Afraid of the Dentist

I went to visit my dentist not too long ago. Lot’s people are afraid of the dentist. And why not; my dentist is terrifying! She’s a sweet and cheerful woman with lots of long, sharp metal objects and motorized devices that, but for a well-placed shot of an anesthetic to numb half my face, would cause me more pain than I can imagine every time she gets down to business.

But the scariest thing she’s ever done to me had nothing to do with drills or dental scalers. The most frightening moment I’ve ever spent in her chair was the moment she gave me something she insisted I use every day: a toothbrush.

Now, this is no ordinary toothbrush; it’s a big, plastic contraption that has a little motor inside that spins the brush head around. And it’s re-chargeable: it came with a little plastic throne for it to sit in while it’s re-charging. And the plastic packaging it was sealed inside was so thick that liberating this toothbrush would have been impossible without a pair of industrial strength scissors and a lot of elbow grease.

So now I’m obliged – dentist’s orders – to use a toothbrush that’s made of plastic that was packaged in plastic that sits on a plastic throne. And since plastic requires oil to be manufactured and getting the oil to manufacture it apparently requires drilling into the floor of the earth beneath the Gulf of Mexico then it stands to reason that dentists are the cause of environmental catastrophes! After all, if we didn’t need these plastic toothbrushes then we wouldn’t need the oilrigs that might explode and destroy the planet we depend on to grow our food the eating of which necessitates the brushing of my teeth. It’s a vicious cycle and it all begins with dentists!

I’m obliged to point out, in all fairness to my wonderful dentist, that we could just as easily blame all the people who buy the myriad of products we find up and down every aisle of every store in America that’s made of and/or packaged in plastic: our selves. We have met the enemy and they is us! The only reason all that plastic, which requires all that oil, exists is because we keep buying it. And it as long as we keep buying it someone will keep manufacturing it.

So you may be thinking, “what does this have to do with yoga?”

Yoga says that everything, EVERYTHING we know is wrong; that the whole enterprise of human civilization is based on a false premise and therefore everything that follows is bound to fail: oil spills, wars, famine, economic melt-downs, political upheavals, personal tragedies, all of it is inevitable.

So what is that false premise? It’s the idea that the world of our sensory experience is all there is, that bringing pleasure to the senses will make us happy, that the world exists as a vehicle for our enjoyment, and therefore the pursuit of happiness – the arrangement of the world in favor of our conception of what is pleasing to our senses – is the goal of life.

According to yoga scripture the material world is brought into being as a response to our desire to control and enjoy the world. You could say we are all engaged in our own “God Project” wherein we place our selves at the center of the universe and attempt to organize things such that they revolve around our desires. Of course, it doesn’t work for so many reasons: we don’t have the power, individually or collectively, to control the universe so we’re not qualified to hold the position we seek. And the fact that we have differing values and desires means that, as we vie for control over the resources that we covet in order to fulfill our desires, conflict is inevitable. And even if we are successful our pyrrhic victories will be short lived: we get our chance to try for a twinkling of an eye – eighty years with luck or even less.

Yoga, on the other hand, is the ultimate culture jam. We begin with an altogether different premise: that the world of our sensory experience is an illusion in much the same way as a dream; the dream is “real” insofar as we experience dreaming but when we wake up we realize that our “reality” has but a distant relationship to the dream. Yoga is the process of waking up; it’s a bridge between the sleeping state of illusion that compels us to identify ourselves as these temporary mind/body complexes and the waking state of reality where we re-discover our true and eternal identity.

The process that Patanjali offers in his Yoga Sutras as the most simple and efficient means to attaining this waking state is Ishvara pranidhana: the offering of one’s life to the Supreme Being. In other words, the first order of business is to place the Supreme Being in the center and dedicate our actions to the pleasure of the senses of that Supreme Being rather than operating from the assumption of our own universal centrality and the imperative of our own sensory gratification.

This is the first step in Bhakti Yoga – union with the Divine through devotional service to the Divine. And to act in this way is to immediately achieve the state of jivan-mukti: liberation of the spirit soul while still living in this material body. We act on the basis of spiritual reality while we play out the string of our karma in the material dream, but we are no longer accruing reactions to our actions because spiritual action – action for the pleasure of the Supreme – does not bind us to material reactions. It’s like unplugging a fan; the blades still turn but, without any more electricity going into the mechanism, the blades gradually slow down and stop.

The yogis act in this world, but their actions are meant to distinguish reality from illusion for the benefit of all. Understanding the futility of struggling with the desire to enjoy the senses of their temporary bodies in a world of conflict, decay, and death, the liberated souls do not try to bend the world; that’s impossible. Instead, they just try to understand the truth: there is no dentist.

One Comment

  1. Cory
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 9:14 AM | Permalink | Reply


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