Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. David Magarshack
These past couple of days, I have been rereading The Brothers Karamazov, in preparation for next week's meetings of my Introduction to Philosophy course. It might be a bit much to expect a bunch of people who are taking their first philosophy course to read Dostoyevsky, but I suppose there's something to be said for jumping in the deep end, no? And besides, I'm pretty sure that many people--or even most people, if I dare to allow myself to be a little more optimistic--will have thought about the sorts of things that Dostoyevsky brings up above at one point or other in their lives. I have this notion that even college freshmen will have pondered these questions ever so briefly (perhaps, say, after an especially hard Friday night of parties and beer-pong) in the course of their as-yet-budding academic careers. Am I right about this, or am I being the naive professor who has spent too much time in the Ivory Tower and lost touch with what college freshmen think? Well, one way or the other, I can at least hope... At any rate, I'll find out the hard way next week :-)
But as I was reading the above passage this afternoon, it also occurred to me that what I call the universalizing drive--this notion that if my belief in X is right, your belief in Y must be wrong, and therefore you are damned unless you give up your erroneous belief in Y and switch over to believing in X--is found not just in religion proper, but also in yoga, even though, as we all know, yoga is not a religion. And, I'm embarrassed to say, this universalizing drive seems to be especially virulent among practitioners of Ashtanga, or Ashtangis, as we are commonly called. Although, to be fair, it's not always easy to tell how much of this perceived Ashtangavangelism is real, and how much of it is due to the projections and distortions of the anonymity of the internet. But if "scandals" such as Kinogate and Shortshortsgate and the more recent Mysore-video-gate (which are all probably just different aspects of one big "Gate", when all is said and done) are any indication, it would seem that Ashtangis not only direct their universalizing drives to non-Ashtangis ("What?! You practice Power Yoga? Don't you know that is a derivative (and therefore diluted and inferior) form of Ashtanga?"), but also to other Ashtangis who do not share their Ashtanga worldviews and/or their personal visions of how Ashtanga should be taught and presented to the world ("What?! You wear short shorts and teach Ashtanga via Youtube? Did Guruji do that? How sacrilegious!").
Whew! That last sentence was a long one; it's the sort of sentence I always tell my students not to write. Well, but none of my students read this blog (I hope), so what the hell. But I hope you get what I am getting at. But here's another way of looking at all this. It is natural for humans to stick to something that works well for them, whether that something is a yoga practice or a religion, or even a favorite dish. To use a very mundane example, if you were to discover a coffeeshop that serves the best coffee in the area, you would naturally recommend the place to all your friends, and maybe even be quite evangelical in making sure that your friends have been there at least once. If your friends were to disagree with you or to fail to see what you find so wonderful about this coffeeshop, you would probably be rather disappointed, maybe even become upset at your friends for failing to see what seems so painfully obvious to you.
Well, maybe a coffeeshop isn't necessarily the best example to use here; after all, not everyone likes coffee. But I can't think of a better example here. But I guess what I'm trying to say is this: The universalizing drive is not something that just popped out of nowhere. It came out of a very natural human desire to want others to experience the same good thing/s that you have experienced. But somewhere along the line, something went very wrong, ego reared its ugly head, and... well, you know the rest, so I won't belabor the details here.
I'm not quite sure what else to say here, since I don't have any solutions to this problem of the innate drive to universalize that is probably inherent in each and every one of us. Well, maybe I'll leave you with a question: At what point does a simple and pure desire to want to share something that you love with others become an ugly drive to dominate and universalize? Are there any "warning signs" that we can kind of look out for before it becomes full-blown? If you have any thoughts, I'll love to hear them, as always.
In the meantime... have you heard the good news about Sky Cake? If you haven't, check out the following video. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably have already seen this. If not, enjoy!