Tag Archives: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yogic Values, Diversity, and Inclusivity

LuluLogoDiversityI had the good fortune to score one of only a hundred seats for The Practice of Leadership, a panel discussion held at the Yoga Journal Conference in New York City this past weekend. The discussion grew out of Seane Corn’s decision to decline an invitation from Lululemon to participate in a leadership training program they were developing for the Yoga Journal Conferences. Ms. Corn explained the reason for her decision:

I told them that I couldn’t be a part of a training program they were hosting unless they themselves were willing to model true leadership, which includes ownership. Their lack of transparency and silence around the controversy in 2013 was irresponsible.”

The “controversy” was a perfect storm of long-standing questions regarding the compatibility of Lululemon’s philosophy and ethics with those of yoga combined with incendiary statements by Lululemon founder and majority shareholder Chip Wilson regarding, among other things, problems with Lululemon’s product line. It all resulted in a public relations disaster and an invitation from Alanna Kaivalya in a phenomenally viral Huffington Post article.

The Practice of Leadership panel discussion was described as follows:

“In this session, we will take on the delicate balance of spiritual values and corporate responsibility featuring community leaders, social change activists and Lululemon leadership. It will be an open and honest dialogue that gets at the heart of our practice, our role as conscious leaders and how to create community in conflict.”

Yogadork posted a nice summary of the proceedings and asked readers to stop and ponder a significant question: “Do you feel Lululemon (a corporation) should be held responsible for upholding yogic values, diversity and inclusivity?”

My answer is that Yogadork rolled two very different questions into one. A coherent response is not possible until the two questions are separated. Here’s why: Continue reading

Wanting The Other To Be

CatAndDogI was particularly impressed by Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon’s recent Focus of the Month essay, Bhakti Trumps All, in which she made a point of saying that animal rights activism, Jivamukti’s de-facto calling card, is subordinate to devotion to God. She unequivocally states that veganism, environmentalism, and other forms of social activism are not ends unto themselves but, from the standpoint of yoga, are meant to be an expression of something higher, namely, the desire to act in a way that’s pleasing to Krishna.

Continue reading

The Mind-Blowing Fantastic-ness of Being a Person

13_sept12_86-keith-haring_USE

art by Keith Haring

In my last post, I concluded with a couple of questions, the first of which was: “what does it mean to be a person?” It’s an often-overlooked question in spite of its obvious importance to… people. That’s one reason why, whenever the issue of person-ness arises in my yoga philosophy workshops, I make a point of asking participants to offer their thoughts on what it means to be a person. The Sanskrit word for ‘person’, purusa, figures prominently in yoga wisdom texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali so it should come as no surprise that the issue would come up in any meaningful discussion of yoga philosophy.

The response to my query usually includes ideas such as ‘to be conscious or self-aware’, ‘to keep learning and growing’, ‘to have the ability to communicate’, or ‘to have a soul’. Most of the replies I get suggest what I consider to be the essential element of person-ness but it’s rare that someone directly states my preferred answer: to be a person means to have senses. Continue reading

The Supreme Personality of Godhead

Krishna

As is so often the case, Carol Horton wrote a wonderfully thought-provoking article recently. You can find it on her blog, Think Body Electric. The post was an appreciation of ‘American Yoga’ and, as the long parade of comments that her post generated rolled on, the topic of the Bhagavad Gita’s relevance to contemporary yoga came up. Within the sub-discussion that nested inside the larger conversation, one participant suggested that a definition of “Krishna”, the speaker of the Gita, was required in order to ascertain how one should try to understand the Gita and apply its teachings.

I couldn’t agree more.

One edition of the Gita that was cited among examples of how different translators arrive at different philosophical conclusions was A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. In his translation, Prabhupada coined a vivid descriptive for Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Continue reading

Gay Marriage in the Bhagavad Gita, Part 2

In my last post I began to make a case for the idea that the Bhavagad Gita supports gay marriage, a proposition that, not surprisingly, has been applauded by progressive yogis and challenged by orthodox yogis. Being pre-disposed towards personal civil liberties (no, I am not a Ron Paul supporter!), I wrote the first installment on this topic thinking primarily about the rights and obligations that marriage bestows on the parties involved. Early in the Gita, Krishna confirms our spiritual status as eternally unique individuals (chapter 2, verse 12) and, at the end of the Gita, Krishna encourages Arjuna to make up his own mind about what he should do (chapter 18, verse 63). Hence, an essential lesson from the Gita is that we are endowed with free will; the right and responsibility to decide for ourselves how we should each respond to our own destiny.

When a government, secular or theocratic, imposes unreasonable restrictions on how we may respond to our destiny – such as restricting our right to choose who can visit us in the hospital when we’re sick, who is permitted to make critical decisions on our behalf when we are unable to make them for ourselves, who is qualified to inherit our assets, dispose of our liabilities, or take over legal guardianship of our children when we die, etc. – then that constitutes an unreasonable imposition of state will on our spiritually inherent free will; an injustice. Arjuna’s dharma – his social obligation – is to fight in defense of justice. The Gita presents Arjuna as a role model for aspiring yogis. One can therefore reasonably argue that depriving gay couples of the rights enjoyed by straight couples is an injustice that ought to be opposed by anyone who aspires to follow in Arjuna’s footsteps. Continue reading

Is Illusion Greater than Reality?

Is illusion superior to reality? If you think ignorance is bliss then, well, yeah, maybe. But if we take this question seriously you might respond by saying, “Why should I even take this question seriously? Duh!”

Okay, conventional wisdom says that reality is (obviously) greater than illusion. So it may surprise you to learn that a lot of yoga folks subscribe to a brand of yoga philosophy that, if you follow it to it’s logical conclusion, actually says just the opposite: that illusion must be greater than reality.

It may not be so apparent at first glance, but there’s a bit of circular reasoning hiding inside some popular notions about yoga philosophy that results in an irresolvable internal contradiction. And this really matters for anyone who thinks that the goal of yoga is liberation from illusion because if it turns out that illusion is actually greater than reality, well… Houston, we have a problem. Continue reading

How to be a Jivan-muktah

“The yogis, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.” Bhagavad-gita 5.11

During a class you’ll often hear me talk about yoga as a subtractive process; one of removing all the obstacles of the mind and impurities of the heart that prevent us from experiencing ourselves in our natural state of eternal, blissful consciousness; of being one who is liberated from illusion while still living in this world – a jivan-muktah.

Patanjali defines liberation (or samadhi) as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind that results from the cessation of our identification with those fluctuations. So can we liberate our consciousness from the fluctuations of the mind and still be engaged with the world? As long as we have a body with which to act and a mind that’s generating thoughts that inspire those actions, we’d still have fluctuations of the mind and desires upon which we’re acting… so how can we say we’re liberated? Or, to put it another way, how is it possible to be a jivan-muktah if liberation is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind? Continue reading