Lineage and Yoga Wars

Recently a storm of protest arose in our community against Kausthub Desikachar who has taken legal action to copy right the word Vinyoga for his yoga business around the world. Kausthub is the son of T. K. V. Desikachar and grandson of the great Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. You may like to read Leslie Kaminoff’s post on Facebook “I teach Viniyoga… So Sue me” here is my response…

I thank Leslie Kaminoff for this discriminating and uncompromising stand. The exact words that Desikachar spoke to me were: "Anyone who is a sincere student of my father who does their best to pass Yoga on to others is in the guru parampara (lineage) of my father." There is a tradition in India of passing teachings through biological family lines, but by no means is the parampara confined to that. 

Parampara is a beautiful cultural phenomena that can be used or misused. In its right form, it is only about actual relationship: mutual affection and respect between actual people—teachers and students, and student and student—both in linear historic lines, and also spread out in present time among affinity groups of people with affection and goodwill for each other. Its misuse is the idea that someone of special social status, or authority—the "knower"—“holds” the knowledge that you don’t have yet. And that you have to come and get it from that person, as if you don’t have it.

As the Krishnamurtis (J. and U.G.) pointed out, this is only a mechanism of power, “the social dynamic of disempowerment” and is the problem itself that prevents Yoga. Sadly, civilization has been built upon this model. It is a patriarchal power structure that arose using some of the principles of Vedic life, but perverting them. Seeking for future ideals with arbitrary methods sanctioned by social authorities in this way is the denial of life’s wonder already arising. It has created dreadful damage to human life.

Prior to the arising of such patriarchy, God, deity, spouse and body—in all its intrinsic relationships and harmony with the universe—were known to be all equal and arising in and as the one reality. Intimate actual relationship with all was the way of Vedic life. And Yoga is the practical means of intimate connection to the already given reality arising as all of us.

I know that Desikachar deeply understood this point, especially from his valued friendships with Jiddu and U.G. Krishnamurti. Desikachar was fond of quoting J. Krishnamurti’s advice to him: “Don’t become one more monkey.” He did not want the teaching that his father had brought forth from the Great Tradition to be turned into a style or brand, but rather be made universally available, fitted to the needs of all people everywhere. I am certain his request  in 2003 for his students to not use the word Viniyoga as a style name came from his concern that his father’s Yoga was being limited to a style, which thereby legitimized all the other styles that were in the main being taught as patriarchal imposition. I was deeply impressed by Desikachar’s uncompromising stand in a world where to make money and influence people this is what you do—create the patriarchy by saying, “I’ve got the goods. Come and get it. And pay me for it.” I believe Desikachar’s approach has a sweeter and longer-term influence as we gradually correct the toxicity of power structures.

So, I think the attempt to say "I am THE lineage holder" is a cultural fault. It is very hard for teachers and their students even to see what the problem is here, because it is so ingrained in our thought structures. Or even that there is an alternative means for the transmission of Yoga and self-empowerment. As we move along, trying to bring actual Yoga to the world, I think we must understand this discussion and represent our teachers with clarity— Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and T.K.V Desikachar, and all those before them and all who follow them. Rather than turn the gift we have received into a mechanism of power that exploits the gullibility of the public and makes them feel less than what they are.

There are very good historic reasons in the history of Desikachar’s life why the tradition tended to be known as Viniyoga. It is a beautiful word from the Yogasutra, meaning “according to the situation” in which Yoga is given and seemed appropriate at the time. Gary and Mirka Kraftsow in their scholarship have done wonderful and huge work over decades to bring detailed knowledge through to the public. As a business man, Kausthub must be seeing the power of this well-established brand and wants a piece of the action. Or perhaps he wants all the action. I feel his action is going against the spirit of this lineage and his father’s wishes and specific request. Most of all it misses the point of what the guru parampara actually is. We are all in one big family lineage of those who love this teaching and the teachers. That could include Kausthub, the legitimate grandson! I am hoping he too will come to understand that the Guru is no more than a friend and no less than a friend of all, in the beautiful way Desikachar showed us.