Discernment is Vital


My daughter is the best yoga teacher ever.  Observing her as she comes into the wonderment of her own body for the first time is the ultimate example.  She has learned to bring herself to standing by holding on to the side of her crib and hoisting herself up.  Now, whenever she is placed in her crib she must practice.  We have difficulty getting her down to sleep because she is so enthralled with her new sense of facility.

She looks at me as if to say, "Isn't this amazing?"And I say, "Yes. It is. Isn't it?"

Since my previous note post about the adage: no steps need to be taken, I happened into some deep philosophical debate on this topic with several prominent yoga teachers of another bent than myself.  The sticking point between us represents a fundamental difference of view.

Using terms loosely, the "qualified" non-dualist believes that in order to be liberated and realize oneness we must first transcend the seeming duality around us.  Patanjali's eight-limbed path is taught as steps that lead towards states of meditation where we experience ourselves as no longer individuated, often referred to as the "ultimate reality" or "true self" or "enlightenment."

To the "radical" non-dualist, there simply is no duality to begin with so nothing needs to be transcended, only appreciated and enjoyed.  Patanjali's sutras are considered a valuable and interesting source of inquiry but not a prescription for some future goal.

From the "radical" perspective, the "qualified" notion that freedom requires rigorous effort is based on the assumption that we are currently not free.  The goal implies its absence and practice becomes an attempt to get somewhere or gain something that is currently lacking.  If there is nothing that needs to realized or attained, because life has already been perfectly given, then practice is merely a ritual of participating intimately with the fact of what is actually taking place.

Honestly, debating this fine point with my fellow teachers got a little testy.  The "radical" view does inherently call into question much of the foundation on which classical yoga has been built.  It's impossible to get around.  Yet, I would be remiss if I did not admit that passion sometimes gets the best of me.  How easily I felt myself the same punk kid I've ever been, except the chip on my shoulder is now an OM symbol.

When it comes to the character and purpose of practice, there are important distinctions to be made.  Depending on the viewpoint, the experience of yoga changes drastically.  At the same time, if I compare yoga teachers of any sort to say Sarah Palin supporters, we are still in harmony in more ways then not.  I would not want to let my zeal for discernment foster division.  I have maturing yet to do.

Nonetheless, I stand firmly in the belief that discernment is vital.  Knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it is utterly important.  Putting people on a spiritual merry-go-round where they have to work really hard to get to some unknown future place that they never get to, only strive for, is a cruel dysfunction of social mind that has been thrust upon us throughout time.  Yoga practice is a means to undo this terrible disservice.

My daughter is a totally free and realized being.  She is experiencing the sheer wonder of her existence without a filter.  As she grows and her mind develops, she will come to know difficulties and her perceptions may well end up obscuring the truth that she now celebrates.  My hope is that she will also develop a means by which to ease the difficulties and perceptions that would stand in the way of her full enjoyment and participation in life.

Anyone reading these notes who wishes to take issue with any of my assertions or express a different view, I invite your feedback.



J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.