This is my third and final installment on Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam Books: 1999) Anyone who wants to embrace yoga in its fullest manifestation should (must!?) read it. There, I said it. I would not recommend it for a novice. The reader should have a few years of regular practice and have a working knowledge of yoga’s fundamentals, its history and philosophy. The book wet my appetite for digging deeper into yoga: my daily practice, my lab work in classes, my explorations in meditation and my intellectual engagement, in other words, the whole shebang. I feel that there is so much more that will be opened up to me with acceptance, patience and persistence, and it might come after a second reading. I’d give this book five stars on Amazon.
A trained observer of the human condition and a compelling storyteller, Cope combines his own life experience with those of other people who took up yoga and saw it change their lives, and throws in scientific research, philosophical scholarship and the theory of chakras for the bargain. It also provides an excellent look at how yoga is evolving in American culture, both the points of tension/friction and the synergy. Cope provide wise commentary and eye-opening insight into the human condition — you can see why he changed the names of the people he chronicled.
I had originally thought that the book focused on the Kripalu Center’s transition from a guru-focused institution to a more egalitarian, self-sustaining and more American organization. But only 15 pages (out of 330 pages) actually address the “scandal” of Amrit Desai resigning from the center because of sexual liaisons he had with disciples and the upheaval it brought to the people who had followed him. Cope really does not go into all the details so a full account will have to be found elsewhere. So the “crisis” only plays a minor role in the narrative, though it does give a distinctly different perspective to look at a yoga-centered residence (a kind of mega-studio/monastery, if your will) going through changes and it does influence Cope’s own perception because he has gone through this test by fire. By the way, Amrit Desai is still teaching in Florida, and has launched a CD on yoga nidra. No mention of his years in Kripalu.