Bending Yoga to Serve Western Collective Ego Means It Isn’t True Yoga Anymore

by Rajiv Malhotra - Aug 18, 2017 06:48 PM +05:30 IST
Bending Yoga to Serve Western Collective Ego Means It Isn’t True Yoga AnymoreBeer Yoga (Michael Dodge/Getty Image) 
Snapshot
  • Yoga is becoming popular. But the Yoga which is being accepted more and more now is less and less the real, pure Yoga.

Just like there is an individual ego (“I’m Rajiv”), there is also a collective ego. So, someone might say, “I’m born in Florida”, “I’m born in New Jersey, and I come from this heritage”, “this is my history,", "these are my ancestors”, “I belong to this religion”, or live by the narrative of "the original sin to salvation to heaven or hell”. This belief, the grand narrative or the whole story which people are born into, is taught in churches, schools and so on.

Dissolution of the ego through Yoga also has an equivalent requirement – the dissolution of the collective ego.

But then, why does a westerner, who takes to Yoga as a path of dissolution, make a U-turn? It is not always because the individual ego wants to capture and highjack Yoga. The individual has done a really good job of dissolving his personal ego. But when he returns to his culture, there is pressure from the family, from media and neighbours. In place of the sangha, or the commune of seekers, where he was very safe in the Ashram, he is now back into the sort of a congregation of the Church environment or his medical school where everyone dismisses it all as mumbo-jumbo. So, there still is a collective ego and he’s a member of that.

It’s like a community where it’s like a jati, a huge jati. The whole of western civilisation is like a huge jati, which has a got a lot of membership benefits. So, even after he has successfully gotten rid of personal ego, he is a member of this huge collective jati. And since it is too big a deal to get out of it, he begins to negotiate with it.

First, he negotiates as a true Yogi. He says, “No, I like the Yoga. I like my Ayurvedic food. I like my symbols. I like my Guru. I like all that”.

But if he is not very strong to counter the power of the collective ego, he begins to break down; and the rewards are anyway too many. The fear of being blacklisted and declared an outcaste is too much; so he begins to compromise, little by little.

He starts compromising by saying, “I will keep all this private. I know it is true, but in public, I will say something else to make them happy”.

So, first, there is a split between the private and and the social. This is, precisely, what Yoga says you shouldn’t do. So, socially he wants to play by one set of rules and so when he goes home and talks to parents and neighbours, and he wants to be just the way they expect him to be – compliant. While privately he is anchored in the Yoga.

People are subject to this idea of heritage, birth-based ancestry, where you came from, identities, collective identities and so on. So, everybody’s got this problem. But some of these identity narratives, because it comes from what you’ve been told, are a myth; that Ego has its myth.

This collective narrative has its own story – some true, some false, some wishful thinking, exaggeration and all of that. So these narratives, these identities are not all the same in terms of power. Some have had an aggressive expansionist mission with a mandate from God that you should take over the world. Some have it written and codified that you should go and take over the world. So, this ego has had a world conquest ambition. The Native American tribes also have an ego, but they never had this ambition to take over the whole earth, their fishing areas were adequate for them to do their own thing. So, because there is an asymmetry of power, the ones with more power and more ambition built into them have created a second kind of problem – a problem of too much aggression and too much hijacking. Those egos, I think, are more important to address now.

A tribe may have its own ego, and so can an individual tribesman. If Rajiv is a Native American belonging to a tribe and you’re deconstructing his personal ego, that’s good enough. Because while I have a tribal ego, it’s not harming anyone else. It might be a problem for my own evolution, but I am not out there all over the world trying to assert myself. That’s one point I wanted to make before I move on.

Yoga is becoming popular. But the Yoga which is being accepted more and more now is less and less the real, pure Yoga.

There are two things happening: as Yoga gets diluted and as the west changes Yoga, domesticates it, it becomes more and more popular. So, this raw, original, wild form of yoga is getting domesticated and becoming more and more popular. More and more people are happy to have it in their garden because it is not so “dangerous” (to Abrahamic beliefs).

Indian–American researcher, author, speaker. Current affairs, inter-civilization, science
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