Sep '08 Thoughts

Pop Yoga: When Doggs (and pigs) Fly

By Russell Case

On the way back from Zhong Shan Bei Rou in TienMu, Taiwan, I found a shoe store. It carried Snoop Dog’s new line of gym shoe -- “The Pony” -- for his Snoop Biscuitz brand. The ad itself was quite striking. Snoop was seated in lotus and had eight arms waiving around him. Many of them held shoes, but one held a ball and another a golden chalice. Well, this is an image ripe for deconstruction.What does the chalice represent? For Christians, the Chalice represents the Cup of Christ. It is the goblet that Jesus drank from the night of the last supper when he revealed to his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified. He instructed them to drink wine from this cup and that the wine would be his blood. They would be saved from damnation if they accepted the miracle of his resurrection as God. They call this communion. To unify or yoke one’s self with God. This of course is cognate with Yoga.

Throughout the centuries there has remained the legend of the Chalice. The Knights Templar reportedly held the chalice for centuries, protecting its miraculous powers. In Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade (1989) this is the object Indiana is searching for. So Snoop tells us here that we will be saved if they buy his shoe.

He also holds a football. Of course this is just a simple metaphor for sport in general. And the high concept of the advertisement tells us what the shoe is for. It is good to play with. However, the icon of the chalice is too surreal and begs further wild interpretation. The football is also an egg. Without apology the court is an exact replica of the womb. The many scores of men like spermatozoa wave like mad to put the egg into the red zone. The pitch (or field) represents the dharmakshetra. This is the field of Dharma, of work.

Perhaps Snoop Dogg is telling us that to achieve full union with God on the field of Dharma, you should follow his example. He says (in this image) ‘Sit as I do in the seat of the lotus with a straight back. Keep your mind firm on your practice. You will develop siddhis (powers) like the many arms waving behind me and your goals will be fruitful'.

Arjuna is the prince and principle protagonist of the Mahabharata—India’s giant epic poem. On the battlefield he is faced with the decision to kill his unrighteous half brothers (the Kauravas) as well as some of his righteous teachers who side with them; or to not fight at all as his yogic path would necessitate. But, then the Kaurava’s lack of morality would enslave the populous and cause anarchy. What to do, What to do?

Krishna, his angelic charioteer, tells him to fight on as it is his holy dharma as prince to defend his people. Arjuna, like Clint Eastwood, is good at killing and should act with confidence. And, anyway this is Sankya. Everything here on the Dharmakshetra and the Kurukshetra is Prakriti. Everything on the field of self inquiry and the field of action is just matter. It is all temporary. It will all die anyway. The Purusha remains the watcher and unmoved by change. "Don’t worry so much," says Krishna.

If you like, Krishna says practice Karma Yoga because Arjuna’s feelings are quite deep on this issue and the yoga of action will help him with his feelings. Do good work. Work without any sort of self-consciousness towards the end result. Work becomes an aesthetic art. And, Yoga is the supreme art of work. As all work starts with the body as the vehicle for action. Actions practiced with the utmost care and concern become graceful. (Patanjali says Stirasukamasanam. The beautifully crafted diamond body.) We start to make art. An art (and all art is thus) born of tapas (of work).

In Hollywood, there have been many borrowings of one culture to another. Just like Snoop here borrows first from Peanuts and Charles Schultz he is borrowing again from Brahma. He is the Hindu god of creation- one of the three faces of reality. (These also include Vishnu the preserver and Kali-Shiv the destroyer.) The battlefield of Dharma is concerned with the conservation of the environment and the destruction of that which destabilizes society. And battlefields make for good tv.

One of the most influential film makers on Hollywood has been Akira Kurosawa. His film Seven Samurai (1954) was famously remade into the Spaghetti Western The Magnificent Seven (1960) starring Steve McQueen. Dharma (or right action) is the principle line of interest in this story. What should men do when confronted with evil? Even though they are principally selfish, bigoted, and greedy, seven mercenaries sacrificed themselves to save the people of a little village.

Kurosawa also wrote the film and directed Yojimbo (1961) which was remade into the film A Fistful of Dollars (1964) starring Clint Eastwood. In 2006, Monier Williams noted that the story is startling in its similarities to the Ramayana- the other great Indian Epic story concerning Dharma.

It describes how an ethical human being and a leader of men conducts himself at all times, facing situations with equanimity. At yet another level, it is a story of the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, incarnating as a human this time, combating evil, restoring justice in the land, fully aware of his divinity and yet resorting to using his superhuman powers only when absolutely necessary. (Gosh! That sounds like Michael Jordan!)

Eastwood plays a man with no name who rides into a town torn by internecine warfare. One family led by Ramon has kidnapped the daughter of another family. The man with no name is offered money to save her. In a duel, Ramon shoots the man with no name. He falls in the dust. But he stands up and under his poncho is a steel breastplate. He then slaughters everyone in the Ramon village. And so, like Vishnu, Clint Eastwood has a supernatural intelligence that he only reveals at the last minute. This is similar to Ravanna the demon king of Lanka who kidnapped Sati. And Rama hires Hanuman the monkey god to save her. To demonstrate his loyalty Hanuman ripped open his heart to reveal the sacred image of Rama and Sita inside.

Later in his life, Clint Eastwood directed his own film Unforgiven (1992) which shows the truth of Sankya. His wife is dead. Everything is passing, but you continue on with your duty. He plays Bill Munny. “Bill” is a retired assassin (or samurai) now a pig farmer. He is approached by an old friend who attempts to pull him back to his old wicked ways of killing for money. He hears the story of a raped and battered woman who wants to pay for justice. Gene Hackman, playing the police officer “Little Bill”, is cruel and unwilling to help these women. ("They are just prostitutes," he says.) When the two find the evil men, only Bill is willing to shoot them. Only he is willing to put aside his feelings for duty. And this is Dharma. But now Little Bill has killed his friend (played by Morgan Freeman). Little Bill will not allow vigilante justice. Society must be stable! And so (big) Bill goes on a rampage and shoots every standing member of the establishment. Using the genre of the Spaghetti Western, Mr. Eastwood demonstrates that a society should value protecting people (citizens or strangers, black or white, male or female) in spite of an autocratic authority figure.

As I walked away from the shoe store, my wife Sally and I were confronted by the giant billboard of Kobe Bryant. I’m not sure if Kobe practices any kind of yoga. He’s been in LA long enough I’m sure. (Michael Jordan certainly did when he was playing basketball.) The interesting thing about Kobe is that he matured in a time when images of Jordan were instantaneously available. He didn’t just learn to play basketball in practice on the court, but also in real video. Kobe has an uncanny knack for walking, jumping, and giving interviews just like Michael Jordan. His shot even has the same flat arc. And now he’s even going bald the same way. Say what you want about Kobe’s selfish egomaniacal behavior. His virtual study of his hero has gained results. He mind, body, and emotions are wired to succeed at playing ball. Though Michael practiced discretion as a holy order, Kobe is not so safe. And he is not loved the same. There are no commercials of Kobe that say “I want to be like Mike.”

That was a Gatorade commercial of course. But it is a profound coincidence that Michael’s main source of income is the Nike Shoe Company. Nike in Greek mythology is an attendant on Jupiter embodying Winged Victory. The great headless statue of Nike of Samothrace flies through the air (just like Mike) at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. And it is a fake. You see, again, life imitates art.

Russell Case learned Ashtanga Yoga from Suddha Wiexler while attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. While finishing his graduate degree in painting in NY he met Guy Donahaye. Due to the idiosyncrasies of that relationship he married an English woman and was there after forced to work in Asia as an economic migrant. He continues to write on the Jewish history of yoga today in Taipei, Taiwan.

Photos courtesy Russell Case.

1 comment:

louisclaps said...

I think Russell Case is cute :) I saw his videos in Youtube :)