Thoughts on fallen gurus and the transparency of Ashtanga
Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or maybe doing the yogi-Shiva thing and hanging out alone on a mountain top — you have heard that one of the top yoga teachers has had a fall.
Bobbie and I explicitly decided not to follow the story, for a few reasons. We’d refocused this blog on Ashtanga, not any other “A-yogas,” as much as possible. We’re trying to foster an environment that helps develop our own practices (and maybe yours), and while that doesn’t mean ignoring “bad stuff,” it does mean our intent is to accentuate the positive. (Believe me, that’s a struggle for me!) And, lastly, it’s sort of like, “That’s big news?”
History is riddled with teachers, people in power and, yes, yogis who have fallen from grace. You can find a whole mess of them in the book American Veda.
Rose at YogaRose.net did do a post a week or so ago on it. From there, it wouldn’t be hard to find out more, if you want.
But it is only a backdrop to my thought. Bobbie and I were talking about it last night, and we came to a conclusion: It seems unlikely, from our experience, that Ashtanga would suffer a similar incident because the teachers we have met and studied with seem, and this was the word I used, “transparent.”
By that I mean, you can look — figuratively, of course — through them and see not only Guruji but Krishnamacharya and even Patanjali. There are gurus and great teachers in Ashtanga, no doubt, but … well, to a certain extent they don’t fit one of the meanings of guru: “heavy,” or “weighty.” The force of their personality — the weight of their presence — is muted by the lineage of Ashtanga.
In contrast, what seems to define the gurus who “fall” is their overwhelming ego and personality, the extreme heaviness of their presence that draws people to them — for good and, then, for bad. (Jupiter — Thursday’s astrological body — is big and heavy and the “guru,” in a similar sense.)
With Ashtanga, I feel like it is the practice that is the draw, not any particular teacher. The great teachers are a wonderful bonus, and I understand why people are drawn to this one and that one. (And I believe firmly in the importance and value of having a teacher. Kino MacGregor has some good things to say about teachers in a post today on… get ready… Third Series.) But it never feels like it is “I” with them. It’s always “the practice,” or “Guruji,” or “Patanjali.” (“There’s no ‘I’ in Ashtanga.” Can I trademark that?)
I say this having studied with or met the following “big-name” teachers: Tim Miller, David Swenson, Annie Pace, Danny Paradise, Jörgen Christiansson. And it is true with almost all the Ashtanga teachers I’ve worked with, “big name” or not.
There always are exceptions that prove the rule, of course. It is entirely possible that I’ve been lucky and haven’t run into Ashtanga teachers whose action would argue against my point. But even if there are those teachers — and I’m sure there are — it is hard for me to imagine their getting bigger than the practice, than the system Guruji passed along, than the opening chant that thanks Patanjali.
In the worst case, if they think they are, or act like they are, it should be pretty easy to see, and then to avoid.
Posted by Steve