Those stories are now everywhere, even on Netflix: yoga teachers whose behavior is questionable, or downright wrong. They are dishonest and greedy, sexually aggressive and inappropriate, selfish and way too much into themselves.
As much as we expect this behavior from politicians, bankers and CEOs (which is already pretty crazy), we do not expect that a person dedicated to the practice and teaching of yoga would fall into those traps – it’s very confusing to say the least and infuriating to say the truth.
There is a code of ethics, a basic list of things we really shouldn’t do that you can find at the core of all organized cultures, traditions and religions. We shouldn’t kill people or take stuff from someone else or lie or sleep with whoever/whenever. This basic control over our primal impulses and appetites is fundamental for community life and for our development, both as individuals and as a species. Of course, we are all humans and flawed and all that. Making mistakes is at the core of learning and to imagine that a yoga teacher is not entitled to make these mistakes is terribly unfair. We also get angry, enjoy sex and love an upgrade to business class. Somehow yoga teachers get the harshest judgement around; a president having affairs with hookers is not half as scandalous as a yoga teacher who sleeps with a student. Bankers receiving indecent bonuses while people starve is just another day at the office while a yoga teacher with a Rolex or a Mercedes Benz is shocking and disgusting. And I see myself being disgusted too, which makes me want to look a little deeper into it.
Yoga tradition gives us more than a list of what we shouldn’t do, it also lays down the things that we should cultivate in our lives – it tackles the issue on both sides. One of the things I really love about yoga is that we are told we should or shouldn’t do something not to please an outside authority or gain a reward later. Yogis state that certain behaviors will eventually lead us to suffering, and abstaining from them, even when hard, will be beneficial to us directly. Other practices, when cultivated with dedication over a long period of time, will be good for us. According to yogis our material life is covered by a veil of illusion (maya) which completely confuses us. That’s why we need some practices to save us from those traps.
One of the practices yogis teach us to cultivate is truthfulness. It often gets translated as ‘not lying’, but I really feel it goes further than that. Truthfulness means that we are ruthlessly honest towards ourselves about our motivations and purposes. We make no excuses for our behavior and we don’t hide behind a role. It’s not that we are not selfish, but that we look at that selfishness right in the face and see the maya that generates it: the illusion that we are more important than anybody else. It’s not that we don’t desire and lust after people and things, but that we remind ourselves on a daily basis how desires come and go and how materialism has a shelf life. It is not that we don’t enjoy material things, but that we never forget that they cannot give us lasting joy. To enjoy things is fine; to get attached and entitled leads to trouble. Every. Single. Time.
Jerks and Bitches
So yeah, to a certain extent, you can definitely be a jerk and be a yogi. I feel sometimes that we are all jerks and bitches in varying degrees. I am personally not attracted to rude people, but there are people who enjoy being yelled at by their teacher (I’ve seen it). Who am I to judge? I am not into watches or cars yet I fly way too much. I am generous with my energy and money yet will not work for free. I keep my personal life outside of the studio yet if two consenting adults want to do it with each other I have no beef with that. I don’t eat meat yet enjoy a cigarette every once in a while. We all have our own code of ethics and that’s okay, more than okay, it is great. The one thing I find fundamental if you are a yoga teacher is your ruthless honesty. You can be a huge jerk with an ego from here to India and if you are honest about it – I’m with you. Now, if you fall into the most basic trap – making excuses, hiding behind your role and pretending to be someone you’re not – I honestly think you should find another profession. Yoga is about learning to control your mind, working on yourself and serving others. You can do it any way you want but you gotta do it. Talking about it, pretending and posting about it without actually doing it is the yoga version of fake news. If we teach truthfulness, we gotta show it.
Photo by Joël de Vriend