October 2, 2013

Will Yoga Save Us?

Photo: Lyle Vincent on Flickr.

An interview with certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues and filmmaker Joy Marzec.

Joy: This is going to be heavy folks. I am writing a new script and the story is about a nun looking for salvation. Lately, I’ve been thinking, how if you want your soul to be saved,  then sacrifice could almost be synonymous with salvation. In conclusion, if you know the route, or even think you know the route of how to reach salvation, then I think a person should follow it mercilessly.

Of course, my heavy Catholic roots are apparent in this film.

“From Wikipedia: In religion, salvation is stated as the saving of the soul from sin and its consequences.[3] The academic study of salvation is called soteriology. It concerns itself with the comparative study of how different religious traditions conceive salvation and how they believe it is obtained. ‘Salvation’ distinguishes a notion common to men and women of a wide range of cultural traditions.”

In short, I am interested in how salvation is perceived in Yoga. Can you help me?

David: In yoga, you immediately encounter what Christianity finds utterly blasphemous; that you are eternal, you are God and God is not outside of or other than you. And as self you are not a sinner who needs to be saved. You are the source of all creation and you are also the material, the stuff that makes up existence.

All is interconnected: made of one substance that includes but is not limited to what you ordinarily think of as your self, ie. your body, personality, identity etc.

But there is a catch—you are self, but you have also forgotten that you are the self. Thus, in being conscious in the ordinary sense, you are playing a game of hide and seek with your self. You have misidentified your self because what you think is your self is only a tiny little aspect of consciousness.

As part of forgetting about your true nature, your behavior and choices are based on a misplaced identification with your small self, your tiny, impermanent, ordinary body and personality. And thus you misbehave and bring suffering on your self and others.

In yoga, we compare it to being painfully stuck, going endlessly round and round on a wheel called samsara.

Samsara is based on going through life asleep to the greater consciousness that you are part of, in being a part of the natural order of all existence. This fundamental mistake causes each of us to respond to our experience with what are called Kleshas or root causes of pain.

The kleshas are five:

1) ignorance of self,

2) egoism,

3) and 4) unwholesome attachment and aversion, and

5) will to live/fear of death.

Being caught in the samsaric life activates kleshas and awakens powerfully strong contrary forces of greed, suspicion, fear, aggression, and selfishness within you, resulting in sinful, life denying behavioral patterns.

Thus, salvation in yoga is to undergo the most profound remembrance of the real you that is inextricably weaved into the entirety: you as Brahman, the source of everything that ever was, is and will be. And this is paradoxically done by taking up a rigorous disciplined practice that teaches you to withdraw and to confine your awareness inside of your body.

You narrow your focus within the body to become skilled in applying a handful of techniques that slowly teach you how to allow a greater consciousness to inform your experience.

Joy: Asana, pranayama? Those techniques?

David: Yes, mudra, and subtleties within those greater categories. You use those techniques to learn how to respond differently and thus lessen the effects of kleshas.

So to wrap up this whole rant, according to yoga the worst and possibly only lasting sin would be if you are not in pursuit of the experiential knowledge that you are self.

To not make your best try to understand the spiritual reality that is the heart of you, is to waste your life and to bring present and future suffering on yourself.

Joy: And then this idea of sacrifice being synonymous with salvation, what do you say about that?

David: Well on the one side you have paramhamsas.

Joy: What is that?

David: It’s basically a very extreme renunciate. Someone who has renounced this temporal world. The cyclical world. In that sense, they have no belongings. They barely have the clothes on their back. Some of them barely even beg—they wait till food is delivered to them. So that all worldly pleasure is evil or false.

So they put dirt in their food. They don’t look up at the sky because they don’t want to see beauty. They completely reject the world and what the senses present and they try to be absorbed inside to understand reality and that is their bliss. That is where real happiness comes from.

Joy: You said, “That is their bliss.” Their or the?

David: That is the bliss. That is what ignites the soul.

Joy: Awesome. Go on.

David: So in a different branch, there’s a whole group of people who try to get completely in touch with death. Because part of what causes you not to sacrifice is that you think you’re going to live, you think there’s going to be tomorrow to sacrifice.

And so these people—it’s a left hand path—and these people are gruesome. They hang out in graveyards. They try to get among corpses and get completely faced with the reality of death continually in order to realize that this body is not going to last.

To get that immediacy of how you need to be in reality now. There’s no later.

Joy: Okay.

David: And then there’s a whole set of people that are more like you and me. I mean, a modern yogi. A person who does yoga now. What they do is consciously use the materials that bring strong sensation, desire—so meat, fish, alcohol, sex and they work with those ritually and consciously.

Rather than reject desire, by throwing sand in your eye to not look up in the sky, you partake in those pleasures to detach. So you have the most ecstatic experience, orgasm, meat eating or drunkenness but you’re not affected. You don’t become an addict and in fact you use those substances to see the bliss of the self. To see what real enjoyment is.  A profound enjoyment.

So you elevate those things to a higher place by your non attachment and your ability to appreciate it completely by not needing more or different.

photo: Bryonie Wise

In a way, the yoga that we practice is more like that. We are surrounded by abundance. We can’t help it. Look around. It’s almost impossibly not to have things, or more food than you want, more pleasure. So here you are with this ascetic practice, this tapas.

Joy: Tapas, meaning our Ashtanga practice—primary series?

David: Yes. And so in a certain way we are trying to simplify and trying to eliminate a lot of the choices and behaviors, but we also don’t go all the way because we let some in. Every one of us chooses our pleasures.

So either we are just falling short of the sacrifice that is needed for salvation or we are attempting the transcendent way by, “I can enjoy this pleasure by not becoming attached to it and I can still be saved that way. I won’t turn into an addict of that thing.”

Joy: So that’s what we’re left with?

David: Well we’re left with—Yoga is walking the razor’s edge. You can see the edge, because salvation is really the topic. And that is a serious theme. Just think about it: “What if you aren’t saved?”

The choices you make lead you to fail. There is the idea of transmigration. For a true Indian, you don’t only get one chance—you’ll have many births, but they do say to have a human birth is precious.

So you have to make good use of it, because it’s a rare thing for the immaterial to configurate in such a way that you become a person. If you really do believe in this idea of salvation, attaining to some real final place in life, a final self-hood, then you kind of need some past life idea. Otherwise, how are you going to live, knowing you’re going to fail? You know what I’m saying? What is being asked is so strong.

Joy: The only conclusions I seem to have are that my idea of salvation needs to be personal. And to try and ask myself how much am i willing to sacrifice for it.

David: I think that’s true and you said, “You have to pursue the salvation mercilessly,” and I would add also mercifully.  The merciless part of it is because of how much power and strength is needed to do it. You can’t be soft with yourself. You have to be so strong. Right? But somehow, I don’t know, there’s so much cruelty and harm that comes from mercilessness. Somehow there’s another quality that is needed. And I would say it’s merciful. And merciful does not mean weak, soft or indulgent.

Joy: I like that you used the word “soft” in both opposites. David Garrigues is always known in a talk to say, “there’s always a contradiction.”

David: Yeah and do you understand why merciless is not the end all?

Joy: Ah, i think so.

David: ‘Cause I’ll borrow from Alan Watts: You can’t see your own eyeball. You can’t bite your own teeth.

That is why if you’re merciless to the upteenth degree, you’ll end up killing yourself by trying to bite your own teeth.

Joy: Yes and I think that’s why I’m so serious all the time.

David: Well, that’s where sense of humor has to come in. And more wisdom can come in because I say salvation in its final thing is an affirmation, not a negation.

Joy: Hmmm. I think I’m going to need to keep thinking about it all.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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