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Modern Yoga Critique: Our Need for the Holy Fool

Allow me to introduce myself. I have many names, but for all intents and purposes, I will give you my Carnival (De Resistance) name first.

I was (and at heart, still am)…Queen Tumbalina Hoop Bubble, Empress of Play! My role in the carnival was to be a holy fool, a play master, to act the upside down to show what is right side up. I would speak in ridiculous accents, be silent and mime poking fun at people’s stiffness, and sometimes just communicate though excitement and gymnastics. My friends were named things like “Both-and-o, from the Land of Either-Or,” and you could find me in the carnival midway, standing on top of a broken TV screen, wearing wings and a dress made of flowers, and blowing bubbles. Often blowing bubbles. And, always, surrounded by children. They seemed to have a specific craving for the magical lens of spiritual truth, and they found a friend in Queen Tumbalina. One time in the midway, I felt particularly uncreative. I was surrounded by a large group of expectant youngsters, wide eyed and fidgety.

At a loss, I did what I do best and blew bubbles. One bubble grew really big and I gazed directly into it, pretending to see something. A child asked, “Tumbalina Hoop Bubble, what do you see???”

I had no idea what to say, because I didn’t see anything really—sight is so limited when we are pressured to name it.

So I did the right thing and turned the question around, acting wise and teacher-like. “Oh, I see soooo much…but what do yooouuuu seeeee?”

The little girl responded, “I see the carnival!!” And my heart leapt and dropped at once. At that time, the carnival was still new. The group that made up the carnival crew, especially the leaders, were fighting a good fight to hold a vision of our role as holy fools and teachers in a world that has gone so off track; we were trying to re-wild old scriptures and teach about our ecological responsibilities, as we were eating from dumpsters, camping on church lawns, pooping in compost toilets, and training our bodies and minds, while trying to hold our own broken hearts and communication struggles. At night, we played with fire.

But, at that moment, I saw the carnival, too! I saw the spirit of the carnival as a place of infinite possibility. I will never forget the magic I felt. The children felt it, too. The awe and wonder. That somehow we held (or I held) a fragile secret and magic, that at once was beyond all of us, though we could see into it and needed to keep it safe.

Now, in some ways I feel that same feeling with Yoga.

As a Yogi, there are moments that I feel the spirit of Yoga…in a larger sense, the spirit of the Yogic ancestors in my lineage and others. Sometimes it feels as if there is this itch that comes with the feeling of calling, inspiration, warning, and, honestly, disappointment and frustration.

While I love the variety and creativity of modern Yoga practices and I don’t think I could ever grow tired of discovery through Hatha Yoga, still what we are presenting as Yoga in modern times is mostly just the gross sheath of asana (posture). I wonder where the holy fools are in our communities to show us a mirror of how Westernized and domesticated our Yoga practice has become, while, at the same time, some of us are gripping at the traditional relationship between guru and chela (student or disciple), but looking to Indian-dressed American Yogis and Indians posing as Sadhus in India to fill that role for us, in an impersonalized way that lacks true accountability on both ends. It’s hard to think of the number of heartfelt seekers in Yoga who have no knowledge of the other five limbs of Yoga besides posture, breath, and meditation. Netflix recently provided us access to a wonderful example of the holy fool in yogic dress, who called himself Kumaré.

The documentary is also titled Kumaré, and the character is created and portrayed by the filmmaker Vikram Gandhi. He plays the role of a guru, makes up his own physical disciplines and meditation practices (some involve just chanting his name in a very breathy and hilarious way), and attracts serious devotees and some groupies. One woman even decides to leave her marriage, and, in not so subtle ways, offers herself to “Kumaré”. He reveals his true identity at the end, with results that vary in their intensity. Some of his “devotees” laugh it off, but it is clear to the viewer that they are seriously thrown, while others are so deeply hurt by the revelation that they storm out, never to speak to him again.

To me, this is not as much an example of deceit as it is an example of a high teacher, playing the holy fool (not the other way around), in order to reveal what has fallen upside down. In the case of the documentary, the devotees would rather trust a “teacher” who they don’t even know, who has basically just come into town, introducing techniques they have never heard of, that have no historical backing, than to listen to themselves and trust their own wisdom. Ultimately, in my opinion, through Vikram Gandhi revealing his true identity, he gave them that message…to look within. Some of his students really “got it” and appeared deeply thankful for the wake-up call. In the carnival, the hard truths that we were telling through trickery involved transcendence of dualistic thinking (Both-and-o is inclusive now, though she used to come from the Land of Either-Or), and using our power as caring individuals to take on poisonous food corporations like Monsanto. We let kids and adults knock down big industries with bean bags and pose in the G.M.O. freak show where they could take their picture as genetically modified foods.

Maybe we do have holy fools and are not recognizing them as such? Can you think of any egomaniac who claims to be leader/teacher, who is over the top, makes up their own design of Yoga, and has just enough street cred in the yoga world that he or she could be a holy fool, showing us the way, opposite from where they are standing?

With the spiritual mind, we can see that there is little difference between this and me as Queen Tumbalina Hoop Bubble, standing on top of a TV, surrounded by easily influenced minds. Perhaps the only difference is that of telling versus asking what the possibilities of seeing really are and a consciousness around the fact that we are playing a role, and that the role—not us—is the teacher in that context.“The fool gets to tell the truth, the hard truths that might cause trouble if anyone else tells them. The fool can get (for a while) away with telling the hardest truths just because he is a fool. He speaks in parables and paradoxes, we struggle to understand. He can speak harsh truths and we must listen because he is entertaining in his difference. We must listen because he is a misfit and cannot be held fully responsible. “Jesters use pen and words, and have the (social) context of a specific time. They operate with wit and criticize, even with cynicism, the weapon of the powerless. For instance, nowadays non-technical consultants are jesters.”

Crazy Wisdom – the Archetype of the Fool, the Clown, the Jester and the Trickster.

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