Yoga: To Judge or Not

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This morning, I came across a Facebook post from my friend, Kaya Mindlin. She was sharing her thoughts on how some spiritual teachers would suggest that “for the sake of spirituality, you must put your logical mind to rest” and in the process set the stage for bypassing and even inviting guilt for using logic and reasoning in an instance.

This was an intellectual thread and it was quite interesting to note that it was common for many yoga teachers to ask this of their students.

What I’ve observed is that many, if not most, yoga teachers today knowingly or unwittingly assume a place of spiritual high-ground. There is an assumption that if one is a ‘yoga’ teacher, then they have immediately received some spiritual secrets of life that are universal truths (along with their YTT200 certificate maybe). An assumption like that often, in my very humble (yet blunt) opinion, brinks either on stupidity or more seriously, on a lot of potential harm and danger.

This was my comment on Kaya’s thread:

Humans are gifted in that that have a mind that thinks like animals and also possesses the ability to discern with multiple facets – logically, intuitively (although this isn’t necessarily logical) and by taking into account sensations, feelings and emotions. All this is logic- and body/ personality-based judgment and subjective. The objective way is to go beyond these ‘personal’ and objectively look at it as the bigger picture – that takes the discernment to a Manasic level(higher order thinking) & tapping into inherent wisdom. Teachers who use spiritual cliches are usually unprepared to answer their students questions and end up making such statements as a way to shut them down using scriptural verses/ thought as a crutch. Viveka, vichara and dharma are all a part of human endeavor.

Our strength as human beings is our ability to sense, feel and emote and to make enough sense of it to express. However, our sensations, feelings & emotions are all subjective to our own experiences. In other words, they are purely based on the individual perceptions of our personality… and our ego. Ego here, referring to our individual self and not the attitude thereof. The experience is largely ‘I ‘based because it happened to ‘me‘. This experience also doesn’t hold true for everyone else and hence remains to be a subjective one and arising largely from the physiological & psychosomatic response to situations.

These responses and experiences are body-based and allow us to choose based on what our physical body, and our mind, wants, likes and desires because it feels good and nourishing. This is important. This is also discernment at a basic, personal level. This is where we use our ability to think and assess what is beneficial and what isn’t as it applies to us / our individual self and to some extent taps into our next level consciousness to include our immediate close ones (family & maybe very close friends). Everything is subjective. It is in this state when one doesn’t overly bother about the community or state or country because they align themselves with choices, policies, actions, etc that are beneficial to them and them alone.

Very subjective and rooted in the ‘Me, Myself & I

However, humans are higher order thinking beings – gifted not just with an intellect, but also with a higher sense of spiritual understanding and evolving wisdom. We have the ability to not just be stuck in the ‘me, myself & I‘ but also to move to a consciousness rooted in the ‘We, Ourselves & Us‘. It is, essentially, the philosophical path of righteous action – dharma – based on our elevated consciousness. It is an action based on an elevated level of consciousness when we can see the bigger picture of the series of incidents and situations and understand the larger perspective – the manasic perspective.

It is stepping out of the well and understanding that there is a whole world beyond it! It is important, though, to recognize that the process does not mean discounting or dismissing the subjective sensations, feelings and emotions, but acknowledging them as a part of the personality. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge the physical experience and emotional washing over and still be able to hold ourselves accountable to look beyond that subjective experience.

This is easier said that done.

But there in lies the work of the disciple, philosopher, aspirant and yogi. That is the austere work of our path to freedom and yoga – our tapas.

Many spiritual ‘teachers‘ – the ones who may have gathered various concepts from diverse self-help or healing modalities and traditions but lack a solid grounding on the existential philosophy and deeper meaning and wisdom of scriptures or even philosophy, often have a collection of quotes & cliches to offer their followers & students. The harm here is that the confusion the students may feel would be met by the poorly prepared teacher who offers a cliched statement as a bandaid instead…. only to either invalidate the student’s experience and natural questioning or dismiss it has being judgmental of yoga and yogic practices.

The risk is in assuming that everything about yoga, philosophy and the scriptures in abstract. To some extent it is – for that matter even science, to some extent begins with abstract assumptions and hypotheses (until proven). But using a partially understood abstract to shut away questions that students may have and by asking them to pause their thinking mind or be less judgmental and ‘go beyond‘ it is a ripe setting for physical, physiological, emotional, spiritual, mental and psychological trauma and harm. Not to forget, making a case for guilt.

At the end of it all, if the teacher is unable to connect the principle of ‘going beyond’ judgment to explain where exactly he/she is asking you to go to, it is just plain old spiritual bypassing. It is worth remembering that this ‘going beyond‘ will involve work, determination, commitment and a bit of sacrifice as it would mean letting go of the stronghold many of us have with our subjective feelings, emotions & sensations.

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