Copyright, Cultural Appropriation & Spirituality
This month’s musings came about because of the use of the word Namaste. Namaste is a Hindi word commonly said at the end of yoga class. Unfortunately, it’s also made its way onto T-shirts, mugs, mats, socks, and even catchphrases like Namaslay and Namaste Bitches.
The first part of namaste comes from "namaha," a Sanskrit verb that originally meant "to bend." According to Madhav Deshpande, a professor emeritus of Sanskrit, says, "bending is a sign of submission to authority or showing some respect to some superior entity." Over time, "namaha" went from meaning "to bend" to meaning "salutations" or "greetings." The "te" in namaste means "to you". Altogether, namaste literally means "I bow to you". It does NOT translate to "love and light" or “the divine light in me bows to the divine light within you”. In the Vedas, an ancient text, namaste mostly occurs as a salutation to a divinity as in I bend to Source.
Although it has religious roots, today, among Hindi speakers, it’s used as a simple greeting to say hello. However, there are several hundred languages spoken in India and for some Namaste isn’t even a word. I even took a continuing ed class with Prashant & Manju Joshi regarding Sanskrit to clear this up. Manju has a Masters in Sanskrit and says you can say namaste at any time. “I bow to the divinity in you” is all it means. When asked about speaking Sanskrit as culturally appropriate, they said, we want to be authentic. This is how the language comes about, from teacher to student. I do like their perspective but since I couldn’t find any consensus on whether it’s appreciation of the culture, language, and roots or appropriation, I chose not to say it. Instead, I end my classes with Aho and So be it. Aho is spoken by several Native American peoples and means “I agree”. In Hawaiian, Aho means “to breathe”. How about that? I agree to breathe!
If you don't see God in all, you don't see God at all.
Cultural appropriation, DE (Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity), pronouns, and wokeism are all terms that are commonly discussed in the context of social justice and identity politics. However, they have different meanings and implications.
Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation are two concepts that are often confused or used interchangeably. However, they have distinct meanings, and it is important to understand the difference between the two. Cultural appropriation is an interesting conversation and context dependent especially in relation to spirituality. This is a sensitive subject and there are many thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
Cultural appropriation is the act of taking or borrowing elements of one culture and using them without proper understanding or respect for the culture or history from which they originate, while cultural appreciation is the act of learning about and valuing other cultures. It is important to be aware of the potential impact of our actions on other cultures and to strive to show respect and understanding for the diverse communities around us.
This can include things like clothing, hairstyles, music, and other cultural symbols. When people from a dominant culture take elements from a marginalized culture, it can be seen as a form of oppression. This is because it often involves people from the dominant culture profiting from or making light of aspects of a culture that they do not fully understand or appreciate.
According to educator Autumn Van Diver, “Cultural appropriation can be more pointedly defined as taking intellectual property, cultural expressions, traditional knowledge, or artifacts from another culture without permission. This includes, but is not limited to dance, fashion, music, language, mythology, cuisine, and religious symbols.” Cultural appropriation can be harmful and disrespectful to the culture being appropriated because it often results in misrepresentation, stereotypes, and erasure of their history and identity.
For example, a person may wear a traditional piece of clothing from another culture with the intent of showing respect and appreciation, but if they don't know the context or the cultural significance of that clothing, it could still be considered cultural appropriation. Wearing a traditional Native American headdress/war bonnet as fashion accessories to a music festival would be considered cultural appropriation. This is because the headdress is a sacred symbol in many Native American cultures, and it is worn only by certain members of the community who have earned the right to wear it. Wearing it as a fashion statement shows a lack of understanding and respect for the cultural significance of the headdress. It’s wearing someone else’s heritage as a costume, an accessory, and it devalues their culture. Music festival goers are not the only problem, musicians and brands continue to exploit native cultures.
Saurav Dutt, the author of The Butterfly Room, which explores racism and interracial relationships within Indian society, says “cultural appropriation arises when people, anyone, takes aspects of another culture specifically to mock or disrespect them.”
If you show love and appreciation for parts of a culture, such as clothing, hairstyles, or accessories, but remain prejudiced against its people, that’s appropriation. On the other hand, if cultural appreciation is the act of learning about and valuing other cultures. This can include things like studying different traditions, learning about their customs and beliefs, and participating in cultural activities. Cultural appreciation can be a powerful tool for building bridges between different communities and promoting understanding and respect for diversity.
It is important to note that cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation are not always black and white. There are often gray areas and intent can play a role in determining whether something is considered cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation. Enjoying something doesn’t mean you are appropriating it. If you are genuinely interested in showing appreciation, then do the work to understand it.
Cultural appropriation and copyright laws are also two distinct concepts, but they can overlap in certain situations.
Cultural appropriation refers to the act of taking or using elements from a culture that is not your own without permission or understanding of their cultural significance. This can include everything from fashion and music to traditional practices and symbols.
On the other hand, international copyright laws are legal protections that allow creators of original works to have exclusive rights over their creations. This means most musical creations that are recorded are protected and musicians can control how their work is used and distributed, and they can receive compensation for their efforts. Copyright laws apply to a wide range of works, including books, music, movies, and more.
In some cases, cultural appropriation can infringe on copyright laws. For example, if a person uses a traditional piece of music or art from a particular culture without permission from the creator or copyright holder, it could be considered copyright infringement. However, not all cultural appropriation necessarily violates copyright laws.
It's worth noting that while copyright laws are designed to protect creators, they are not without controversy. Some argue that copyright laws can stifle creativity and limit access to information and cultural heritage. Additionally, cultural appropriation can also be problematic regardless of whether it violates copyright laws. It's important to approach cultural exchange with respect and understanding, and to acknowledge the histories and traditions of the cultures we are engaging with.
In his book Mind is Myth Yogi & Saint UG Krishnamurti said “my teaching, if that is the word you want to use, has no copyright. You are free to reproduce, distribute, interpret, misinterpret, distort, garble, do what you like, even claim authorship, without my consent or the permission of anybody.”
Musician Tom Kenyon writes about his thoughts regarding the issues of spirituality and copyright. Like most musicians, Tom is very generous offering his music, without charge, for personal use only. He only wants to be asked permission to use and to not alter it in any way.
Philosophically, I agree with UG’s point of view in that we are all interconnected, and we come from the ONE Creator. We are pure consciousness experiencing this meat suit (or physical vehicle) that is both matter & energy. As a collective Consciousness, nothing is ours individually, because we are all ONE. However, we live in a dualistic, material world and many people rely on their “creations” to pay their bills. And the law supports this.
As a yoga teacher, this affects us in several ways. First, using music during class constitutes a public performance. That means we are supposed to receive permission from the copyright owner and pay a licensing fee to a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). Each copyright infringement can cost up to $150,000! So, depending on how many classes you teach and how many songs you play, this can be bankrupting. You can read more on this at Yoga Alliance.
Second, we are teaching time honored practices and wisdom. Some people teach as cultural appreciation and conversely others not in the original way the tradition was intended. Either way, I think we need to be more mindful and cautious about what we do and say.
Janice Quirt writes in Things I no Longer Say in Yoga Spaces (or Anywhere) that there are language choices we can make that are sensitive and inclusive. She says it’s not just sports who’ve stolen team names from indigenous cultures (i.e. Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves), we use lots of expressions that have a negative connotation. We regularly use words like “find your tribe”, let’s take a “powwow”, “turning a blind eye”, “fall on deaf ears”, “large bodied”, “love handles”, “chicken”, “rat”, “insane”, “schizo” instead of a more direct word that we really mean. We have many words that we casually say that are judgmental, categorizing, quantifying, labeling, and triggering. It's an act of kindness to be mindful of language and use words that are inclusive.
Pronouns, Diversity, Inclusion & Equity
DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) refers to a broader movement that seeks to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in society, particularly in the workplace. It involves creating environments that respect and value differences among people and working to eliminate systemic discrimination and barriers that prevent marginalized groups from accessing opportunities and resources.
Pronouns refer to the words people use to refer to themselves or others in conversation. The use of pronouns is an important aspect of respecting gender identity and expression. People who are transgender or gender non-conforming may use pronouns that do not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Using someone's correct pronouns is a way to show respect and affirm their gender identity.
Pronouns and DEI are closely related, as the use of correct pronouns is one aspect of being inclusive and respectful of all individuals. It is becoming more common for people to use their preferred pronouns in introductions and other situations, to make sure that everyone's gender identity is acknowledged and respected. Some companies and organizations have also implemented policies for the use of preferred pronouns in the workplace. Additionally, many people advocate for the use of gender-neutral pronouns, such as "they/them," to be inclusive of nonbinary individuals.
Woke vs Awake
Wokeism is a term that is often used negatively to describe a social and political movement that advocates for greater awareness and understanding of social justice issues. Wokeism often focuses on issues of race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity, and it seeks to challenge systems of power and privilege that perpetuate discrimination and inequality. Wokeism is a broader term that encompasses a range of social and political movements including Critical Race Theory. However, CRT is a specific academic and intellectual framework that emerged from the legal field. Central to CRT is the belief that racism is not just an individual prejudice or bias, but a systemic and institutionalized problem that pervades society at all levels. I find all these studies/majors useless because they don’t provide any professional or trade skills that are necessary to succeed in life (or just pay the bills).
"Woke" and "awake" are two words that are spelled similarly but have very different meanings. "Awake" is a state of being in which a person is conscious and able to respond to their surroundings. "Woke," on the other hand, is a term that originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and has been adopted more widely to refer to a heightened awareness of social and political issues, particularly those related to race and inequality. Most people don’t know that it was originally a black term used by the enslaved population meaning to “awaken from passive acceptance of servitude”. It was a message of revolution against a government and a white supremacist society that was violently oppressive. The call to become “woke” has been a rallying cry in the black community for well over 150 years old. Today, the term has been appropriated and redefined to trivialize it. It is often used as a verb, as in "to become woke." I saw a meme definition of this adjective as: “a state of awareness only achieved by those dumb enough to find injustice in everything except their own behavior.”
I’m not trying to be judgmental, disrespectful, or insensitive to any of these complex and complicated concepts. We are a multicultural America. The USA is a melting pot of civilizations, a blending of many cultures, traditions, and beliefs. From a macrocosmic or galactic perspective, Earth has the most diverse DNA in the universe because of our star seed ancestors (yes, aliens and galactic beings). But there is an even bigger picture that is being overlooked.
It is said that wisdom lies in not seeing things but seeing through things.
Multi-dimensional beings don’t have pronouns nor need DEI representation. When you remember that you are pure beingness, aware, conscious, perfect, and completely free, your identity melts away. You are not your name, your personality, your body, or your ego. You are Divine Consciousness - awareness of the unified, collective field. I believe each of us is intelligent infinity, timeless, limitless, formless, weightless, colorless, genderless, immortal, divine, multi-dimensional cosmic beings of Source light.
There are others, like me that believe we are all ancestors of the one divine Creator. At birth, we experience amnesia and think ourselves as separate from each other and from Source. Since the fall of Atlantis, we have forgotten we are all connected to infinite Spirit. For 5,000 years, we’ve been in a coma-like state about ourselves, our origin, our reality, and true nature of the universe. We are light beings, all different sparks or rays of the Source. As multi-dimensional beings, we have had thousands of incarnations in different civilizations on this planet as I mentioned in Sept 2021 musings and in other star systems. I believe my star ancestry is from Sirius & the Pleiades, and I’ve had multiple incarnations in Atlantis, India, Peru, Ireland, Egypt, etc. My DNA results even have remnants from Punjabi and Peru. When I share what I’ve learned from these lifetimes, is it cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation?
It ultimately comes down to where your heart is. I believe that intention is a key component when talking about these difficult concepts. The universe responds to e-motion, energy in motion. As a yoga teacher and a shamanic practitioner, it’s an honor to carry the ancient traditions that both the Q’ero elders and the master yogis have shared with me. I share from my heart with sincerity and honest intention, and I trust the universe in that karma. The Andean culture says we are ready for planetary awakening and what was once protected is to be shared globally now.
Andean medicine man Puma Fredy Quispe Singona says these ancient oral traditions that have been passed down generation after generation “belong to Pachamama, Mother Earth – not to our people, our times, or our culture. They’re timeless.” He continues, “these traditions have origins and many manifestations throughout the planet. Only one of these manifestations are here in the Andes. In our culture, we don’t believe in cultural ownership, nor in ‘cultural appropriation’ of our practices. It’s like the air we breathe – it comes from Mother Earth for you, and when you give your breath back, you give it back to the Earth. You’re not taking anybody’s breath.” However, he does acknowledge and honor cultural appropriation in other parts of the world and that “some of their traditions must be protected and, in some cases, even kept secret.”
While there may be some overlap between these concepts, cultural appropriation refers to a specific harmful practice, DEI is a broader movement focused on creating more equitable and inclusive environments, pronouns are a way to respect gender identity, and wokeism is a social and political movement focused on increasing awareness and understanding of social justice issues. These are complex subjects that require us to as Tom Kenyon says, “consider more deeply the paradox of separateness and interconnectedness.” I say, let’s appreciate every single being as the infinity spark that they are.
I offer these musings to inspire inquiry, introspection, and personal insights. And what small changes can you make on a daily basis to act on this awareness?
There is only one path: yours.” We get to choose how we navigate our way through life. I will leave you with this disclaimer I read on the jacket of Alan Clements book which perfectly sums up this musing…”Under no circumstances follow anything in this book”. Aho!