Yoga is being “sold out” as a commercial enterprise that is far from the original vision of the rishis
BY NAINA LEPES
My third day in Swargashram Rishikesh, I hear a young Russian woman’s agitated question: “How can someone who has never done yoga before get a certificate to teach after studying for one month only? I do not understand! It is not right;…one month only. I do not understand.” So this is what’s happening to spirituality in Rishikesh! Yoga for sale in India: Travel to India, for $1,000 to $2,000—get a one-month certificate, go back home and become a yoga teacher! Especially good for the unemployed with no prior spiritual or vocational training. No qualifications required!
Rishikesh has probably changed more quickly than many places in India. There are always the sincere devotees from around the country who come to bow in adoration at her shrines, bathe in the purifying waters of Mother Ganga and cook chapatis by the her banks. But now you have the city people who use her sacred sands to take selfies, parading around in new Western clothes that create the illusion of freedom and happiness, totally removed from the intent of the rishis.
The most revolutionary change is that yoga is now presented as a means of making money. The power of years of tapas by Swami Sivananda and Baba Kalikamli and thousands of ancient anonymous rishis, strictly for the well-being of humanity, is being swept under the sands of time, now available only to only those few pure souls who see past the commercialization.
As a marketing, moneymaking scheme, the meaning of yoga has been shorn down to health and physical fitness. Training groups of a month or two offer participants a certificate allowing them to teach, even if they never practiced yoga before—provided they pay one or two thousand dollars to take the course. This submergence of spirituality to money sucks away anything spiritual from the original intended sacred practice.
How would Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, view all this!? Ancient India scorned pandits who taught for money, considering them frauds! The ancient tradition of biksha, voluntary offering to the guru, keeps the motivation of teachers and aspirants pure while opening doors to faith in the teachings of karma. Instead it is all “Me…me…me…top dog,” as the all-pervasive greed mentality sweeps all unto itself in this Kali Yuga! Can a course based on bucks ever lead to spirituality? Does it not require deep aspiration, practice and time? These people should forget about becoming a yoga teacher…for a while anyway!
Physical fitness is certainly a valid first step in the practice of yoga. Learning to harmonize body with mind and breath, strengthening awareness of body movement from the space of the witness, the sakshi, prepares one for the ascent of divine shakti. But offering “teacher training” as described above is a deceitful practice that erodes the meaning of yoga and of “teacher” for potential students. It encourages body-ego identification and clinging to material values. After all, Patanjali taught that the first two steps of yoga, on which all else rests, are yama-niyama—inner and outer purification.
A non-deceptive training would present physical fitness as a first step toward the value-based, healthy living which would help students separate body identification from real Self. If you value Indian culture and human beings, do not offer training courses in meditation and kundalini yoga until real inner purity is being lived by the teachers and aspiring students. And keep in mind that wherever our starting point, as awareness of our highest ideal becomes a steady companion, we will surely be guided to cross over this inscrutable maze of maya—while evolving along the way!