In Defense of Gurus, Part 2

I have a guru. Many years ago, in an elaborate Vedic ritual, I confirmed my commitment to the spiritual practice my guru specified for all of his disciples. My guru, in turn, confirmed his commitment to connect me to the highest truth through a lineage of gurus stretching back to antiquity. The deal between us is simple: I accept his authority as a bona fide representative of an authentic spiritual tradition and he guides my way home.

I do not have a business relationship with my guru. I did not pay thousands of dollars for a yoga teacher training in order to be initiated. There were no workshop tuitions, there was no free labor masquerading as ‘karma yoga’, and I’ve never been his employee. Although it’s customary for a disciple to offer donations, my guru never asked me for any money. The only things my guru asked of me was to chant and be happy and to try my best to help fulfill the mission of his guru, just as his own guru (my grand-guru) had asked him to help fulfill the mission of his guru (my great grand-guru), and so on back to antiquity.

Some members of the modern yoga community think antiquity is precisely where the institution of ‘guru’ belongs. In a rare case of near agreement with my modern yoga colleagues, I’m obliged to agree, albeit conditionally: the institution of ‘guru’ has no place within the framework of modern commerce-driven yoga. The reason is simple: profit motive. The very idea of yoga gurus running business enterprises runs counter to the principles at the core of an authentic guru-disciple relationship. [Read more…]

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…]