By Sita-pati das
As the owner of a hatha yoga school and an initiated disciple in the branch of the Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage represented by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada I read with interest the recent opinion article of His Holiness Danavir Goswami.
I’d like to offer what may be perhaps another angle of vision on the relationship between hatha yoga and Krishna Consciousness.
I personally believe that every hatha yoga school in the world should teach the practice of yoga asanas, which are a form of physical exercise, in the context of Krishna Consciousness. In fact, I personally believe that everything should be taught in the context of Krishna Consciousness.
Manasa deho geho yo kichu mor, apilu tuya pade nanda kishor - “My mind, body and family, everything that I have, I offer to the lotus feet of the son of Nanda Maharaja”, yes, including the yoga school, the courses taught there, the students, everything.
As I consider myself “within ISKCON”, I consider that what I do is “within ISKCON”. The teachers at our yoga school are a mixture of initiated grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada and aspiring grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada who have been introduced to ISKCON through association with the devotees who teach there.
As we proceed in our mission to Krishna-ize the entire planet we have to think deeply about what it means and will mean to “be within ISKCON”, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and be careful and precise about the language that we use.
I would like to add that our yoga school, Atma Yoga in Brisbane, Australia, does not use the name of ISKCON or an ISKCON facility, so perhaps in that way we are not “within ISKCON” in the sense that Maharaja uses the term, and Maharaja’s presentation is not directed at us. I’d just like to clarify that, however, because nobody likes to feel like they are being told that their service and offering to the mission is bogus.
I take Maharaja’s main point to be that hatha yoga should not be taught in ISKCON temples or using the ISKCON name, because it’s not our core mission, and I have no problem with that - in fact I couldn’t agree more. Since opening a hatha yoga school with my wife 8 years ago we have never taught hatha yoga in an ISKCON temple, or used the ISKCON name in this connection.
I feel that the article Maharaja has written could be read by some as going further than this, however, into a condemnation of teaching of hatha yoga by Vaisnavas.
Our core mission is to make everyone and everything in human society Krishna Conscious, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see the appearance of Krishna Conscious hatha yoga, nor should we unnecessarily condemn it.
I’d like to point out that there are Vaisnavas who teach hatha yoga, let’s call it “outside ISKCON” to indicate that they don’t use the name or facilities of ISKCON, and they are not impersonalists or spreading impersonalist teachings, nor are they necessarily sense enjoyers and so forth, an impression that might be gained by a cursory or superficial reading of Maharaja’s piece.
I don’t feel that a lot of the generalizations that His Holiness has made about yoga courses are accurate descriptions of the yoga courses that we teach at our yoga school. I wonder if he could be a bit more specific about the yoga courses that he is referring to in order to avoid “tarring everyone with the same brush”. I don’t believe that Maharaja is personally familiar with our school or our courses, and the invitation is open for him to visit anytime to know directly what we do.
There are a number of ISKCON Vaisnavas around the world who work as hatha yoga teachers and are who are working together to develop a Krishna conscious hatha yoga system where interested persons can learn to teach hatha yoga in a bona fide Krishna conscious context. It’s a job, just like a gym instructor or computer programmer, and householder devotees have to make a living somehow. If they can get their hatha yoga instructor certification in a Krishna Conscious hatha yoga system, then so much the better. Otherwise devotees still have to find their way in a world that largely has not been Krishna-contextualized yet.
We need Krishna conscious computer training courses, Krishna conscious metal work courses, Krishna conscious media studies courses, Krishna conscious martial arts courses, Krishna conscious everything. While the core mission of the ISKCON organization is to provide the “Krishna conscious” part, we should be careful, while maintaining our purity, not to condemn the manifestation of Krishna consciousness in human society when it does occur. Otherwise we run the risk of shooting ourselves in the foot as we try to advance. After all, we’re trying to make everyone and everything Krishna conscious aren’t we?
To my reading Maharaja is concerned that the practice and teaching of Krishna Conscious hatha yoga not replace or become mixed with our core activities of Bhagavat-sravanam-kirtanam in our temple facilities, and that any condemnation of Krishna conscious hatha yoga teachers and systems is merely apparent, and unintended, collateral damage.
I don’t personally feel that Maharaja is condemning me or what I do, I’d just like to clarify this point so that his presentation is not taken to be a blanket condemnation of those of us “within ISKCON” who practice and teach hatha yoga, and are happy to use our activities as another opportunity to bring people in contact with Krishna consciousness.
Here is a verse that I meditate on each day:
“Lord Kapila, the Personality of Godhead, who is the highest authority on yoga, here explains the yoga system known as ashtanga-yoga, which comprises eight different practices, namely yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. By all these stages of practice one must realize Lord Vishnu, who is the target of all yoga. There are so-called yoga practices in which one concentrates the mind on voidness or on the impersonal, but this is not approved by the authorized yoga system as explained by Kapiladeva. Even Patanjali explains that the target of all yoga is Vishnu. Ashtanga-yoga is therefore part of Vaishnava practice because its ultimate goal is realization of Vishnu.” SB.3.28.1
I feel that when people become initiated Gaudiya Vaisnavas through studying at a Vaisnava hatha yoga school that this is bona-fide astanga yoga practice, as they have reached the goal of Visnu-saranam.
My personal conviction is that I will not stand aside and allow hatha yoga to be misused. Everything must be utilized in Krishna’s service. Everyone must be saved.
with humble obeisances, Sita-pati das (DAS)
(More info about author: http://www.atmayogi.com)