Friday, April 27, 2012


Just as there was never an actual Garden of Eden, there was never a literal age of enlightenment (Satya Yuga), from which we have now degraded to an age of darkness (Kali Yuga).

Humans in general today are not more confused or stupid than they were 5 or 10,000 (or 100,000 or 1 million) years ago.

What we can say, incontrovertibly, is that there are now many millions more of us, and so both the best and worst — the most and the least realized of us — are now prominently on display.

Still, we address the same problems as the Rishis: what is this universe, and what does it want?

More importantly, what do I want — and how do I get what I want?

Most schools or systems of Yoga implicitly acknowledge that the universe, and our role in it, is knowable and actionable.

There are codes and systems expressed in ritual as well as esoteric body maps (prana, vayus, koshas, bandhas, chakras), and through the use of these maps, codes and systems, we can then influence if not create our part in the universe.

Why, then, should we want to create our own roles in the universe?

Different schools of Yoga answer this in several ways.

Guruji was a Smarta Brahmin, which means his root teacher (sadguru) was Adi Shankara (or Shankaracharya), and that he participated in a school of non-dualism known as Advaita Vedanta.

The term “advaita” here tells us that Ashtanga as taught by Pattabhi Jois is one (of several) traditions whose central tenet is the fact that the universe is, as its name suggests: a “one” (uni) “turning” (verse).

“Advaita” literally means “not” (a-) “two” (dvai).

So Shankara and the Vedantins tell us this world, the world we are in now, is not the one we want: “One-ness” is what we want.

The world we’re in is merely “names and forms,” an illusion founded on delusion or ignorance (avidya).

Both the means (samadhi) and final end (kaivalya/dharma megha samadhi) of this Yoga is an understanding, realization, or attainment of this one-ness.

From this perspective, Vedanta and therefore Ashtanga can be seen as a strategy of enlightenment and attainment.

If this is the ultimate goal, I think it’s then fair to ask: how successful is it?

To what degree and depth did Guruji have this understanding or experience of attainment?

I can't answer that, partly because, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my personal one-on-one time with Guruji was minimal. 

But also partly because we as Ashtangis are not of typical or traditional Indian spiritual traditions, which feature root teachers whose realizations are formally recognized by their own teachers, and who formally initiate students.

This is the process of transmission that is referred to as "parampara."

How do I gauge if Ashtanga and thereby Kevala Advaita Vedanta is delivering on its promise, that of attainment of ultimate one-ness or Self-realization?

Certainly proficiency in advanced postures or sequences is no metric.

I could perhaps derive some calculus of Self-Realization based on whichever sequence the person is currently practicing, subtract from that their initial gifts and background, and divide this by their years of practice.

Unfortunately this practice is also not one based on tenure. 

Meaning, investing time into practice is no guarantee, as it turns Ashtanga into some kind of Self-realization layaway program: "Oh, it'll all work out when I'm 'older' or 'old' — 'Long time coming' and all that!"

It is one of my regrets that while in Mysore I did not endeavor to learn Kannada — more than having Guruji help me/laugh at me in mayurasana or vatayanasa (“Why falling?”), it would have been richer and more fulfilling to have had an actual conversation with him, if only to flesh out nuance and context, both of which were steamrolled into mere sloganeering by both his accent and grasp of English.

I also wonder at exactly how much profundity, understanding, and mystique was projected by us English speakers into that gap between Guruji's English and our own fluency.

(Why didn't anyone master Kannada? I mean, so many people spent three to six months living in Mysore — year after year?! What the fuck? Two to three years of this and I would expect essay-level fluency. I understand Norman Allen was fluent, and I remember Kim Flynn helping with rudimentary translation at conferences, but ... only one guy was fluent? Out of hundreds, even thousands?)

In the coffee shop conversations I have been fortunate enough to have with Tim, I’ve come to appreciate his sense that there is no final attainment — only an eternal process of opening and deepening.

(These are, importantly, my own words on what I have taken from time spent with him, and I am of course projecting my own agenda.)

So is it possible that Shankara’s understanding — and by extension Ashtanga Yoga — rather than merely decaying or atrophying in this "Kali Yuga," has evolved — and continues to do so?

I think it's vital to understand that it's not technically Shankara's understanding that is evolving — rather, the expression and transmission that lead to it.