India is going all out to save yoga — a 2,000-year-old art of righteous living, from western pirates. Instances of self-styled yoga gurus claiming copyrights to ancient ‘asanas', especially from the West, is now becoming rampant.You hear stuff like this frequently from Yoga enthusiasts. The teaching of Yoga is being tragically over-run by teachers with the minds of Western businessmen, turning it from the most Sacred Tradition into something akin to a McDonalds franchise.
These sentiments might sometimes be influenced by something I call The Bolinas Effect. Bolinas is a little coastal town in the San Francisco Bay Area. The wonderful natural beauty of the place was discovered by a number of people who ended up moving there about 40 years ago, establishing it as a sort of hippie haven.
Then, as the population increased, some residents began to famously steal the road signs that directed people to the town. Their idea was to save the town by preventing it from being over-run by too many of the common folk. When anonymously quoted in news articles, these vandals spoke in sanctimonious terms, that they were protecting the purity of this heavenly place, from the onslaught of the masses.
OK, OK, there is some point to the vandals' viewpoint. Crowds can ruin a place, and popularization of anything, including meditation teachings and practices, may lead to its degradation in the process of making it more accessible.
That being said, there may also be hints of a darker force behind such sentiments. Isn't it possible that some of these Yogis and Bolinasites have an attitude something like this: "I've found something I feel is really wonderful and special, and part of this feeling is dependent on the fact that so few other people have found it. As more and more people find what I've found, it'll decrease this feeling of specialness."
OK, OK, these ideas of specialness are sometimes useful, especially at the beginning of a meditation practice, since they inspire effort and attention. But great care must be taken from the get-go. If a meditation practice helps one discard 10,000 delusions, and in their place a single delusion grows, the belief that "I've got something special"... I'm not so sure that it's such a wonderful thing.
So here's what I wrote in the comments section of that Guruphiliac posting:
> Sure, Indian heritage needs protection.
Can anyone explain exactly what the problem is with the current situation, what it is that needs to be changed or protected?
Here's what I mean. Say I become interested in Indian heritage of philosophy and meditation and such. I read the Yoga Sutras and collected talks of Ramana Maharashi, stuff like that, and find it wonderful.
So I join together with some friends and neighbors, and we gather to support each other in stilling our minds, inquiring into the true self, doing so using teachings and techniques from the Indian heritage.
Is there any concern whatsoever that as my friends and I sit together quietly chanting OM or what have you... that lawyers will burst through the door and slap a cease and desist order on us, telling us that this mantra is owned by a corporation, or that we'll get sued if we continue to ponder "What am I"?
No, there's no chance that such a thing would happen. Whatever's going on in the realm of intellectual property, it's of absolutely no hindrance to any people or groups who choose to pursue interest in the heritage of India.
Now, it's true that if my little group decides to package these ancient practices we're doing and offer seminars and try to make big bucks from it all, then I can imagine some legal problems. But is that (making a profit from the teachings) really the core of their importance? For people who just want to explore the Heritage for the sake of understanding our true nature and helping each other, we're all absolutely free to do so.
So, honestly, where's the problem? Maharishi Mahesh Yoga (founder of the Transcendental Mediation/TM movement) packaged some Indian tradition into a big business. If lots of people chose to go that route, OK, why should it bother me? Let people do what they like. Anyone who wants to simply explore the tradition, the Indian heritage which is now more freely and widely available than ever... can do so, and doesn't need to get a license or ask anyone's permission.