Use of ancient Rituals like Sweat Lodges in modern Times - 5 Aug 11

05 Aug 2011  Wiesbaden, Germany

Category: Guru

Swami Balendu

I came across some news about a modern American Guru, James Ray, who had performed sweat lodge retreats for spiritually interested people. In one of those retreats however, three people died. He was accused and convicted of negligent homicide.

Of course I don’t believe that this man is a murderer. He did not have any criminal intention but he was probably looking for the money that he gets through such a retreat. He had 56 participants in that retreat and each of them paid 10000 US-Dollar. They were in a sweat lodge which was obviously too small and then too hot for these three people who died. This is why he was charged: he was responsible for the people at his retreat and he did not take care of them, seeing that he can earn more if more people come. I have seen in other, similar events that people got sick or fell unconscious in sweat lodges.

On such an occasion I was asked once what my opinion is about sweat lodges. I personally have never been to a sweat lodge and have not made this experience. I know however what it is and I know that it is an ancient ritual of the Native Americans in the USA which has become more and more popular in the spiritual scene and all over the world. I know some similar rituals of tribal times and I do have an opinion in participating in those rituals.

Imagine the time in which all those rituals were invented. People were living in tribes, they were living close to nature, with heat and coldness as it came through the year. It was hundreds or even thousands of years ago. How can we compare ourselves to them? One thing is that physically we are not in the same condition. You live in your multi-story, air-conditioned apartment, you are not in nature usually but then you decide to go into a sweat lodge. It can of course be dangerous to your health. This however is only a point on the side.

I don’t see why we need to copy those rituals. These are old and ancient practices which are nice if they are preserved by the true offspring of those tribal people. In former times, the shamans of the tribes were performing them and today it could be their great-grandsons. But why do we need to imitate them? Why do we need to pretend to be who we are not? We are not Native American Indians, we don’t live in tribes. Most of us don’t have any connection to those times, so why do we copy them? Why do you wear feathers and leather, dressed up as a Native American if you are not? I know that it is a big business for some people. If they dress up in this way and make a show out of it, they can attract more people. Why do you want to be someone who you are not? Only to attract attention and money? Then you are not yourself.

People ask us sometimes why we wear the clothes that we are wearing. I always answer, if I wore jeans and t-shirt I would not be myself! I don’t change my dress for showing off. It is what I normally wear in my daily life, wherever I am. It is a part of my culture, a part of me and it feels right to me. It is comfortable and simply natural for me. I don’t want you to imitate my dress, I want you to be yourself! In the same way, if you do any ritual, I ask you to do it with your heart and honesty. Don’t just do it out of fascination but see the deeper sense behind it and ask yourself if that corresponds with who you are. Don’t stick to any ritual just because some scripture, religion, guru or master told you to. Feel it yourself and you will know what it right.

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Tags:: Guru, Religion, Rituals, Death, Identity, Tradition, Culture

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Posted By Swami Balendu

Swami Balendu

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Comments

I agree that it is important for someone to truly understand an ancient ritual before participating in it. You have to know the full context and history of that ritual in order to truly connect with it. It's not like you can isolate one element of an entire culture and bring it into modern use without the consideration of it's background and influences. But with that said, if someone really is interested in pursuing an old ritual and has understood it's meaning, then they should do it if they'd like to. But as with any ritual, ancient or not, we must be mindful of our well-being-- as in, never push yourself beyond your limits. Respect your body, mind, and soul in any ritual or practice.

Reply By Emily on October 24, 2011 01:59


We wonder ourselves being Native American

Reply By Thomas Ann on August 12, 2011 11:52


I understand what you are telling. But alas - I really had to swallow a bit - what about my doing yoga, which has absolutely no tradition in my family and in my country?

Reply By Stefan F. Schmid on August 12, 2011 11:12


Reply To your Comment

It is not really about traditions in your family what I meant to say. If yoga is something that feels good to you, with which you feel connected, it is good and right for you. Don't go into yoga because of a fascination, a guru or a similar reason that has nothing to do with you and your inside. Of course we should always be open to things that are not known to us right now and which our parents or grandparents didn't do. I just do not like it when people do rituals without understanding the meaning, because it is in fashion or because someone told them to. So don't stop your yoga if it is right for you :) Much love

By Swami Balendu on August 12, 2011

That is so true that these ceremonies must be seen in the full contexts of their cultures of origin. You can't pick such a practice out of an ancient tradition and expect modern people to relate and respond to it in the same way. This was just a money making scheme for this new age charlatan. I hope people will learn from this to have more common sense when considering participation in such things.

Reply By Deniz on August 05, 2011 11:01


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