Tag Archives: Patanjali

‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry | Yoga | The Guardian

An op-ed piece in The Guardian states that what passes for Yoga in the west nowadays has become “divorced … from its 5000 year old roots.” Author of new book The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why it Needs to Save Itself, Nadia Gilani, states:

“The lack of people of colour in the industry is a massive problem,” Gilani said. “There is a big issue with diversity, in terms of both teachers and those who practice it. What especially annoys me is when Sanskrit words like ‘namaste’ get emblazoned on T-shirts, images of Hindu gods are turned into tattoos, or ‘om’ symbols are printed on yoga mats. It’s cultural appropriation and it’s offensive.”

I dislike using the vocabulary of political correctness, but I find myself agreeing with Ms Gilani’s sentiment entirely. The issues are, however, complex.

A quarter of a century ago, I attended the British Wheel of Yoga’s annual conference, and if I were to profile its attendees I would characterise them as predominantly white. I can only remember one teacher of Indian ethnicity and he had lived and worked in Britain for most of his life. I also noted that in a bid to host it somewhere that was peaceful and quiet, they had held it in the middle of the countryside, where it was a devil to get to via public transport (hence discriminating in favour of car owners, and against pedestrians).

Moreover, many of the teachers at the time appeared to have been ex-hippies who had hit the trail in the late sixties or early seventies, and found themselves – both geographically and spiritually – in India, where they trained under admittedly authentic native teachers such as BKS Iyengar, Satyananda Saraswati, and others. Iyengar, incidentally, himself a devout Vaishnavite Hindu, always struck me as a man at pains to emphasise how his modern system of Hatha Yoga fitted in with the classical tradition as exemplified by Patanjali, and his Indian heritage – despite the fact that he was perfectly willing to teach Westerners.

However, the most disturbing trend in Yoga at the time came not from the British Wheel, but from America, where feminists openly discussed in the pages of yoga magazines (this of course was in the days before the Internet) how they refused to acknowledge the importance of the Bhagavad Gita, because they believed its description of a battle was Patriarchal. In other words, no true woman would use such violent imagery, hence they did not accept it.

I believe that this is the real root of the modern decline in respect for meditation and spirituality in Yoga in the West. It may be politically incorrect to culturally appropriate the ancient heritage, but this has come about because there was a perception that the ancient heritage was itself politically incorrect!

Plus of course, stripping Yoga of its spiritual associations helps to commodify it. The fifth of the Yamas, according to Patanjali, is Aparigraha or lack of attachment to material goods, so it would be inevitable for Patanjali to be excluded from Yoga in order to make it more materialistic.

‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry

‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry | Yoga | The Guardian

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Translucid Dreaming

I touched upon this subject briefly in a blog post in 2009 (“Lucid Dreaming“). Since then I have had experiential evidence of actual “Translucid Dreams.” It appears that other writers had had experience of these phenomena, which I only discovered after writing the blog post referred to above. Ken Wilber actually described them in his book One Taste as “Pellucid Dreams” as opposed to “Lucid Dreams.” I also discovered that one tradition in which I had taken a vow of secrecy advocates the practice as part of its teachings, without me realising beforehand! Oh well I shall not disturb their privacy – I have already stated my position on oaths of secrecy.

Anyway, the position is this: what I call a “Translucid dream” is a Lucid Dream in which one experiences Transpersonal states of awareness. The basic technique appears to be: starting from a lucid dream, dissolve all dream images until one is left with nothing. I believe that the great Neo-platonic adept, Plotinus, who was said to have been united with God four times whilst still in the body, was conversant with a similar technique – or at least that is what I understand from reading David Godwin:

The way to achieve these states was by contemplation. One recommended technique was to visualize the universe and then mentally abolish its limitations.

Godwin, D, 1992, Light in Extension: Greek Magic from Homer to Modern Times (Llewellyn’s Western Magick Historical Series), Llewellyn, Minnesota – p146.

It occurred to me that as lucid dreaming and astral projection are two forms of the same phenomenon, it ought to be possible to achieve “trans-astral-projection” as well, if you will pardon the inelegant use of language. Be that as it may, when I first tried to achieve translucid dream states I found I could momentarily dream about nothing, but it did not seem to be particularly impressive. Then however, one night recently, I spontaneously realised what the final or at least next step was. After having dissolved every astral phenomena and then thought “what next?” on the spur of the moment I dissolved the dissolver.

The result was astounding. I ceased to exist – and yet when I re-incarnated an indeterminate time-later – coincidentally not a million miles away from where I remembered I was before this catastrophe – I was aware that SELF had been conscious of the experience the whole while. SELF had experienced Nothing – i.e. not nothing-in-particular but actual Nothing. In slipping off the clothes of Ego, SELF had also managed to escape from the inertial-frame of every object in the material universe. This is why I refer to “an indeterminate time” – I really have no idea whether the experience lasted five, ten, twenty minutes, half-an-hour or more.

Moreover it was a particularly powerful experience – even the memory of this moment of SELF-awareness grips my imagination writing sometime after the event.

That such “peak experiences” are possible are not so surprising when one considers this is exactly what people like Patanjali and all the great Yogis from history have been talking about for more than two thousand years or so. However, what I find remarkable is that it is possible to achieve such experiences whilst dreaming. It strikes me that, in Yogic terms, the Lucid Dream state is a perfect example of Pratyahara, or “sense-withdrawal,” the fifth of the eight-limbs of Raja Yoga. The mind of the Lucid Dreamer is conscious but perfectly detached from all external influences. Hence the Translucid dream would be equivalent to directing the mind towards the sixth, seventh and eighth limbs – Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), and Samadhi (Contemplation/super-consciousness).

Hence: the Translucid dream phenomenon is not an end in itself, but a useful tool for progressing on the path.


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How to really achieve World Peace

Now I have been tough on certain Nobel Prize Winners in the past, and implied that I am perfectly willing to do as much for world peace as they have, but for less money. However, in all seriousness, I do know at least one thing about Peace and that is basically it is generally not a good idea to start a fight if you can avoid doing so.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the five moral commandments (“Yama”) for every Yogi is Ahimsa – “non violence.” What Patanjali actually says is:

When non-violence in speech, though and action is established, one’s agressive nature in relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.

Now there is a famous saying, Roman in origin but made most famous by Metallica – “To secure peace is to prepare for war.” But the meaning of Patanjali says the opposite – to secure peace one must be peaceful. Indeed it does not take someone versed in ancient Yogic philosophy to realise that if you do not want to be challenged to a fight, it is probably not a good idea to go through life with a chip on your shoulder.

I say all this because I note in the news that Israel soldiers claimed that the deaths of the arabs on the so-called Freedom Flotilla was “self-defence.” Now of all the possible justifications for the controversy regarding the Flotilla, this must surely be the lamest. It was the Israeli soldiers who rappelled on to the ships. They were not obliged to board, they went looking for trouble, and of course they found it.

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