It began with this factual article by Dr. Aseem Shukla who exposed the “theft of Yoga” in America. Dr. Shukla details out what we already knew: that Yoga has been appropriated by self-proclaimed “Masters” and “Yogis” and that it is a flourishing, $6-billion enterprise. But Dr. Shukla’s more crucial point is that Yoga has been steadily delinked from Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma from which it originates. And it’s pretty much free for all today, as Dr. Shukla notes that there are “themed (sic) Yogas:”
“Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting [and] no one religion can claim ownership,” says a vocal proponent of “Christian themed” yoga practices. Some Jews practice Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, and even some Muslims are joining the act.
And look who first took exception to Dr. Shukla’s piece: the millionaire “mystic,” and “healer,” Deepak Chopra. Which is logical given that Chopra is one of the early birds to cash in on the yet-unharvested bounty that Yoga offered to the materialistic mind. More on this in a little while.
Dr. Shukla in turn, responded to Chopra’s poorly-written, illogical, and accusatory piece, and calls Chopra’s bluff thus:
Indeed, Chopra is the perfect emissary to fire a salvo against my assertion that delinking Hinduism from its celebrated contributions to contemporary spiritual dialogue…The right messenger because Chopra is a principal purveyor of the very usurpation I sought to expose.
Deepak Chopra and his brand of highwaymen are ultra materialists who did two things phenomenally well: they made a near-perfect diagnosis of the societal ills of the USA and packaged their snakeoil to a similar level of perfection. They worked at the level of individuals. They didn’t say “you know, you and your family is fucked up and I have the cure,” but “you know, this healing/soul-body/consciousness/Yoga thing really works. And this is how it is done. It improves your health, reduces obesity, makes you flexible, puts you in touch with yourself…” In other words, How to win friends and influence people: the Yoga Edition. And Chopra & co were equipped with the right tools: a convent education back in India and stints at prestigious hospitals across the US. The tag of a medical doctor counts for a lot in the US (he’s a doc, he must know what he’s talking about) not to mention this:
IN Los Angeles a radio station plays tapes of the lectures of Deepak Chopra, the world-famous mind/body guru, late into the night. Chopra’s mellifluous, seductive, pukka Anglo-Indian voice wafts across the nocturnal southern Californian airwaves, dipping here into Ayurvedic medicine, there into quantum physics, offering simple connections to the “unfathomable mysteries of karma”, gentle guides to better health and intriguing promises of a body that will never age. A deliciously soothing cure for insomnia.
Read the underlined words again. The mellifluousness and seductiveness is an undeniable crowdpuller. All Google searches revealed one unanimous quality about Chopra: his masterly oratory, a quality common to successful politicians and leaders and among others, self-styled Gurus: remember Osho?
So is Deepak Chopra’s–and similar folks’–empire built only on sheer oratory and fluff? Does he know any Yoga and Hindu philosophy at all? As Dr. Shukla shows, Chopra is aware of these concepts and philosophies but refuses to as much as acknowledge them as rooted in Hinduism. Worse, he seeks to divorce them from Hinduism.
Which brings us to the next question: what exactly do Deepak Chopra & co teach/preach?
The Rape of Yoga
Most self-styled healers, Yoga and spiritual Gurus teach physical exercise not Yoga. In Yogic terminology, they teach asanas or postures and add some doses of Pranayama (breathing techniques/practices) and meditation. But their main ingredient is the generous booster-dose of “consciousness,” “liberation,” “ageless body,” “timeless mind,” “perfection,” “enlightenment,” “deeper aims of Existence,” “creation,” “Karma,” “afterlife,”….. However, they have no idea of the actual meaning of these terms, their origins, context of usage, and the philosophical systems that underlie them. But if they do know it, it’s even worse because they’re then consciously committing fraud.
But here’s the beauty: folks like Deepak Chopra don’t need to know the actual meaning of these terms because the average participant who enrolls in these courses is actually looking for this: a sense of hope and reassurance, and a solution to overcome the emptiness that has come to characterize (mostly) the Western society post the early 20th century. Yogasanas, meditation, and pranayama guarantee a sense of calmness, stability, and inner peace, which can only be experienced and is repeatable. However, this doesn’t mean those are the only benefits it bestows upon the practitioner. But to an empty mind, these positive benefits have an avalanche-like, and in some cases, a life-altering effect. And once people have experienced this, they’re willing to believe any tripe that’s packaged in the garb of Yoga.
The extent to which Yoga has been mangled today, especially in the US is incredible. It’s fashionable among even the lay folks to speak about stuff like the “different systems and schools of Yoga” and other balderdash out of absolute ignorance. The blame for this lies squarely on the doorstep of folks like Deepak Chopra.
At the very basics, we need to clearly distinguish between Yoga as a darshana, a system of philosophy from Yoga as we find in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This difference is akin to looking at the arati performed in temples and concluding that Santana Dharma is just this. A genuine Yoga teacher/Guru will explain this difference at the outset. Patanjali, the father of Yoga-as-a-system-of-philosophy, in his terse Yoga Sutras, talks about asanas in just two or three places in a total of 196 aphorisms. Even there, he simply says that it is recommended for a Yoga practitioner to sit in an asana that allows the mind to concentrate.
A genuine guru will also tell you about adhikari bheda, something I mentioned in an earlier post, from which I quote:
…Adhikari bheda, which simply means that a student should first successfully complete all the previous courses before attempting to sit for an Engineering exam.
This is equally applicable in this case. Yoga is not for everybody: and I’m talking about aspirants who want to reach the final state of Yogic bliss or Samadhi. Asanas, pranayama, meditation, etc are merely aids for attaining Samadhi. According to tradition, only a person who has actually experienced Samadhi is qualified to teach them to others.
But what are the self-proclaimed Yoga Gurus actually teaching? “Healing,” “wellness,” “well-being,” “being attentive,” “mindfulness,” and related nonsense in the name of Yoga. For good reason. The purveyors of such terms are not self-realized souls, I suspect they haven’t ever experienced Samadhi (I challenge them to prove me wrong). They are but mere traders. Their mantras of “healing,” and “wellness” simply means: “I need to keep you coming to my classes, I want you to buy my CDs, DVDs and books.” This also explains the filthy trend of branding/patenting/trademarking–Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, etc–that has tarnished the original aims and goals of Yoga. Read this vomit-worthy “guideline” of using “Iyengar Yoga brand”:
I.6. Iyengar Yoga Teachers refrain from using the “figure and temple” trademark design registered with the United States Patent and Trade Mark Department in BKS Iyengar’s name. The use of this service mark is reserved for use by non-profit organizations comprised of students and friends of BKS Iyengar who meet the criteria of I.1 and are approved for such usage by the Service Mark Committee (Asteya).
This beautiful instance showcases the Art of Defecating in the Plate that You Eat out of. Asteya (non-covetousness), as one of the Yamas (absentions) of Patanjali Yoga, is twisted to mean “non-covetousness of BKS Iyengar’s brand of Yoga!” While Patanjali laid down this as one of the principles to be strictly adhered to in order to attain Samadhi, the “Iyengar brand” lays it down to prevent the leakage of a single dollar/cent/rupee/paisa from its coffers. And these Gurus lecture millions on righteousness, soul, rebirth, ego, Karma, and peace. The gulf as it’s already clear, lies in precept and practice.
Branding/claims of ownership goes against the very spirit of Yoga and indeed, the entire Indian ethos. Why does a guy who talks about liberation need to enter into multi-million dollar businesses with Richard Branson? Equally, why didn’t Patanjali or any other sage claim ownership on individual asanas and breathing practices?
Yoga is a Disease
A common factor characterizes most of these self-styled soul-savers and agents of liberation: they rarely, if never, enter into public debates. They’re content to ignore genuine criticism directed at them. For instance, read this biting dissection of Chopra’s “expert” views on Genes.
Deepak Chopra really is an embarrassment. I’ve tussled with his weird arguments before, and now he’s flounced onto the Huffington Post with another article (prompted by an article on human genetics in Time, but bearing almost no relationship to it) in which he reveals his profound ignorance of biology, in something titled The Trouble With Genes. Chopra is a doctor, supposedly, but every time I read something by him that touches on biology, he sounds as ignorant as your average creationist. He also writes incredibly poorly, bumbling his way forward with a succession of unlikely and indefensible claims. This latest article is one in which I think he’s trying to criticize the very idea of genes, but it’s more like he’s criticizing his own lack of knowledge. [...] Instead, though, what we get is the maunderings of a third-rate mind with no understanding of even decades-old ideas. Instead of revealing any working knowledge of biological thought, Chopra gives us a list of questions about the gene that he is wondering about, and also claiming that no one else understands, and babbling foolishly. Some of these would be good questions coming from a student who seriously wanted to learn, but coming from an M.D. who routinely pontificates on how your body works, and stated with such a stunning certainty that because he doesn’t know, no one else does either, this is an infuriating list. Can we get Chopra’s license to practice medicine revoked, if he has one?
This criticism needs to be taken really seriously because it is about Deepak Chopra’s primary area of expertise/profession. This criticism exposes his (lack of) credentials in that area. Given his unintelligible pontifications on his current area of “expertise” as a Guru/Healer/Mystic, we have a fairly reasonable conclusion: that Chopra relies more on his oratory and confidence in the power of the igorance of the masses (how many educated, laymen can understand genetics? If Dr.Chopra spins something about connecting it with past lives, it must be true. After all, he’s a doctor). This explains why he doesn’t engage in anything that seriously challenges him. But like most similar Gurus, he lets his loyal band of blind followers speak for him. Once in a while, when questioned, he comes up with acrid and illogical rejoinders.
Secondly, yoga did not originate in Hinduism as Prof. Shukla claims. Perhaps he has a fundamentalist agenda in mind, but he must know very well that the rise of Hinduism as a religion came centuries after the foundation of yoga in consciousness and consciousness alone. Religious rites and the worship of gods has always been seen as being in service to a higher cause, knowing the self.
The preacher of daily inspirations, and the unveiler of Spiritual Laws loses his cool so easily that he is compelled find hidden agendas in peoples’ minds instead of giving a factual rebuttal! And that, when Dr. Shukla hasn’t named anybody. Guilty conscience, doctor? Tch tch tch. Dr. Shukla has already given an effective rebuttal so I won’t touch that portion again. But, Dr.Chopra, the “fundamentalist” term has been hurled at Hindus enough times for us to know that you have a sizeable repertoire of jokes, your anger notwithstanding.
Before you accuse me that I’m singling out Deepak Chopra, let me tell you that I’m using him merely as an example, a celebrity case study if you will, of what I call the Yoga Disease that’s spread across the United States. It has been transformed into a disease because of the vile potion that Deepak Chopra & his ilk have injected into an otherwise noble philosophical system. On the other side, as Dr. Shukla says, Chopra doesn’t have even the basic gratitude to acknowledge the roots of the source of his magnificent empire. Now, some folks say that “Yoga doesn’t need his gratitude.” This is a braindead argument and it simply encourages others like him to steal from, and appropriate native traditions without acknowledgment.
Here’s something to Deepak Chopra who rants incoherently about Yoga being rooted in “consciousness alone.” By this token, Chopra must not sue me if I use one of his patented/trademarked/copyrighted snakeoil techniques and claim that it is rooted in “consciousness alone.” This applies equally to any self-proclaimed Guru trying to hide under a similar umbrella. I do not decry or call for these Gurus to stop teaching whatever techniques they are teaching but for heaven’s sake, give credit where it’s due, don’t misrepresent and most importantly, don’t blabber about things you don’t know. Teach asanas, etc by all means but call it by its name: don’t package it as philosophy or Yoga.
In parting, here’s a very fundamental point even the most informed critics of Deepak Chopra & co miss: a true Yoga Guru will not advertise his/her Gurudom. Think about it.
Tags: Commentary, Deepak Chopra, False Yoga Gurus, Hindu, Hindu Philosophy, Hinduism, India, Indian Philosophy, Meditation, Patanjali Yoga, Patenting Yoga, Pranayama, The Rape of Yoga, Yoga, Yoga Disease, Yoga Disease in the US