Sunday, 24 May 2015

More on Ashtanga Vinyasa Lineage, Tradition and Parampara (Update Paramaguru ?)

LINK

This morning I posted on the new magazine version of the Ashtanga Parampara interviews that I have been featuring here on the blog over the last couple of months.


LINK

In this post I want to pick over some of the ideas presented in the Ashtanga Pranampara Mission statement and intro. I do this because while I love Lu and these interviews and am interested in the stories of the excellent teachers involved, it concerns me that it may present a one sided view of what defines Ashtanga Vinyasa.

This is very much a personal, alternative view (it is a blog after all) of a mostly home Ashtanga vinyasa practitioner and of only eight years.

Home practice: Advanced series is unnecessary,
Primary or even half Primary are more than sufficient.

"Authorized and certified teachers have demonstrated strength and sacrifice towards this practice, leaving behind family, friends, and professional obligations to practice in Mysore, India, over the course of years. This guru-shishya tradition, also known as lineage or parampara, defines the Ashtanga practice, and is one of its most potent aspects.” Ashtanga Parampara

Looking at the first sentence

"Authorized and certified teachers have demonstrated strength and sacrifice towards this practice, leaving behind family, friends, and professional obligations to practice in Mysore, India, over the course of years."

This does indeed demonstrate commitment and sacrifice as well as perhaps a  passion for the practice. However in no sense, I would argue, is this required of the Ashtanga vinyasa lineage, all the sacrifice and commitment that is required is to (get on the mat and) practice as much as one is able in ones life presently as well as, more importantly, to try to bring the yama and niyamas, in whichever form they manifest themselves in our culture, into our day as much and as fully as possible. Somebody who practices daily year after year without making a single trip to Mysore or indeed to a shala, who never writes a blog post or posts a selfie on social media may be just as committed (perhaps more so) as any of the excellent teachers who grace Ashtanga Parampara.

"This guru-shishya tradition, also known as lineage or parampara, defines the Ashtanga practice, and is one of its most potent aspects.”

I would argue that while there is an ancient tradition of guru-shishya in which one would be guided in depth in all areas (limbs) of yoga practice (traditionally living with one's guru for seven years) and also clearly a modern tradition ( 'Tradition' is an interesting word in that it can suggest ancient and recent) of either visiting Mysore or wherever Manju may happen to be teaching or any other senior, long term practitioner for advice and guidance this certainly does not define the practice.

Practice defines the practice.

NOTE: This should in no way be interpreted as a criticism of Lu, the Interview platform nor anyone else who may hold the above view. I suspect that Ashtanga Parampara defining Ashtanga may well be Sharat's view, not surprising perhaps given his relationship with his grandfather. It may also be the view of many of the senior, long term practitioners who had a relationship with Pattabhi Jois. This post merely intended to present an alternative view, that a relationship with the practice may well be enough.


LINK

This lineage is a linking of movements to the breath, of embedding the asana in a vinyasa that includes it's pratkriya (counter), each breath counted (or implied). Krishnamacharya's flexible table of primary, middle and proficient groups of asana become fixed (but perhaps not too strictly) in a sequence of postures in his student Pattabhi Jois  (in response to a particular pedagogic situation IE. the request for a four year colleage syllabus) who also increased the number of drishti from two to nine. The focussing of attention was always a part of the lineage it seems as was the exploration of bandhas.

That lineage is available to us in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934), Yogasanagalu (1941) and in Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala (1950s), we see it in convenient table/chart form in Yogasanagalu and in the 1973 ( and may go back to the 1940s) syllabus that Pattabhi Jois gave to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams. There may have been some variations over the years, a slight reordering and shift of attention from full vinyasa to half vinyasa but the lineage essentially remains the same (although I would argue that the ball was dropped somewhat in leaving out kumbhaka, present in Krishnamacharya).

However we learn or have learned this practice, whether directly from Pattabhi Jois or from one of the teachers he himself taught or they taught in turn and so on down, whether from Yoga Mala directly or one of the books or videos produced by one of the students of Pattabhi Jois ( who suggested to Richard Freeman that he make a video), whether at home or in a shala. If we continue to practice pretty much in line with Yoga Mala ( and it offers several flexible options for practice) in a shala with or without a teacher, in a studio space or at home then I would argue we are very much following the lineage.

The practice is the lineage, not where or from who but practicing sincerely and ( here I very much agree with my friend  Lu) with commitment and some degree of sacrifice.

LINK to FULL 1973 Ashtanga syllabus

I've tended to see Authorisation as an unnecessary evil ( and I wonder how many of the interviewees in the Guruji book Lu refers too as an inspiration for his project are on the current authorised list). What we do have is Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala and that strikes me as about authoritative guide to this practice as we need, all the authorisation that we need. A chart/table based on that book showing the order of asana and vinyasa (along with it's caveats), the drishti, where to look for the bandhas is all that we require, that and it's practice, years of practice.

Note: When learning alone at home from materials presented by a teacher of this lineage it is also important to listen carefully to the teacher within, common sense, wisdom, the inner guru call it what you will. Know when to push ahead bravely and challenge perception of self as well as when to err on the side of caution and be patient for the strength and flexibility to arise in due course. The tendency, the temptation, is to rush ahead but there really is no hurry and there is nothing more frustrating than a foolishly brought on strained hamstring ( or worse) that makes practice uncomfortable for weeks on end. Ahmisa, non harming, begins with ourselves.


If we do want a teacher, help in this practice, than what we need to know perhaps is how long they have practiced with sincerity the methodology they propose to share.

Don't get me wrong there are great teachers out there, great guides to practice whether authorised or not, recognised or not.

The Yoga Tradition is vast but I remember Ramaswami (who was a student of Krishnamacharya for 33 years) saying that Patanjali's yoga Sutras and Vyasas commentary (which may have been written by the same hand) speak directly to us and it's only the commentaries that confuses us, likewise with the Gita, the Upanishads. Ramaswami also teaches that meditation can include the reading of appropriate texts. Our practice of bringing the yama and niyamas into our lives, our asana and pranyama, our pratyahara prepare us for our meditative activity. Our practice then is perhaps all the preparation we need for encountering and engaging these texts of similarly appropriate material of our own tradition and culture.

Teachers, Gurus, shastras (spiritual texts) are guides only, shortcuts, as I suggested in the previous post, the Yoga tradition  is based on a simple insight that reaches back before lineages and traditions and across cultures,we don't need to read any ancient text or visit a teacher to rediscover that first insight for ourselves.


Simplify your life

sit

focus the attention.

*


David Garrigues is excellent on lineage, tradition and parampara in the new Ashtanga Dispatch podcast, I highly recommend it.

http://pegmulqueen.com/2015/05/20/david-garrigues-2/
UPDATE
June 2016
PARAMAGURUA?

I was asked why Sharath is suddenly being referred to as Paramaguru (highest guru/guru of the parampara?) in the advertising for the current US Tour ( my reply become too long for an fb comment thus the post). At first I thought it might just be marketing on behalf of Sonima, the organisers of the tour, that was a depressing thought. However on digging it turned out that no other than Eddie Stern referred to Sharath as Paramaguru on his Brooklyn Yoga Club site earlier this year. A little more digging and I found last months Namarupa with a special on it's 2015 'Yantra' (Himalayan retreat/tour). It turns out that although this was the first time Sharath visited Uttarkashi and only stayed a few days the elder Sannyasis and Sadhus decided or were asked (was there a donation involved or was bringing 150 tourists to the flood damaged area enough) see http://tinyurl.com/jrwuola) to give him an honorary title, Paramaguru.


Read a full account in the new edition of Namarupa. Below are a few quotes from the relevant section. My favourite bit is Saraswati saying "With all credit going to Pattabhi Jois", a bit like the friend or slave who would stand in the chariot holding a laurel wreath above the head of a Roman general receiving a Triumph for a great victory whispering "Respice post te. Hominem te memento", remember thou art mortal (Look after you [to the time after your death] and remember you're [only] a man), this was to protect from hubris.

http://namarupa.org/

"The Guru tradition is one of the oldest foundations of the Hindu tradition. The Upanishads and Epics are filled with instructions, dialogues, and teachings of the great Gurus, Sages and Rishis. These teachings have been passed down to us over thousands of years. Holy places such as Banaras, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Uttarkashi, and beyond, have been the dwelling places of these revered teachers where in yoga's long past they performed tapas. To be able to perform sadhana in the same places where they did is considered to be a blessing. It is widely known that a Guru never calls himself a Guru—it is a title bestowed by his or her disciples. The Guru has no desire for fame, or for being revered; a Guru only has the desire to perform service to humanity, to teach the knowledge that is related to liberation, to be devoted to the removal of suffering, and nothing else. But sometimes the disciples of such a teacher wish to call him or her by a special name, and not simply by their given name. It is for this reason that we (?) sought out the counsel of the elder Sannyasis and Sadhus of Uttarkashi, who also agreed that it was time for Sharathji and Saraswathiji to be formally bestowed with titles, and who, after conferring among themselves, decided upon an honorific title for each of them...

"After learning for a very long period of time—because it takes good time to learn from the teacher properly —then we are supposed to practice on our own, mananam. For mananam, the disciple who really wants to practice on his own now comes from Kasi to Haridwar and Rishikesh and stays there. He does a lot of contemplation on whatever he's been learning. He starts studying by himself and he becomes master over the teaching. Once he becomes master, he travels to Himalayas, to Uttarkashi. He stays here; he rests in his knowledge, nidhidhyasana. This is the place of nidhidhyasana. Whatever he has learnt in Banaras (Kashi), and contemplated in Rishikesh and Haridwar, when he comes here, he lives it, he becomes a yogi. Until then, he's a student. If you come here and stay amongst the sadhus, then you take upadhi of a real yogi...

"[To Sharath] Now we consider you as one of us. That you now can become a leader, and lead us. Because you have properly understood whatever has been taught by parampara. We are very happy to have Sharath here, who has taken part in the parampara itself. From today onwards, we call this upadhi, Amma, as Guru Ma. And Sharathji as Paramaguru R. Sharath Jois...

Now, from today onwards, there’s a bigger responsibility of leading the world onwards on the path of yoga...

RSJ: Thank you. 

Saraswathi Jois: With all credit going to Pattabhi Jois.

RSJ: [to students]: You have wealth, you have book knowledge. You have everything. If you don't put your mind towards adhyatama, your heart towards spirituality, towards jnana, it's no use having this life, having everything. Guru is very important. Guru is the one who teaches, who will take us towards that jnana which is the true knowledge. He removes all the obstacles in us and he removes all the pollution in us. He gives us the true knowledge, jnana. It has touched my heart deeply, all the love and affection everyone has given. Thank you so much. See you again. 


*

Earlier in the article devoted to Sharath's conference speeches he has this to say about the practice, parampara and the guru

"This practice that we are doing is an age-old practice; it has come from parampara, from the guru -shishya parampara—from Guru to his shishyas, Guru to his students. When a student becomes a master, then he becomes a Guru and passes his knowledge on to his students. Like this, the yoga knowledge has been passed on for generations. As we know it in this form of Ashtanga Yoga, it has come from maybe 300 years ago—I don’t know for how many generations this knowledge has been passed on".


And below Sharath talking about the idea of Guru with Sonia Jones of Sonima, the organisers of Sharath's current US tour.




The question of parampara came up at his years Ashtanga yoga Confluence, here's a recap from Tim Miller's blog.

This past Sunday during the final panel discussion of the 2016 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, a question was asked about the concept of Parampara and how it is interpreted in the Ashtanga tradition. David Swenson reminded all of us that Guruji’s own eldest son, Manju, was present in the room, and if anyone could be considered the true lineage holder it would be him. Everyone in the room stood up and gave Manju an ovation. It was a very moving moment. I looked over at Dena and saw her eyes welling up with tears just like mine. Manju was very gracious and said that as far as he was concerned, all of us sharing the stage with him and countless other teachers throughout the world are all part of the Parampara.

Update
New video uploaded today on Sharath's Youtube channel, sharath jois rangaswamy, titled Paramaguru, Sharath Jois Yoga Class in New York.



Commentary - you may wish to skip this bit.

Sharath's relationship with his grandfather clearly had a powerful and influential effect on him, leading him to stress the concept of parampara in his teaching. Personally the concept doesn't interest me in the slightest, not in reference to Sharath (who I do happen to respect as a practitioner and teacher, as I do anyone who has practiced as long or longer than he has) or teachers I've spent a little time with like Manju (who jokingly calls out "Never fear guru's here" when he enters the shala at the beginning of a workshop) or Ramaswami or even Krishnamacharya for that matter . I find the concept of the guru and parampara, as presented, along with that of 'a lineage' or 'tradition' unnecessary and perhaps the most off-putting aspect of recent Ashtanga. In this Krishnamacharya 'tradition' ( I prefer 'approach' or 'method' to tradition) it's enough perhaps to practice daily and for a long time some appropriate asana, a little pranayama but to focus more on working with Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (or another appropriate meditative practice) and not worry too much about what you call it, who taught it or where it came from (very much aware of the irony here given the nature of this mostly retired blog).

I'm too cynical of origin narratives perhaps, and coming from the UK, of honorary titles, such titles appear to elevate the holder and of course all those who claim association, in this case Sharath's students and those Authorised and/or Certified by the 'paramaguru'. Surely, playing the game and not calling yourself a guru yet accepting an honorary title like Paramaguru (The Guru of a parampara or specific tradition ) and allowing it to be used extensively in promotion suggests a worrying contradiction. Apart from anything, although he would probably throw something at me if I addressed him as guru, it's surely insulting to Pattabhi's Jois' still living and actively teaching son Manju who has been passing along this approach to practice for over fifty years).

Perhaps it's best we just agree to disagree on this.

3 comments:

  1. BRAVO. Brave Man, Grym. you are trying to walk between the raindrops....GOOD LUCK!
    Well, that is exactly how I felt 25 yrs ago, when first confronted with the "strict" guys as oppose to the "revolutionary" (my words) guys. And then again when the Authorized trend started. that is why one does what one does....I quote you:
    1."Somebody who practices daily year after year without making a single trip to Mysore or indeed to a shala, who never writes a blog post or posts a selfie on social media may be just as committed (perhaps more so) as any of the excellent teachers who grace Ashtanga Parampara". that is exactly what Yoga is(in my view of course).
    2."Practice defines the practice." AMEN TO THAT.
    3."The practice is the lineage, not where or from who but practicing sincerely and ( here I very much agree with my friend Lu) with commitment and some degree of sacrifice". yes indeed.
    4."If we do want a teacher, help in this practice, than what we need to know perhaps is how long they have practiced with sincerity the methodology they propose to share.". very true.
    5. " the Yoga tradition is based on a simple insight that reaches back before lineages and traditions and across cultures,we don't need to read any ancient text or visit a teacher to rediscover that first insight for ourselves". And I have to pay respects to Danny Paradise, My first and my main teacher for Yoga and Ashtanga. he is one of those: "Yoga is about getting free,eventually, from a teacher. that is what freedom is, don't you think?". Well, yes. I do. even from him.....

    ReplyDelete
  2. ❤️so well put! It's getting to the mat, it's practice and time

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree!! and I'd add that some authorized teachers seem to show a point of view totaly different from the guru, showing yoga only like a cool and impressive gimnastic, which there is nothing like a real yoga teached from gurus and shastras.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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