There’s a really nice documentary on yoga that we show at each of our yoga teacher trainings — it’s funny, hip, sexy, and is also able to get deep into the heart of this thing that we call yoga. If you’re really into yoga, you’ve probably already seen it. The film is called “Enlighten Up!” and if you haven’t had the opportunity yet, it’s definitely worth a couple hours of your time. Here’s a link to the Official Website.
I bring this up because towards the end of the film, which up until that point had mainly focused on “Hatha Yoga” (the more physical form of yoga most seen in the West), we get thrown a ringer: The real yoga for most yogis in India (and for most Indians, as well), we are told, is not Hatha Yoga at all, it’s Bhakti Yoga. This bit of news comes from Shyamdas, a Western-born yogi who has lived in India off and on for something like 30+ years. Here is the clip from the movie to get a better feel for what I’m about to talk about:
So what is Bhakti Yoga, and why is it the “real” yoga?
Bhakti is the Yoga of “Love, Devotion, and Surrender” (see Santana-McGlaughlin), and it is the real yoga because it is the foundation of all the other forms/paths of yoga. The essential idea is that when we love something, we give it our attention. We become attracted to whatever it is, and our heart is in it — we consciously choose to explore that thing more deeply, to enter into relationship with it. For example, many of us yogis get into yoga because we initially are just following our bliss, our heart, and decide that we really want to spend more time getting to know this Yoga thing more intimately. Then we give it our love, our attention, and go about devotedly and intently practicing and learning it to our heart’s content.
And you see how by definition it lies at the base of all other paths of yoga, and really can be seen to be the foundation of all that we do in life: We tend to tend and attend to what we love to do — whether it’s Hatha, Tantra, Jnana, Karma, Raja, or any other form or path or style of yoga. In this sense we might say that all yoga is real yoga, because ALL Yoga is Bhakti Yoga.
That said, Bhakti Yoga is its own path, too, and it is much more than that. Because we can practice the other forms of yoga and miss the “heart,” the juicy heart of it all. Indeed, we can miss the point, the essence, the rasa (juice). For Bhakti Yoga is the path of Love, and if Bhakti lies at the foundation of everything else, it is because Love does. And so if our Yoga is not working on our heart and somehow helping to remove all the armoring and blockages around the heart that has served to keep us from truly loving ourSelf and an “other” as ourSelf, then it is not true yoga. No, it is yoga that is actually only serving to reinforce the ego’s boundaries, and leading us away from Yoga, which is no different from Love, from Unity, from the Divine.
Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with a strong ego. As Ram Das, one of the great Western Bhaktas (Bhakti Yogis), and one of my greatest inspirations, has often put it:
“You have to be somebody before you can be nobody.”
For me, this means that we truly have to be very strong within ourselves to fully face and even embrace the reality of our non-existence. Put another way: Our ego is also what drives us forward on the path, and it is through it that we feel more empowered to live a full human life in the body-temple we have been gifted, which affords the chance to “slowly, slowly” prepare for our inevitable demise. So if there were no ego, there would be no game to play here — we would be dissolved back into the Godhead/heart (or GoddessHeart, if you will ; ) — and that’s not so bad, either, it seems to be what we’re all secretly seeking!!! A strong, healthy ego also will have the ability to look death in the face (or our greatest fear(s)), and say, “yes, bring it on.” And a strong, healthy ego will also be able to fully look at our shadow, and if not fully enlighten the darkness, then at least keep it in check.
Now, I bring all of this up because this is all truly fundamental & foundational for all that we do in yoga. And it also feels so essential for the current 2012 time period that we are navigating. It does now feel to be time for the Shadow work to be done, where we stop stuffing our stuff — the horrific damage we’ve been doing to our bodies, each other, the planet — and actually fully face it all and deal with it (by first not being in denial anymore). Yes, it’s time to truly Be the One that we’ve been waiting for, to be our own Hero/Savior/Beloved, individually and collectively.
I know, easier said than done! Because in truth, this heart work is hard work, perhaps the hardest we will ever do. It takes great courage (from the French word for heart, “coeur”) to get to the core of things, to look unblinkingly at the truth about ourselves… For truth hurts, and the truth can even kill us (or the ego, at least). Many of us are not yet prepared to handle such truth, and so we live our lives on the surface of things, judging and blaming others instead of pointing the finger back at ourselves in the realization that we have our own inner demons to confront. The good news is that the practice of yoga, in its fullest sense (that is practiced integrally, holistically), is one of the greatest systems ever devised to prepare ourselves for such intense revelations, empowering us also to then make the necessary changes in our lives so that we may truly be beacons of light in this world.
I happen to be writing this on Easter morning, 2012. I have no strong opinion whether Jesus truly lived and died for our sins, or not, though I do feel it’s possible, certainly. At the very least, if he truly said all or most of what we find in the Gospels (including the non-canonical ones like The Gospel of Thomas) — much of which we find in Eastern wisdom, too — then Jesus was indeed a great yoga master, an avatar (incarnation of God on earth), if there ever was one. And if Jesus really is Love, then hell yeah I believe in Jesus, because I know the Power of Love. I don’t believe in a Second Coming, except in the sense that we are each responsible for our own resurrection in Love, and that we are all the Messiah, and that it will be something of a “team effort” here to truly bring Heaven to Earth. And it is happening.
Omni Vincit Amor
Love is and has always been the ever and only lasting answer. It does truly conquer ALL. There is no force in the universe greater than Love. A great yogi (Yogi Berra ; ) once said:
“If life were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
Well, the same is true for us: We are all perfectly imperfect — perfect in our imperfectness. Even our desire to be saved from our imperfections is perfect, too. And perhaps the only salvation for our imperfection, for our “Fallen” nature, if you will, is to Fall In Love, to fall deeply In Love.
I want to close by sharing two things which have been brought to my attention this past week, and you will note also speak to what I have been sharing here. The first is a piece by Marianne Williamson on why the phenomenon of “falling in love,” is not an illusion at all, but a taste of enlightenment. I actually first saw this in Natural Awakenings magazine, and then found it here on the web: Marianne Williamson on Love
The other is a song that we all know, one of the most beautiful and profound love songs I have ever heard: