by Jeff McMahon
Anusara founder John Friend was in town not long ago, and a few local yogis, including some teachers, took the occasion to reveal the judgements he inspires in their minds.
Whatever story we tell about John Friend, it seems he’s creating opportunities for people to practice ahimsa.
I’m blessed to have many teachers, but if I were ever to have a single teacher, I should like it to be a teacher who practices ahimsa.
I find it challenging to hold to the practice of ahimsa myself, and I have such admiration for those who practice and teach it well.
“The vow of ahimsa is broken even by showing contempt towards another,” writes Swami Sivananda, “by entertaining unreasonable dislike for or prejudice towards anybody, by frowning at another, by hating another, by abusing another, by speaking ill of others, by backbiting or vilifying, by harboring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another in any way whatsoever.”
I should say at the outset that I have teachers in Chicago who are great masters of ahimsa. Meg Glassco at Zen Yoga Garage is one of these. Meg shines light, in speech and action, wherever she goes. I think Amber Cook, who is guest teaching at ZYG today, may be another. Veronica Rottman, Lauren Singer, Lesley Bezdek…. There have been others, and there are many more than I know, I’m sure, because you have to know a teacher very well to know their ahimsa practice.
But there are also many who don’t seem to practice ahimsa.
I was getting pretty serious about a teacher training led by two teachers I admire in Los Angeles until I read an online discussion in which one of them referred to a well-known spiritual leader as a charlatan and a clown.
That sentence didn’t tell me nearly as much about the spiritual leader as it told me about the Los Angeles teacher. I decided not to pursue that training, not because I disagree with the statement, but just because I don’t want to study yoga with someone who tears someone else down. Deserved or not.
I just want a teacher who practices ahimsa.
Does this mean I have a negative judgement about negative judgements?
I think America makes it harder to practice Ahimsa, especially in the age of journalism. Imagine what Fox News would do to Jesus. Everyone gets torn down.
There are examples of ahimsa in the stories of Indian saints, even recent ones.
In the movie “Fierce Grace,” Ram Dass talks about his experience with his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji, whom he met in India in 1967:
“When Maharaji was near me, I was bathed in love. And because he knew everything about me, that was like I was forgiven. I think prior to that I had a lot of things in my past I didn’t want anybody to know. And I always felt that if they knew, they wouldn’t love me. He knew. And he loved me.”
Here’s another Neem Karoli Baba student, Larry Brilliant:
“I can’t explain who he was. I can almost begin to understand how he loved everybody. He was a saint. That was his job. Saints are supposed to love everybody. That isn’t what so staggered me. What staggered me is not that he loved everybody, but that when I was sitting in front of him, I loved everybody. That was the hardest thing for me to understand, how he could so totally transform the spirit in people who were with him.”
Maybe that’s too much to ask of a teacher in the modern West. But it’s a description of possibility, and it’s a state of yoga to which we may all aspire. Ahimsa.
Teachers and Teachings: