Ashtanga as a remedy for our modern times
We all have heard some description of Ashtanga that highlights how it was developed specifically for householders — for those of us too busy with family and work to spend all our time in sadhana. This week, in his Tuesdays with Timji post, Tim Miller draws that familiar line from Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari through Kirshnamacharya to Pattabhi Jois.
And for all of us who would rather be off on a warm, sandy beach, alternating our time between surfing and yoga practice (I’m not alone, am I?), it’s a reminder that our time in the world is, most likely, the best for us. As Tim writes, “Guruji used to say that in modern times there are few who take the path of renunciation, and that, for most of us, the path of the householder is the best.”
Here’s a chicken vs. egg question: Did Ashtanga (and so much of the asana yoga that’s based on it) spread to the West to such an unprecedented degree because it finally had been adapted for the modern world or was it simply that the modern world opened up the spread of information so that people like Tim could get to India, stay for a while and study, and then return home?
I think part of the answer might be found in the last word of my question: “home.” Obviously, people have been traveling to India for centuries — you might pick a more critical word than “traveling” — but if they found a teacher or guru, the end result would have been renunciation. Even if they chose to return to their own country (which I’m guessing was rare), a sanyassin would have faced a mountain the size of the Himalayans to convince the Victorian English, for instance, to follow that path. Right?
And then along comes Krishnamacharya and Jois, who offered a form of yoga that works within the householding world. And soon after comes air travel, TV, the Internet, etc. to help spread that yoga.
Perhaps the “modern times” aren’t so bad, after all.
Tim also points out that there is a long tradition of not living as a renunciate and still attaining God. He tells the story of Priyavatra, the son of Manu, the progenitor of humanity:
The indriyas (senses) are never conquered until a man has lived in grihatasrama, as a husband and father, as a man who has faced and overcome his six enemies in open battle.” The six enemies are Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), and Matsarya (envy). Brahma continues, “Once they are subdued he can walk freely among other men, for then the Lord is his refuge and wisdom.” God’s great gift to the householder is to allow him to face these “six enemies” in open battle. With yoga we have a slim chance in this battle.
I wonder in which of those six enemies sitting in front of a computer falls? No doubt that the asana part of Ashtanga is a good remedy for that enemy of the modern era.
Posted by Steve