Does Yoga Tell Us to be Non Judgmental?

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Shiva Rea is not new to dealing with haters. In 2011, she received a huge amount of critique for her “trance dance” at an Indian yoga festival, partly for the way she was moving and partly for the way she was dressed. In a deeply conservative culture, Shiva seemed to flaunt Western sexuality.

In searching for the date of this event, I Googled “Shiva Rea criticism,” and I got my fair share of hits. This Spring, I was one of Shiva’s critics, when the world of infertile women spoke out against her faux pregnancy announcement on April Fools Day. After Shiva expressed understanding and regret, she deleted that post. Most recently, she received backlash after posting a rant against Buti Yoga. This post has also apparently been removed from her Facebook. But, it wasn’t removed before Bizzie Gold, founder of Buti Yoga, had a chance to respond.

I believe both Shiva and Bizzie made fair points, but this issue I took was with what many of the commenters (aka haters, because the comments were not constructive) wrote on Shiva’s Facebook wall. One said, “I thought yogis weren’t supposed to be judgmental!”

And when I read that, I thought, “Hm, I can’t actually think of any yogic text that prescribes non judgment.” The more I thought, the more I felt that Viveka – discernment and good judgment – was instructed far more often than non judgment. So I dug in to research. Does yoga tell us to be non judgmental?

I found a lot of interpretations explaining how yoga could be applied to help us be less judgmental; concepts like non harmfulness – which is plainly laid out in the Sutras – could translate into less judgment. I found that a lot of people experienced less judgmental feelings through their practice. This, to me, was the practice of compassion and loving kindness, which are actually Buddhist philosophies that do not come from the yoga lineage.

The closest I can come to finding any passages about non judgment is Yoga Sutra 1.33:

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

In this case, the prescription is disregard rather than non judgment; they are two different things.

On the other hand, I did find quite a lot instructing me to be a good judge. The Sutras lay out a path to determine “right knowledge.” The Bhagavad Gita lays out a path to condemn and ultimately kill the wicked. Routinely I’m called to be a good judge of the many possible paths in order to find the right one. And, certainly, these texts believe there is a right path.

I remember learning about non judgment as a child; it is the 11th Commandment, and it appears at least 40 times that I can find in the Bible. Christian theology names God as the ultimate judge. Yogic philosophy does not.

This falls into the category of, “Sounds true.” Sure, it seems like yogis should be non judgmental. The popular image of yogis is as loving hippies, accepting of all forms and philosophies, but the popular image isn’t always the core truth.

I, of course, don’t think there is harm in being less judgmental to one another. I could practice a whole helluva lot more disregard. But there is some harm in being inclusive and non judgmental to the point of being flighty, uncommitted, and non resolute.

There is also harm in mashing up popular psychology and Christian theology and calling it yoga. These days, it seems like we lean toward a “sounds true” approach to yoga in general. And, for the most part, we think whatever “sounds good” or “sounds nice” sounds true about the discipline.

Do some research, learn about yoga’s roots, and discover for yourself that it is not always nice. Remember, there is a difference between nice and kind. One has value, the other simply sounds like it has value.

PS: Want to learn more about what yoga really says? Join us for our philosophy and history immersion this January. We’re diving right in.