Tuesday, 15 March 2016

But wasn't it always a circus. Distractions and the rise of the Ashtanga Video tutorial and Ashtanga workshop.

If this blog is about anything it's about the changing/shifting relationship to the practice and all it's aspects. Sometimes it's viewed in a positive light at other times less so while all the time continuing to practice.  On the pages above you'll find a page devoted to reviews of workshop, this post questions them.

I put up some titles of posts in draft yesterday that stretched back years and asked if anyone wanted to see any of them turned into post, here's the first



Pattabhi Jois' letter to Yoga Journal is doing the rounds again, warning about Ashtanga being turned into a circus.

"I was disappointed to find that so many novice students have taken Ashtanga yoga and have turned it into a circus for their own fame and profit (Power Yoga, Jan/Feb 1995). The title 'Power Yoga' itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one's ego. Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the 'six enemies' (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one's heart. The Yoga Sutra II.28 confirms this 'Yogaanganusthanat asuddiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh', which means 'practicing all the aspects of yoga destroys the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discrimination shines'. It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out the essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations.
The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with 'power yoga' or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building."
-K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, South India

See this post for a closer look at what Pattabhi Jois was responding to.


Krishnamacharya was turning the young boys into asana demonstrators in his school in the Mysore Palace, thus the strictness no doubt, the reports of beatings. The better demonstrators, Pattabhi Jois among them would perform asana while Krishnamacharya would give his Yoga philosophy lectures, perhaps his irritability at this time stemmed from knowing everyone was only interested in the circus and not the philosophy or what he found buried within asana. Pattabhi Jois took that circus aspect, the demonstration training and turned Krishnamacharya's flexible groups of asana into fixed sequences. We've been focused on demonstration ever since, it was what drew the early Ashtangi's to Mysore and no doubt continues to do so, perhaps it's the circus that draws us to the practice more than we care to admit. 


Occasionally the practice, the asana, does it's/their job and we find ourselves in an asana, a group of asana and the world drops away, this happens even more in many pranayama find, attachment is loosened a little.... unfortunately it's no doubt around then that we get given (or choose) another asana and another sequence or another technique for achieving an asana beckons, or the possibility of teaching or giving a workshop or making a video, the bright lights of the circus moving from one town to another town and another and another.

Pattabhi Jois warned of it in his letter but it was built into or a trap hidden within the very system he was presenting, he got off the merry-go-round himself supposedly (to shift metaphors ) and focused, in his own practice, on the long stays, on the breath that his teacher no doubt stressed, why didn't he think we were ready for that. Perhaps he knew us too well and that if he made us stay in paschimattanasana for ten minutes or had us go to finishing after navasana and do 80 rounds of pranayama we wouldn't have come back, not stayed the course. 

But how long are we going to work on our circus skills? Gymnast, Contortionists, Circus performers are all just as focussed, just as disciplined, just as devoted and dedicated to their art, how do we differ from them if not in purpose. Why are we practicing, why getting up every morning... why putting ourselves through this, we know there is something more, something deeper, why do we keep putting it off, finding ever more distractions. One asana is enough, one asana was no doubt always enough.

It was the same in Zen of course and in Vipassana too in the early days I hear, "...those westerners are not ready for meditation" and yet of course we were.... are. Aren't we?

Distractions

Thank god, I thought I broke Ashtanga ......


I was worried....., I had this theory that I played a part in ruining Ashtanga, spoiling it, compromising the practice somewhat, how conceited.

The theory went something like this.

When I started blogging nobody was really posting videos, YouTube was still pretty new, there were a couple of Videos on there, a clip from Lino's DVD Video. There were a couple of jump through videos ( a straight leg jump through I watched over and over), the odd Karandavasana (Russel Case I think), Pattabhi Jois' 80s led might have been on there and this iconic Ashtanga demo in the temple was uploaded in 2006, oh and a demo by David Swenson but not so much.



The main reason I started the blog was to put up videos of working on/towards jumping back, videos that were less than perfect but perhaps signposts along the way. Lino's was awe inspiring but ultimately unhelpful. I wanted to catch on video my very first jump back and through, I thought that might help others to see the missing piece.

As it happens we all start on the jigsaw at a different place, my final piece might not be yours.

So I started posting videos, lots of them, working towards this, working towards that and all in black and white to cut down on the flesh-tone so as not to put you off your breakfast.

Around this time Tara Stiles started posting some videos with that perfect healthy looking skin of hers and a light, infectious 'hey lets do some yoga... anywhere'. It was appealing it took off, led to more and more videos, a studio of her own, books, DVDs.......

I know Kino occasionally looked at my blog, well at least once. I imagined she had seen my god awful videos of trying to get into asana and then looked at Tara Stiles, looked at my videos again and thought why not and started putting up some videos of her own. That same infectious, light "lets do (but this time) Ashtanga".

If Tara had that healthy natural look, Kino had primary colours. She also had good technique and quick, snappy explanations of how to get into an asana

The most popular from two years ago has over 19 million views.

You can go to Kino youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/kinoyoga and check out which are her most popular, how those receiving several million hits drove up the profile of Ashtanga. I'd tended to think it was Madonna who raised Ashtanga's profile others argue it was Kino, they may be right.

My theory continues that as Kino's videos took off so did her workshops, she started doing workshops EVERYWHERE, other Ashtanga teachers saw what Kino was doing and started posting their own videos, tutorials, and offering more and more workshops internationally.

I remember when a workshop seemed unusual, mostly students used to stick with their own teacher and there was discussion after discussion in the blogosphere about whether workshops were a good idea, if the new postures a certified teacher gave you on a workshop meant you could keep them in your own shala with your regular authorised teacher.

According to archived Ashtang.com pages...


There were 75 workshops offered by 14 teacher in 2003.

22 teachers offering 140 workshops in 2004


I thought perhaps I was partly to blame but as it happens, it wasn't me, wasn't Kino either.


In the year I started the blog 71 teachers were offering 340 workshops

This year (2016) 61 teachers are offering 371 workshops,


So around the same number of teachers offering workshops and a similar number of workshops offered from when I started the blog eight years ago as now.

Phew, not my fault, nothing to do with me.

Some teachers of course do a lot though, Arjuna, Manju, Kino, David Garrigues they probably account for around a quarter of all those offered.

But of course there are also all the workshops that aren't listed on Ashtanga.com and the retreats and the teacher trainings

It seems more likely that the increase in workshops is related to the jump in the number of Authorised teachers in the same period see this post Ashtanga Authorisation 1990-Present


So I didn't break Ashtanga but why am I suggesting that it's broken in the first place, and that it's workshops that broke it.

I've been to a few workshops myself, a fascinating Intensive with Richard Freeman, a weekend with John Scott, two TT's with Manju and another workshop with Norman Sjoman. All interesting, I learned a lot I'm sure.

.....and then pretty much forgot everything within a week and just got on with my practice. Perhaps some of what I picked up became internalised fed into the ongoing research on the mat but honestly I'm not convinced, A little more body awareness from Richard perhaps, a lighter attitude to my practice from Manju, I don't teach so have no need of the adjustments I learned from him.

But really.... what are we doing?

In the beginning there was a spreading of the practice ( I hope that was the intention behind my own on Krishnamacharya and Vinyasa Krama), if those early teachers hadn't gone out from their shalas and studios and spread the word through their workshop I'd never have heard about Ashtanga, I owe my practice to them and those early books and videos, many of us do.

But at what point did the workshop become less about the students and more about the person giving it, promoting a name. Workshops have become a norm, we've become convinced we NEED to attend them. We don't of course, a few are interesting perhaps, I'd love to go to Chuck Miller's workshop on Samastithi but mostly I'll pass, we can probably do without them.

All these workshops, all these youtube videos, Instagram and now something called Periscope, the fancy videos in pretty locations, muscles and bronzed skin and cinematic music.... is it just me but does anyone else miss those videos of David Swenson and Richard Freeman with their vests tucked in their pants. There seems to be a lot of reenforcing of self in the ashtanga community, carving out ones niche in the Ashtanga world.

Isn't it all a distraction.

All this money we spend on workshops and trainings and retreats we don't need any of it surely.

We know what the practice is, stand at the top of our mat, focus our attention,

ekam inhale,
dve exhale.

and so on and so on.....

And we can actually do without the ekam and dve also, the count was only there to draw attention to the relationship between the breath and movement, it was never something we needed to worship as sacrosanct. All it did was show the minimum number of movements from standing to the posture and back again to standing.

All we have to do is move through our practice on the breath, keep bringing our attention back to whatever drishti we're employing, let the breath take care of our alignment and do our best with each asana without getting hung up on them too much.

Go as far as is comfortable in the time we have, eventually more asana will become available to our bodies, we don't need fancy tricks, we just need to listen to our practice.

And then do it again tomorrow and then the next day and the next....

...rather than look for shortcuts that probably lead us away from our practice instead of deeper into it.

We really don't need to think about it that much or (note to self) write 2000 posts about it.

I came across a workshop video recently  It was standard fare and I could have chosen most any other workshop video but as  I was watching the teacher I was thinking, what are you doing, leave everyone alone, was anything you did in this video really necessary, perhaps in the whole workshop?

It's not just workshops but in Mysore rooms generally, most of the time, why is the teacher even there (NB: Home practitioner perspective). Turn on the heating, open up the room and come back in a couple of hours to close up and just allow everyone to get on with their practice.

or just take a seat and hold the room.

OK, perhaps the beginners need a little help in the beginning but really not so much.

This for me is the main justification for going to Manju wherever he's teaching, some of the senior teachers (elders I've heard them referred to recently) or to Sharath in Mysore, an antidote to some of the fixations of Ashtanga in the West, not for parampara, not for lineage but just a reminder that it's really only about getting on with our practice. If Sharath didn't exist we may have had to invent him.

How do shala teachers feel about all the workshops, do they consider them a distraction from day to day practice?

And it's circular of course, we do our demonstrations, either live or in videos and photos and impress people such that they come to the practice. But then they want to do what they saw in the video, in the photo, they're in a rush not seeing the years of practice that lay behind it. They want the next asana, the fancy advanced one and shortcuts to get it and we go ahead and offer it to them and then the next and the next perhaps hoping that at some point along the way they will find something a little deeper.

There's a story about a man who comes to a monk and asks if it's true that if he attains enlightenment through meditation he'll get to make love to a thousand celestial virgins, the monk smiles enigmatically. So the man becomes a student and sits and every few months he asks again about the virgins and the monk continues to smile, and then it becomes years before he asks again until eventually he no longer asks and the monk, still smiling.

Rule of thumb

Is the workshop I'm considering concerned with the essentials of practice?

Is it about cake 
or 
 icing?


https://ashtangayogasarajevo.wordpress.com/tag/sarajevo/
(Note: Happy to take this photo down if anybody in ti doesn't want it on here).

M. and I practice together now. I gave her David Swenson's short form to work on in the beginning, mentioned a couple of things regarding safe practice, a couple of hints here and there occasionally, otherwise I just leave her to find her practice just as I did and get on with my own.


This practice isn't rocket science, it's painting by numbers.


If you want to understand it better, do research there on the mat, explore the breath in different asana, there's no need to attend a conference, all we need to know about the practice is right here on our mat in our breath in our attention and in how we step out into the world for the first hour or two after practice.

We don't need a blog, home shala teacher,Youtube, Instagram, periscope, Celebrity teacher...
or Sharath to tell us that, we just need to listen to our practice.

Manju probably says enough,

 "Enjoy your practice"

Pattabhi Jois said it best of all

"Just practice"

Mostly we all (certainly myself included) probably just need to keep out the way of everyone else's practice and stop convincing ourselves we are helping anyone, we're a distraction, a circus sideshow.




*


Early Workshop lists from Ashtanga.com


2003

14 teachers offering 75 workshops.

1 Rolf Naujokat
2 Sharath Rangaswamy
3 Dena Kingsberg
4 Kirsten Berg
7 Tomas Zorzo & Camino Diez
8 Anthony Carlisi
9 David Garrigues
10 Louise Ellis
11 Govinda Kaile, Tina Pizzimenti, Gwendoline Hunt: 
13 Paul Dallaghan
14 David Swenson
15 Darby
16 Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
17 Michael Gannon

2004

22 teachers offering 140 workshops

Paul Dallaghan: 
Rolf Naujokat
Michael Gannon
Nancy Gilgoff: 
John Scott
Petri Raisanen
Tim Miller
John Berlinsky
John Scott
David Williams
David Garrigues
Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
Govinda Kai
Juha Javanainen & Petri Raisanen
Anthony Carlisi
Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
Ken Harakuma: 
Dena Kingsberg
Sharath Rangaswamy
Manju Jois
Annie Pace
Mike Berghan & Victoria Grouden


2008

71 teachers offering 340 workshops

Dena & Jack
Govinda Kai
Graeme & Leonie Northfield
Nicholas Evans 
Louise Ellis
Philippa Gabrielle Asher
Hojung Audenaerde
Basia Lipska
Taran Bhattal
Matt Corigliano
Leigha Nicole
Annie Pace
Clayton Horton
Christopher Hildebrandt
Guy Donahaye
John Scott: 
Peter Sanson
Lori Brungard
Petri Raisanen
Anthony "Prem" Carlisi
Michael Hamilton: 
Nancy Gilgoff
David Swenson
Bhavani Maki
Lino Miele
Kino MacGregor
Stacy Plaske
David Williams
Tim Miller
Richard Freeman
David Keil
Manju Jois
Russell Case and Sally Evans
Ken Harakuma and Basia Lipska
Christine Hoar
Monica Marinoni
Hanne Sydanmaa
Paul Dallaghan
Michael Gannon
Charlotte Lindstrom
Monica Marinoni
Susanna Finocchi and Jens Bache
Tarik Thami
Greg Nardi
Heather Duplex
Camino Diez
Rameen Peyrow
Tim Miller
Radha Warrell and Pierre Seghir
Maria Boox
David Garrigues: 
Rameen Peyrow
Adarsh Williams
Karyn Grenfell
Melanie Fawer
Kristina Karitinos Ireland
Ananda Zorzo Diez
Stacey Platt
Sharath Rangaswamy: 
Joanne and Mark Darby
Lino Miele
Cathy Louise Broda: 
Eileen Hall
Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty
Horst Rinnerberger
Louise Ellis
Tarik van Prehn
Borja Romero Valdespino
Gabriele Severini
Tim Feldmann
David Robson
Kim Roberts
Jean Byrne and Rob Schutze


2016
61 teachers offering 371 workshops




9 comments:

  1. Hi Grim! A thought: the circus can be very motivating. When I started it definitely got me on the mat sometimes. Sometimes literally, as I thought Cirque de Soliel was fantastic, haha. I tend to think that anything, any "bad" reason, if it gets me on the mat, is ultimately a good thing, because the practice can't work if I'm not doing it. If "looking good naked" or doing a fancy pose is the motivation that gets us on the mat one day, then "dropping the fluctuations of the mind" can come later. Otherwise, maybe I never get to the mind flux at all. I don't think, for me, it was a question of "good reasons" vs "bad reasons," it was "whatever reason I can use today" vs "no practice." I would suggest that the circus can be valuable for that.

    Also, re the reason for a workshop. I'm thinking that it isn't jsut the nitty gritty of a workshop that passes through the teacher but the underlying philosophy of the teacher. Their perspective. For example, I found David Williams' workshops full a philosophy of doing what feels good, no injury, how much pleasure can you find in your practice today, no adjustments, do this for the rest of your life. Whereas I found David Garrigues to be about working your practice, not succumbing to the "artful dodger" who wants us to cheat or sidle away from the hard parts, integrity in the practice, working hard, showing up humbly to do the heroic work of the day. (Note: these are my interpretations, my internalizations, and may not reflect what these teachers meant to say!) These are pretty different takes on practice! Experiencing each was a little like traveling, experiencing different cultures which lets you see your own from a new perspective. A broadening experience. Ultimately, it wasn't what I learned about asana, but more the experience of being with these people who were deeply involved in the practice, that stayed with me. That's not an insignificant thing.

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    1. Yes, that's motivating, that's how we treated it and the blogs didn't we, reading a post or watching a video over coffee in the morning to help give us that gentle push towards the mat, I comfort myself that the blog may have been motivational, for some, for a while. And the workshops too and of course I loved Richard and imagine David G. will be just as inspiring and Manju was wonderful and I really want to go to Chuck. Also I just watched, David Williams on the Bali conference download from 2013. There are so many workshops now and often there seems an inauthenticity coming in, that somebody wants to do a workshop and then thinks about what they want to present rather than the other way around or make the workshops just about tips and tricks and techniques that are just more distractions, if the name of the teacher on the poster doesn't sell then you can bet the subject of the workshop will, backbends, arm balances.....

      And yes, "the dropping of the fluctuations of the mind can come later" my celestial virgin story was all about that but how much later, how long do we distract ourselves before we say enough is enough and get down to the real nitty gritty of practice. I wrote in an earlier post that Ashtangi's are the laziest of yoga practitioners, as Jois pointed out asana is easy compared to working on the yama and niyama, pranayama and dhyana

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    2. Oh but my main concern over all the workshops, the fancy asana photos from authorised and certified teachers raising their profile and the 'inspirational (promotional) videos' was that it's started to seem not unlike all the photos of thin size zero women/girls in the magazines ( not that I read a lot of them , honest), an expectation that this is what my practice should look like, this is what i should be thinking about in my practice. I'm being unfair perhaps.

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  2. I get you. There is a dark side to everything. I feel that way reading Yoga Journal sometimes, so many young bendy women in trendy clothes doing flashy poses. Even as I am drawn to many of the images! :)

    But, you know, I kind of miss those early blogging/practicing days. There wasn't a lot of material available, even six years ago, just a few books, a few dvds...and this group of homepractioner/bloggers, along with some shala-goers, were kind of trying to figure it all out, like experimental scientists. Someone would blog they were struggling with X pose or Y issue and others would chime in, or someone would say I think I've just figured out Z! and there would be discussion. I loved it. Remember Boobida and the bath salts! Or the first notes to come out of Mysore, all of us eagerly reading and discussing. Your blog, Grim, was at the heart of that for me, I'd tune in, read, scroll down the sidebar for what was happening today. It was different, being a group of beginners/intermediates working things out together, rather than a teacher/class situation, more egalitarian discussion and experimentation. Not that teacher/class is bad, but this was cool in its own way. Posting videos/photos of our practice was fantastic across-the-globe communication, not a distraction, I don't think.

    The internet changes everything it touches. Perhaps commerce enters every corner of life eventually. Workshops are a way to make a living which I can't begrudge people, really--marketing with glossy pictures is a part of that, constructing a narrative of "this is what you'll get if you sign up". How else to attract students but offer some benefit to doing so, whether it is the "ancient practice" narrative or the "bendy sexy body" one, or the "one true path" one, the "scientific alignment" or "energy purification" or whatever.

    Yet I wouldn't want to lose the communication and knowledge dissemination in order to get rid of the marketing/commerce thing. Gone are the days of one guru per student per lifetime and I can't help but think that's a good thing.

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    1. The Cybershala, yes, liked how something would be in there air and a bunch of bloggers and readers would end up working, writing, commenting on the same thing, lots of different approaches, perspectives. Noticed a few of those doing advanced series are exchanging circus tips from their circus trainers (bit strange to have a circus trainer but perhaps not so different from what we were doing), it all seems to be on Instagram rather than blogs though and most readers aren't working on postures at that level so can't join in the way we used to, 4th will soon become the new 2nd. I guess if so many are doing third series now it becomes important to be able to do 5th to still stand out. Got to love Chuck Miller and four days of working on standing in Samastithi.
      Reading a lot of Murakami at the moment, just finished Kafka on the Shore, a most curious book have you read him I wonder.

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    2. I keep running agound midbook with him. Did first half of 1Q84 and first third of Colorless Tsukuru and I don't know, I drift away, end up reading other things. Very atmospheric, for sure. How is Kafka on the Shore, should I try it?

      "4th is the new 2nd" HAHA well, not for this old body. I'm happy with my Primary, have it tweaked out the way I like it, no desire to go on. I don't want to work that hard! For what purpose? David Swenson in his new DVD says something about "the ability to walk is way more important to your daily life than the ability to do lotus"--he's talking about protecting the knees and not pushing into a pose. Primary gives me so much mobility and strength for daily life. I can't see how those advanced postures really are going to give me something I need, even LBH poses, just increases chance of injury in my 45 year old hamstrings. Is there something there at those extreme ends that I can't get in more conservative (but still quite flexible/strong compared to typical non-ashtanga american woman my age) practice? I dont' know, maybe there is some magic I'm missing. Not motivated to try for it anymore. I used to be, when I was starting out in my 30s, I loved kapo and the rest, wanted to have super powers. But like so many superpowers (shoot lasers out your eyes! invisibility!) they just wouldn't be very practical. (Except teleporting, would love to be able to teleport.)

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    3. IQ84 was the first one of his I read, I'd been given the Wild Sheep Chase years ago but never got into it. Think you might like Kafka, left with lots of riddles. Just started Hard Boiled Wonderland and hooked already.

      Yes, Primary is mostly more than enough for me too, occasionally the first half of 2nd when I remember it (with or without kapo). More often than not I'll just practice around ten asana from Primary with longer stays, Do my Sury's then Trikonasana, Paschimattanasana/Purvottanasana, Maha Mudra/Janu C, Bharadvajrasana, mayurasana (K. thought it one of the key asana), Urdhva Dhanurasana/dropbacks, Sarvangasana, Sirsasana, Bhadda Konasana, Baddha padmasana/Yoga Mudra/padmasana. Might slip one of the the early 2nd series backbends after some of the longer stays with forward bends. It's a nice practice, full vinyasa throughout but leaves time for pranayama and a sit. I still keep full, straight primary on Friday in case I ever want to go to workshop with M.
      Might add in a variations occasionally from Vinyasa krama depending on what I feel beneficial. Is that Still Ashtanga, is it Vinyasa Krama, past caring, seems in Keeping with Krishnamacharya's early ( and late) intentions.

      The vinyasa's to and from standing maintain a level of fitness and strength, enough for my purposes.

      I put up a post a while back on the supposed benefits of some of the advanced postures but still not convinced,http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2015/09/convince-me-krishnamacharya-are-there.html

      Maintaining laser like focus for longer and longer periods seems the only superpower worth worrying about..... apart from teleporting obviously ( which there may or may not be cases of in Kafka on the shore).

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  3. Thank you for this Anthony, and for all your research on the history of Ashtanga, your experiences, and thoughts that you share here (for free!) The expression: "the proof is in the pudding" comes to mind... I will be attending Richard's intensive coming up, I am greatly looking forward to it, honoured really. One of my favourite lines of his from last fall in Chicago, - "Real Yoga is not very popular." ;)
    -Sam Silversides from Montréal
    p.s. Manju is the best :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sam and if you feel like writing a guest post on Richard's Intensive after it's finished let me know

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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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