Yoga, Ayurveda, Patriarchy and Disease
The Impact of Indian Religion and Class on Practical Details of Life, Health and Spiritual Practice in the West
The yoga and ayurveda teachings that have been popularized in the “West” were mostly spread by a minority of practitioners with a particular view. Yoga is originally part of the religion and practice of the majority living in India. The adherents of this overall way of life, which included yoga and ayurveda, were largely householders with families, community roles, etc. However, the people who were most able to spread yoga due to position, status, wealth, education and SEX, were largely of the Brahmin class.
The Brahmins were (and are) a very small percentage of the population. This class posits a transcendental view of reality. The Brahmins were considered to be superior and thus their opinions were given more weight. Furthermore, it was the job of Brahmins to travel and teach and they had the means, financially and otherwise, to do so.
The vast majority of original yoga and ayurveda was practiced by the “people” – who had neither means, nor time (as householders) to travel and teach. If they did, though, the West would have received a set of yoga teachings that were much more practical, healthy and effective for householders.
The aim of transcendental practice is to “get up and out of the body”, freeing the atman (soul) from the impurities of life (prakriti). Therefore, the physical body is treated as an impediment to spiritual practice and liberation. The body is to be “purified” and “cleansed” by any and all means that will enable the atman to literally “fly” into the heavenly realm of “Parusa” and experience “samadhi.”
This perspective caught on like wildfire in the West because it is essentially the same view ( that matter/flesh is sinful and we must purify and shed the body to get to heaven) as the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Transcendental, dualistic yoga is foreign and exotic enough to attract those in the West who are disillusioned by their religious upbringing, but similar enough at the base to be comfortable (even if only subconsciously).
The views and practices of transcendental, dualistic yoga (the roots of which have spawned the very vast majority of modern, commercial yoga) emphasize – often without knowing it – DRYING up the bodies sexual fluids so as to purge oneself from the temptations of the flesh. Furthermore, the dualistic, transcendental traditions over-emphasize the cultivation of “lightness” and “purity” because the aim is to float into samadhi and not be dragged down by the weight of the world. Therefore it is considered best, highest or most “spiritual “ to renounce the world (become a monk), and practice celibacy.
At least when these practices were undertaken in antiquity, or in certain enclaves today, practitioners knew this aim and intentionally went for this result (transcendence). Now, most people just assume that anything packaged as yoga is good for them even if it actually contradicts their desire for a life of pleasure and fulfillment that is simultaneously spiritual.
Transcendental views are synonymous with “worship” of the “masculine” principle of life – and they are often espoused by men. Considering transcendental views and lifestyles as superior often results in degradation of women and feminine energy as a whole (The “evils” of imminence: sin, temptation, matters of the flesh, sex, etc have long been associated with the devil, witchcraft and WOMEN). Explication regarding the link between transcendental spiritual views and the ailments of patriarchy will have to wait for another future, though important, essay.
The original root of yoga and ayurveda is Tantra, which aims for liberation while living – here, now and fully embodied. Tantra is a system of practice that yields a fruit of enlightened experience that is not only both transcendent and imminent but also a state that is beyond and inclusive of both transcendence and imminence.
Therefore, Tantrikas honor life in totality – including all the yucky stuff and see the body’s health as the only means to experience realization. This life-affirming view emphasizes ”worship” of the feminine principle. We cultivate sexual energy, have families, hold positions in society, practice arts of enjoyment and emphasize making the body JUICY and VITAL as a means to spiritual liberation.
Modern neo-tantra uses the authentic perspective of Tantra to justify all sorts of unbridled hedonism – but that is also a limited extreme. Nevertheless, it is true that authentic Tantrikas intentionally build the sexual creative force in order to transmute limited individual sexual energy into an experience of universal awareness, compassion, love and bliss.
Diet is a huge part of both of these strategies: the path of drying up or that of juicing up. Vegeterianism and raw foodism as rules, not eating garlic, onions etc. are dictates hailing from the camp of transcendental, dualistic religion propagated by Brahmin/monk/renunciate (and male) supremacy. These views and practices are now often considered standard ideals by the modern yoga and ayurveda movement.
On the flip side, Tantrikas are known to be a-moral, meaning without rules. Instead, Tantrikas adhere to principles, the first of which is: “for whom and when.” One person’s medicine is another person’s poison and what is medicine for one person at one time might be poison for the same person at another time. This principle is always held in the overall context of moving towards becoming more healthy, juicy, vital, strong, etc. The Tantrik aim is to build and build energy in order to expand and expand.
Tantrikas seek to be so fully here (imminence, pleasure, joy, power, feminine Sakti, etc) that we penetrate the mysteries of our depths and realize our oneness with all. We find, at Energy of Mind : A Sauhu Therapy (which treats many people experiencing the pitfalls of spiritual practice) that many modern practitioners THINK they are practicing something in line with their desire for a healthy, full, vibrant and spiritual experience of imminence. When, in fact, they are practicing methods born from views that are aiming towards transcendence only.
The resulting phenomenon is what my teacher’s guru, Paramahamsa Satyananda Saraswati calls “spiritual schitzophrenia,” which is characterized by anxiety, doubt, lack of grounding, delusional experiences (often thought to be “spiritual”), inner conflict, anger and the myriad of physical health problems that arise from drying the body up with harsh disciplines and strenuous effort.
That all being said, it is important to remember, again, that classical Tantra is a-moral. So, sometimes it might be appropriate to adhere to a vegetarian diet. Sometimes it might be appropriate to eat mostly, or even only raw foods. (One must undergo a study of Tantrik Ayurveda in order to effectively make these discernments). But, as a generalprinciple most householders require meat protein to be healthy, sane, happy and to achieve the goals of yogic sadhana (spiritual practice). Also, generally speaking, most meals should be cooked for the proper nourishment to take place, with a smattering of raw food sprinkled in to provide certain qualities to the meal.
We could write tomes on this topic but will have to summarize by saying that the original texts of ayurveda and non-dual hatha yoga have countless recipes for meat-based remedies. The popular notions of yoga and ayurveda that abound today are not only creating the negative symptoms listed non-exhaustively above; they are also NOT producing the awesome, beneficial fruits promised by these texts of the non-dual traditions. Instead, the textual promises of extraordinary siddhi (great accomplishments) are relegated to the realm of analogy and given psychological equivalents.
At best, the modern state of yoga produces psychologically well-adjusted individuals who are physically healthier than the average person who pays little attention to their body’s needs. Though this is a great result, it is the baby-beginner step to what is really possible from a complete yoga practice. At worst, and all too often, modern notions of yoga are teaching things about diet, bandhas, pranayamas, asana, etc. that are genuinely problematic. These inappropriate practices generate severe problems that can go unnoticed for years after one has established major disturbances in the pranic body, which then manifest as serious physical and mental disease.
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