In the world of traditional Yoga, The Bhagavad Gita is seen as one of the seminal texts on Yoga. Arjuna, the main character of the Gita, is conflicted because he has to go to war against his teachers, friends and family. He spends most of the book questioning and conversing with the god Krishna, his charioteer, about his tumultuous feelings. Arjuna is a righteous Prince who has always had God on his side but he still questions. Krishna, answers his questions and these answers become a talk on Yoga and duty.
Asking questions from a pure heart, is not bad. Wanting to know the answers is not bad.
Not knowing and not understanding is open ended. Blind acceptance is shut down and closed. It is easy to get blind acceptance mixed up with following a teaching. That is why the Yogis tell us to be present. When you are present, you see what is going on. When you are blindly following you deny it or close your eyes to what is there.
Being present requires an openness to life. In a state of presence, we may not have the answer but we don’t deny the question. We don’t discourage the questioning. We just see that there is a question and we also see the not knowing.
Many people shut down questions in Yoga with “you gotta just trust.” You don’t have to trust. You either trust or you don’t. Acting like you trust, when you actually have questions is not being present and it creates future karmas. It also shuts down our capacity to grow and learn.
When we say a spiritual process, we are not talking about jumping to conclusions and assuming things that we do not know. If you are straight enough to see, “What I know, I know. What I do not know, I do not know”, you are already a spiritual aspirant. The fundamental aspect of spirituality is just this – “I am not so flaky in my head that I make up things. I am willing to come to terms. What I know, I know, what I do not know, I do not know.” Once you see this, the very nature of human intelligence is such that it cannot live with “I do not know.” It wants to know. Once wanting to know comes, seeking will come. Once the seeking comes, finding a way could happen. That is why, once you are on the spiritual path we refer to you as a seeker.
But right now, it looks like the whole world is against this simple “I do not know.” Nobody likes “I do not know.” Whatever we do not know we just believe.
“I do not know” has been destroyed because you believe the readymade answers you have for all the fundamental aspects of life. When you destroy “I do not know,” you have destroyed all possibilities of knowing.
Once you believe something that you do not know just because a book or someone says so – with all due respect to all the books and the great men of the past – still, suppose I tell you something that you do not know and which is not in your experience, the only choice you have is either to believe me or disbelieve me. If you believe me you do not get any closer to reality. If you disbelieve me you still do not get any closer to reality. If you want to get somewhere you have to be in touch with reality. Otherwise you will not get anywhere, you will just hallucinate that you know things.
There is enough intellect in the world today to cultivate a certain level of awareness in people to see: what they know, they know and what they do not know, they do not know. This is a simple way to exist. If you cannot be straight with anyone in the world, that’s a social issue – it’s up to you. But if you want to progress spiritually, at least take one single step in your life: be absolutely straight with yourself.
People also say, “just surrender.” Hell, I have said it. Surrender cannot be forced as well.
Like yesterday somebody was trying to say, “You know we can’t do anything. We just have to go with the flow of things; that’s surrender. ” The moment I said it is succumbing, he got mad. Somebody who’s talking about surrender, if you so much as say anything, he will flare up. If people have surrendered where’s the question of anger? One who has surrendered has nothing of his own. That’s what it means. So where can he have likes, dislikes, or anger? It is simply impossible.”
Sadhguru, Essential Wisdom From a Spiritual Master
I recently asked myself the question, “Am I surrendering or succumbing?” I have had times in my life where I have surrendered and I found what Sadhguru said in the quote above to be true. There was no suffering. There was no pain. There was no anger. I was totally good with my decision. If other people were not okay with it, I did not get mad. That was their prerogative. When I succumb, my emotions are still easily triggered. You can ask yourself the same question. In the situation where you say you have surrendered, are you still being emotionally triggered?
It is extraordinarily hard to have a discourse on Ashtanga in the blogosphere and on Ashtanga boards. Some of the most ugly comments I have ever seen are on Yoga posts and on Yoga boards. The attachment to having the correct story about Ashtanga triggers extreme emotions. There rarely seems to be room for not knowing. It is common to see people get angry because people refuse to take a side on something they do not have all the facts on. You have to hate Ashtanga or love Ashtanga. You have to hate Sharath or love Sharath. There does not seem to be any space for, “I don’t know.”
However, not knowing is the realm of the seeker. It gets vilified due to attachments,the inability to be present with Yoga and the fear of ripping holes in a story that may steal a false sense of happiness and belonging. Better to pretend that our questions have been answered and bury unease under pretty stories that are sweet to the mouth and pleasant to the ears. Better for a while. However, the cycle of Dukha and Sukha, pain and pleasure, that many are on continues to the tell the story of untruth. It continues to speak of shackles that have become gold plated. Unlike with Arjuna, there is no victory for those who are afraid to ask the right questions. Arjuna asked his questions without stepping off the battlefield. He did not jump off the path and rant and rave. He stopped right at the front line and was still prepared to continue. He was respectful. He was open. This is how a seeker questions.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.