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Does the practice of yoga automatically make you a better person?

or, How yoga can make a jerk into an even bigger jerk. Recently, yoga teacher Hala Khouri posted on Facebook a question about yoga teachers crossing boundaries and treating their students inappropriately, triggering a number of interesting responses. This touches on a issue of vital importance to the ancient yoga tradition: that is, does the practice of yoga inevitably and automatically lead you toward self-realization and self-actualization? Two very different answers to this question are found. The original Hathayoga tradition argued that the practices work, regardless of the view held by the practitioner, and therefore to speak of yoga philosophy is missing the point. This perspective sees the practices much as we do technology: they are designed to have a certain effect on the practitioner, and if the design is sound, the effect will be there. The original Tantric tradition from which Hathayoga sprang had a diametrically opposite view, however. Tantra argued that there must be alignment of View and Practice for the Fruit of yoga to appear in its fullness. What this means is that the perspective on reality held by the teacher and the student greatly effects the outcome of the practice. This strikes me as irrefutably logical, given the basic axiom of all yoga, the mind-body connection. In fact connection understates the case; the mind is said the be the most subtle aspect of body, and body the most tangible aspect of mind. They exist on a continuum. (And by mind, I mean the center of both thought and emotion; mind and heart are the same word in Sanskrit.) Given this axiom, we should expect that for yoga to work, there must be alignment of mind as well as alignment of body. They are part of one and the same process. This alignment of mind (and heart) is called Attitude in the Anusra style of yoga, the first of its three As, and the prerequisite for everything else. I would argue, then, that yoga does not necessarily automatically lead to Selfrealization and the virtuous conduct that is the most visible manifestation of that attainment. Depending on the teacher and student in the given instance, yoga can be nothing more than a workout. But much more is at stake here, for what we usually find is not a black-and-white situation of only exercise in some instances vs. pure spiritual practice in others. Rather, we find something ambigously in-between, and this can be dangerous. Why? Because the full practice of yoga (including breathwork, bandhas, subtle body strengthening techniques, etc.) is radically empowering. In fact, the whole purpose of yoga can be characterized in one word as empowerment. But without Right View, the ancient tradition argues, such raw power will simply make a jerk into an even more powerful jerk, just as it can make a good person into a saint. This is why Tantra, in both Buddhist and Shaiva (= Shiva-Shakti) forms, offers orientation to right View as the first and most fundamental practice. This emphasis has been lost in the modern yoga scene, to everyones detriment. The evidence for this is abundant. There are countless instances of yoga teachers taking sexual advantage of their students, both in India and the West, or otherwise

using their power for self-aggrandizement. Students are taken in by the fact that such teachers often have impressive charisma, even quasi-psychic power that the nave student takes as evidence of attainment. But as already stated, yoga can grant power without true self-realization. This is why the tradition invites us to look to the teachers conduct in their everyday affairs, business and personal, as the primary evidence of their attainment. If the conduct is not there, nothing else matters. This of course should not be taken to mean that the teacher must always live up to an abstract notion of perfection, but rather that he is more often than not seen to be steady and centered, not emotionally reactive to others behavior, and living from a place of compassion and understanding. Why then has the West lost orientation to right View as a crucial and required part of yoga? I propose it is because yoga teachers hesitate to tell their students what to think, and rightfully so. But View orientation is something different: it is the offering of a opportunity for contemplation to the student. And right View does not necessarily connote a specific doctrine, but rather an orientation to the practice that leads to the greatest benefit for all. A single example will suffice, since it is such an important one: that of motive for practice. Original Tantra teaches that if the student holds the view that there is something wrong with her as she is, that she is damaged and/or incomplete, and therefore looks to yoga to fix her, the practice cannot bear its proper fruit, because the very foundation for practice is out of alignment with reality. Therefore right View includes orienting the student to the notion that she is already complete and perfect, and the practice of yoga simply serves to unveil what is already the case, by allowing the shedding of the layers of delusion that obscure that truth. The second impure motive is the one that gives rise to the phenomenon of accomplished yogis who are real jerks. It is the motive of doing yoga in order to acquire, whether aimed at acquisition of power or of pleasure. Yoga done with this motive cannot grant self-realization, because it is fundamentally misaligned; as stated above, the truth is that our real self needs nothing added to it to complete or improve it. This motive is unfortunately all too common in the yoga world, most frequently seen in the addictive pursuit of highs or good experiences triggered by external sources. You begin to see, I hope, how the View teachings anticipate the pitfalls of the spiritual path and help you avoid them. They also educate the student in what to watch out for in a teacher. Though the practice grants empowerment, power is not the litmus test of a teacher with real attainment; conduct is. Dont we all start the practice with some variation of one of the two impure motives mentioned above? Yes, but fortunately, a heart that longs for truth will inevitably be lead to pure motive. According to the Tantric View, pure motive is walking the path out of love for oneself, as an expression of ones real nature, with the intent to benefit all beings thereby.

Of course, ultimately when a person becomes a living embodiment of this Pure Motive and the right View which it is a part of, s/he needs no View anymore. View is meant to point the way, it is not the goal. The goal is constant non-conceptual embodiment of the teachings of yoga through dwelling in ones essence-nature in harmony with ones total environment. May yogis of every stripe exercise discrimation and attain Pure Motive. May all beings be free.