Baba’s response to an editorial in the New York Times

The Temple of Guru Dattatreya

Baba’s response to Suketu Mehta’s editorial in the New York Times

NYT:            …that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages.

BABA:            It is for the colonizer of knowledge to create sausages out of the living animal.  Sausages have a bigger market than pigs and cows.

NYT:            …the forefront of the patenting of traditional Indian wisdom are Indians, mostly overseas…

BABA:            Indian culture is very old and has been dealing with logic and rational thinking for millennia.  Indians are very intelligent.  Look what they did to the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, the pinnacle of enlightenment thinking when it came to the human “science” of politics.  They ate it alive.  It more resembles Swiss cheese than anything British.  I’d be proud.

But as an Indian, he ought to know that the very idea of patenting knowledge is a gross violation of the tradition of yoga

BABA:            I’ve known the man for many years, and by great chance I happened to be visiting the States and happened to visit him at his studio in LA late on the day a large highly critical article came out about him in the LA Times entitled, “McYoga.”  A photo of him wearing a Nike “Just Do It” headband accompanied the article.  He showed me the paper in disgust.  Since I have known him as a man with skin thicker than an elephant I asked him why he was so upset, I thought all publicity is good publicity?  Why let the article get you down?

“It’s not the article that I give a damn about,” he said, “it’s the fact that nobody from Nike called me about Product Placement.  I put them right there on the front page of the LA Times, and I don’t work for free.”

What, may I ask, does the Tradition of Yoga (whatever that means these days) and its niyams have to do with the yoga studios in America.  Which Tradition of Yoga is he referring to?

Indians believe in a universal mind — brahman — of which we are all a part, and which ponders eternally. Everyone has access to this knowledge.

BABA:            Everyone, in theory, has as much access to “this knowledge” as everyone in America has access to “this wealth, this ultimate American dream.”  “This knowledge” in this tradition is oral.  You don’t go down to Borders and get the book.  Amazon meant big women.

Knowledge in ancient India was protected by caste lines, not legal or economic ones

BABA:            Knowledge has never been “protected” but access to it has usually depended on locality.  The vast majority of knowledge has always passed down through caste lines, because that was the only access there was to it.  In my tradition, the parameters of Knowledge are thought of as The Book of the World, which we call the Sanatan Dharma.  The Primary Language, which is the “text” of the world, is an intellectual capital from which a Second Language, Commentary, arises in the form of a tradition of Knowledge, passed down by the lineages of that tradition.  Whereas a Primary Language is fixed, the Commentary is fluid and adapts to the conventions of the times.

There are vastly different traditions of Knowledge.  There is the tradition of Knowledge maintained in the Mother-Daughter lineages, in which knowledge reflects the mysteries and secrets of fecundity and life itself, and that of maintaining the sanctity of the hearth.

There are the traditions of Knowledge, maintained by caste, by the Father-Son lineages, in which technology marks knowledge: the secrets and practice of rituals, medicine, warfare, farming, or tanning skins.  And then there is a tradition of Knowledge whose sole focus is the reading of, and therefore becoming part of, the text of the Book of the World.  Access to this tradition is considerably more difficult, as the other two are built into family and caste, and this one often requires leaving family and caste.

You did not pay your guru in coin; you herded his cows and married his daughter, and passed on the knowledge to others when you were sufficiently steeped in it. This tradition continues today…

BABA:            In the traditions of Knowledge (and Yoga), your guru usually doesn’t have daughters and cows, and is definitely paid in coin, or at least a reasonable facsimile.  This is called “dakshina,” and has been an institution in Indian culture since at least the Vedas.  As part of the yajaman’s (sacrificer’s) ritual in the vedic sacrifice, he gives dakshina to the Brahmins, as is done to this day, and disciples have always given dakshina to their gurus, often on the days of religious importance, and days of sacrifice.  The giving of dakshina and other gifts is the basis for all record keeping among the traditions of Knowledge in India, and one can say that the giving of wealth marks the world with man’s signature.  In terms of the rituals of the Tradition of Knowledge, I can think of nothing more central than the giving of dakshina.  But dakshina is  also not the determinant for knowledge to pass from guru to disciple, but rather it is the relationship that may develop between the two, and the guru’s judgment of the disciple’s suitability.  Dakshina marks the relationship.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Indians do not feel obligated to pay for knowledge.

BABA:            Perhaps Indians do not today nor have ever felt obligated to pay for knowledge, but rather “pay their respects.”  For it’s never been the knowledge that they have bought, but access to Authority, they may have gained knowledge, paying a price much greater than most would be willing to pay today.  Authority marks the difference between information (even very good information) and knowledge.  Traditions of Knowledge go through great pains to maintain the Authority of their lineages.  In my Akhara, we start out with 5 gurus, who are called the 5 Witnesses.  The giving of dakshina is an integrated part of the initiation.  More dakshina is given so that names are recorded in Akhara records.  Since at least 3 of the witness gurus must come from different lineages within the Akhara, the number of people who know about the new guru-disciple relationship grows exponentially.  Then we have several small castes attached to the Akhara, such as Jangams and Bhats, itinerant bards, who separately maintain the sanctity of the lineages, through their songs.  All this is to maintain the value of Authority (note the word “author”) when it relates to the Tradition of Knowledge.

Pirated copies of my book are openly sold on the Bombay streets.

BABA:            The price of PR.

Western pharmaceutical companies make billions on drugs that are often first discovered in developing countries — but herbal remedies like bitter gourd or turmeric, which are known to be effective against everything from diabetes to piles, earn nothing for the country whose sages first isolated their virtues

BABA:            I guarantee that should you give the choice of Western medicine or Ayurveda to 100 miscellaneous Indians dying of cancer, at least 99 will choose Western medicine.  Western medicine has Authority in India.  Ayurveda is relegated to Intellectual Capital, that by the very Authority the Imperial West assumes, is subject to the West’s mapping exercise, and its agency (remember the West represents the East), and therefore subject to exploitation.  As with labor and resources.

I was living in India when Mrs. Gandhi, the P.M., threw Coca-Cola out, in 1974.  Campa Cola and Thumbs Up quickly replaced Coke and Pepsi.  Years later when both the soft drink giants returned, I was fascinated by how local people in India responded to brand allegiance.  I wanted to know which of these drinks tasted better to these people.  Well Coke and Pepsi gobbled up the whole market (they bought all the bottling plants in the country), so the question really became, “What tastes better, Coke or Pepsi?”  The answer is, “it depends.”  It depends on whether you want the “real thing” or want to be part of the Pepsi generation.

Beaudriard said, “Eat the meat of the elite, everyone’s doing it.”

The Age has changed, it seems 9/11 may turn out to be the marker.  It’s now about consumption.

About the Author

Baba Rampuri, author of "Autobiography of a Sadhu, a Journey into Mystic India," and frequent commentator on Oral Tradition, Sacred Speech, and Consciousness, is an American expatriate,  the first foreigner to be initiated into India's largest and most ancient order of yogis, the Naga Sannyasis of Juna Akhara.  He has lived in India since 1970, where he practices and teaches the oral tradition of the Sanatan Dharma, conducts sacred ceremony and rites, and hosts workshops and retreats.

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  1. The NYT interviewers claims that you married your guru’s daughter?? Can a sannyasi marry? Are you married to someone’s daughter? I thought all naga babas didn’t have any attachments such as marriage, etc. Is this a new trend in the Naga Baba tradition? Do the Nagas we see at the Kumbh have wives and children?? Please advise.

    1. Mehta was not referring to me in the questions but to what he thought was the condition of an oral tradition of knowledge. Read it again. This was an article that Suketu Mehta wrote in the New York Times that I commented on. When he says “when you…” he means “when one…” meaning anyone.

      1. oh! Got it. Only your explanation makes his words completely clear for me. There are indeed these things (disciples marrying the guru’s daughter, etc.) going on. Imagine my confusion thinking that now naga babas were doing this!

        Thank you very much for your reply, and for taking the time to reply at all on this site.

  2. “God, help me not to write or speak what i don’t really know”

    said the russian writer Anton Cechov


    good chance to a clarification

    OmNamoNarayan babaJi

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