Written by Prem Prakash. To find out more about Prem, please click here.
When my first book was about to be published, I was very excited. I fancied myself a successful author and a soon-to-be popular yoga teacher. Even more exhilarating, Yoga Journal was dedicating a two-page spread to the book, complete with an enthusiastic review. Not only was I destined to become famous, I might also get rich on the deal. How lucky could one guy get!
While pondering all this good fortune, the fog of my self-admiration must have broken for a moment because the following thought arose in my mind: “Would I be this happy if the book was being published anonymously and I wasn’t being paid?” For someone who had ascended to the throne of self-congratulation, this consideration was a deluge of unpleasantness. I was not very happy to suddenly have to confront this challenging notion.
Painfully, I was forced to attend to the fact that I was more interested in being applauded as a teacher than I was in sharing the yoga teachings. My focus had somehow shifted from what I had learned from the sages to how large of a stage I could prance upon. Thanks to this introspection, by the time the book and big review came out, I wasn’t able to parade myself as some big shot.
When we actively and sincerely pursue the spiritual path, we learn from the sages that selfless service is essential. This means the willingness to serve others without concern for appreciation or recognition. In addition, we are called upon to love and respect others without need for reciprocity. To be successful in this world means to gain more than we are forced to give. To give without getting is unfortunately seen as the mark of a fool, of a loser.
At the Green Mountain School of Yoga, we believe in selfless service, “love tennis.” One hits the ball of love and respect over the net without anxiety for the result. In this world of ours, based on getting, it is rare that the ball is returned. In fact, some even feel threatened when love and respect are directed their way. Others try to ignore the volley, and still others react suspiciously, “Hey, youse hittin’ that ball at me?”
In spite of our years of education and our increasingly sophisticated gadgets we still don’t have the skill sets to play a good game of love tennis. Our hurry, worry, fear and self-doubt get in the way. We withdraw from intimacy and then wonder why we feel so lonely and frightened.
To be a yogi means to love others more than they will likely love you back. It means to serve others even in the face of mistrust.
Many people labor through their lives in occupations they do not enjoy, waiting for the luxury of retirement. Yogis do not wait for retirement to live their passion. When passion is in the exchange of shakti, divine energy, every moment is a chance to hit the ball. At the end of our lives, we hope we will look back and, like an incense stick completely burned away, we will have poured forth all of our fragrance into the world.
When we seek to get, we remain unhappy. Our habits of thinking of ourselves and our personal profit are deeply ingrained. But. as yogis, we uncover our true spiritual identity and realize the love and healing power inherent within.
The process of this uncovering takes place through sadhana, spiritual practice. Yoga is the science and art of spiritual practice. Sadhana is absolutely essential. Realization without sadhana would be like pearl hunting while sitting on the beach and expecting an oyster to wash up on your lap. This new way of living provides one with a single reward: the opportunity to engage in service. You will recognize how to help, how to care for your little corner of the universe. You’ll respond to your dharma, your calling.
If you would like a life of ease, pleasure, and social appreciation, I encourage you to stop your yoga practice before it is too late and your self-centered identity is ruined. The sages are not exaggerating - the path of yoga is one of selfless love, compassion, and giving. To be a yogi is to know that which is dark to the ego but light to the soul. It is to be, literally, out of your mind. This divine madness is called “pagala,” which means “crazy.” It is a divine madness that neither kings nor billionaires know. It is real, however, and found in the heart of a yogi, the fount from which love overflows.