"A lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth."
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In response to my earlier post questioning the importance of lineage in our practice, both Patrick and Claudia have suggested that holding on to the Ashtanga Founding Story (the one involving the Yoga Korunta and its getting eaten by ants; I'm going to use "AFS" to refer to this story for the rest of this post) has a valuable and powerful effect on our practice, even if it is not a historically true story. For instance, Patrick says:
"I believe... that there's something powerful to telling the legend even if we think it's not historically accurate, the same way that reading the Ramayana et al. still has power which is not (and not supposed to be) factual."
I think both Patrick and Claudia are on to something; just because something is not literally, historically true does not mean that it cannot have a powerful and valuable effect on the practice as experienced by us practitioners.
I would like to explore this issue a little further. I would like to suggest that there is actually a difference between the sort of accepting that takes place when we accept the AFS while knowing that it is probably not fully historically accurate, and the sort of accepting that takes place when we accept the Ramayana while knowing that it is very, very unlikely to be historically accurate.
What is the difference? In listening to and accepting the stories in the Ramayana, we do so while fully acknowledging that most (or maybe almost all) of the events in these stories cannot possibly have occurred in historical time. For instance, I take it that none of us actually believe that there once lived a monkey-faced being who once traversed the distance between the island of Sri Lanka and the Himalayas in a single leap. But when we accept the AFS, we deliberately allow the lines between historical reality and possible fiction to be fudged. There are certain persons and events whom we are certain existed in historical time: Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, specific locations and particular historical events, etc. And there are certain things whose existence we cannot possibly verify for ourselves, but must accept based on faith in the veracity of the AFS: The existence of the Yoga Korunta is one such example. And then there are events that have an air of magical realism around them; events whose occurrence is, strictly speaking, logically and physically possible, but whose probability and motivations leave us in a state of head-scratching puzzlement. The purported eating of the Yoga Korunta by ants is one prime example. Such an event is, of course, logically and physically possible, but certain questions inevitably come up: Why would Krishnamacharya or Guruji leave such an important document as the Korunta unattended in a place for so long as to enable ants to devour it (I honestly don't know how long it takes a bunch of ants to eat a manuscript up, but I would imagine it is not something that happens in an instant)? If the Korunta were such an important document, why wouldn't somebody have thought to make extra copies of it, so that if, God forbid, the original were to get eaten by ants (which did happen, of course), there would still be copies around for posterity to look at?
Perhaps these are just the musings of an idle, overstimulated mind. Perhaps I am being disrespectful in asking these questions. My apologies, if this is so. I guess what I'm trying to say is, in accepting the AFS, we are not simply listening to a compelling fiction and extracting lessons from it, as we are doing with the Ramayana; nor are we fully accepting the AFS as hard historical fact (unless, of course, we are willing to simply swallow as hard historical actuality the magical realistic possibility of the Korunta getting eaten by ants). Rather, in accepting the AFS, our minds seem to be doing something in between these two modalities: We accept the AFS as if it is hard historical fact, allowing it to shape our lives and practices with the full import that hard historical facts typically convey; yet in some corner of our minds, we acknowledge the fantastical element of the story, and recognize this element as such. How is this possible? Or perhaps more importantly: Why do we do this to ourselves? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this is a bad thing; if accepting this story shapes our lives for the better, it might very well be one of the best things that can happen to us. But it still baffles me nonetheless, that we should seem to settle so comfortably into this rather ambiguous space between fact and fiction.