Part VI. Yoga’s translation into a Western context


In meditating upon Yoga’s bija seed, first we examined her permanent characteristics. Then we looked at Yoga through time. We just looked at her polar techniques. We now explore Yoga’s translation into a Western context.

As mentioned Yoga has an intimate relation with India. We found that when Yoga is exported it manifests itself in a new way. An abstract essence of Yoga is exported, while its Indian essence remains on that soil. The question we address is: Which elements of Yoga are exported to the West and which remain in India?

In general Yoga’s philosophy has remained in India while her physical techniques have been exported around the world. We have embraced Yoga’s Body while rejecting her Mind. Let us see why that is.

The West embraces Yoga’s Body

With the growing stresses and strains of the modern world, Yoga’s physical techniques, her Body, have become increasingly popular as a form of stress and anxiety management. The Westerner busy with an external life takes the time to go to Yoga class where one quiets the mind by focusing internally upon stretching muscles and relaxation. This enables the Westerner to avoid health problems and to operate more efficiently in day-to-day life. Thus physical Yoga is perfectly suited to defusing the anxieties and tensions of Western life, while simultaneously improving the quality of life by allowing the practitioner to operate more efficiently.

The West rejects Yoga’s Mind

While we in the West have embraced Yoga’s physical techniques, we have virtually ignored the otherworldly philosophy of Yoga, her Mind. The idea that life is suffering and is to be transcended is foreign to the Western way of thinking. Yoga is practiced to enhance life, not to transcend it. While filled with pain, Life is thought of as good in the Western perspective, why would anyone want to transcend it.

Western Guru to enhance life, not transcend it

In India a guru is a spiritual guide, who assists one to transcend the phenomenal world of suffering. The word guru in the west usually refers to someone who is a specialist in the phenomenal world, not a spiritual guide. Because money is generally equated with happiness in the West, the guru, spiritual or not, generally not, helps one to run a better business, have a better life. Rarely is the intent of the Yoga practitioner in the West to transcend this life.

Western Yogi is a Bum

Further the meditating Yogi, while idealized in statuary and imagery, is not something desirable in the West. If someone took this course in the West, they would generally be considered a bum and derelict, living a useless life, with no function to society. The whole idea of leaving job and family to pursue the spiritual quest is considered misguided, if not bad. In general the spiritual quest is not something that is ratified except in the context of job and family.

Enlightenment only occurs in the East

While the idea of enlightenment is known in the West, it doesn’t tend to be associated with Westerners, and is instead associated with Tibetan monks, Indian Yogis, Japanese Zen Buddhists, or Chinese Taoist hermits. If a Westerner wants to pursue spiritual enlightenment, they inevitably go to the East. Spiritual enlightenment has a mythic quality in the materialist West, only attainable in the spiritual East.

Westerners cling to materialism

Finally the idea of renouncing materialism as the only way of reaching enlightenment is alienating to the Western mind, whose quest is for wealth. In general the spiritual practices of the East are to allow the Westerner to acquire more wealth, which is where real happiness lies in the Western mind. The Westerner hopes from his spiritual practices that he will make more money not less. Because of these reasons gurus and ashrams, spiritual centers for the practice of yogic techniques to achieve enlightenment, have not proliferated in the West.

Yoga is of necessity tied with the cultural tradition where one practices it. Hence although one might practice classical meditation and do all the exercises, hatha yoga, because the cultural context is entirely different, the intent is also different. In India the aim of yoga is generally to transcend life, escape rebirth, be liberated from this human realm of suffering. In the West the aim of yoga is generally to enhance life by allowing for greater concentration and more relaxation, not to escape from life.

Goal of Yoga to destroy Western psyche based upon verbal mind

Carl Jung actually suggests that the meditation techniques of Yoga might be harmful to the Western psyche. He is right. Yoga, practiced faithfully, mind and body, would ultimately shatter the sense of progress and materialism that is at the root of the Western psyche. As a matter of fact one of the purposes of Yoga would be to destroy the core of beliefs that underlie the Western psyche. Amongst these core beliefs is the sense that the deductive verbal mind reigns supreme. Yoga starts with the assumption that the deductive mind is at the root of illusion and that its assumptions need to be systematically dismantled through deep inner reflection. Thus Yoga is not only harmful to the Western psyche but aims to destroy it as well.

An essence of Yoga’s Mind – only for the select few

 Although Yoga’s otherworldly philosophy hasn’t been well received in the West, a select group has heard an abstract essence of Yoga. For those fed up with Western materialism, for those who have suffered tremendously, the philosophy has been received like a fresh mountain stream.

Yogi, a great example of finding internal happiness without materialism

First the Yogi provides an example of someone who is seeking for the ultimate meaning of existence. This quest overrides any material concerns. Seemingly the Yogi finds an internal happiness that transcends the fulfillment of external desires associated with materialism. This example alone is refreshing, providing inspiration, amidst the overwhelming consumerism of the West.

Transcendence of the duality

Second the quest of the Yogi to transcend the polarity of verbal thought is profound. To realize that a whole culture considers the verbal world of the mind an illusion creates a motivation to look deeper into the nature of things in order to see how they would come to this conclusion. For Seekers after the Truth they wonder about the non-verbal reality and its implications. What does it mean to transcend the duality?

Each has their own Yoga

Then in looking at the totality of Yoga, including classic and tantra, one sees a multiplicity of techniques that have been used to transcend the duality. The individual seems to be encouraged to find the techniques, the Yoga, best suited to their own personal quest. The techniques, no matter how varied, require effort and one-pointed concentration. The goal of these techniques is always to transcend the polarity of one’s personal human condition to join with the Absolute. Yoga in the absolute sense becomes any technique to which one truly devotes oneself.  From this the Seeker realizes that one’s own Yoga is focus one-pointedly on the transcendence of the duality. Understanding that each particular bija seed, as a reflection of Purusha, contains all the answers, the Seeker realizes that transcendence has little to do with the Indian context and much more to do with one-pointed concentration on the quest for liberation from polarity. To achieve the higher states of consciousness, one must truly devote oneself one-pointedly to a particular bija.

Yoga emphasizes mystery of the quest for truth

Although the Yoga tradition is very logical and technical in nature, it still reflects an awe and respect for the mystery of existence, missing or under-emphasized in the scientific West. Further the mysterious quest for truth that underlies Yoga has divine overtones, called superstitious in the West. Thus those who instinctually pursue the Truth find an oasis of understanding in the Yoga tradition of India, based as it is upon a logic that transcends the verbal mind. The Seeker sensing that the deductive mind is based upon paradox and self-contradiction is relieved to find a culture that understands these limitations of the mind.

Summarizing: in general the West has embraced Yoga’s physical techniques while rejecting her philosophy. However for the Seekers after the Truth, which are few, Yoga’s philosophies and techniques have filled a spiritual void in the West devoted as it is to materialism. The logical development of their philosophical system satisfies the deductive mind while simultaneously quenching the underlying spiritual priorities, which are just sensed upon the borders of consciousness.

Pursue as one’s Yoga, West or East or In-between, the transcendence of the duality, realizing ultimately that one is not one’s Person, but is instead part of the Greater Flow. Let your Person fulfill their nature as Prakrti and try not to block the Way.


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