Years ago in a yoga class the teacher said something like “When I can’t figure out what to do I just ask myself ‘what would John Friend do?’” She seemed pretty sane, but I couldn’t stop the big flashing warning lights from going off in my head. What is it about yoga that turns perfectly rational human beings into guru-worshippers? You’d think that, what with the long and lurid history of guru debacles, we’d wise up and change our ways.
Then again, I remember as a young student how good it felt to believe wholeheartedly that my teachers lived a perfected existence and would never let me down — would love me forever and ever till death do us part. Isn’t this what Ram Dass found in Maharaji? And the Beatles found in Maharishi? So what gives? Is giving your whole self to someone else the secret to transformation? And if you don’t, are you missing out, will the path not work?
We absolutely do not need a single figurehead to support our spiritual evolution. Instead, the way toward transformation can be a journey guided by sangha, a community of like-minded seekers. In a sangha, members support each other and together manifest dharma, a shared purpose that is unique to each group. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community. A community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”
As I sit in the empty space created by the departure of students after our season’s 300-hour yoga teacher training, I can feel the way that each student has shaped me, this place, and each other. I have been witness to countless instances of magic happening, of the path working. As a result of working with many sanghas, and after practicing in my own yogi-cave for many years, I can feel how much more readily magic happens in a group, how much more powerfully we connect with our dharma when there is a shared vision and collective intention.
Because of the lessons I learned as a student, I work ceaselessly as a teacher to ensure that my students hold onto their power. I regularly remind the sangha that it is their own tapas that fuels transformation, that it is the combined energy of a group of people working with shared intentionality that creates a force field ripe for manifesting magic. And then, magic does happen.
NPR recently offered a snippet about crowd wisdom, and it reminded me of sangha wisdom. (see the end of this article for a snippet, and the link to the full piece is http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/04/02/297839429/-so-you-think-youre-smarter-than-a-cia-agent)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with an emphasis on community and sangha rather than on a single guru we will be less likely to fill in that “what would ________ do?” phrase with any name other than our own. I write this in honor of each person who has been a part of a PYC sangha and shared their tapas here. Together we create magic. Einstein said, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is…” I am blessed to find myself always surrounded by people who live as if everything is a miracle.
In endless gratitude,
From Alix Spiegel on NPR:
“The wisdom of crowds is a concept first discovered by the British statistician Francis Galton in 1906.
Galton was at a fair where about 800 people had tried to guess the weight of a dead ox in a competition. After the prize was awarded, Galton collected all the guesses so he could figure out how far off the mark the average guess was.
It turned out that most of the guesses were really bad — way too high or way too low. But when Galton averaged them together, he was shocked:
The dead ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The crowd’s average: 1,197.
Finding The True Signal
“There’s a lot of noise, a lot of statistical random variation,” Tetlock said. “But it’s random variation around a signal, a true signal, and when you add all of the random variation on each side of the true signal together, you get closer to the true signal.”
In other words, there are errors on every side of the mark, but there is a truth at the center that people are responding to, and if you average a large number of predictions together, the errors will end up canceling each other out, and you are left with a more accurate guess.
That is the wisdom of the crowd.”