Friday, August 17, 2018

Sing Along, "It's A Very Good Place to Start..."

Words mean what people say, how they use them; it matters by whom they are said and for what purposes. Words are social, political, and always powerful because humans care about them. The dynamics of words are as complex as our humanity because we are the only species that we know uses them to make the world more complex, more complicated. We talk about clarity, simplicity, and the rigors of expression but we want nuance, shade, implication, and suggestion. We don't just want things to be clear; we want them to be meaningful. And that's not always the same thing, not by a long shot.

In Sanskrit cultures there are worlds and reams of rules about this meaning and usage thing, and as much by subject---the rules for word usage in logic are different than poetry and _specified_ by each body of tradition. The word "rupa" means one thing in Buddhist philosophy and quite another thing in erotic Sanskrit poetry. We don't know meaning just from context, history, and usage. We work with meaning because it takes work to stay in the fray, to persist in the struggle _for_ meaning. There are whole literatures devoted to the study of subjects, meta-subjects like criticism to poetry, and all of them turn back to language, to its complex uses, to what we _want_ from meaning. Never underestimate desire in any human endeavor. What we want is rarely as simple as we want it to be.

There's an important distinction to be made here because in words we attempt to bridge what we want---things we might feel or need or hope, wish, or imagine---with what we say and can be said. I submit that the reason there is so much serious discussion about ineffability---what can and cannot be said or even _ever_ completely said---is because Sanskrit traditions are so deeply devoted to the idea that things can be _properly_ said. Thus, even when we know there are limits, boundaries, and realities of ineffability, we can also describe and properly explain the limitations themselves.

This is what the great philosopher Shankara does, for example, when he describes how his concept of Self cannot be fully attested by the meaning of words and yet can only be grasped when we have the proper understanding of how works _can_ work. His theories of metaphor take up volumes as he labors to explain what words can and cannot do. No one in Indian literature ever gives up on words, not even those who espouse quietism and ineffability. Arguably, Patanjali gives you 195 sutras about stanching, occluding, and halting the processes of thought---but even that's a lot of words about what words and thoughts _do_ for us, even if it's said in little itty bitty threads of ideas. Not even the most devoted mystic can remain completely silent.

I have argued over the last 20 years to the "yoga community" that we should honor the complexity of meanings of the word "yoga." Does yoga really have many meanings or is it just used in many different ways? That's yet another kind of question. I won't rehearse much more of that here because you've all likely heard long seminar rants that rail against reductive thinking and how we devalue history and tradition when we try to make "yoga" mean one thing or two, or limit its scope of uses. But that too is a process of meaning: meaning without limited scope invites more than ambiguity, it invites meaninglessness.

So for example if "religion" encompasses everything including politics, economics, art, philosophy, as it seemingly does in ancient India, then what _is_ it in comparison to those things. When something means everything it means less. So words can have power capacities to _encompass_ and _include_ and work to expand the possibilities of meaning _and_ they need boundaries and limitations to function at all. Once again, Rajanaka teaches us to embrace the paradox. To create more meaning, we have to find boundaries. And only then can you begin to address the issues that come with deeper desires.

This leads me back to "yoga" in a more personal way and for that I ask your advice and for your input.

We have always suggested that wha we need is a seat at the table of yoga. I walk into yoga studios many times in a year---well, hopefully 'cause I like the work---but I don't teach asana. And no one is fooled that asana is why yoga studios exist, or at least how they remain businesses. Many are keen not to use the word "asana" anymore because that too is too estranging in the modern yoga business. A yoga studio without asana is what exactly? An "ashram"? A classroom for learning? Learning what? Yoga? What's that? And so we go 'round.

But it's increasingly plain that story-telling, philosophy teaching, meditations, the stuff we do, whatever we what to call what Rajanaka does has been called "yoga." But folks don't really call what Rajanaka does "yoga" because they sorta' know that's misleading by any modern standard. They (you?) call it "teachings," one comes and gives and receives "teachings", and they use this language because they want these "teachings" to imply more than instructions, directions, or information; they suggest there is some kind of guidance and, more importantly, edification. We are _better_ for "the teachings" in ways that knowing how to put together the toilet handle (our needs repair) is a decidedly different kind of instruction and has different meaning, different purpose, vastly different intent. Or maybe even the more dangerous instruction "come to the front of your mat..." is not quite the same "teaching"? The idea here is that _this_ yoga implies its purpose is to edify your character, implicate your moral being, that it asks you to want a deeper part of you to go more deeply towards you. That's some pretty heady stuff for the word "yoga," at least the way it's used _now_ and in a world where _everyday_ it more means postures, exercise, asana, you know _exactly_ what I mean. Yoga once made those demands routinely. Times change, words change with the times.

Everyday nowadays I struggle with the compound "Rajanaka Yoga" because _is_ it yoga? Do we continue to fight for a seat at the _bigger table_ of yoga's meanings when we admit as well that "yoga" means exactly-what-we-know-it-means? Or do we give up on the word and no longer make the complexity case for meaning---that is, "yoga means lots of things, let's work on that..." Truth to tell, I haven't decided. For these many years the Rajanaka website has called it "Rajanaka Yoga: A Tantric Tradition of Auspicious Wisdom," which nods not only to the complexity of yoga but to "Tantra" (what's _that_?) and then encodes in the Sanskrit compound "Shrividya" for "Auspicious Wisdom." There's obviously a lot going on here that could warrant further explanation.

Given just how far Rajanaka deviates from the mainstream schools of Shrividya I struggle everyday with even that elemental identity. Rajanaka was first explained to me as "Auspicious Wisdom" and that led to sixteen years of ceaseless study and conversation with my teacher. That has continued now for 40+ years. We still look at the same stories, images, and at least foil with the ideas even when we disagree (umm, adamantly) with the mainstream (umm, 99%). So what is still being accomplished by calling it "Rajanaka Yoga"? Are we looking for a seat at a table _that no longer exists_? That is, the one where yoga _really does mean_ more than you-know-what? Are we trying to make a case for a bigger table when "our kind of yogas" were there long before modern associations with you-know-what?

What do _we_ want from these words? And more importantly what is conveyed when we use them because words aren't important just because they mean things to _us_ but because they mean things to others too. Words are not private matters, as Wittgenstein so aptly proved, and they are more than the just the case even when they are all that is the case. In human worlds, how we use words to describe ourselves is no small matter. Think of how words implicating gender implicate us or what it means to call oneself a "liberal." Or a "yogi"?

Yesterday I wrote that the word yoga is up for grabs on the interwebs because when an influential and wide-reaching platform uses it _in certain ways_ then that matters. Rajanaka is not that influential, we don't move _vast swathes_ of opinion even when we have done our share to create meanings and introduce words for contemporary yoga worlds. We've done a lot of that, with and without acknowledgment. So I wonder and, yes, I struggle with "yoga" because we are _once again_ finding ourselves not only a minority in an ocean of views with _much_ bigger fish, we know those other fish are hungry and we look like lunch. Those other big, hungry fish are called today "yoga."

Yoga may yet swallow us, that is, we may be eaten, digested, and assimilated into its Leviathan that is you-know-what-yoga, so the question remains do we run for our lives, do we attempt to persuade our predator (i.e, the usage of the word) not to eat us, do we stay around to make our case for a seat at a table (in an ocean, mixed metaphor alert!)? Do we just call it "Rajanaka" and drop "yoga," "Tantra," and even the deep code of Auspicious Wisdom?

You know I usually vote for stay the course. I am a keeper of flames, a lover of provenance, and more like Vishnu in persistence and a steady the course course than any rock n' roll chaos loving storm maker would ever wants to admit. Don't lose the plot. Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Just do _your_ thing. Rilke taught us not to care for the critics but to make our art. Hitchens taught us to read our critics and respond and never fail to respond. Rajanaka says yes to both. Embracing paradox never goes away, does it?

But if I may, let me draw another analogy. Stay with me, this is worth it... We're a lot like the steel racing bicycles hat I truly love. What you need to know is that these are not only out of fashion, they are largely obsolete in the pro ranks. They aren't used anymore when once they were definitional. In fact, they are no longer really a thing at all and if they were once _the_ thing, the anachronism is now consigned to words like "retro" and "vintage."

I'm fond of "vintage", not much "retro" because _I am_ vintage, I don't have to pretend or reinvent or retro anything. I'm happy to keep making and riding our own steel bike, the Rajanaka bike, because it's beautiful to me, it works brilliantly, and I like it just just fine. It's not static, it continues to move and progress, I hope. I have no intention of going with the trend or giving up what I love and regard and have always _tried_ to evolve. But to evolve and to grow is not the same as to follow the fashions. My steel bikes are not static things, anymore than Rajanaka but they are not _the thing_ anymore, not by a _long shot_. So, it's important with words, like it is in the world, to know yourself by knowing as well what others understand and do, and what things _mean_. What say you?