Interview with a Guru


One of the persistent themes we’ve addressed on yogamontreal since beginning in 2002 is eclectic practice: the approach to yoga that goes to many teachers, many different systems. I recently had the opportunity to interview Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the guru who heads the vast Art of Living Foundation, a worldwide organization teaching yoga, breathing exercises, meditation and other practices. Part of the interview dealt with this issue, as well as the question of “what is a guru?”

Q. Eclecticism in hatha yoga. One of the tendencies we’ve seen in the yoga community in North America is a great splintering; so that teachers often take a very eclectic approach to their training, working with many teachers and inspirations, and offering their students a personal blend of the many traditions they have learned from. What encouragement or advice would you offer these eclectic yogis?

A. There are some advantages of this, and some disadvantages as well. First they are not fanatical, they are open-minded, and they like to experiment to bring the best to their students. This is very good, it is welcome. On the other hand, it can become very frivolous, there is no authenticity and depth in a particular system. That might get lost. So they need to see that the tradition is kept in its purity, that the knowledge is maintained intact as it has been passed on for ages from antiquity. One thing is often asked: should we use modern gadgets that help people. That is also fine, but someone has to find the balance between the mixing of many things at the same time preserving the traditional purity as well, the essence of it.

Q. Do you have any words of consolation – or indeed, explanation — for them about the systems of yoga like Art of Living that do not allow their practices to be taught in such a manner?

A. At Art of Living we have the Sudarshan Krijya, which needs a particular type of training. We have teacher training, which takes 21 days. Anyone who does the training is free to go around and teach. But take the whole course , because there is a pattern. As for the Sri Sri yoga classes, there are no impediments to anyone.

Q. The guru role. What is the difference between a guru and other people?

A. The word guide in English comes from the Sanskrit word guru . Guide, guidance, everything comes from guru . We need to demystify guru. In India, it’s very common, like father/mother/guru, is a very normal thing to have. You have one teacher, your music guru, and you have a guru for your economics, and when you take spiritual guidance you call it your spiritual guru or sadguru. It’s a very common thing. Whether you acknowledge someone with the title guru or not, if you’re taking guidance they automatically become guru. So this is a role that we see in every realm.

Q. Thank you.

A. Can I offer you some sweet?