Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
The postmodern yoga world is rife with controversy and conflict. At this point in time it’s common knowledge that there is discord between styles of yoga, and that even within a single tradition people harbor resentments towards other people. Bikram Choudhury is known for openly disregarding other styles of yoga as being inferior to his brand of hot yoga. Within the ashtanga tradition, many teachers find themselves caught in conflict over which certifications deem one more or less capable of transmitting the correct knowledge to students. Recently, John Friend, the founder of Anusara™ yoga has been taken out to pasture for his sexual and financial indiscretions. Lululemon Athletica, purveyor of high end yoga apparel, has been deemed unethical for human rights violations within their China-based factories and for their founder’s racism toward the Japanese.
On a lower level these are important issues to look at, especially for students trying to find their way in the mess of what we refer to as yoga in the postmodern world. Yet, on another level, we see that most yoga controversies have arisen out of the kind of thinking yoga itself admonishes as being detrimental to authentic practice. Somewhere between the dawning of yoga and the present time, we have managed to get lost in our ideas and opinions about what yoga is and what it isn’t. We’ve mistaken yoga for fitness, designer apparel, and proficiency in different combinations of asanas.
Yet, the philosophy asserts is that yoga is quite simply the ability to be completely aware in the present moment. I would like to think that most of us, aside from our personal preferences, opinions, and conflicts with others, engage in contemplative practices (like yoga) with the sincere intention to be more present. In such a climate of shifting ideas and emotions, how do we nurture authentic awareness?
Yoga philosophy presents us with a guide for awakening our perception, stating that yoga is essentially the stilling of the mind. The stilling of the mind opens us up to an awareness that is choiceless and wordless. A choiceless and wordless awareness is one that is not structured on opposing viewpoints of right and wrong, or good and bad. Nor is it one that is attached to concepts like enlightenment or heaven and hell. Patanjali identifies five types of turning thought, called vrittis. These changing states are either painful or not painful. Make no mistake, however, that Patanjali defines all five modes of thought (vritti) as distractions from the moment. He notes that the vrittis, whether detrimental or non-detrimental to yoga, are all separate and a distraction from real seeing. (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I.5-I.10)
i. Right knowledge
ii. False knowledge
For this month’s satsang at Purple Yoga, we will focus on right and false knowledge in order to understand how to use a teaching as a guide towards awareness, rather that letting the teaching lead us into conceptualization of yoga and yoga practice. How do we cultivate awareness beyond our own mechanistic thinking and biased opinions? How do we use the teachings of yoga appropriately?
It’s important to see that the practical application of yoga in the postmodern world is not something idealistic or New Age. The idea isn’t to adopt some sort of pretend compassion towards those we dislike. We attempt to see that a real practice depends on our ability to rise above our likes and dislikes and our ideas of right and wrong with the understanding that this lower level of functioning is in essence an impediment to the real practice of seeing and yoga.