Thursday, October 23, 2008
Subramanya and The Thing about Dharma: Yoga Mandala, Class #9.
The thing about Subramanya, né Larry is this: I have built him up in my head. I have put him on a mental pedestal. My friend Em speaks so highly of him, and this is a girl who can commiserate with some of the disingenuity found in Yoga class. She thinks white people adopting Indian names is weird, too, and she is an authentic white person.
The thing about my name, my normal and yet still Indian name is that it is MY name. I like my name, but, like most people who attended school, I was teased about it. Shumit can so easily be converted into rhyming cadence with unmentioned four letter words, not to mention a fine template for racial epithets. I’m not complaining- well, in fact I am certainly complaining, but to an end- but I feel like if you want an Indian name, you have to earn it. By living with it. It seems one-dimensional as some sort of spiritual honorific.
But I hear such good things about the Subramanya, even that he can rationalize why he goes by Subramanya, as well as Larry, and can negotiate my perceived gulf of cultural insensitivity.
And this belies a larger issue: all I’ve written so far is this measure of self-deprecating/cynical commentary. Just the wacky diaries of a goofy little man, and I want to go further than this. A measure of criticism of Yoga is healthy, sure, but how long can I keep harping on it? I want, to some degree, to get over this, and I want Subramanya to help. And help he does- but for reasons I do not at all expect. He’s a great teacher, but in fact, it is what I disagree with him about that gives me a greater insight.
It is the Advanced level class- for 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s, that I attend. I know I’m in for it physically, not prepared, but I figure I can tell him this, and if he’s as good as Em says, he’ll be OK with this. And he is, and he does keep an eye on me.
He rolls through the chants and gets down to business immediately, although not without a short diatribe on Dharma. He gives us a brief recap of relevant sections of the Bhagavad-Gita, and interlaces this with tragic Greek characters. He also says he is “sweating like a hooker in church” which is the precise moment I decide that he’s all right by me.
I am immediately pouring sweat from my forehead and greasing up my mat with perspiration. This stuff is really challenging. I have no time to make any sort of mental notes about anyone or anything- I am way too consumed with just trying to keep up.
Now, Subramanya is a skilled teacher, and it is obvious, notably by when and how he chooses to speak. It is only during pauses of the various vinyasas that he chooses to delve into the spiritual aspect of this session, starting each time with
“The thing about Dharma is…”
If you really want a class to hang on your every word, definitely speak during times of repose. We will ALL LISTEN, if only in hopes that the teacher goes on long enough for us to catch our prana.
Again, I couldn’t think about this during class. I was far too wrapped up in his instruction, which I must say again, was excellent.
Still, the thing about Dharma is…..I don’t really agree with him about how he is explaining it.
Dharma, as far as I understand it, could be loosely equivocated to duty, religious or otherwise. The classical text explaining Dharma is an excerpt from the Bhagavad-Gita, where the warrior Arjuna is headed into battle.
Now, if you have never read the Bhagavad-Gita, don’t feel alone. I doubt most people have, as it long and somewhat arduous. I never have, which might be……..obvious, but thanks to the comic books* handed out at the Mithali’s of my youth, I have a passing familiarity with the story. It sort of runs along the lines of an HBO series, like The Sopranos or The Wire, where the characters have noble enough aspirations- well, some of them anyway- but screw up a lot, just like real people.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, it is much of the same- the Pandava Bros Inc. continually try and keep the empire they are charged with going, but there is division and strife, mostly over gambling debts. One of the brothers has a Habit. Negotiations happen, and they- the powerbrokers- end up passing around poor Draupadi like an IOU chitty, exile each other into the woods, and basically make a mess of things, just like real people.
Arjuna, a central dude in this drama, is whom and where we finally see this realization of Dharma. He is on his way to battle, in a war for the Kingdom. The people he has to fight are people he KNOWS- cousins, teachers, aunt and uncles. Krishna- now in ethereal form, as he has long ago shed his earthly divine bright-blue mystic porn-star vessel- is acting as his charioteer and moral consultant. As the mithali comic books focused more on illustrating the action, we are bereft in terms of actual text, but the conversation must have moved along these lines:
Arjuna: Krishna, I know these folks. They’re my peeps.
Arjuna: I mean, I really DON’T want to go in there and hack them to pieces.
Krishna: Of course you don’t. Who would?
Arjuna: So do I have to?
Krishna: Dharma. You got to do what you got to do, man.
Clearly, some liberties were taken in terms of simplifying this, but what it amounts to is just what it says: if you have to do something, if that’s the way the chips fall, it’s your duty to play out that hand. No fighting it.
“The thing about Dharma”, begins the Subramanya, “ is that you need clear space to figure it out. Think back to maybe when you graduated college. What were you most keen on, what inspired you?”
This runs counter to my understanding. At that age, I was doing what interested me. I was playing music, as "full time" as you can get. But I was never going to make enough money to do that as a living, and I realized this. I started working in education, a profession that chose me, rather than the other way around. Point being- you don’t always get to choose. But you do have to deal with the results.
It isn’t until the next morning until I think about this. I never got to ask the Subramanya about his Indian name- he was too swamped with admirers after class to get a word in, and no matter.
What does matter is that I had to think on it again. In some other yoga writing- not yet on the blog- I mention how incomprehensibly pluralistic India seems to me. And the fact that it is incomprehensible betrays my western upbringing. I think that most Indians- my relatives at least- when examining what seems to be an apparent contradiction, would shrug it off.
"Yes, of course!", they would say.
"Welcome to India!", they would add.
And so, if this pluralism exists, why not apply it? Why can’t there be two Dharmas?
For the Subramanya, his Dharma- the capitalized one- is perhaps his job as a corporate lawyer, something he is wont to poke fun at. But his dharma, his passion- really is this yoga. I’m ….quite sure he makes some decent money as a yoga teacher, but as a corporate lawyer, I doubt he needs it. My gut also tells me that he’d still be here teaching even if he were doing it for free. He likes it that much. My Dharma is the unfortunate state of education- if I have any duty, it’s to go in a do a good job in a system that tries to make that difficult, if not impossible at times, and often rewards incompetence with greater responsibility and higher pay. But my dharma is music- I know it will never pay, labor of love sort of thing, but I am at least playing again, and without the pressure of becoming World Famous- and I believed I would be at age 23- I am enjoying myself more.
And so it can be with Yoga, I hope. Maybe I can use a critical eye…….and then put it away** and examine some of the benefits. Maybe the old blog can re-orientate a bit.
But I do have one task ahead of me. Bikram Yoga. A style named after the man who made it, Bikram Choudury. It is his authentic Indian Name, and from what I hear, he's a complete Asshat. So let's not put away that critical eye just yet......
* These are a bit like the Children's Illustrated Bible's advertised on TV during the 80's
** One woman in my writing group attended a yoga class wherein the teacher instructed the fledgling Yogis to ‘Envision themselves as eyeballs floating in.............CHOCOLATE”, which may say more about the teacher’s current state of mind, rather than the meditation instructions.