Can you be devoted to yoga without loving it?
The headline here is taken from a comment on my earlier post about not trusting people who “love” yoga. The commenter wrote: “how can you be devoted to something without love for it…”
Both that comment, and another, propelled my thinking on this subject. As someone on Twitter noted, I may be being a bit facetious, but I’m not — entirely.
Ashtanga is simply so painful and challenging, that I can’t identify with people who talk about “loving” their practice. I have a complete cognizant disconnect. What are they doing that allows them to “love” this? Are they doing it “wrong?” Are they not pushing themselves past the point of happy and positive feedback?
I don’t know. And since I don’t know, I can’t help feeling a little bit of distrust.
It was always the same for me when I was interviewing potential hires when I was a newspaper editor. If the person said “I love to write” as a reason for getting into journalism, that raised my red flags. Writing, like yoga, is hard, messy business. It’s a painful extraction of ideas from your brain.
I’m a professional writer; I’m a lifelong writer. I’m part of two disparate blogs. But I don’t love writing. It’s just something that feels necessary.
Like the Ashtanga.
But back to the comments on the earlier post and “love.” (More comments have been added even as I write this.) Both affirmed a love for yoga, and one even suggested that without love “it ain’t yoga.”
And this is where a lot clicked for me. My aversion to yoga festivals and most other styles of yoga asana practice; certainly my retreat from the stereotypical “flow” class that ends with a passage from Rumi. My general aversion to a lot of Bhakti Yoga as practiced and the trappings that come with it. Even my good-natured joking about all the hugging that goes on in a yoga studio (of which, while joking, I’m more than happy to take part).
All this is yoga as a path to love.
But that’s not my understanding of yoga.
My understanding is that a yoga practice is intended to bring you somewhere between or maybe to a combination of non-attachment and unification with “everything.” (As a spiraling side note, that “everything” may just be my own constitutive universe. I don’t think that changes the fundamentals here, though.) Or, as Guruji said, and I’m paraphrasing: Everywhere you look, you see God.
Love, to me, is the exact opposite: It’s the ultimate attachment and the ultimate separation from “everything.” It’s “I love,” “I love,” “I love.” The other — to fall into the jargony rabbit hole — is ever present in love, much as it is in hate.
And where the other is present, so is the self, or the ego, or the defined and thus limited “I.”
Rather than finding love, the goal is Tat Tvam Asi: “Thou art that.” But that’s not “love,” right? The non-attachment part of the yoga, as I see it, draws us away from that. If you are that, there’s no you to do the loving.
I see four main arguments to my point, which I want to try to address: Bhatki Yoga. Hanuman. The Yamas. The Gita.
A comment on the earlier post noted that Richard Freeman says all yoga is Bhakti Yoga. I have in my notes from the Confluence Richard’s talking about Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to “God.” From my notes, I see his talking about this in terms of realizing a oneness that “allows you to let go of it” or as an “offering” — “Let me give, give, give.”
Both I think emphasize Bhakti as more “devotion” than “love.” You are devoted, you give yourself away (entirely, into the “all”) and as you enter what Richard called the “unified field” you dissolve and there is nothing left to feel attachment. (Richard’s Buddhism also plays into things here, and from a Buddhist perspective I’d say that “love” does enter things.)
The singing of songs, of the names of God, is more part of the process of finding that moment of unity than an explicit expression of love.
You can’t have a yoga post on devotion without Hanuman, right?
And I guess the question comes down to: Did Hanuman love Rama and Sita?
It would seem crazy to answer that question in anyway other than “Yes.” But, well, I’ll say it: “No.”
Was he devoted to them, absolutely? Yes.
I think the Ramayana supports this understanding via Hanuman and Rama’s first meeting. In that moment, Hanuman — the embodiment of all that’s best in man and monkey — immediately sees Rama’s distress and offers to do everything he can to help.
Thus begins their relationship. But unless you want to argue that this is a case of “love at first sight”, I think it demonstrates that Hanuman was a devoted spirit, a spirit that — to circle back to Guruji’s words — saw God everywhere. And when suddenly faced with, literally, God, he had no doubts. It was his time and role to serve.
Another example of this is the famous story of Hanuman’s ripping open his chest and Rama and Sita being there on his heart. It’s easy to conflate that with love — love = the heart, after all — but I see it as meaning that even his heart belonged to or was part of God. Hanuman’s very being was always with God, inseparably.
Here is another point that may fall simply to how we define the first of Patanjali’s Yamas: Ahimsa. I think we have to look at the “A” in the word, which makes it a negative: non-violence, non-harming. I don’t see how that translates to “love,” except loosely. And I think it is more a reflection of the unity of yoga — harming something else means harming yourself.
The Gita may present the toughest argument, if only because as a wonderful religious/philosophical/poetic text, it is open to such interpretation.
Can you find a translation of the Gita that doesn’t include the word “love” many, many times? I doubt it. Chapter 12 is full of Krishna’s talking about people loving him and being devoted to him and his loving them back “with very great love,” according to the Stephen Mitchell translation.
But this “love” is complicated. It also involves having “unwavering faith,” surrendering all actions and having a mind that has “entered [Krishna's] being.” And often times, we find that word “devoted” right along side “love.”
Are devoted and love the same thing? Or are the meanings ever so slightly different?
Further, is this “loving” Krishna the “ultimate” point to the Gita? I won’t pretend to say, with certainty, but I will argue that for Arjuna, I think the Gita comes down to lines in Chapter 18. Krishna is speaking:
It is better to do your own duty
badly than to perfect do
another’s: when you do your duty,
you are naturally free from sin.
That Arjuna must do his duty as a Kshatriya and kill people he loves — all while not being attached to his actions, giving them instead to Krishna, to god — seems to me the core of the Gita. Follow your Dharma without attachment. Give yourself up to God.
In the same sense, I’m trying to give myself up to the practice. From there, perhaps, I can get to the point of being able to give myself up, detach myself from my wants and desires and fears and pains, find that unity of yoga, with God.
Trying to figure all this out is, of course, why I’m excited about the Sadhana Yantra.
Posted by Steve