When the Buddha Lead the Wicked Astray /// Reflections on Psychic Sweat and the Limits of Rejecting Doubt


As a teenager I often found myself hanging around a group of cordial Hare Krishnas* heaven-bent on converting (on a bad day) or exposing (on a good day) wayfaring youths to the path toward Krishna Consciousness. On the whole my interactions were mostly pleasant, and fancying myself a Buddhist, I spent much of this time debating HKs on the existence of God, buying books espousing Prabhupad’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, chanting the mahamantra, and eating some cray cray delicious prasad. As far as I was concerned, this was a most delightful way to engage in “alternative religions” and hone my “I see what you’re saying, but…” chops.

I remember during one of these hangouts a Krishna Conscious lad telling me that the Buddha, my chosen guide on the spiritual path, was actually a false deity, incarnated solely to lead non-believers like myself away from the path (would love a reader to forward me a link reflecting this view from a non-Rapture perspective). While I challenged this idea, I simultaneously loved its inventiveness. Seeing the Buddha as a supreme trickster leading the weak over a spiritual cliff so as to make more room for devotees sounded like such a diabolical twist! And, it stuck. Although I never bought into its premise, I thought it a rather clever take on the whole “Who is the Buddha in the Hindu pantheon” question.

What panache!

Pea*cock* wooing a pea*hen*. Never heard of a peahen.

Pea*cock* wooing a pea*hen*. Never heard of a peahen.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why this memory is coming up for me today. Perhaps it has something to do with the recent Yoga Journal snub of the working class. Perhaps I think Yoga Journal has been placed on this earth in order to lead “wayfaring” yoga consumerists into a manufactured ravine of their own making.

If I were to be completely honest, this memory is probably arising as a latent aspect of my own arrogance about “what is yoga” and “what isn’t” begins to creep to the surface. In my experience, these moments, when otherwise hidden belief patterns begin to secrete out through psychic sweat glands, are oft occurring and, for some people, oft ignored. When caught in the act, however, these beads of outgrown perspective may serve as points of entry into a better understanding of my own perpetually redesigned self.

On the sour end of the spectrum, the realization that my perspectives are not entirely angelic may cause doubt about my own grand narrative. Maybe I’m the scam I so wittily counter punch? Is my point of view even worth a damn? Perceived without condemnation, I am able to see the newly arisen insight as lacking any real consequential substance, but rather acting as a nebulous skeleton key able to unlock historic doors of perception with rusted hinges and knotty seems. In these moments I am able to recognize, even feel, the movement of ideology through and out of the body itself.

Visual response to the quesyion "Where do you feel x in your body?" emotionallyvague.com

Visual response to the question “Where do you feel x in your body?” emotionallyvague.com

Recognizing self, or identity, to be largely performative in nature (in this regard Judith Butler speaks specifically of gender), it’s not hard to imagine how this self-doubt, this questioning of the position I perceive myself to be in right now, plays an integral role in my development. And yet, were I to use Conquering Lion Yoga founder, Kelly Morris,’ Facebook updates as a guide, the ones that decry doubt as being something to rebel against, I’d find myself responding to my own personal curiosity by “wrestling it to the ground” and “keeping my mouth shut.” How unfortunate.

It is careless comments like the above that make static a life marked most profoundly by its own meandering. Elevated to level of “teaching” and the one-off soundbites come across as almost fascistic in nature. You are the bliss. Your doubt is the enemy outlier. Fight it! I think about this and quickly return to that confident devotee of Prabhupad’s Krishna, and wonder, “Is Kelly Morris the Buddha?”


  1. Linda-Sama

    speaking of YJ and yoga consumerism, you might find this interesting: “Is Attachment to Maximising Income in the West Corrupting the Buddhist/Yoga/Advaita/Mindfulness tradition?” — pp. 7-9

    British Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss (whose dharma gathering in Sarnath — am sure you know what Buddha did in Sarnath — I will have the pleasure of attending next month) weighs in on that topic.

  2. Cheers to this most thoughtful consideration. Trying to wrestle and conquer doubt is a most futile effort with counterproductive side effects. Better, as you have here, to give it full expression and sort through the paradox. Quite interesting to think of YJ as a necessary opposite to our own authenticity. Kudos.

  3. Garuda

    I go into the woods on occasion. I can hear the muse at times. It calls me back to remind me that I cannot live in the woods/weeds. I have been studying this poem this morning then I happened upon this post about ‘Still Emptiness;Speaking.

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.
    Robert Frost

  4. Dyspeptic Skeptic

    While the focus here is generally on teachers, we would be wise to examine our own roles in imbuing the status of yoga teacher into purveyors of insight. Chances are that even a Conquering Lion teacher training will not confer the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius. Quoting from Bartlett’s does not a philosopher make, though it may be a precursor to life coaching.

  5. gross

    what an inventive young HK. that is pretty hilarious. the divine trickster! all glories to the assembled vaishnavas!

  6. voxygen

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

    and Kelly Morris makes me laugh.

  7. Yoga Whelp

    I rather suspect that “self-doubt” and “self-clarity” weave together – always imperfectly – in a healthy person’s life. Constant self-doubt, and you never gain direction. Constant self-clarity and you’re an ego-driven steamroller. There are times for reflection and repose – even deep, searching self-inquiry — and times for inspired, “damn-the-torpedoes” thought and action, when too much doubt truly IS your enemy. Knowing when it’s time for one or the other is part of maturing and becoming you. I think it helps if you have some kind of faith perspective that “works” and that you regularly check your crazy shit out with elders whom you trust who can lend perspective and when necessary, call you on your bullshit, instead of enabling you. Imagine if every yogi and yogini had a wise old friend — instead of a John Friend?

  8. Bhytor The Snow Dog

    Thinking things can be a lot of fun, can’t it. Whether the thought is “The Buddha is a false deity” or “The Buddha is a trickster.” Where did the knowledge behind those thoughts come from?

  9. I think in some Vaishnava traditions, Buddha is considered to be another one of Krishna’s forms, but I suppose that could be Krishna inTrickster/Soulterminator form. Doesn’t seem worth his while.

  10. KD

    Not sure if these are the kind of links you were looking for.

    The first is a verse and commentary from Srimad Bhagavatm which would be the source of this kind of thought about Lord Buddha. The second, an essay putting it into a broader perspective which, while perhaps not to everyones liking, probably represents more accurately the Gaudiya Vaishnava angle on Lord Buddha than Krishna conscious lad you write of.



    • Thanks so much for these, kd! Perhaps you know: is the buddha-as-deceiver belief still prominent in the Vaishnava world? It’s such an interesting take.

      • KD

        I can’t speak for all of the Vaisnava Sampradayas (lineages) but my guess is that it would be. The verse linked to above (SB 1.3.24) mentions Buddha in a list of the Das Avatar (Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu). Since all Vaishnavas accept the Srimad Bhagavatam as pramana, and since they also believe that it was composed before the appearance of Buddha, the details of the verse “the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Añjanā, in the province of Gayā” I would assume, would be widely accepted by Vaishnavas as prophetic, along with the future appearence of Kalki mentioned in the following verse.

        For the record, my understanding is the the deception was a benevolent act, not “to lead non-believers like myself away from the path” or to “make more room for devotees”. Rather, the idea is that the ritualistic interpretation of the original Vedas had become so prominent that concessions, particularly that for animal slaughter, had become prominent, and the spiritual purpose was becoming lost. To rectify the situation Vishnu incarnates as Buddha who rejects the Vedas and theism while still teaching much of the Vedic concepts such as karma, reincarnation and especially compassion. Later Shiva incarnates as Shankaracharya to bring people back to the Vedas but with a non-theistic, or in a sense a buddhistic interpretation. Eventually the Bhakti movement represented by Ramanuja and others would complete the picture with a theistic presentation based on the Vedas, Upanishads, etc.


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