In Defense of Gurus – Part 1

kumare2Unless you’re a yogi who’s been living in a cave (which you’re not because cave-dwelling yogis are so passé), you’ve noticed, and perhaps support, a renewal of calls from the collective voice of modern yoga to banish, once and for all, the institution of ‘guru’. This is understandable: in the last few years many modern yoga ‘gurus’, and some presumably traditional ones, have betrayed the trust of those who placed their faith in them. The revelations of abuse and duplicity have been sufficiently flagrant and injurious as to inspire the assumption that anyone who claims to be a guru is really a wolf in guru’s clothing.

We have high standards for gurus but low expectations of people: we think a ‘real’ guru must be a flawless embodiment of supra-conscious morality and that no one is actually capable of such perfection. After all, we’re not: why should we think anyone else is. Our idealism crashes headlong into our cynicism and we conclude that there is not now nor has there ever been a ‘real’ guru so throwing the ‘guru’ out with the bath water will ensure that we won’t get ripped-off by smooth-talking Svengalis offering rose-colored promises in exchange for blind obedience.

With such reasonable doubts in mind, critical thinking about whether or not there’s a place for the traditional guru/disciple relationship in modern yoga is obviously a good idea. In considering the question the first issue that needs to be addressed is one of criteria: what are the qualifications for being a ‘guru’? [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 5

Alex_Grey-Kissing_240x340Yoga philosophy describes three gunas or elemental qualities of material nature: luminosity (goodness), activity (passion), and caliginosity (ignorance). Like primary colors, these three gunas combine to create the hues, tones and intensities of the people, places, and things that populate the world of our experience.

The project of yoga requires us to dovetail our propensity for action (the quality of passion) in such a way as to move our consciousness toward illumination (the quality of goodness) rather than obscuration (the quality of ignorance). So the question at hand is, “what manner of sexual activity (if any) moves consciousness toward illumination?” [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 4

radha_krishna_in_the_garden_of_love_he01Throughout this series I’ve proposed that our natural impulse for sexual intimacy originates in transcendence. In this post I’ll describe how sexual intimacy finds its expression in transcendence and in my next post I’ll conclude the series by offering some thoughts on how our sexual impulses can be channeled in an authentically spiritual way.

An abstract conception of transcendental sex is found in Tantric Yoga, where the union of Shakti with Shiva resolves the differentiated world into a monistic unity. Tantra offers a path to undifferentiated transcendence with a sexual component that calls for the retention of secretions during sex and the movement of vital energy up through subtle channels of the physical body, but Tantra does not propose relationships between varieties of beings in transcendence. Other traditions propose similar techniques for approximating spiritual ecstasy without reference to a diversified spiritual world within which erotic activities take place. [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 3

ram-sita-in-hanuman-heartIn the Ramayana, the epic story of Rama, the demonic king Ravana has made a fatal error: He’s kidnapped Sita, Rama’s wife. Despite his great wealth and power, Ravana’s appropriation of Sita, driven by his aspiration to possess and enjoy her for himself, has ensured his inevitable, destruction.

But Ravana has unknowingly kidnapped a counterfeit. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, the source of creation, and Sita is Vishnu’s eternal consort, Laksmi Devi, the Goddess of Fortune. As such, they can never really be separated. But they can appear to be: at the moment of Ravana’s treachery, Sita manifests an illusory duplicate, allowing Ravana to abscond with a shadow version of her real self. Misled by his ego and bewildered by a facsimile, Ravana thinks he has captured the Goddess of Fortune, who will now surely succumb to his charms and fulfill his desires. [Read more…]

Sex, Death, and Yoga – Part 2

In my last post I left you with a curious proposition based on truthy math: death may be overcome by abstention from sex. Not surprisingly, some of you questioned my conclusion. And why not? I’m sure such drastic notions sound like the dogmatic declamations of an anachronistic yoga fundamentalist. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Well, I don’t think of myself as a yoga fundamentalist, anachronistic or otherwise, and by the time I’m finished with this series I hope you won’t either. Be that as it may, traditional yoga texts are, in fact, where one will find support for my proposition. Patanjali’s yoga system is an unabashedly inward progression: a systematic retraction of the senses from the exterior world of sense objects into the interior realm of the self, wherein attachment to one’s body – to say nothing of other people’s bodies – is extinguished and the mind dissolves back into the primordial pradhāna from which it came. [Read more…]