Reply To: The Serpent Flowering, with mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D.
Thank you Stephen, as always, it is a great pleasure to be here with you and our readers to discuss the many thoughts that were stirred in my lates mythblast The Serpent Flowering.
In my research on contemporary masters of kundalini yoga, I came across Sadhguru who as far as I can tell is the real thing. In his video on Kundalini Yoga: Awakening the Shakti Within he plainly states: “kundalini yoga is in its essence the most dangerous form of yoga, because it is the most potent” (4:06 – 4:12)
In this video he also makes the point that it is not for everybody; he says that one can get by quite nicely, “to live a complete physical and intellectual life” (2:00) with less than 20% of the available chakras (21 out of 114 chakras). At which point the question arises: why would you want more than the wholeness of your life if not for some kind of experience seeking? As to the energy stored in the remaining 93 chakras, Sadhguru even states: “you do not need it if your intention is just to live well” (2:51)? There are countless millions in the world who would be more than happy to achieve this modest goal, which would imply the eradication of a certain systemic criminality that bars the majority of earth’s population from basic human happiness.
This points to my concern about such practices, not so much the issue of “cultural appropriation” but of the kind of elitisms and enormous privilege they imply. The analogy to nuclear energy that Sadhguru brings up with the erroneous claim that “the easiest and best way to produce energy on the planet is nuclear energy actually” (5:03) is symptomatic of the enormous blind spot in the guru’s vision, for when nuclear reactions go “right” as he sees it, he doesn’t see what most of us see: the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki—let alone when things go “wrong”!
Another great Master I found on youtube takes a more historical approach to teaching kundalini yoga, Swami Tadatmananda in his video Kundalini Yoga — as Envisioned by the Ancient Yogis from whom I took the term “experience seeking.” This is an important notion which he himself got from his own guru, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who was constantly warning him about it. This line of criticism impressed Swami Tadatmananda so much that he decided not to teach kundalini to the west in principle—and I think he was right:
“My guru strenuously warned us about a problem he called “experience seeking”; he said that conventional life is driven by the never-ending pursuit of new and better experiences. People love to watch new movies, dine at trendy restaurants, and travel to exotic places, but experiences like these could never lead to perfect peace and contentment. As a young man Swami Dayananda observed the problem of experience seeking when he lived in Rishikesh, a sacred town in the foothills of the Himalayas. In 1960s he was sought out by American and European hippies who had indulged in sex, drugs, and rock and roll and now they wanted to experience meditation. But if meditation is just another experience to be enjoyed then it’s not so different from sex, drugs, or anything else. In this way, some practitioners of kundalini yoga might merely be seeking exciting new experiences instead of seeking spiritual growth. It’s easy to fall into the trap of experience seeking, especially when this yogic practice seems to hold the promise of bliss and ecstasy. (4:31- 6:08)
This is what Swami Tadatmananda cites as the first of two basic reasons that made him avoid teaching kundalini yoga in the West. It is with the second reason, however, that we glean the blind spot in his presentation. The second reason stems from the fact that he is “completely turned off by the way it is distorted and misrepresented by contemporary western yogis” with “dazzling rainbow-hue chakras and bodies emitting fountains of light from every pore” depicting a “practice which has virtually nothing in common with its ancient origins.” (6:14-6:42) The irony of course lies in the fact that he himself is making use of such glitzy illustrations throughout his talk. In a symptomatic way, the use of such images seems to say: this is an inevitable distortion and travesty, for the minute we want to address a contemporary audience, we must enter the stream of its marketing and commodification.
To take up the issue of “cultural appropriation,” I cannot but agree with Jung on this score, although I am much less frightened of the void that at first emerges:
I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning. It is a development that has an inner consistency. Everything that we have not thought about, and that has therefore been deprived of a meaningful connection with our developing consciousness, has got lost. If we now try to cover our nakedness with the gorgeous trappings of the East, as the theosophists do, we would be playing our own history false. A man does not sink down to beggary only to pose afterwards as an Indian potentate. It seems to me that it would be far better stoutly to avow our spiritual poverty, our symbollessness, instead of feigning a legacy to which we are not the legitimate heirs at all. We are, surely, the rightful heirs of Christian symbolism, but somehow we have squandered this heritage. We have let the house our fathers built fall into decay, and now we try to break into Oriental palaces that our fathers never knew. Anyone who has lost the historical symbols and cannot be satisfied with substitutes is certainly in a very difficult position today: before him there yawns the void, and he turns away from it in horror. What is worse, the vacuum gets filled with absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness. But if he cannot get along with these pedantic dogmatisms, he sees himself forced to be serious for once with his alleged trust in God, though it usually turns out that his fear of things going wrong if he did so is even more persuasive. This fear is far from unjustified, for where God is closest the danger seems greatest. It is dangerous to avow spiritual poverty, for the poor man has desires, and whoever has desires calls down some fatality on himself. A Swiss proverb puts it drastically: “Behind every rich man stands a devil, and behind every poor man two. / Just as in Christianity the vow of worldly poverty turned the mind away from the riches of this earth, so spiritual poverty seeks to renounce the false riches of the spirit in order to withdraw not only from the sorry remnants—which today call themselves the Protestant church—of a great past, but also from all the allurements of the odorous East; in order, finally, to dwell with itself alone, where, in the cold light of consciousness, the blank barrenness of the world reaches to the very stars. (CW9i ¶28-29)
This is finally why I cannot agree with the premise of your question, that the “Judeo-Christian culture […] offers no strong ‘container or vessel’ to help hold and integrate that primordial creative energy.”
In my opinion, the Judeo-Christian legacy offers the strongest of vessels, particularly well-suited to our peculiar psychic make-up in the West. There is no need for the childish “horror” Jung invoked above, for he is merely describing the spiritual adulthood that no longer needs religious ideology to cope with. In Jung’s own analysis, it is much more dangerous not to avow our spiritual poverty, for that is precisely where the problems begin: the need for “experience-seeking” and commodified substitutes. Jung above all shows his own spiritual greediness, his own inability to accept our metaphysical nakedness, as the desires of “the poor man.”
Instead of Jung, we must learn to follow the example of a God who is left without a God at the height of his crucifiction, the moment in which, with a loud voice, God himself becomes an atheist: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Can you think of any other God that does this? A God that abandons himself to set tongues a flame in the human community?
Perhaps the real legacy of our Judeo-Christian tradition is precisely the fact that it prepares us for this spiritual adulthood, where we no longer need metaphysical fathers and mothers, no longer depend on special esoteric experiences reserved for a precious few, but are ready to become an independent source of conscious being accessible to all, a light that reaches beyond the stars into the infinite of the collective soul.