From Danavir Goswami
All Glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga!
I am of the opinion that the recent upsurge in gymnastic and meditational yoga-related courses being offered within ISKCON, for the most part, compromises the mission of the organization. Here are some reasons:
1.Gymnastic and meditational types of yoga cannot be properly practiced in the age of Kali, thus, such courses are unauthorized.
2.Such courses misrepresent their teachings as yoga when in fact they are not so.*
3.Such courses ignore Arjuna’s rejection of gymnastic and meditational yoga in Bhagavad-gita.
4.Such courses do not even teach the standard process of the eight-fold path of yoga (astanga) described in the Bhagavad-gita.
5.Such courses take undo advantage of the public’s misconceptions about yoga.*
6.Such courses deceptively present their teachings as authentic aids to spiritual attainment.
7.Such courses and their teachers’ credentials stem from impersonalist lineage.
8.Such courses facilitate inappropriate intermingling of males and females.
9.Such courses emphasize the gross bodily conception by promising sense gratification and mundane success to practitioners.*
10.Such courses beguile people away from the path of pure bhakti, even if unintentionally.
11.Such courses misuse the popularity and resources of ISKCON.
12.Such courses cannot be counted in the seven purposes of ISKCON.*
13.Such courses tarnish ISKCON’s and its founder’s good name through cheap caricatures of spiritual life.*
14.Srila Prabhupada purposefully never instituted such courses in ISKCON.*
15.Srila Prabhupada forbade such courses in ISKCON*
*1 Note: ISKCON members and temples must be careful not to join the drowning stone boat parties by condoning unauthorized methods of so-called yoga.
“Even if one does not accept Lord Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His instructions are so exalted and beneficial for humanity that if one follows His instructions one will be saved. Otherwise one will be cheated by unauthorized meditation and gymnastic methods of yoga. Thus one will board a boat of stone which will sink and drown all its passengers. Unfortunately. although the American people are extremely eager to get out of materialistic chaos, they are sometimes found to patronize the makers of stone boats. That will not help them.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.7.14 Purport)
*2 Note: These gymnastics are not yoga and should not be called as such. They are merely gymnastics and nothing more. By failing to point this out, devotees also fall prey to the enticement of dhanam, janam and sundarim (the desire for wealth, followers and women).
*3 Note: Real eight-fold yoga cannot be taught in cities, yoga studios and to those engaged in a life of sense gratification.
“One cannot practice yoga in a congested city, living a life of extravagancy, including unrestricted sex indulgence and adultery of the tongue. Yoga practice necessitates controlling the senses, and the beginning of sense control is to control the tongue. One who can control the tongue can also have control over the other senses. One cannot allow the tongue to take all kinds of forbidden food and drink and at the same time advance in the practice of yoga. It is a very regrettable fact that many unauthorized so-called yogis come to the Western countries and exploit people’s inclination towards yoga practice. Such unauthorized yogis even dare to say publicly that one can indulge in the habit of drinking and at the same time practice meditation.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.15.45 Purport)
*5 Note: Today one can find some awfully bizarre activities going on in the name of yoga classes. A concerned observer pointed out that if such so-called yoga courses continue to proliferate, the society as it was established by Srila Prabhupada will be unrecognizable in a few years from now. The question may be asked, “Is this not exactly the cheating which Srila Prabhupada always wanted us to expose?”
“When we have a superexcellent process already present in Vedic scriptures, there is no need to concoct a new system, to mislead the innocent public. At present it has become a fashion to reject the standard system and present something bogus in the name of a newly invented process of yoga.” (Teachings of Lord Kapiladeva, Purport to verse 14)
*6 Note: My experience with Srila Prabhupada was that he wanted only the teachings of our Vaisnava books taught to newcomers. He wrote to me, “It is good to hold more classes with the bhaktas, but they should all be on the basis of our books. You should not go beyond the jurisdiction of our teaching.” (Letter from Srila Prabhupada January 26, 1977) Someone may object saying that these new yoga students are not bhaktas but only guests so it doesn’t matter that we teach them something outside the Vaisnava books. However, if material attachments remain uncorrected then they abide permanently and affect others.
The problem here is that Srila Prabhupada clearly did not approve of these asanas et al being used and taught by devotees of the Krishna consciousness movement.
“So if we infect the Mayavadi quality, karmi quality, jnani quality, yogi quality… I see some of the students, still they practice some yoga asana. That quality is not yet… He’s not yet free. But this is nonsense. This is nonsense. We should, by promise, we should not associate with any of their qualities.
‘stri-sangi’-eka asadhu, ‘krsnabhakta’ ara
Asat means bad element, bad association. So asat-sanga. We have to give up asat. Attached to women. He’s asat. And krsna-abhakta-and who is not a devotee of Krsna. So these Mayavadis, karmi, jnani, yogi, they are not krsna-bhaktas. They’ll say, “Krsna is not God. I am God. I am also God. Krsna is not God. I am God. But Krsna is not God.” This is their version. Therefore they’re rascals. “I am God.” They’ll declare, “I am God. You are God.” But Krsna is not God. Except Krsna, everyone is God.” This is their version. So how much rascal they are we must know. So therefore we should give up their company.” (Lecture by Srila Prabhupada, June 26, 1073 on Srimad Bhagavatam 1.10.13 in Mayapur)
*7 Note: Yoga teachers learn from impersonal yoga books and teachers and then pass on such contaminated association to others.
*9 Note: The Krishna consciousness movement should be training those who are very serious about learning the science of love of Godhead. Householders who are in need of money or who are unable to present Krsna consciousness directly may conduct yoga business and try to shepherd their flock toward ISKCON and devotional practices. That is acceptable to my mind.
“So yoga, yoga, this bodily practice, that if I am not body, then what shall I get by bodily exercise? Bodily exercises can help me little, but that is not spiritual platform. The (indistinct), kundalini, these are to the bodily concept of life. Actually, to tell the truth, those who are too much bodily absorbed, that “I am this body,” for them this yoga practice is recommended. Not for the intelligent man. Because one who identifies himself with this body, he is not very intelligent. But because such persons are not very intelligent, for them this bodily exercise of yoga, astanga-yoga, is recommended. Not for the intelligent person. Intelligent person, they take immediately to the devotional service, immediate.” (March 7, 1972 Lecture by Srila Prabhupada)
*10 Note: Hatha yoga and derivatives are unhealthy for one on the path of bhakti yoga.
“In addition, the creeper has to be protected from the desires of sense enjoyment, monistic liberation and perfection of the hatha-yoga system. They are all detrimental on the path of devotional service.” (Srimad Bhagavatam Introduction)
*12 Note: All activities conducted within the campus of ISKCON should conform to the principles laid out by the founder-acarya in the seven purposes of ISKCON:
- To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace.
2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna as revealed in the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and thus to develop the idea, within the members and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
4. To teach and encourage the sankirtan movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
5. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krishna.
6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books, and other writings.
*13 Note: The modern market wants mundane sense gratification and yoga at the same time which is like trying to ignite wood while pouring water upon it. Only the system of bhakti-yoga allows one to make progress even without giving up unwanted habits (yena tena prakarena manah krsne nivesayet). That is why it is unique.
*14 Note: On one occasion His Divine Grace considered a suggestion to offer yoga courses for tourists in Vrndavana and Bombay during the busy months of December through February. The aim was to attract paying customers to stay in the newly constructed guesthouses. Srila Prabhupada’s formula for such classes began with dearskin and kusa grass sitting mats. This shocked the disciples present who had thought that such details mentioned in Bhagavad-gita were expendable. His Divine Grace next explained that the students would be taught how to sit down in yoga asana with back straight and eyes fixed on the tip of the nose. Then there should be a japa chanting session by the students. Then, over the period of two hours, the teacher would explain seven verses of Bhagavad-gita to the students stressing that only bhakti-yoga is feasible for this age and that other processes are cheating. The conclusion of the class was to be harinama kirtana. The dancing and chanting of the kirtana was to furnish the breathing and exercise portion of the classes. Srila Prabhupada stipulated that during the entire extent of the proposed yoga classes (in this case seven days) the students were not to indulge in any sexual activities which was to include their private time. In this way, Srila Prabhupada said, only then would they “get some benefit.”
Initially women were not to be admitted into the classes. His Divine Grace explained that only in the bhakti-yoga system could women take part—not other forms of yoga. Finally, however, with an appeal from the devotees that men came with their wives, it was agreed that women could also participate—provided they dressed conservatively.
Srila Prabhupada brilliantly demonstrated in this incident that he had no interest in compromising to please (or cheat) the materialistic tourists. Be that as it may, the proposed yoga courses never took place.
*15 Note: In the spring of 1973, I was staying in ISKCON Los Angeles (New Dvaraka). Srila Prabhupada’s servant, Nanda Kumara dasa, invited me to go up with him for a visit to Srila Prabhupada’s quarters. I was delighted for the rare opportunity. Once inside His Divine Grace’s room, both Nanda Kumara and I paid obeisances and took seats on the floor. Our entrance went practically unnoticed since the atmosphere was super intense. Karandhara and another senior devotee (most likely Jayatirtha) were reporting the latest activities from Hawaii to His Divine Grace. They described how Siddhaswarupa dasa (formerly Sai) was carrying on a program called “psychic sleep” as a means to interest people in Krishna consciousness. Guests of the temple were guided to lie down on their backs with their heads mostly toward the speaker or coach and the lights were turned down low. The leader/teacher tried to put them into a trancelike state by suggesting that they mentally massage different parts of their bodies beginning from the feet up. Attempting to sooth their consciousness he would say, “You are relaxing more and more.” At a certain point soft bhajan or just tape-recorded mystical music was added to provide background sound. The goal was to induce the guests to reach a stage of “psychic sleep,” which was expected to make them more susceptible to the gentle message about Krishna which the devotee guide would then impart. Gradually the group was led into understanding that they are not the bodies but eternal spirit souls etc.
When Srila Prabhupada heard about “psychic sleep” in Hawaii he became very upset. “But they were not doing that when I was there,” he said. The devotees in the room could only reply that despite not employing “psychic sleep” in his presence, the temple was definitely engaged in it now. His Divine Grace declared, “This is an adulteration, a contamination, it will ruin everything. Just as milk is homogenized then pasteurized and then so many things are skimmed out, the pure milk is adulterated. There is nothing left of any value in the milk, it simply looks white like milk. Similarly, your Krsna consciousness will start off pure but the first adulteration will be you think this psychic sleep is necessary to bring Krsna consciousness. Then more adulterations, until finally you’ll think that without LSD you will not be able to chant Hare Krishna nicely.” His Divine Grace adamantly ordered that “psychic sleep” be stopped at once.
I suspect that today’s introduction of different types of so-called yoga techniques within ISKCON temples would also fall into the same category as “psychic sleep.” In Srila Prabhupada’s milk analogy above, the pure substance of bhakti (devotional service to Lord Krsna) was adulterated by an invented form of yoga and meditation. The very act of introducing something unauthorized as a means of attracting people to Krishna seemed repugnant to His Divine Grace. Surely Prabhupada knew that the motivation behind psychic sleep was to bring more persons into Krishna consciousness. Likewise he understood that the devotees in Hawaii had proven themselves to be competent in doing that. In fact, a few years before, when Siddhaswarupa joined ISKCON with fifty of his followers, it had marked the largest influx in the movement’s history. Yet Siddhaswarupa’s attractiveness had been his willingness to embrace the principles of pure devotional service given by Srila Prabhupada and the Vaisnava acaryas. By adopting those practices and simultaneously renouncing his former self-styled yoga teaching, he and his students tasted transcendental bliss and knowledge unknown to them before.
Seated on a cushion behind his low desk above a white vinyl tile floor on the second story southeastern corner of his world headquarters, Srila Prabhupada, speaking to his small ensemble of disciples, pronounced “psychic sleep” to be a serious deviation from pure Krishna consciousness. On that sunny day in May, His Divine Grace discovered once again that Americans are prone to make unnecessary changes and that his own disciples maintained strong attachment for other types of mystical or yoga approaches. And as the founder-acarya of his fledgling organization, it was his duty to point out the defective judgment of his well-meaning students.
We find a growing conception among uneducated devotees that ISKCON’s success depends on not rejecting any type of so-called spiritual ideas. This monstrous misunderstanding needs rectification. Srila Prabhupada wanted multitudes to enter the open doors of Lord Caitanya’s loving sankirtana house, yet all unauthorized misconceptions and bogus practices carried by the members were to remain outside.
Once while visiting Houston, I was invited to chant and speak to a yoga group at a yoga studio near the center of the city. The yoga teacher who invited me was an ISKCON grhastha in good standing, chanting his rounds, giving donations and following the regulative principles. We had a wonderful program and everyone enjoyed the session. Sometimes the devotee-yoga teacher brought some of his students to the temple for programs and he encouraged them to visit on their own. However, the distinction between the hatha yoga he was teaching and the bhakti yoga that ISKCON was teaching was clear and unmistakable. That is how it should be —clear, honest and straightforward. We should not allow ISKCON to become a hodgepodge like so many other groups. In my opinion no such courses be taught, advertised, promoted, nor practiced on ISKCON properties. Hare Krishna.