yoga practitioner. He seems like a decent guy in the end despite his inappropriate outburst. Fascinating dicussion as always.

  4. Om Namo Narayan Babaji. To praphrase Einstein the scientist – "The only positive proof for the existence of the infinite is the extent of western arrogance." Love & pranams, Billy

  5. very interesting and informative discussion – thank you all! :)

  6. Thank you very much, Uddhava. The energy of Yoga, whatever that means, is certainly not enough to keep Western Civilization as we know it from crumbling. Look around you. Look at the world. Of course I have the advantage of coming in a little earlier into the movie. There are some, not many, advantages in getting a little older. I don't know what you mean by authentic or realized yogis, what I can say is this: the kind of yogi, meaning the level of authority, knowledge, power, siddhi, I have known in the Yoga Tradition in India, and there were many, don't exist anymore. Yes, there are some, but that time is over, there are very few, whether in America, Russia, or India. I have watched them leave, one by one, literally. Many have spoken to me and said basically the same words. Several have been relatively young, in their 50's, but I understood that there was a violation of time epochs, of ages, and they couldn't remain. So you are not likely to find them in India either.

    In this regard, you can no longer hand the responsibility for your knowledge over to anyone else. Don't hand it to me either. You have to take this responsibility yourself and find out things for real. Not because it seemed a good idea at the time, but because you have somehow arrived at the heart of the matter, not because its logical, or you really thought it out, no, you must go a step further. A big step. You have to question authority, and you have to discover the discourse that makes you think and see the world exactly like you do, Uddhava. Your thoughts are not yours, they are coming from somewhere, and until you find out where, and I'm not speaking in abstracts, you won't be able to receive the treasure your authentic lineage lineage holds as your heirloom.

    I don't live in a cave any more, and like it or not, I am very much part of the modern Western World. The modern Western World has gone Global, my friend. I do Social Media, for Goddess sake. i have never lost touch with the zeitgeist of Western culture, I've never claimed to have exorcised it from my being. I just don't see it as the end-all, the last statement on everything. It is another exotic culture among exotic cultures as far as I am concerned. I am not debating an ideology. I'm saying, "open your eyes."

    I don't have a world. That's the whole point. I live on the edge, where the worlds meet, so I can have one foot in each world. I watch the action on both sides.

    You hold a jewel in your hand but don't know how precious it is, I guarantee you. As time passes and Speech diminishes, your access will also shrink. Ideology won't lead to "siddhi" but only debate.

    • Baba,

      Thank you for your kind reply. I disagree with you on some points which I can discuss with you later perhaps. For now, I would rather get some clarity from you if you would be so kind, so that I can appreciate your commentary to me. You say, "You hold a jewel in your hand but don't know how precious it is, I guarantee you. As time passes and Speech diminishes, your access will also shrink. Ideology won't lead to "siddhi" but only debate. "

      Can you please tell me if it is the lineage that is the precious jewel you refer to, or something else you know of me through a type of omniscience?

      Also please clarify this statement if you will: "You have to take this responsibility yourself and find out things for real. Not because it seemed a good idea at the time, but because you have somehow arrived at the heart of the matter, not because its logical, or you really thought it out, no, you must go a step further. A big step. You have to question authority, and you have to discover the discourse that makes you think and see the world exactly like you do, Uddhava. Your thoughts are not yours, they are coming from somewhere, and until you find out where, and I'm not speaking in abstracts, you won't be able to receive the treasure your authentic lineage lineage holds as your heirloom."

      Is the heirloom you speak of about my knowing my authentic Self? The Self, meaning the Awareness of "I" before anything else is attached to it.

      If you don't understand me and I don't understand you, I see we may not have a fruitful conversation. Thanks for whatever you can contribute to my confusion.

      Love,
      Uddhava

      • Thank you, Uddhava,

        I certainly don't want to contribute to your confusion. That being said, Doubt and Confusion are the 2 lieutenants of Mahakal Bhairav in Kashi Varanasi, two powerful Door Guardians that one must pass if one is to meet Shiva.

        In the world of man's ideas and beliefs there is always confusion.

        It seems like you are assuming an agency for me. You defined me in the last comment as living in another world, and in this one that I don't understand you. Instead of trying to figure me out, which, I'm afraid, is very complicated, try to understand the significance and value of the words I place before you. My guru ji, a Naga Baba, lived in the crotch of a Goddess, was surrounded by ghosts, spoke to crows, and read the sky like you read the newspaper. Do you think he understood a 19 year old boy from Beverly Hills, California, who grew up on television? We had much more important business at hand, the business of passing down ancient knowledge in an ancient oral tradition. It was not up to Hari Puri Ji Maharaj to understand me, it was up to me to deconstruct myself so that I could connect to this jewel that I had "stumbled" upon. I felt lucky when he looked at me or spoke with me.

        "May not have a fruitful conversation." This is an example of what I mean by the Speech of Consumption. We arrive at the supermarket of ideas, we examine all the packages, read the list of ingredients, make sure it's organic, ask the shopkeeper about the reliability of the brand, try it out, and then decide whether it adds to my life, makes it better, or not. If not, then back to the market and try another brand or product that might be more "fruitful." If you're shopping, there is nothing to buy into, here. My book is not a recipe for enlightenment, it's certainly not a manual of "how to do it," it's a story. I'm not suggesting to you or anyone else to think like me or be like me. But I am suggesting that you find out who you are, not on the basis of what others tell you, even if the ideas are inside your own head, but by making a sacred sacrifice of your self into the fire of knowledge.

        This is the deal – if you're shopping, I'm not selling. So better find a retailer or wholesaler of ideas. If you are questioning, engaging, even debating – for the time being, I will do my best, under my time constraints, to push the envelope, and move the story forward with you and others. I am not recruiting, certainly not interested in disciples, but open to the kind of dialog that makes us question the assumed.

        • Baba Rampuri,

          The way you write is quite difficult for me to understand. It took me reading many times to still not really quite get what you were saying. My own mother seemed to understand you just fine and so did my partner, both of which sort of told me the same thing they interpret your words as being.

          To be clear, I am not trying to buy anything. I had an initial question which probably wasn't clear to you either.

          When I say something like the 'energy of Yoga' I think I'm referring to the collective momentum of positivity associated with the movement of Yoga in the West–bastardized as that may be. Again, I am looking to the energy of it all. I keep forgetting a) how big our planet is, and b) how many people are there.

          Those committed to simple goodness, wishing others well in their own way, is far outnumbered by those that are 'asleep' behind the wheel, and much worse. I have heard from my own Guru that we are in Kali Yuga (meaning the powerful mindset of the masses here on Earth) and that things are not likely to get better, but worse on the external plane.

          I am not trying to reason anything out. I am not trying to make anything a matter of logic. I am only being in the space of my heart. My heart has been hurting, literally and otherwise about the state of mind of the world. The state of mind leads to actions, and actions lead to some end result, typically a result that is hurtful. I am looking at this on a global scale, where it really affects everyone. And yet, I am told it is all karma. I accept this. See, I was brought to my Guru at the age of 5. So you are right, I am possessed by two Worlds, the world of thought by my lineage (which as you say is dwindling–and it is, my Guru is no longer publicly available) and the western world of which I have been living in. My time spent literally at my Gurus feet in her Ashram in India and here in America were great boons, and something I know (not conjecture, but I outright know this from direct perception) I have worked for in very many births.

          What I see is the failure not of culture, for the external constructs of body, and country, only follow the mind. And the mind seems to follow the ego. To me, the ego is animal.

          It is this hurt deep in my heart which I seek to erase. But what I now understand you to say is that this is a journey, a priceless jewel, that I hold in my hand that will help me see things for real, to be in the Extraordinary between worlds. So, I am not looking to you to sell me anything. I am only looking, only asking, for such clarity that no part of me can any longer ignore whatever is necessary to not simply know the Truth, but to be That.

          I hope this is more clear and makes more sense to you. Thank you for taking any time at all to respond to me. From my heart to yours.

          Love,
          Uddhava

  7. Baba. You do me a very great honor by posting our fascinating discussion here on your blog.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

    • Thank you very much, Bob. To get people thinking about things, questioning their own ideas, beliefs, and also authority, is one of the higher goals of storytelling. And storytelling requires 3 parts to hold an audience – the setup, the conflict, and the resolution. Whether the story is Rambo or a sublime discourse on the Bhagavad Gita. It's a structure that we can see wherever we look – a beginning, a middle, and an end. Conflict is the machine, the story machine. So I applaud you as being my partner in telling a story that has a few people out there questioning things.

  8. Dear Babaji,
    As access to lineages are dying and speech is diminishing, it seems the only choice for a seeker who longs to know”I” as her very own Awareness is to turn within. You say you are between worlds. Perhaps the “in between” the space between one thought and another, the pure silence, is the only access we will have. Even as the guru/disciple relationship is less and less likely in the truest sense, there must be access to the Self. I am sure I am naïve and certainly NOT in authority but I believe the access will be there for those who deeply desire it as we are nothing but THAT.

    • Thank you, Michelle. In the idea realm, what you say makes a lot of sense. Adi Sankara, himself, dealt with this issue many years ago when Speech was different, and great gurus grew on trees. "Awareness is to turn within." In an absolute sense, there is no alternative, regardless of what world one is dealing with, but what does "within" really mean? Sankara felt that to go within without any handles, fails to provide context to experience. One may have incredble experience, but that is not knowledge, knowledge comes when there is a context to experience in that it connects to the matrix of Nature, what I refer to as Speech. When our Speaking is connected to things lacking density, the fickle ideas and beliefs of man, experience can mean anything you want it to. For most people, going inside means going into their thoughts, even if the thoughts are sublime, and at best, having an experience of what they may describe as silence, peace, or happiness. It's the thoughts that are very curious, because they seem to be yours, but they are not. They are the Intellectual Property of your cultural discourse, and you must pay your rent. So then, these leased thoughts are now your means of organizing your experience of silence, or peace, giving meaning to this experience. So, with all due respect, Michelle, because I know you are very sincere, you are suggesting the easy way out. The alternative is almost impossible, however. This is the irony. If the hero isn't painted into the corner with no way out at the end of act 2, there is no powerful resolution to the story, and the audience falls asleep.

      Access is there for "some of" those who deeply desire it, BUT who ALSO make a suitable sacrifice, an offering, a performance of true respect for what one is requesting. You get what you pay for.

      • Dear Babaji,
        I must confess I have a huge smile on my face and tears as well and am absolutely grateful for your response. When I received shaktipat from my guru I was given the most precious gift and it has "painted a way out of act 2". The truth is I FEEL so much suffering in this world and I must confess I want the access I have had with my sir guru for others and yet see it is impossible in this lifetime. There are the laws of karma and yes you get what you pay for. I have a son who is 5 who most likely will never have any access and this is a beautiful, painful and down right teriifying play. I do not have the ability to give him "a way out of act 2". My lineage has pulled away physical access in order to preserve it's lineage in a world of diminishing speech.
        I feel my thoughts are not my own, they are forms of collective consciousness. And in a world or darkness I also see sublime beauty. I choose to look for beauty, for the Light of Chit Shakti vibrating as all this. Perhaps it is a fantasy, still I choose to support my friends , family and kula and offer what gifts I have been given to spread hope and courage in a time where there is little. I have not and will not quit aligning with the teachings I have been given by my guru because I value this more than anything. I am a student. I am willing to subvert , to deeply question all I know in order to grow and offer myself to the collective evolution of consciousness regardless of result.
        What I am asking Babaji is this, are you saying there is no point in sadhana, as Speech is diminishing and there is no hope for Truth or sacredness?
        with deep respect
        Michellle

        • I am not prescribing, I'm describing. I'm not preaching. I'm not saying "do this," or "don't do that." I'm not suggesting you change anything, including the way you think. I'm talking about the scale of things we are dealing with, and describing a larger world.

      • michelle and baba.

        How would you say this idea of "going within" relates to the expansive getting outside oneself in the Gita?

        As a relatively new reader, it seems to me that the Gita at least, is at as much or more about expanding one's awareness outside oneself, to the extent that one can then eventually look back and see that the outside and the inside are one and the same Self.

        I've always been a little confused by this emphasis on "going within", when the Gita and the Upanishads seem to be telling one to expand awareness infinitely outward.

        And I'm guessing the obvious answer is that both are required, and not different, since they are ultimately the same.

        Bob W.

        • Bob, what you are saying is very true, and people on the spiritual path often miss this. Indian tradition speaks of the "outer" as being a reflection of the "inner," and, in fact, this is the meaning of "advaita." The syllable "a" negates "dvaita" which means "two." Not-two. So, it's neither two nor is it really one, either. The subject reflected in the mirror becomes the object. Consciousness, the subject is reflected in the mirror becomes the World, the object. If individual consciousness should expand to the degree that it's reflection is the entire World, or better, the entire Cosmos, then individual consciousness becomes the same as pure consciousness Itself. The mind and the ego are the primary tools with which the human accomplishes this, contrary to popular mythology. But the mirror must be completely clear for the reflection to truly objectify the subject without distortion, and then it must grow, expand, to cover the breadth of the entire universe. The mind and ego are not enemies, they are the means to liberation. The nemesis is Ignorance, not Mind. We mistake Ignorance for Mind and Ego. Expand your consciousness by all means!

          • Thank you so much for this Babaji!
            Ego gets such a bad rap! :). on some level hearing "death of the ego" I used to say- what? I mean it is part of the tattvas-right?, I can't imagine at some point ahamkara is going to be "destroyed" or manas or buddhi for that matter-that doesn't make sense to me. Purification or clarity of it makes more sense. So a play of words came to me- that instead of it's function as " i-maker " through purification, it becomes " I-maker ". :)
            Could one say that through the practices and access, it recognizes the power of the phoenemes (aham) and their application? So for the clarity of the mirror we need some really strong "windex" or glass cleaner :), and that is the connecting power of Speech or the Power of AHAM.

          • This is one of the reasons I usually run into problems with Buddhist philosophy and writings. Buddhism seems to be out to destroy or bury the ego altogether.

            Yoga philosophy on the other hand, although not entirely consistent on this point, is about witnessing our ego objectively, not destroying or burying it, at which point ego itself can be seen as just another manifestation of Brahman, and one of the more interesting ones at that.

            Bob Weisenberg
            ElephantJournal

  9. Babaji,

    Isn't peace and happiness, some would call it contentment, enough? Isn't seeing the same Awareness, that illuminates one's own experience, shining in the eyes of another enough? Isn't acting compassionately what it's all about?

    Yes our paradigm limits how we can express what we experience and to a large degree defines it but it doesn't necessarily limit us to that definition unless we allow it. Without a common frame of reference we could not communicate. Granted the Speech in Western culture is dominated by consumption and that consumption is consuming the West. We need to foster a Speech of connection and I hope our connection with you can foster that paradigm shift.

    It sounds to me that what you propose access to is siddhi. Perhaps this is a more powerful way to bestow blessings. Perhaps I still have no idea what you mean!

    • Considering we're doing this in a virtual world, YES Rico, I believe you are hearing what I am saying.

      • Dear Babaji,
        Will you speak more on access to siddhi?
        Is it possible to have a cyber study on Sanskrit, would you offer something like that?
        with deep respect
        Michelle

        • We could consider something like a cyber-study, but you would have to organize it.

          • Ok, I will put the word out and see. One of my meditation teachers, a swami from my lineage, offers phone classes that meet once a week for 2 hours for a certain number of weeks.The teachings are offered and some time for questions. Then the weeks ahead deal with integration of the teachings and further blog discussion.

          • I will wait to see what you have in mind. There are some things we can certainly do over internet, other things are more difficult.

  10. Dear Bob,
    As I said I am not in authority in anyway, especially in terms of the Gita. The ONLY thing I have to offer are my own experiences and my perception about the teachings from my guru. I believe this question about "inside and outside" is a great one. And perhaps depends on perspective. For instance, When I am sitting on my porch, looking "outside", there is something that is changeless and that is my Awareness, when I am sitting in meditation or "inside" this same Awareness is present. I don't know that any answer would be"obvious" around this subject, or at least that I have experienced.
    I believe that there is more mystery than there is access to what is knowable.
    I was told to meditate by my guru. So I have done that daily now for for 13 years, so clearly I am a baby in this practice. My guru also taught me that everything is a play of the same Supreme Consciousness.
    What I experience is that the seemingly infinite worlds opening up internally inform my perceptions of the world around me and visa versa. What I experience is an infinite light or constellations that seems to reflect the infinite gallaxies in the "outer world" and that this very body is a microsm of the macrocosm.
    I can also share that I personally had to draw deeply into meditation "in-wardly'" first before I was able to experience that same Awareness "outwardly."
    When I meditate, sound is what draws me "inside" faster than anything..so in a funny way it seems to be the "outside" or subtle organs of perception that draw me into the hrdaya ( or heart). In meditation I also experience an acute awareness of world and sound and then of the Power that "hears" and the subtle relationship between the 2 until identification with sound in particular dissolves and "thinking about anything" also dissolves.
    To be completely honest , these days most everything feels like a "dream." Meaning that the world, the waking and dream states are becoming more and more an infinite extension of each other without the "crispy edges" they used to have. So the lines between "inner" and "outer" are blurring.
    This is what came out.. :) I will be delighted to hear what Babaji offers.
    with deep respect
    Michelle

  11. Hi Baba,

    was trying to explain details of an energy problem, then got blocked out of the account on Facebook. Sent message on Myspace.

  12. Namaste,
    Now that this discussion seems to have expired, I would like to mention the 'mythological' dimension to Patanjali's personality. Patanjali is believed to be an incarnation of Adishesha, the great Naga on whom Vishnu reclines. Patanjali is credited with giving humanity three remedies for the faults that had afflicted the three vehicles of action – Body, Speech and Mind. For helping the body, he taught the science of Ayurveda in the Charakasamhita. Speech was remedied by the Mahabhashya. The Yoga Sutra was a remedy for the mind (I repeat, the mind). These folks coined the word 'Yoga'. Draw your own conlusions.

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