Yoga: A message from R Sarath. Is it truly yogic?

purple_lotus_closeup.720xA local ashtanga yoga teacher sent out this message from the grandson of the guru of ashtanga – Sri. K Pattabi Jois.

I post here the message along with my response and I’d love to hear from other people what they think about it. Please add your comments in the box!

From: Ashtanga Yoga with Chris <>
To: Nicola Carley <>
Sent: Tuesday, 18 December 2012, 12:50
Subject: A Message from R. Sharath (Guruji’s Grandson)
Hi Nicola,

A message from R. Sharath (Guruji’s Grandson):

“In this modern world, everything is instant. No one has
patience. Everyone wants to have [everything] as soon as
possible. In yoga also it has become like that. Many places
you go, they certify you in 15 days, one month. Always someone
who’s coming to India, they think, “Oh, I’ll be here for one
month, I should get a certificate that I’m studying here.”
We get many phone calls. Last week also there were three phone
calls, one from Delhi, one from England, another from America.
Straight away they said “Oh, do you have teacher training.”
Yoga is getting big but it is getting crazy also. It’s not that
yoga is crazy. People are making it crazy. They’re not
understanding the sense of yoga, the purity of yoga. A yoga
teacher should always maintain the purity of the practice.

You know when I was a child, whenever I used to see a Chinese
or a Japanese, I thought they knew Karate. We used to stay away
from them because we thought they knew Karate. Because we had
been to see ‘Enter the Dragon,’ the Bruce Lee movie. Then there
was no television or anything, the only entertainment was to go
to a theatre and watch a movie. So, we watched that movie, and
we thought every Chinese, Japanese knows martial arts. So he can
beat us up, so stay away from them. And now [the] same thing has
happened to yoga. Whoever looks like an Indian, if he is dressed
in a saffron, or even a lungi (traditional South Indian dress),
he becomes a yogi. Many yogis are sprouting up everywhere. Why
I’m saying this is, for a practitioner [of yoga] it is very
important to choose your teacher. A teacher who can guide you
properly. A teacher who knows, who has been practicing for many
years, who has come from a lineage. That is very important.

(Sharath quotes from Bhagavad Gita ch 4, vs 1-2)

imam vivasvate yogaṃ proktavanahamavyayam
vivasvanmanave praha manuriksvakave-bravit
evam paramparapraptamimam rajarsayo viduḥ
sa kaleneha mahata yogo nastah parantapa

The Baghavad Gita is a very big, is a beautiful book.
It says – eighteen chapters – it all says about yoga practice.
How one should learn yoga through parampara. Parampara is
learning through a lineage. Like how Krishnamacharya learned
from Ramamohan Brahmachari, Pattabhi Jois learned from
Krishnamacharya. You know it’s a lineage, it’s not like a cell
phone booth you open here (pointing outside). Every street has a
cell phone booth. A correct Sadhaka (practitioner), Sadhana
(practice) is very important to transmit from a teacher to his
students. For a teacher to transmit the knowledge to his
students, first he has to learn it for many years. He has to
experience it within him[self]. Then only it is possible to
transfer the correct method to his students.

Now days you get so many videos on You-tube, it is very
difficult to make out which is circus, which is yoga, which
is what. All crazy yogas. All different stupid yogas. For
everything they join yoga. Naked Yoga! What is this nonsense?
Kookoo yoga. Hot Yoga. What is Hot Yoga? Hoot Yoga, Heat Yoga,
Bang Yoga, all these crazy yogas, for everything they join yoga.
But it is our duty, being a practitioner of yoga. Some of you
are also teaching. It is very important to keep the purity. If
we don’t keep the purity within us, in another ten years,
fifteen years, yoga will have a different meaning. Yoga is
described in many different ways:

1. Union, union of the jivatma or individual soul when it gets
connected or joins with the supreme soul is called as ‘yoga.’
2. Or, yoga is the way of [to obtain] mokṣa (liberation)
3. Liberation [itself] is called as ‘yoga.’

So there are different explanations for yoga. It can be
experienced in different ways. Once you become one with
everything, it becomes yoga. So that’s union, we call it.
So for yoga, to practice yoga, sadhana (practice) is very
important. If you do it for one year, two years, three years,
you won’t go to the depth of yoga. If you want to go deep…
if you just keep on sailing in the sea it will never end. You’ll
get bored. You’ll get bored and you won’t learn anything. Once
you dive inside the sea, once you go deeper inside the sea, you
can see the beauty of the sea… Once you go deeper in your
practice, you can experience so many good things. Different
things, which our practice can give us. This can be experienced
only when we have devotion, dedication, discipline and
determination – Four D’s. All these are very important in our
practice. You know yogis have a disciplined life. Why we have a
disciplined life? Because our mind shouldn’t get cancala.
Cancala means distracted. If I go for a party late… for example,
I’ll tell you, every day I get up at one o’clock [am to
practice. One day I get bored and I go to a party… then I go
and fight with somebody… then my mind becomes distracted. Next
day I think, “Oh why did I do that?” We don’t want to create
circumstances that make us do something… after fifteen days I
think, “Oh, why did I do that.” But the yogi’s mind, by
practicing every day, day by day, yoga gets stronger within
you, and your mind doesn’t sit still, it thinks about ‘what is
yoga?’ Those kind of thoughts should come within you. What is
ahimsa (non-violence), what is satya, (truth)?’ These kinds of
thoughts should come within you when you are practicing asanas.

When you’re practicing yoga these kinds of thoughts should come
within you. Then automatically it comes within you, you will
start to think “Oh, ahimsa.” When non-violence comes, as being
a practitioner, I should follow this. So when you follow that
there’ll be no conflicts. Like that each yama, niyama, the ten
sub limbs… develop strongly within us, once it gets stronger
and stronger we get a better meaning to our practice. If I just
keep on doing asanas without thinking anything, not getting
those kinds of thoughts… it will just become like working out
in a gym, lifting weights… What is the use of that?
A beautiful body what’s the use if you don’t have a good heart.
Without a good heart, good thinking is of no use.

So this asana is the foundation for our spiritual practice.
To build a spiritual building first the foundation should be
proper. So once we are not disturbed by these many things, all
you have is purity inside you. Is it not true? So that is the
transformation if you do it for a long time when we have
dedication, devotion towards the practice – sraddhavam labhate
jnanam – sraddha – who has devotion, faith in their practice, he
can get the knowledge, he can realize the purity of our
practice. If you are very ignorant, if you do for twenty-five,
thirty years also, you won’t realize what it is. It just becomes
physical. Once we realize that, the transformation that is
trying to happen within you, then you’ll get a beautiful meaning
to your practice. It is a development which should happen
slowly… when we take birth, how we make this body, slowly we
grow our body… So when we are a baby there are many things we
don’t know… when we are a child it’s all imagination. Is it not
true? It’s all fantasy when we are children. Yoga also starts
like that… but as you get older and wiser in practice, the
meaning also changes… Early on yoga practice was not wise
enough. As you go deeper, practice becomes deeper, wiser. Like a
plant in the ground, it must be nourished properly to make it
grow… Once you nourish the plant properly the plant will grow
and a flower will blossom. If you don’t nourish the roots then
the flower will never blossom. Exactly like that, for asana,
yama, niyama are the nourishment which our mind needs to get.
Done like that then the yoga will grow and it will blossom
within us. For this it doesn’t happen that easily. To gain
something you have to lose something – here you’re losing all
the bad things – many things you have to sacrifice… This is
what I have learned from, from whom?… My influence is my
grandfather [Guruji]. Every day at 3:30am, he was chanting,
ready by 4:00am to teach classes. [I learned] by watching him
and assisting him for many years.

The relationship between a Guru and Siṣya is like father and son
relation. The same [relationship] was between Krishnamacharya
and Pattabhi Jois, and one more student Mahadeva Bhat (Guruji’s
fellow student). [Guruji] did practice in the morning, theory at
12:00pm every day [with Krishnamacharya]. Like that only the
knowledge will transfer to students. In this instant world
nobody has the patience. All they want is a piece of paper –
what is a piece of paper, which is of no use… The real yoga
practitioner doesn’t care if he’s certified, yoga keeps
happening within him. The yoga gets stronger and stronger
within him. So why I’m telling this is many people have
different opinions, different imagination about yoga. If you
jump back properly that means you’re a yogi! Who can do
handstand is a big yogi… We have to improve our knowledge,
improve our yogic knowledge, spiritual knowledge. Once we
improve that within us, then we are trying to become yogis. Now
days everybody puts “Yogīs, Yoginīs, we have a party please
come.” Yogis and Yoginīs never go to parties… [A] yogi wants
to be silent, to sit, be calm, [to] do his practice. We are
still trying to become yogis still trying to become yoginis.
Still going in that direction but not yet reached. Some are very
far, some are ahead, once we get enlightened, we have reached
[the end]. What we do in this life carries on to the next life.”

– R. Sharath Jois

My response:

Hi Chris

Thank you for forwarding this message however, s a yoga teacher myself, I find it somewhat disconcerting that R. Sharath should send out such a message in the first place. Surely the ‘yogic way’ is to set an example rather than to criticise. There are aspects to his argument that I agree with however, in truth, we can only ever be our own teacher and I do not believe that the benefits of yoga can only be passed on by someone who has been practicing for years and years and years in India. After all, didn’t the story go that Patanjali passed on the knowledge of yoga by writing it down on leaves? I see the beauty of the ashtanga practice as being the fact that there are some very simple tools that anyone can use to enhance their life.

I find this particularly the case when, though I am very much a yoga practitioner, I am also a reiki healer and work with shaman medicine on occasion and do not see yoga as the only route to peace, bliss and harmony – never mind the fact that as Adyashanti points out, this is not homogenous with enlightenment. It seems that R.Sharath is merely reinforcing the idea that we must achieve certain ‘goals’. That we must do this or do that in order to truly wake up to ourselves in a similar way to many other religions when as the wonderful Alan Watts points out and Adyashanti and Osho and countless other wise people – anyone can achieve enlightenment and there is no barrier to it but ourselves.

Bluebird Bliss