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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 26 New Delhi June 18, 2016

The Moksha Factory Unrevealed

Saturday 18 June 2016

by Garima Mani Tripathi

Until a few years ago, Baba Ramdev and his Patanjali Yogpeeth were primarily into propa-gating and popularising yoga as a household practice. In the process, he gave a new lease of life to yoga, an ancient Indian method of physical discipline having meditative and spiritual elements. The Yogpeeth was hardly into any business and was limited to producing herbal and organic products for household require-ments. However, in the last few years, Patanjali’s business turnover has increased manifold and today it is selling most items consumed in households on a daily basis. Suddenly, the Patanjali group is more of a business house than a Yoga school meant to popularise yoga.

When Baba Ramdev started popularising yoga through his morning TV shows and camps in different parts of the country, yoga was being touted not only as a remedy for many day-to-day lifestyle diseases, but also as a means towards an end, that is, liberation from all kinds of sufferings. In the classical Indian philosophical text, yoga is perceived as seeking a harmonious union of body and mind for perfection. Ancient Indian philosopher Patanjali, in his book Yoga Sutra, propagated Astang yoga that is about control over body, senses and mind. As per Astang yoga, the stages of liberation is from Yama (meaning abstention and five vows) through niyam (internal and external purification) to asana (discipline of body with right posture) and finally to pranayam (control of breath like inhalation, retention and exhalation).

However, Baba Ramdev and his school’s emphasis is only on pranayam which is the fourth stage since it is very easy to practice. The objective could have been to make yoga popular among masses through the most practicable form without having to give up other comforts as emphasised in other stages. Therefore, the first three stages are never taught to the masses that Gandhiji practised in his daily life like adherence to vows like truth, non-violence, non-stealing, celibacy and giving up completely on avarice or insatiable greed for riches. Most intriguingly, the next four stages of pratyahara (control of senses), dharana (intermediate level of meditation), dhyana (higher form of meditation), and samadhi (highest form of meditation where external world is broken and leads to liberation) are never discussed in preaching yoga as a popular discourse.

There is, therefore, a methodological and philo-sophical impurity in the contemporary preaching of yoga. Ramdev and company are selling only one stage of yoga that is pranayam as the ultimate and only form of liberation or Kaivalya. Philosopher Patanjali must be turning in his grave over omission of other seven stages. Clearly enough, the yoga that is being dished out to us is half-baked and not comprehensive since omission of other stages will not enable the body and mind to be in complete sync with each other and attain liberation. The essence of the first three stages of Astang Yoga is to prepare the body through a disciplined way of life and then indulge in a higher stage like pranayam. In order to meet this criticism, Ramdev’s school has now proposed a hybrid version of yoga wherein all the stages would be taught in a one- -and-a-half hour module! It is debatable if this metamorphosis of yoga to suit the comfort-prone people will make any sense. The funnier part is that even out of this half-baked yoga delicacy, most people gather still less and do only their kind of yoga based on their selective learning. Visit any public park in the morning and evening and you will find people of all ages inhaling and exhaling in various modes! Kapalbharti pranayam is the core of asana that is touted to cure many diseases like heart disease, kidney problem, liver problem, hair fall, eye sight, and even cancer. Medically, evidences are yet to support such claims. Also, many ladies and gentlemen practising kapalbharti follow a lifestyle which is contrary to the various stages of Astang yoga—they follow a sedate lifestyle thinking that merely following tit-bits of pranayam would cure them of all their earthly diseases and enable them to wriggle out of all kinds of sufferings and seek perfection as enunciated in the ancient Indian philosophical tradition!

Ramdev’s school is indulging in another flaw: rather than going to higher form of yoga that can help them attain liberation, the yoga practitioners are being encouraged to purchase branded products from its in-house production houses than from well-entrenched Indian and foreign companies selling the same. Enjoy, even children are spoilt for a choice: they have a desi and original choice of juice, maggi, pasta, ketchup, and choco-flakes! However, none of the product description are backed by scientific evidences. For example, the sale of youvan churna is being promoted under the pretext that it enables old men to feel young and increases their sperm count. But there are no scientific evidences furnished as support. Similarly, Patanjali’s claim of kesh kanti oil giving relief from splitting, greying hair, hairfall are not substantiated with clinical evidences.

At the end of the day, it is not philosophy but market economics that dictates churning out of these households consumerist goods on a mass business scale. Rather than concentrating on the initial choice of popularising yoga, the sheer indulgence towards the production of consu-merist goods is bound to raise many an eyebrow. Are these schools really yoga schools or moksha factory promoting their own brands? Probably, the only thing left for these schools is to sell nectar (amrit) and a guided tour package to heaven!

Dr Garima Mani Tripathi is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Mata Sundri College for Women, University of Delhi.