Chris Wallis (Hareesh) provides an insightful and challenging reflection on yoga philosophy and the Black Lives Matter movement that is worth a full read. But here for me is an especially powerful core to his reflection.
[B]efore I try to give anyone a teaching about their innermost Spirit—that within them which is unborn and undying—I had better be ready to see and accept and love the pain of their embodiment.
I especially love its consonance with what I teach about race in Introduction to Sociology, namely that while race is a social construct, it is one with consequences.
[T]hough the reasons we might give for systemic racism are of course mental constructs that we can argue about, the pain suffered by people of color in connection with systemic racism is real, not a story, and it needs to be compassionately witnessed before it can be transcended. [emphasis in original]
I also like how the piece opens with brutal honesty about how his earlier attempts to reconcile yoga philosophy and the challenge of a personal experience of racism had caused another pain and cost him a friendship.
Lastly, he laments that the path of embodiment and awakening has in our culture been reserved for the privileged, and how this was not the original intent of these teachings, which are supposed to be open to all.
In general, Wallis’s work on illuminating Tantra, locating modern postural yoga within Tantric philosophy, and bringing esoteric traditions to modern audiences is of great service to the yoga community. This effort to grapple with a compelling issue of contemporary concern simply enhances his offerings.
When Pema Chödrön and others have begun to break silence on contemporary political issues, we see a sort of “mindfulness rising,” a movement away from what Quakers encountered within their own tradition as “quietism.” When Eastern spiritual traditions as they have taken root in the US take stands on political issues, I think we see their maturity. This hearkens also to Roshi Glassman’s Instructions to the Cook, and various writings by Thich Nhat Hahn, like Love in Action, on “engaged Buddhism”in Vietnam and elsewhere. But is this really new? As Stefanie Syman indicates in The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, Ralph Waldo Emerson was first to introduce the Bhagavad Gita in the US, and Henry David Thoreau, whose essay on the duty of civil disobedience inspired Gandhi, King and others, may have been trying to practice yoga at Walden Pond.
In taking a nondual approach to embodiment and enlightenment, we see the fundamental unity of liberation of personality and community. This is one of the things this blog was supposed to be about. I keep promising a more systematic treatment of this, and current events keep telling me it’s high time.