Cheap Yoga: Is That What Donation Yoga is?
Even in not so ancient times, the passing of yogic knowledge from teacher to student was a reverential affair. The guru watched over their students with paternal love, while the student venerated their guru, ever-grateful for the immeasurable gifts of greater understanding that they were being given. …
In sharing this gift of knowledge, the guru did not seek fame or personal fortune. The student, according to his or her own means, paid what ever they could afford. Kings and nobles paid gold and jewels, while peasants gave pennies. The guru did not see one as more giving than the other.
This donation was referred to as Guru Dakshina, which means “giving out of respect,” a “love offering” of utmost appreciation by the student to their teacher.
Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, a medical doctor and yoga master says,
“Dakshina is an important component of the guru chela (teacher-student) relationship, as well as any doctor patient relationship in Indian traditions. It is not a payment, but an offering which signifies the student’s or patient’s gratitude for the invaluable teachings or treatment they have received.”
The idea of giving a donation out of love and respect is one that we in the West have not grown up with. It is a concept that is in many ways, foreign to our sensibilities. We demand to know what the “market value” is of everything. If someone merely asks for a donation for their services, the tendency, whether in the back of our minds or readily at the front, may be to judge that their work simply must not be worth much.
This furrow in our subconscious thinking is an unfortunate by-product of modern capitalist culture, one that has lead to the extreme overvaluation of trite material goods and marginal services, and the dwindling appreciation for the bedrock of civilized culture: our teachers, our nurses, our public servants, and our mothers!
What would happen to the gurus of old – the revered ones who lead people from the darkness of their delusions into the light of eternal wisdom – if they were here today? Would their “value” be immeasurable in the eyes of modern people? Or would they struggle to even pay the electric bill?
Teaching Yoga by Dakshina – Is it Practical Today?
While in India, I have heard some Westerner yoga students flippantly talk about the idea that “yoga is supposed to be something that is taught by donation,” and balk at institutions and teachers that are affixing firm prices to their courses and programs.
Then I have seen these same students, when presented with the opportunity to pay by donation, reach for the minimum amount that they feel they can get away with giving! With one breath, speaking of “tradition,” and the very next displaying a vulgar disregard for it, taking it simply as an opportunity to get cheap yoga!
In a world that seems increasingly intent on getting more and more, while at the same time giving less and less, is it possible for a yoga teacher to carry on today by dakshina alone?
Even in India, where dakshina was an integral feature of the traditional culture, the diminishing trend in “thankful giving” has caused even the most humble teachers and simple institutions to struggle to keep pace with their rising costs of day to day life. As a result of so many who view donation simply as “cheap yoga,” most yoga teachers and Institutions, whether in India or abroad, now acknowledge the practical impossibility of surviving today solely by donation.
At Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, Dr. Ananda Bhavanani confirms this unfortunate reality, saying that “Over the years we have been forced to devise a system of minimum dakshina amounts.”
In trying to maintain the best of both worlds, some charge nominal fees, enough to cover their very basic operational costs, and then allow students the opportunity to donate further.
Those donations, however, are usually inconsistent. There are rare students who do have a deep appreciation for the immense gift that they have received from their teacher. Dr. Ananda says that
“[these people also] turn out to be the best yoga students, as they have a sense of dharma and responsibility that is not clouded by the egotistical attitude of ‘I don’t owe anyone anything’.”
But this concept of “indebtedness,” or “immense gratitude,” is lost upon most students today, with dakshina often being seen as a nuisance, or at best, a “bonus for the teacher” that the student can give, if they so choose. Dr. Ananda explains that some of Swami Gitananda’s students used to tell him,
“’You have given me so much that I don’t know how I can ever repay you,’ which made it perplexing indeed when Swamiji pointed out that ‘after expressing this, they never even tried to pay anything!’”
With these sentiments, the modern yoga teacher may be tempted to just scrap the whole idea of donations for a more sustainable economic model. But as Dr. Ananda pointed out earlier, dakshina is an important part of the teacher-student relationship, and a tradition that is an important part of the study and practice of yoga as well.
In the next issue of The Yoga News, Part 2 of this article will dispel the attitude of “cheap yoga” and explore what makes the concept of dakshina an integral part of yoga, and how yoga teachers, particularly in these challenging economic times, can make use of this concept in a way that is good for their students, and also feasible for their yoga businesses.