Friday, February 22, 2013

anything can be used for anything else

Reading Brad Warner's ruminations on yoga yesterday, my thoughts slip-slid into another time and another frame of mind.

In the late 1960's or early 1970's, I got hooked on spiritual adventure. My formatted entry point was Hindu Vedanta and I gobbled books the way bar flies gobble peanuts ... with an almost absent-minded addiction... I really didn't know how to stop.

And within this world of galloping gormandizing, I read four books by Swami Vivekananda, books that each focused on a different approach to yoga, a word that means "yoke" or "union" and refers to the potential and actual links between man and his god. The books were about Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga. Each took the reader by the hand and through specific applications, depicting a path to god. A path to god ... that was the point of yoga.

So it came as something of a shock to me when what passes for yoga in the West began to take hold in America and its meaning was almost exclusively focused on Hatha yoga and its various physical exercises. "Yoga" became synonymous with physical health and well being ... at least for conversational purposes.

The approach weirded me out, but of course I guess I was the weird one in reality.

I was focused on god -- whatever the hell I thought that meant -- and everyone else seemed to be focused on whether they could get their ankles behind their necks or run a handkerchief through one nostril and out their mouths. The acronym didn't exist back then, but if it had, I might have used it: "WTF?!"

Time passed. I switched into Zen practice and pretty much forgot about Swami Vivekananda's appreciations. I was still interested in god -- whatever the hell I thought that meant -- but the interest had new clothing and a new vocabulary. "Enlightenment," "compassion," "emptiness," "Nirvana" ... and sitting cross-legged on a cushion. I guess everyone picks a vocabulary and a perspective and I was no different.

Until, fast-forwarding to this morning, it crossed my mind that anything really can be used for anything else. As a rifle may be used to put meat on the supper table, it can likewise be used to gun down children in an elementary school. And it is my bias to think, roughly, that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the (Americanized) Hatha Yoga's of the spiritual circuit ... posing as a search for god, but fixated on the poses to the detriment of that search. I'm not saying I'm right. I am just saying it's a wispy bias.

Anything can be used for anything else.

This far-from-insistent thought flow took me to skepticism and credulity -- two possibilities that are frequently seen as polar opposites and inimical to each other. Is there anyone who isn't capable of either ... or more likely, both? The insistent skeptic overlooks his credulity; the insistent believer overlooks the doubt inherent in any belief. Still, it's fun or consoling or something to imagine that "I am a skeptic" or "I am a believer." But it can be a fierce and fearful war where the battle lines are drawn between skepticism and belief.

What is it that will sign the peace treaty between these two? What is it that will allow these enemies to shake hands? Theology and philosophy can't do it. Only people can do it ... if they choose. But there is no forcing the matter: This is a land of walk the walk, not talk the talk.

Anything can be used for anything else.

Perhaps getting the ankles behind the neck will indeed bring clarity and understanding to someone's life. Perhaps it will just create another Vatican. Perhaps vaulted ceilings and tasseled clothing and a well-imagined heaven or hell will lead to a place of long-desired peace. Perhaps "enlightenment" is indeed enlightenment. Anything can be used for anything else ... isn't that recognition useful when actualized? Isn't the imperative inescapable -- you've got to shake hands with the enemy, whoever or whatever s/he may be. But there's no faking it with spiritual or intellectual nostrums ... extending your hand means just that: No one else can do it. Pretending to be wider is not the same as being wider.

Recognition does not mean conveniently ducking the unpleasant or touting the pleasant. It just means a package deal is a package deal. Anything can be used for anything else. Is there really something else? Your life, your choice... you figure it out.

And it is unlikely that the peace treaty (as between skeptic and believer for example) will be signed overnight. Just bit by bit, perhaps. Flickering in and out of recognition until recognition gains some footing. Nothing is lost, nothing found. It's just the way things are and it's easier than putting the ankles behind the neck.

Anything can be used for anything else.

Or not.

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