The answer to this question is quite complicated. But in order to make sense of what I am talking about, I have to start from the beginning. So please bear with me.
So, let's start from the beginning. Earlier today, I read with great interest Claudia's recent post about her recent trip to Mysore, and the comment thread that follows it. Claudia writes about how she has come to terms with the need for certification or external validation of one's "yogic status". She writes:
"Wanting some validation, or some external certificate, is a way of filling an emptiness or insecurity that perhaps we didn't realize we had. The true yogi is overflowing with a happiness generated by every limb of the yoga sutras working in conjunction.
Nobody can give me a certificate for this. Nobody might even know it but me. And once that certificate is hanging on the wall, will the emptiness that desperately requires it truly be filled?"
I think these are very wise and beautiful words. At the same time, Claudia also observes certain displays of seemingly not-so-evolved behavior among supposedly advanced students:
"I was shocked to see some advanced students screaming at the coconut guy, one of the coconut guys, the details do not matter, it may not have even been a coconut guy, the point is there was rudness, yelling. I was shocked to see advanced students gossiping, or advanced students resenting the levels reached by others.
The point I am trying to make is that I am surprised to see many people calling themselves yogis of a certain level who cannot, will not, be kind, be honest, be happy. Of course this includes me too, I am not perfect, and I make mistakes."
Claudia's observation seems to have struck a sympathetic chord among her readers. For instance, one of the commenters on her post writes:
"Here's what I struggle with--situations like those advanced yogis, or even John Friend, who has done yoga for years. It seems like the yoga doesn't work at all--that the system is just like any human system--terribly terribly flawed. You do seem true and real and like you are working with integrity to try to be your best and to be honest when you are not. But that may be you--something you have become unrelated to yoga. It may be who you are. Maybe it's not the yoga, not the yoga at all. That is my worry. And if you are who you write, you are a true yogi--it has nothing to do w/ the poses. So why should we put ourselves into all of these shapes? Or perhaps, it's the surrender that does it--to something greater, and that can come by giving yourself over to the poses, or to prayer, or to a higher source. Perhaps it's surrender to what is good and true more than anything.
Tara's dilemma (if I may call it that) seems to be this: If the yoga practice is such a great system for achieving self-transformation/self-realization, then how come we still see all these supposedly advanced yogis engage in behavior that is, well, unbecoming of an advanced yogi? Does this mean that ultimately, what determines whether or not you become a self-realized person has nothing to do with the yoga, but with what you already are or have become? Or, as Tara puts it, "that may be you--something you have become unrelated to yoga. It may be who you are."
If this is the case--if becoming self-realized is more a matter of who we already are rather than what the yoga practice does for us--does this mean that yoga ultimately cannot help us to attain self-realization? Maybe some of us are born with a Self-realization Gene (Claudia appears to be one of these people :-)), and some of us aren't. If you have this Gene, then all you need is a little work and voila!, you are then Self-realized! If you don't happen to have this Gene, well, you're out of luck. No amount of yoga (or whatever) is going to turn you into a Self-realized person. At least not in this lifetime. May you have better genetic luck next time.
Is this what the deal is? Is the potential for Self-realization genetically determined? Is Genetic Determinism with regard to Self-realization (GDS) true? Are those of us who don't happen to have this Self-realization Gene condemned to be jerks/assholes/douchebags for the rest of this life?
Hmm.... I don't know. With my practice being as superficial as it is, I really am in no position to answer this question. Or maybe my practice is so superficial because I don't possess the Self-realization Gene. Which means that Genetic Determinism with regard to Self-realization is true, and I am condemned to lifelong jerkhood/assholism. Ha! Takes one to know one, don't you think?
But I have a hunch that, as with most big questions, the answer to this question is a little bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. Let's begin with that Holy Grail of yogic practices: Samadhi. According to the Yoga Sutra (or at least, according to my superficial understanding of it), the highest level of samadhi is objectless or nirbijah samadhi (YS 1.51).
Does attaining objectless samadhi guarantee that one will attain non-attachment (vairagya) and, along with it, Self-realization? According to anecdotal accounts I have heard, the answer seems to be no: Attaining objectless samadhi is a useful tool that one can use to attain self-realization. However, as with all tools (including, as we all know, the asana practice), one can become overly attached to the attainment of objectless samadhi, and be distracted from the path, in much the same way in which one can be distracted from the path by one's asana achievements. My friend Tom attests to this in a comment on an earlier post on this blog:
"Samadhi is simply a tool that can help us get to realization. We still must use that tool regularly and allow purification to happen on deeper and deeper levels. And without the foundation of purity of intent (like if we are still striving after experiences, energetic openings, or mystical phenomena) the tool is useless and eventually can be self destructive.
I once worked with a teacher, quite an adept who could abide in samadhi state and who could and did demonstrate some pretty fantastical attainments (siddhis/psychic powers). Despite his fantastical displays of knowledge and abilities, the striving in his heart (and suffering that goes with it) was still rather obvious. His workshops were like a 3 ring spiritual circus! I used to think anyone of his level of accomplishment must have done the work, must be on he right path, but after a while it became very clear what the yoga sutras say about attainments possibly indicating progress on the path but also being a big distraction and trap..."
So even abiding in samadhi can become a circus act! Well, now I don't feel so bad about my own circus acts (see this post)... But I guess what Tom's comment shows is this: Yoga is a powerful system or set of tools that can enable one to attain Self-realization. But tools--especially powerful ones--can always be misused, and become self-destructive to the user whose intention is not pure. And it is ultimately our intentions that will determine whether we use these tools to become self-realized beings, or whether we use them to become samadhied assholes.
So, to come back to my original question: Is Self-realization genetically determined? Well, I think it would have to depend on whether our intentions are genetically determined, since it is ultimately our intentions that decide whether or not we become self-realized. Well, are our intentions genetically determined? Uh, I don't know... I don't even know how to begin to try to answer this question. Gosh, being a philosopher really sucks! You answer one question, and then a bigger question comes tumbling down the hill at you! There's something very Sisyphean about all this, don't you think? :-)