Yoga, the Dalai Lama and Jury Duty

I am sure that all of you would agree that there is no better way to spend your day than in any one of the “Jury Assembly Rooms” scattered across the jurisdictions of our fine nation. It’s been six years since I last served jury duty and I’ve missed it dearly.


The chairs…uncomfortable.

The coffee…hot, bitter and with a horrible after taste.

The air…stale.

The people around me…absolutely strange.

My time…generally wasted.

With the uncomfortable setting, the unnatural gathering of humans who do not talk to one another but spend all day together and the foreboding sense that this REALLY is my civic duty I started thinking about spiritual awakening.

After all, why not?

No, I was not prompted to think of transcendence and a relationship with the divine because of the exquisite combination of day old M&M cookies with putrid decaf available thanks to my very own jury donation fund.

Instead, it was the Yoga + magazine that I found at the internet table.

Flipping through the magazine, I noted the esoteric language, the posed smiles and the overwhelming whiteness of the yogis. To be honest, I have a stereotypical vision of what a yogi should look like and it is not of a middle aged Anglo-American male. I picture a brown skinned native Indian with deep set brown eyes, white paint in two lines across his forehead, a burnt orange wrap on, leis piled on his neck and some piercings to boot. That’s not what I found in Yoga + today at jury duty.

Page after page of the magazine encouraged me to learn more about yoga and its many dimensions. From work-time yoga relief for your lower back to neti pot sinus clearing and the holistic cure for ADHD I read about Western Yoga in all its complexity. My favorite part? The frequent references to Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. In one Yoga + magazine there were at least seven different references to religions other than forms of Hinduism that propose yogic enlightenment. The best reference was saved for last; in the “Bulletin” section of the magazine one of the editors bubbled over with excitement as he described hearing the Dalai Lama at a recent conference.

Did I miss something?

When did the Dalai Lama and Western Yoga have anything to do with each other?

A lot actually.

Perusing a Larry King interview with the Dalai Lama a couple years back I noted how the Dalai Lama was looking to combine yoga and Buddhism; two things that have no strong historical associations, but that both grew out of a basic Hindu understanding of the universe.

The Dalai Lama is often described as a Western guru and less of a spiritual leader of Eastern individuals. Indeed, the Dalai Lama can throw together yogic, Hindu, Christian, naturalist and oh yeah, Buddhist mantras together into one paragraph and never bat an eye. The Dalai Lama’s amalgamist approach to religion showcases modern Western bricolage and the desire to find peace, spiritual enlightenment and respite in an ever more chaotic, busy and frayed world.

Benjamin E. Zeller in a recent “Sightings” report commented on the “Bricolage of LOST” when he stated that the famed television show represented the “continuing proclivity for combinativeness in American religious culture.”

America is a melting pot of cultures and with those cultures comes their concomitant philosophies and religions. While we enjoy Tex-Mex food, Japanese Curry or Italian American BLT sandwiches we also take pleasure in combining religious practices and teachings for the benefit of our lives.

But is it really to our benefit? Does combining religious traditions really help? How do non-syncretic religious leaders feel about this? Is it just another way for people to make money (I mean, these Western Gurus are charging serious bucks for “Yoga Retreats”)?

I understand the journey and appreciate the quest (Acts 17:27ff), but I question whether or not a merger of various religious traditions actually leads to spiritual enlightenment, the possession of truth or the relief of our various ills like ADHD, back pain or the tedious boredom of civic duty lived out a in a jury assembly room.


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Filed under Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age

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