William Broad, author of the recent NY Times article, “Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” has blessed readers yet again with his take on Yoga, fueled by the recent events with Anusara Yoga.
Note from the Editor: FLOW has not published anything about John Friend or Anusara Yoga in recent weeks, nor will we. We believe that most of the coverage regarding John Friend and Anusara Yoga has been in poor taste, and not proper speech (with exceptions of course). We choose to use our energy to continue to promote yoga, and send healing energy, support and blessings to everyone that has been touched by this painful situation.
The issue with the NY Times article is that it is attacking Yoga, as a whole, and completely lacks true factual integrity. It is written by someone that knows very little about the origins of Tantra and Yoga. Christopher Wallis, renowned Tantra scholar and author of Tantra Illuminated has addressed some of the key issues with this article on his Facebook Page.
Mr. Wallis has given us permission to print these points with the knowledge that they were written “informally” and will be rewritten and referenced correctly at a future date.
Below are Christopher Wallis’ Corrections to factual errors in the article only and written informally.
1.) “Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult…” Hardly. Mr. Broad is simply displaying his ignorance here. In fact, yoga as we know it began as an internalized ritual practice of activating sacred powers in the body through mantra, mudrā, and visualization, as has been shown by Christopher Tompkins and others. There was no sexual component (though that later development in some streams of the tradition, it was never central to the practice.)
2.) “Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra.” Not quite. Hatha-yoga never was a branch of Tantra; it was a discipline that drew on inspiration from the Tantrik scriptures. It is true that there were some sexual practices in mainstream Hatha-yoga (e.g. vajrolī mudrā) which were NOT found in any tantras.
3.) “In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.” No, devotees sought to realization that those aspects (Shiva and Shakti, i.e. spaciousness and energy) were always already fused, in fact expressions of each other. Insight into this truth does give rise to ānanda (bliss) as a by-product, but ānanda was/is not the goal — insight or true seeing is the goal.
4.) “The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex.” This statement is highly misleading because it implies that sexual practice was part of the Tantrik mainstream. It was not. Sexual practice (couple and group) was an infrequently performed rite of relatively fringe Tantrik groups, and in those rites, sexual pleasure was NEVER described as the goal. Intensified awareness was the goal, and the rite is said to be forbidden to those performing it out of physical lust. (!!!)
5.) “One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse.” I can think of two texts which might be construed in this way, but unless Mr. Broad can read Sanskrit, I doubt he consulted them. Because he did not consult the original source (he cites NO sources in this piece), he is obviously unaware that in the Brahma-yāmala, the practice in question is aimed not at “enjoying” intercourse, but rather indefinitely postponing orgasm in order to gain supernatural powers. In the other text (Tantrāloka 29), the purpose of the practice is the cultivation of meditative awareness, not physical pleasure. (I’m just telling you how the tradition represents itself.)
6.) “[Hatha yoga] used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss.” Bliss was not the goal of hatha-yoga either. Freedom and release from suffering (moksha) was explicitly stated as the goal. Intercourse, when performed as a hatha-yoga practice, did NOT involve orgasm, which is obviously pleasurable, so…
7.) “In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.” Incorrect! My god, doesn’t anyone do RESEARCH anymore? They did develop bad reputations for two different reasons: Tantra become associated with rites of black magic in the popular imagination, and Hatha-yoga was given a bad name by India’s British rulers because of the prevalence of Hatha-yogis who were warriors who resisted the British (see Mark Singleton’s work for this). Of course, there were occasionally charges in premodern India that some people used the Tantrik teachings as an excuse to get drunk and fornicate, because of course that did happen, cause that kind of thing will always happen (I discuss this in my book, Tantra Illuminated). But the fact that the teachings were sometimes misused in that way doesn’t change the fact that that was not the original intent of the teachings! Does the misuse of Jesus’ teaching to justify things he didn’t condone make him a fraud? Hardly.
8.) “Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.” Well, this part is true.
9.)The Goraksha-śataka, a source text on hatha-yoga, says that one is only successful in practice if he is moderate and restrained in eating and sexual behavior, and totally dedicated to his yoga. (verse 54) This is a SOURCE text. Doesn’t sound like a “sex cult” to me.
To learn more about Tantra, purchase Christopher Wallis’ New Book Tantra Illuminated. You can also find more information about Christopher below.
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Sites That Link to this Post
- William J Broad on John Friend Scandal: Yoga is a Sex Cult and We’re All Ignorant Minions |
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