Recently a friend sent me a link to a video called YogaVs Ego: What heppens when the ego takes control, you can see it here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCXh2sTuGb0.
The video depicts a mountain top asana competition between a young male yoga aspirant and an older male yoga adept. The aspirant challenges the adept in a series of postures, all the time upping the ante. Eventually the aspirant, getting more and more desperate and angry at his inability to beat the adept, is shocked as the adept performs levitation, the aspirant works himself up into such a state of inner combustion that he eventually burns up and what is left is ashes which blow away.
My immediate reading was that the young aspirant is full of ego, and hormones, and his ego desire to be superior causes his demise. The adept on the other hand, maintains a peaceful mind at all times and is unperturbed.
Then, as I thought about it some more, another interpretation, perhaps the correct one, came. The aspirant, full of the ardor and hormones of a young adolescent male, naturally wishes to challenge the older male figure, it is part of who he is at that time in his life, and there is nothing wrong with it. The adept on the other hand, shows his own egoism by accepting the challenge of an inferior, and by continuing even though it is obvious that the aspirant will come to harm. So even though we are asked to view the saintly expression of the adept as a mark of his advanced yogic attainment, his lack of ahimsa and compassion in his dealing with the young man reveal a cold and cruel personality.
The adept lives alone on the mountain top, challenging by his very position and attainment, all to climb up there and unseat him.
TKV Desikacher defines Yoga such :
” Yoga is relationship, and the relationship is peace “
Maybe the old man is at peace with himself, but if you look at his expression as he accepts the challenge of the young aspirant at 1.09, you will see that it is full of defiance, the peace is the false peace of the person who believes he is superior.
This clever cartoon shows much that is wrong with Traditional and Modern Yoga society:
a. The cult of attainment symbolized by the highest dwelling point of the adept.
b. The avoidance of society and friendship for a higher purpose
c. The notion that physical prowess is linked to “spiritual” progress.
Having conquered the mountain, realized “alone ness” and “freedom”, the old man lives in his cold and sparse dwelling with little or no contact with other humans, his existence is in many senses cold. He has the cold peace of having nothing to care for except himself. The young man, full of heat and desire to prove himself, accepts the supposed superiority implied in the cult of attainment and naturally wishes to better the aging “alpha male”, to the point of self harm and eventually destruction.
This scenario, is played out to a lesser degree in the cults of yoga today. The emphasis on physical prowess creates feeling of inadequacy and competition with oneself and with others. The cult of the Star Teacher, the attained one, creates a supposed superiority which devalues those who have not attained. Modern yoga is in large part a creation of Sri Krishnamacharya, who created a dynamic and physical practice to train the bodies of young male adolescents, following the rule that yoga should adapt itself to the individual and his or her condition and circumstances. But Sri Krishnamacharya never thought that yoga should be the same for everybody and continually changed and adapted his Teachings.
In the traditional scenario between student and master, the ego is an obstacle which must be overcome, the sense of one own self importance creating a real barrier to acceptance of the “truth” which the master is trying to transmit. This may work when we are in the traditional setting of the sacred and intimate personal relationship with the teacher, which require abandoning preconceived ideas or right and wrong, in order to receive a higher truth, but that sacred and intimate relationship is very rare these days, Yoga has become a mass activity and the cult of the attained person leads to people harming themselves as they try too hard to attain, and teachers falling from grace as they are revealed to be after all, fallible humans. In this scenario, critical thinking, a sense of ones own individual self as a separate individual with unique value and capabilities, different yet equal to all others, in other words a healthy and mature ego, is of great use to stop one getting lost and harmed.
The old man and the youth deserve each other, perhaps the youth is the disciple of the older man, at least he has the excuse of being young and inexperienced, they are both victims of a culture of heroic individual achievement and denial of normal life as it is.