There is a growing trend for bringing consciousness into Western culture. It is part of the language, and has become part of our lifestyle. We are more comfortable talking about being spiritual, as a replacement for religion. We see consciousness festivals, conscious communities, books on conscious economy, and consciousness is a booming business. These are rooted in a deep yearning for deeper connection, service, and meaningfulness.
There is a corresponding degradation that may also be happening as these ideas become more and more acceptable. About 40 years ago, yoga was viewed as fringe; you were some sort of hippie, or flake, if you did yoga. Vegetarians were odd and marginalized. Today, there is a yoga studio in every strip mall, and most restaurants have vegetarian and vegan options. Is it possible that in the process of normalizing these sorts of conscious actions that we have lost the meaningfulness of their spiritual roots?
Recently, I took my Kundalini yoga teacher Yogi Amandeep Singh to a local vegan restaurant and yoga studio. He studied in India under great masters, such as Yogi Bhajan. As we reviewed the offerings, we engaged in a conversation about the westernization of yoga. Yogic practices were developed systematically, through many centuries of wisdom, and designed with a significant awareness of the subtle energy bodies being impacted in each posture. Today, there are many commercial yoga classes, such as hot yoga or aerial yoga, which are less about the yoga and more about things that appeal to a western audience.
“I would say this is the number one problem in practice of yoga in the West, that people think that the purpose of yoga is to feel good. All the original authorities agree that the purpose of yoga is to transform yourself into somebody who can see things as they really are, see yourself as who you really are, see reality as what it really is. You discover that at the core you are divine, you are a manifestation of God. But in order to find that core you also have to see all the places in yourself where you are lying to yourself, inauthentic. Of course, that is painful, transformation is challenging and painful. These people practicing yoga to feel good and have fun – that is fine unless they think it will bring them to final liberation and full awakening. Then they are deluded. But if their goal is to have fun then there is no problem. So, this is the tantric attitude – not to put down or condemn anyone`s practice, instead it just tries to show when the practice is not aligned with the desired fruit. Any good teacher would ask you what you want and help you choose a practice that will lead to that.” Christopher Wallis, interview on Tantric roots of Hatha yoga.
What may be worth reflection is how the western commercialization can be working antithetically to the original purpose of spiritual awakening. In the rejection of religion, in our movement to spirituality, we have lost the communication of truth for free, supported in a common community of interest. It is free to go to “church”; but in the west, most of our spirituality is commercial. We pay for it. We buy books, meditation CDs, yoga classes, and reiki treatments. We go to classes and retreats. And in the west, what underlies this is a belief that we are somehow lacking, broken, needing to be fixed. How significant is this? Consider how much money is spent on popular gurus: Deepak Chopra, Oprah, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, etc. This is not a criticism of their work; they have stepped in to fill a need in our consciousness. But what appeals to the western audience is self help, and that may be a block in and of itself to true spiritual awakening.
In a teleclass called The Missing Piece by Christopher Hareesh Wallis, we are told that the tantric tradition was to make the teaching free and available to all who seek. It was a natural part of spiritual life. His intent is to return to that tradition in his practice.
One of the theses in the class is the idea that the western commercialization of spiritual truth may be creating blockages to that same spiritual truth being sought. The self help movement of spirituality starts from the premise that we are broken in some way, and that we need to work on repairing those things. This is contrary to the truth of tantra, which focuses on emphasis on direct experience of a divine reality that has transcendent and immanent aspects. In other worlds, we are not broken. In Tantra Illuminated, Wallis says: “All that exists, throughout all time and beyond, is one infinite divine Consciousness, free and blissful, which projects within the field of its awareness a vast multiplicity of apparently differentiated subjects and objects: each object an actualization of a timeless potentiality inherent in the Light of Consciousness, and each subject is that plus a reflexive movement of self-awareness.”
But, that truth is abstract for the mind. Hard to put on a marketing brochure. And without the sexualisation of tantra, the west would probably not know what the word tantra means. And of course, because of that, the view of tantra has again become marginalized into something removed from the essential truth of the practice.
So, it is time to take advantage of the asset of the acceptance of spirituality in western culture, and raise the bar. As a consumer, do you want to study with a 24 year old who has completed 300 hours of yoga teacher training, or do you want to seek a master to guide you in your awakening? Do you want to buy a new self help book every month, only to return to the same root issues, or do you want to transform yourself through a deep practice of spiritual gnosis? As was said earlier, none of these are wrong, as long as we recognize that in this world of global communication, the student can look much further abroad than what is commercially marketed. If the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” is true, remember that our world is electronically connected. Seek your teacher in alignment with your readiness for spiritual depth.