Over the last 2 weeks, the John Friend scandal has been uncovered, if not blown open, and brought to the fore. A link describing the chain of events is below.
While there are many angles to evaluate this issue, perhaps the most beneficial one is that which forces us to (re)consider two fundamental questions: (1) What is yoga and (2) who is a yogi. These inquiries help in reconciling the John Friend scandal as well as preventing similar episodes in the future. Plus they fuel us with a grander vision for our practice.
We can say that yoga is about the transformation of the whole human personality from selfishness to selflessness, from crude materialistic desire to true spiritual longing. It is the process of converting jiivatman (unit consciousness) to Paramatman (Supreme Consciousness). That is what is expressed in the following sutra:
Saḿyogo yoga ityukto jiivátmá Paramátmanah.
Yoga then is not about having a big following, doing a particular posture, or “wowing” people with words. Yoga is far more about sincerity, honesty, and living for a high ideal. It is the journey from crude to subtle, through discipline, not indulgence.
If we try to define the yogi by materialistic standards like the size of their following, the slickness of their website, their physical appearance, or any other such manner, we are bound to be led astray. Unfortunately, in the contemporary American yoga movement, that seems to happen.
And when it does, we find inadequate people given far too much influence, respect and stature, and a terrible downfall ensues.
On the path of yoga and spirituality, the only way to measure a person’s progress is by their conduct: The totality thereof, not just how one behaves when on stage. Rather we must examine each and every iota of how a person lives – eating, sleeping, drinking, spending, talking, & more – and then we can best understand the quality of their mind. Then we can understand their mental standard.
What a person contemplates will be transformed into action, sooner or later. A person cannot do something that they did not first think about doing. First comes the thought, then the action. A person cannot hit someone else without that idea of hitting taking form in the mind; a person cannot sit for meditation without first thinking of doing meditation. That is why it is said, as you think, so you become. A person’s life takes the shape of their thought process, i.e what they contemplate.
The path of yoga then is all about one’s mental ideation or standard of thought. And that inner thought becomes evident as it gets transformed into external action. So yoga itself is the journey toward a sublime ideal and the yogi is one whose conduct reflects that pure state of mind that will lead them to that ideal.
To name someone as a yogi without considering the above formula is bound to create problems. Undeserving candidates will be glorified with the title of yogi, when in fact their mental status has nothing to do with yoga. That is what happened with John Friend and others like him in the contemporary yoga movement where establishments like Yoga Journal etc are quick to appoint one as yogi-raj, when that person has not the least bit quality for such a coronation. Naturally, a mess ensues. That is why materialistic standards can never be used to evaluate who is a yogi.
Ultimately, this John Friend scandal has nothing to do with yoga and everything to do with the contemporary American yoga movement or yoga scene. Witnessing such a demise will hopefully lead us to reconsider our standards. That will help tremendously in bringing today’s yoga scene onto the path of yoga – the path of benevolence and supreme fulfillment where discipline and conduct, not indulgence and popularity, are our guiding principles.
That will be of tremendous benefit to all: Teachers, seekers, students, aspirants – everybody. And it will bring integrity to the contemporary American yoga movement.
Note: For those not aware, the blogger Yoga Dork was the first to report the John Friend scandal and this post is a time-line of the events with links to many of the related stories.