Rosen’s interview with another great yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein, is as relevant today as when it took place in 1997.
Feuerstein’s responses apply to most any teaching situation.
THE ROLE OF A YOGA TEACHER
Richard Rosen: How do you understand the role of the yoga teacher in the yoga community and in the
larger society? What are the responsibilities that the teacher has to the people around him or her?
Georg Feuerstein: It’s a huge responsibility, huge. I think if people fully understood that they would be far
more careful in choosing to become a teacher. A teacher is not a guru. A guru has a responsibility
that’s incomprehensible, because he’s not just responsible for this one lifetime. They take on
things that affect their own being. Teachers do that to a small degree but they take on an
obligation for communicating wisdom that’s very old. It should be preserved in it’s full integrity.
This means they have to be continuous learners.
The teacher who has stopped learning is no longer a teacher. It’s impossible to teach without continuing to learn….
There has to be enthusiasm for communicating the genuine teachings, and delight in their growth. If that’s not there, you’re not a teacher either. The whole process has to be one of which we are all moving toward a greater understanding, a greater expression of our inner capacities, and greater delight. If that’s not there, you’re in the wrong business. There has to be a commitment to the tradition, which means you have to keep yourself informed of the tradition. Not just learning in the sense that I now know how to do this asana better, but also a learning in terms of really studying.
Always emphasize study.
I’m a scholar, but study is very much part of the yogic tradition. It’s been in classical yoga since ancient times. How were the teachings communicated? Through study of the original texts. There’s no way to explain anything unless
you study. This has to be continued.
Teachers have to talk with one another. Forget about competition.
What’s the point? If teachers work together not only would their individual practices thrive, but they would also promote the entire movement. The old saying, “Strength in unity.” Right now, it’s a kaleidoscope that doesn’t
hang together. It’s sad to see. In India, even though each ashram has its approach, there was a general sense of we are engaged in something very powerful and profound, and there was a kind of respect. On the whole you could say, “There is this ashram up the road and there’s a great teacher there, if you want to go there, go there. If you don’t belong here, that’s fine, go up the road.” But here is much more, “How many more students can I get?” This is an infringement of
ahimsa. It’s a harmful thing to be that competitive.
As a teacher you also have the responsibility of embodying the things you talk about.
RR: You have responsibility to the other members of the yoga community, not only students, but
GF: Everyone. The whole movement. I think right now because the teachers only see their own little acre, they don’t look to the neighbor, they also don’t see the movement as a whole; therefore very few teachers that I know of are concerned about what is happening with the yoga tradition in the Western world, where is it going? The answer is, it’s not going to go anywhere without direction. Where is the direction coming from? Right now it’s unfolding wildly, and
that’s maybe appropriate at this stage, but I think enough people are beginning to ask, where could it go? People are asking, how should we train teachers? There’s too many teachers out there who don’t know what they’re doing, both in the exercises, which is in itself criminal, because you can do damage to people, but also they don’t know the teaching. When I say, have you heard of Patanjali’s sutra, they say, what’s that? Then it means they’re not yoga teachers. So
there has to be preparation for the job, not just a weekend, or a video.
In professional terms, you have to have qualifications, or you’re menace.
Looking at the larger picture, there also has to be a deep love for people, and a deep love for this tradition.
And then things can galvanize in a different way.
If more yoga teachers lived the ideals of the tradition which they avow, they would come together
more, they would share more, and they would create the kind of culture that would be supportive
to the tradition….
Living in this realm, which is a very flawed realm, those who have woken up to a degree have no
option, we have to struggle out, we have to free ourselves from the flawed nature of this world,
and we do it by purifying ourselves, getting clarity in our own being, finding more light, finding
more joy, and then communicating that as best we can to others.
That should be the real task of the yoga teacher, not what you pass on as postures and breath control and all that.
That’s the real communication, because that’s what people want–when you nail them down, sooner or later they
will admit that–they’re suffering, yes, they don’t know why they’re suffering, but we want to be
free of this suffering, and that’s why we’re here. Even these silly postures we do, we’re really looking for something deeper, and I think to give them a chance to come to that insight, is the challenge of the teacher.
Like this vision of everybody’s our mother . . . because we’ve lived so many lives together,
we’ve all been mothers to each other. So if it’s your mother, how can you let your mother suffer,
Your heart goes out, and you say, “Ah, I give these postures, but I wish I could tell you that there is more!”
And wait patiently.