Reading Guide for “The Goddess Pose” by Michelle Goldberg
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion
Indra Devi’s story is a Forrest Gump-”ian” tale of a woman who found herself in the middle of some of the biggest historical and cultural events of the 20th century. What were some of your favorite highlights from her story? What surprised you the most, given the knowledge (if any) that you had of Indra Devi going into reading this book?
Goldberg writes that in her early years,“no one would have guessed that Eugenia, alternately insecure and headstrong, would one day be admired as a spiritual leader.” What experiences in her life fed both her insecurities and stubborn nature? Do you think that while they are paradoxical attributes, both ultimately paved the way for her development as a leader and a teacher?
Devi adapts early on in her days in Russia by “…learning a lesson that would serve her for the rest of her long life: how to survive her world’s collapse by reinventing herself.” (29) Discuss the different “incarnations” of the protagonist: Eugenia, Jane and Indra.
Discuss Theosophy’s origins and influences. How did this philosophy pave the way for the broader Western embrace of Eastern philosophy? Discuss it’s effect on Devi’s life and teachings.
Goldberg writes that Devi’s mother Sasha was the “..great elusive love of her life…” Discuss this relationship and how it shaped Devi’s path.
There where many parts of the book where Eugenia/Devi found herself in tumultuous political climates where there were other people seeking refuge in Eastern spiritual and religious traditions. Discuss.
Devi was not at a loss for lovers in her life. However, “…through yoga she was convinced it was possible to love without ever experiencing the anguish of loss or the constriction of dependency.” (226) Discuss the impact of her relationships on her life and philosophy of non-attachment.
Her practice of non-attachment ultimately led to her less than kind treatment of her 2nd husband, Knauer, at the time of his last illness. Discuss this in relation to Goldberg’s analysis that not “many Americans or Europeans…are truly interested in the systematic dissolution of the ego that is a goal of Hindu and Buddhist disciplines. Instead, in a strange sort of inversion, New Age moments have often used Eastern spiritual techniques to strengthen individualism.” (233)
Goldberg tells us that Devi’s story in part, “reveals how the discipline (of yoga) has been shaped by a long dialogue among India, Europe, and America.” (8) There is a lot of talk about cultural appropriation in the yoga community these days. Some of the events of the book tell us that in many ways there was an Eastern desire to share yoga with the West, and also and assimilation of Western practices in the teachings of yoga in East. Discuss the why and how of this, and Devi’s role in the “dialogue.”
Devi’s later years were spent searching for another teacher, and she found both Sai Baba and Premananda. However, while she still upheld some of their teachings, both fell from grace. Discuss her relationships with her gurus and the arc of her spiritual quest. There is not much known about how she dealt with the knowledge of sexual abuse other than turning her eye. Do you think this stemmed from her practice of non-attachment, or were there other reasons?
Our current cultures perception of the history of yoga is often misunderstood. Explore Devi’s story as a historical text on the modernization of yoga. Discuss Goldberg’s statement that,”…Indeed, to adapt to yoga to modern needs is even to be part of a tradition of sorts. Today’s Western yoginis may not really be heiresses to Patanjali, but they are very much part of a lineage that goes back to Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, and Indra Devi.” (276)