Friday, August 6, 2010

Those Darn Philosophers! (Part 1)

I was a thoughtful and troubled kid. Weighty thoughts occurred to me before my time, around the age of 13 or 14, before I was emotionally mature enough to deal with them. I was happy to have an uncle who was interested in my speculations. No one else particularly seemed to be. Naturally, I idolized the man.

But then my idol came crashing down, as idols are wont to do. One day, I proudly showed him a short essay I had written that raised all sorts of questions about God. The questions—but not my tentative answers—were bordering on atheism or at least agnosticism. My miniature essay was important to me, because I was having conceptual difficulties with Christianity and was fishing for answers.

When my uncle handed the essay back to me, all he said was: “It is important to believe in God” or words to that effect. I was utterly deflated. I had hoped for an intelligent conversation, but I realized I had touched on a subject that he could regard only through the lens of his personal beliefs. He did not have the ability to stand back and consider, as he had done on many other occasions.

Our relationship was never the same afterward. I learned two important lessons from this experience. First, don’t erect pedestals to anyone or anything. (Of course, in the course of my life I have forgotten this lesson a few times, but my recovery rate has greatly improved.) Second, don’t expect people to always understand you or agree with you. Working through my uncle’s emotional reaction and my own, I felt at the time that I was in the process of becoming a philosopher.

Philosophers are people who have ideas with which rarely anyone else agrees. Or so I figured. What was more important was to philosophize, to reflect on life. I wholeheartedly agreed with Socrates that the uninspected life is not worth living. It took me many years, however, before I understood what that might mean. In any case, in those early days I acquired a healthy respect for philosophers and the business of philosophy. Much later on, once I encountered the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, I learned that my respect entailed an element of idolization, which I had to jettison.

No philosophy—not even Yoga’s various thought constructions—can be final or complete. And that’s a thought construction too! The conceptual realm is makeshift. Either you go mad realizing this, as happened to Nietzsche, or you develop a whopping sense of humor. I thought it better to go for the latter option.

More to come . . .

Georg Feuerstein
(pronounced Geh-org Foyer-stine)


  1. Thanks for this, Geh-org! It reminds me of the time I wrote an essay on, what I would now perhaps refer to as a contemplation of the suchness of a leaf, and handed it into my Freshman English teacher. Not having the vocabulary at the time to express the inexpressible, it most likely was fairly incomprehensible!

    He promptly asked if I were on drugs, and made me see the Guidance Counselor! AND, I hasten to add, this was at least a year or so BEFORE I smoked my first joint!!!

    One more reason to value sangha, a community of folk sharing the same values and language -- or at the very least, a sense of humor!

    frank jude

  2. Georg, I love your blog! I've always been a seeker and was fortunate to have a grandfather who was deeply spiritual and who always encouraged me to keep my mind open, my heart sweet and to passionately love life no matter what. I discovered yoga at 16 and at some point along the journey I realized my yoga is my life - and this is how I teach it to my students. I'm pretty sure I learned the 2nd lesson you mentioned but the 1st one is still a work in progress although I'm much better ;-) Look forward to hearing more of your stories...

  3. Enjoyed this very much, Georg. Looking forward to Part 2. Welcome to the blogosphere!

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Thank you so much for this blog and for your brilliant research into the history of Yoga! We were introduced to you in a Yoga Teacher Training (watching the amazing documentary entitled "Yoga Unveiled") and I think our entire group felt the way I do... we were riveted by your commentary and I cannot thank you enough for your your obvious passion for what you do and for sharing it so joyfully... Finding this blog (and your books) is a wonderful way to continue to acquire knowledge into the fascinating subject and discipline that is Yoga!