Following on from Part 1 of the interview with Yogabeats founder David Sye, here’s part 2, where we’re sat just after dinner, talking about why he doesn’t give a shit for yoga, being threatened with a lynching at an anti-fur event and the future of the collective consciousness.
Can you talk me through the initiative of bringing 20+ Palestinians to complete their yoga training in Fuerteventura and how it came about?
When the trouble kicked off with ISIS in Libya, I was due to go to the West Bank the following May. Having been through 5 years of war in Bosnia, although this sounds incredibly irrational, my life was saved multiple times based on having a bad feeling. I got a feeling of dread every time I got that bad feeling when near a disaster situation. Once I went into a supermarket to buy some yoghurt with a feeling of dread, went outside, then back in, then out. Suddenly, the supermarket blew up. Those things happen to me multiple times. And when this thing happened in Libya with the Coptic Christians being beheaded, I had a very bad feeling about going in. And I didn’t know what to do. It felt wrong to do and it was endangering lives. It wasn’t based on a cerebral or clever thought, it was a feeling and I still feel really bad about it.
I was ready to get on a plane to India and I suddenly received this email from a yoga centre in Fuerteventura saying that they’ve been following me for years and they’d be honoured if they ever want to use it, free of charge, with food and everything included, come. I wrote immediately to Sarah Stephen and told her to say yes to this woman, whoever she is, and we’ll try to get the Palestinians there. And it sounded like a crazy, crazy idea. Completely ridiculous, but it felt good. All I can say, without it sounding like it’s some sort of business acumen whatsoever, the feeling of good is always created by reality. People from all over the world were sending money with all sorts of fundraising. Ordinary people who knew nothing of the Palestinians or of the conflict. You suddenly realize how kind people are. There was an option to become a charity at one point with Yogabeats – I never wanted to ever become a charity, and never will because they’re duplicitous, they are flawed, they take money and go somewhere else with it. What we do is completely visible. It goes straight to where it’s needed and it’s useful. Crowdfunding creates community whereas charities create doubt now because they abscond with the funds.
As for me, I’m an ordinary yogi and I want to remain as such. As a community, I think our world will become right anyway, through other communities around the world in places like Bratislava, Vienna, Lugano, Napoli, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, just giving money. So finally, we raised the funds for this trip. I think it all came a month before we actually planned to go. We got a letter from within the yoga world saying ‘what you’re doing is all wrong, you should create a charity and do it this way..’ Sarah was very upset by this and I said to her, ‘Honestly, I believe in this – life is friendly towards something towards it and recognizes something that is not friendly towards it.’ I recognize something that is in accord to itself. I also said that if we didn’t raise the money, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t give a shit about what this woman is saying. God bless her, but I couldn’t care that much. I’m just a yogi. But in the end the money came! We raised it all by the skin of our teeth to come to Fuerteventura and I think that this is a very extraordinary event. I’m not sure what it will mean; I’m not sure what it will create. But I think what is interesting about this is that we’re playing another game: terror, fear and the battle between the ruling powers.
I also think that it’s a war for hearts and minds.
Yes. That’s right. At the end of the day, all empires fall and what are left are enclaves of love and connection because we’re social apes – that’s what we are. It finally comes down to that. And the Palestinians are family. If we try to eliminate people by saying ‘this person or these people are demonic’, we are destroying our own DNA. They are our own DNA, our family. We have to understand and acknowledge that as a species and I simply think that it’s primitive. Where we are right now as a race, I think we’re very, very primitive.
I don’t think we’ve changed much as a race in the last few thousand years.
You’re absolutely right; we’re still the same. I think our cleanliness products have changed, maybe we smell a little better (laughs), but I think we’re more or less the same! Even with our technology, we don’t use it for much other than just sending inane messages to each other. And we’re addicted to violence and self-aggrandizing. Everything’s a selfie and that’s why war is the most popular form of entertainment and done in the open whilst lovemaking is done in private. That’s disgusting. We need to change it the other way round. This is just the scene of the Christians being thrown into the lions by the Romans – it’s entertainment. I think we have to do what we can do. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think we need to be with our family. And for me, the Palestinians are my family. So that’s it.
Do you feel like you’re walking a tightrope with regards to looking for peace and speaking up for peace while amongst Palestinians?
I believe that peace is a state that can exist anywhere; I believe that it’s insidious and I believe the Hundred Monkey effect theory that if you are good to yourself, you’ll generally be good to others and that kind of spreads. It becomes contagious. That’s why we pump out fear everywhere because people don’t want that. The ruling powers want us to stay in fear because we can be controlled this way. For thousands of years, we’ve been controlled by religion and politics. That is an absolutely historical fact. Everybody can see that’s an old chestnut we’ve been roasting for thousands of years. And I believe that’s why yogis, have been living in caves, which are a safe distance from other people, because they spoke about love. Love is dangerous for people who want to control other people. I don’t know whether it will spread or not, but the experience that I am having now with my family here, which are the Palestinians, is exquisite. If it’ll spread, fine. If it doesn’t I will feel good it was created this one time. That’s it.
The other day we were talking about catalysts. You raised money to put this event on, were given this retreat, so it must be a resounding success. Do you see it that way?
No. I don’t know what success means. I really fell in love with Rabindranath Tagore, he’s my great hero and through him I knew about Che Guevara and all the rest of them. Tagore didn’t do anything for an outcome. There’s no end game for them and there’s none for me. I’m not doing this with any ambition. I love the Palestinians. I’m seriously impressed with their tolerance and intelligence.
I’m a Jew and was born as one. And for me it’s a disgrace to see how some people of my culture are behaving. That after what they went through with the Holocaust, they haven’t woken up to the fact that another one has been created. I do remember them beating and kicking the shit out of me because I was the only Jew at school and when I became a senior boy, I kicked the shit out of everybody else! Then I woke up and I saw what’s done unto you, is done unto others. It takes a level of intelligence and awareness. That’s why the Dalai Lama is a patron saint of Yogabeats conflicts. Maybe it means they’ll get rid of me, I don’t know. I don’t care and I couldn’t give a shit.
Is that because they see you as a radical?
Yes. I want to be able to sit with this lovely lady here (points to Palestinian yoga participant Lana, sat with us during the interview) and the people that have come from the West Bank. If I don’t have their respect, then I don’t have respect for myself. This is my point: these people are seriously wonderful human beings. Like most people on this planet are wonderful and we say ‘no, not these people, only these people’. We have to wake up to a family of humankind if we are to survive as a species. I really, really think it’s way overdue. I can’t believe we’re sitting here with our serious intelligence and we can’t come to a decision to protect and have peace! It’s ridiculous! But the fear is so insidious in our society, and I think this is how we’re waking up. Love is the only thing that will wake us up. It will. Also, not being frightened. I always teach my students to take fear and put it in the bin. Can you replace fear with love? Sure you can. But most of the time we’re worried about this or that – get rid of your worry! Aids patients who have a number of days to live for example, what’s interesting is that they get past all this, they say they’ll do what they always dreamed of – and something wonderful starts to happen to them. So this is the point – every person who’s using fear right now on the planet to put people in place, catch them before they’re leaving this life. Catch them when they’re hanging between two worlds and you will see a difference, I promise you.
Do you remember reading an article about the five biggest regrets of people as they’re sat on their deathbed? What did you think of it?
It’s extraordinary. I think that’s the truth of it. The bottom line is, how are you when you’re facing the end of your life? How do you feel at the end of your life? There’s a little quiz at the end of your life and it says this: how did I live my life? And did I enjoy it? Did I make others and myself happy? How do I stand and do I feel good about me? Most people can’t answer these questions. Most people leave this world saying ‘Oh fuck, is that it?’ And they’re gone, that’s it, it’s over. Finished. Khalas (Arabic word for finished)! Living properly now, if this is the last day that I live, then I did something wonderful for me! I’m not doing this for Palestinians; I’m not such an egomaniac to think that my work could improve their lives. It’s for me, not for them. If it makes them feel good then I’m very happy, but it’s for me. I end the war in me. I’m not trying to end war in Palestine and Israel; I’m ending the war in me. Every human being’s at war and I think if we can end the war in ourselves, then we can truly live. Gandhi ended the war in him, that’s all he did. I studied all the greats, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Gandhi, Satre – they were all people I wanted to study because they understood that the conflict is in us. It’s there wherever we go quite frankly. That’s it. So anybody who’s reading this interview thinking I have some cure for the conflict in the Middle East, I only have a cure for the conflict within me. That’s it, nothing else!
Do you believe we’re the sum total of our own past experiences where everything you accumulate in your life all just comes out in one splurge. Does yoga do that for you personally?
(Pauses) No. Doing this sort of (humanitarian) work does. Altruistic work does. I’m addicted to it. I’m addicted to wanting to help people because I want to help myself. I actually don’t give a shit about yoga and I don’t care about it. Yoga is a tool for me and what I care about is evolution – my own self-evolution. If I can evolve myself as a human being, the better I feel. And yoga is a tool to help me do it. So I’m not addicted to yoga.
What a startling revelation! (Laughs)
I love clubbing and I still do it as a DJ and a singer. Yoga is just one thing. I don’t eat one food all the time, which would be so boring. What I’m about is finding out how to feel good about myself? How do I feel when I’m on my own, when it’s just me and no one else? David is happy with David. Like yourself for instance – you’re happy when Yousif is happy. This is real yoga and real union. That’s what yoga means – I find union when I have a glass of wine. That’s what makes me happy. Real yoga comes just at the end of your life when you really have to face yourself – so face yourself now. The practice of yoga from the Tibetans says don’t wait before you die, die before you die. So I live like a dead man.
So what happens to us when we die then?
If you’ve got another week I can tell you. But if you concentrate on this life, there are epiphanies and experiences of joy that are so enjoyable that you won’t want to experience another life. Because it’s true – heaven is a place on earth. This is nirvana. This is the Promised Land. But most of us are in hell. My teacher Clara Buck, who was a great master was a Hungarian, said ‘Darling, do you know why they climb a mountain?’ I said ‘no, I have no idea why they climb a mountain.’ She said, ‘as you go up a mountain, the path gets narrower. It gets narrower and narrower. The possibility of death becomes greater and greater. Why? Because when death becomes close you feel alive!’
She also said ‘all the people in the valley with their insurance policies and their nice little houses and cars, they’re dead. They’ve got everything and they’re dead. You start to live when you take a little risk for yourself.’ For me, doing the work that I do is a risk. I’m not earning any money out of it. Is there any danger involved? Not as much as there is for the Palestinians. There’s always danger involved and there’s always a risk somewhere. I like and am addicted to risk!
Clara changed my entire life. My father made me go and see this woman, he was so stubborn and said I must see her. She was a little blue-haired woman in Finchley Road and led me past all these little painted eggs in her house and she asked me what I wanted to drink. I told her I didn’t drink, but then she replied, ‘but you’re Russian.’ I said ‘that doesn’t mean I drink.’ She said, ‘I’m going to have a Pálinka, will you have me drink alone?’ So I had one, and we’re talking about something here that’s 100% proof, very strong liquor. I thought to do the Russian thing and just knock it back in one shot. She said, ‘No darling, slowly, slowly. Taste the pears of Hungary’ I thought this woman was clinically insane! She needs locking up forever! (All three of us are creasing with laughter at the table). It tastes like petrol! It’s practically ethanol! I couldn’t feel the end of my nose, as it was completely numb!
After that, she said to me ‘Darling, you didn’t come here to be a yogi. You came to the planet to be a human being. Don’t miss that because you’re a scaredy cat. Everything in this life is there for you to experience. Don’t hold back. The only toxicity is unconsciousness.’ And I thought wow. She was an amazing woman and I stayed with her until the end of my life. She was very, very special.
Clara died about ten years ago and was 93. She went backpacking when she was 90 in South America. On her 90th birthday, she complained to me saying, ‘Oh, I’m so annoyed with my friends, those stupid old ladies don’t want to come with me to South America.’ I said, ‘Clara, they’re 87 and 85. You’re 90.’ She said, ‘Baby, it’s just a number. Nine-zero.’ So she went backpacking by herself and she had been learning Spanish for about five years before that. She said if you want to be alive, don’t burn the candle at one end, burn them at both ends! Wow, she was on fire!
She was such a big inspiration for me and told me to do things my way. Clara was also best friends with Vanda Scaravelli and a lot of other big names in the yoga world.
Lana: Were you angry when she died?
No. Sad, but not angry. Her ghost is always with me. And I honour her with the work I’m doing now with you guys. If you’d met her, you would have never let her go. All my work with Yogabeats is in the memory of Clara Buck.
She would say the unsayable, do the undoable. She couldn’t give a shit what people thought of her. We went to an anti-fur campaign in 1993 and I was working for The Big Chill at the time who invited me. Clara asked me if she could come with me, pleading even. When I came to collect her, she was wearing a mink bolero! She’s wearing fur to an anti-fur campaign. My mouth was wide open, I didn’t know what to say! So we get to the event, links arms with me and we walk through the big door. You know those Western films when a bad guy walks into a saloon and everyone stops what they’re doing? That’s what happened with us and everyone looked at Clara! So like a chicken I said, ‘I’ll go and get the drinks.’ (Laughter) I stayed at the bar for a long time because I don’t like the sight of blood! I don’t want to be lynched with her, she can get attacked on her own (Even more laughter ensues). When I came back, she stood there with all the people around her, telling jokes! They were all laughing! They must have thought she was wearing fake fur!But that’s what I loved about Clara – she didn’t care what people thought of her. She never apologized, she was what she was.
We call life, the radical subjective. It’s radical and it’s subject.
Why do you think people nowadays are so easy to offend?
Because it’s a cover-up. It’s a nice way of talking. Look, I was working with paraplegics in wheelchairs. They said that when people speak to them – this was new at the time – they’re physically challenged. So I went up to one guy in a wheelchair and said it must be hard for being so physically challenged, and he said ‘look mate, I’m not physically challenged, I’m a cripple. We’re all cripples here, we’re not challenged. This isn’t a challenge, this is the way I was born.’ So I started to laugh because it’s true – this new speak is fake. It’s double-speak. I think speaking the truth is very refreshing. It doesn’t mean because they nice word, that they don’t feel the same racism. Or those that say they love gay people, they hate them. You can see it in their eyes that they don’t like them at all. They’re frightened of them.
Look, I think the way our world is – and it’s the same in my yoga class – if I have 30 people with me and one person doesn’t like it, in the past I would have ignored the 29 people for that one person. Now I don’t give a damn. A lot of people don’t like me. Like I told you, I don’t give a shit about yoga. I also love painting, singing, dancing. The point is, art is for the artist. Miles Davis was banned from playing in Chicago for a year. Why? Because he blew behind the beat. He had a lazy trumpet and they told him he couldn’t play like that. You blow on or before the beat. He didn’t give a damn. I’m not saying I’m Miles Davis, I’m just saying you have to live in the truth of your own self. That’s what I teach people – to be more of who they are.
To sound like The X-Files, do you think the truth is out there or is it within us?
It’s not out there. It’s in you. What is your truth – speak it. I may not like someone and maybe I have to be with him or her. I way I will do it is to start a conversation. I’ll make myself say something. The reason I don’t like them is because there’s something in me that I don’t like. You see violence in you, because there’s violence outside. So the question for a yogi is, what is it in me that I’m seeing in the exterior world? How is the interior affecting the exterior? Our whole lives are about the outer world. What they say on Facebook cares. I don’t care.
I was giving a lecture about the quantum and metaphysics and this guy got up and said ‘well, I don’t agree with that.’ So I said, ‘I don’t care that you don’t agree. I don’t care at all.’ I’m just telling you what I know from me. And if I’m wrong, I will die happy this way.’
Wasn’t it Martin Luther King that said he was proud to be maladjusted and that the future belonged to those who were that way inclined?
Yeah. And he got it from another preacher before him! This guy was extraordinary. He said things as they were and told it like it is!
What do you think of Malcolm X and his early philosophy of violent uprising, by any means necessary?
It’s a reaction. It’s totally relatable to the Palestinian cause. Look at British, they kicked everybody’s ass for 2000 years and had an empire. They didn’t get it by being nice and sweet, they were violent. It was organized violence for 2000 years. They can sit there and talk about the English government and world politics, but they achieved their position through the slave triangle, selling human beings.
It’s ironic how the sun never set on the British Empire, but 300 Vikings in a boat once invaded Britain from Iceland.
Yes, absolutely. Every nation on this planet has propelled itself into being through violence. We look down on African nations fighting amongst themselves, but we’re basically taking over their resources. This is imperialism at its worst. This is what De Gaulle spoke about at the turn of the last century. We’re basically playing the same old game. If you really want to know my belief systems, I don’t believe bureaucracy is a fine system. But I like oligarchies – these are basically taking ten people in their eighties and nineties, bring them together as a council – they don’t have long – they’ve been known to have been good people in their lives. Bring all the issues of a nation to that council. If you bring those issues to young people, go figure it’s going to get out of hand. Go figure. That’s because they’re young and ambitious. The human ego is rampant. If democracy was any good, the Greeks would be using it and it would still be working.
What do you think of the Catholic Church? I read a stat that in 2013; they had an income of $100bn. – that’s more than most corporations.
I think everybody I waking up to the business behind government and religion. The payoffs and the ethics are not all that is being trotted out. The chickens are coming home to roost. I’m really about the Internet and that the truth is being spread. The truth cannot be limited. It’s very powerful. I think we’ve got something that’s very useful. The fact that we flash pornography left, right and centre is a pretty useless thing to do. But on the other hand, there’s some pretty good stuff that’s going on. And that’s vital. I have the greatest hope that humanity will come through this. I just think that it takes a little time. If you look throughout history, there have always been these epiphanies and things have to hit rock bottom before they get better. It’s like a Lemmings principle – you’re just about to throw yourself off a cliff before you think, ‘just a minute.’ We have those resources to pull ourselves out of the mire. I believe in the intelligence of the human spirit. We wouldn’t have thrown up Mother Teresa’s and Dalai Lama’s if we were that bad! Those people would not exist.
Do you think the human spirit and rising of the level of consciousness can really happen? Or is it theoretical?
I totally believe it can happen. But I’m a long-haired tattooed yogic hippie, so nobody is going to believe me, except for the fact that if you look at the zeitgeist of human endeavors, even science is now pointing that life doesn’t end when the human body does. If it was published, the exposure it would lend to some people running our world would be extraordinary. Things can only change through love, which is the thing that is most feared by governments. Intelligence exists as a byproduct of love. That’s what love is. The cellular level of protoplasm is a high vibration and it creates the welfare emotion and a reaction in a human being, which is reacting at an optimal level. So if the body is feeling good, you start feeling that way. Timothy Leary said ‘Turn up, tune in and drop out. ‘ you tune in to the vibration of life and you turn on to it, you get high from it and guess what? You drop out of the bullshit. You’re not in it any more. That’s what bohemian society is – I’ve been a bohemian all my life and I’ve been around them because they’re the freethinkers, they were non-linear. They went beyond straight lines and curves. Jackson Pollock and Miles Davis were people that said ‘let’s try something else.’ Most people who played with pioneers of jazz, even now fuck up. But once in a while, something is found. The whole of music steps forward and sees how it works.
Finally, I can’t help but notice all the tattoos all over your body. What do they all symbolize? I notice a lot of Hindu influence there.
Yeah, I suppose there’s a bit of that in there. Every time I survived death in Bosnia I’d get one done. So I had a lot tattooed as I survived a lot of times. Every time a building blew up or a bullet flew past my face, I’d think ‘Fuck, I’m alive!’, so I had another one done. I had the Shiva one on my back done and it took 11 hours. Mishko who was a tattooist for the Serbian army, did it for me and said I could be their walking advert, while I was being inked for those 11 hours straight while I was drinking beer and smoking cigars. It kind of carried on from there really. But it started from my daughter being taken away from me at the age of six and having one done on my arm, which is a triple clef sign. She’s all grown up now and she’s wonderful, but back then it was a big trauma in my life. The lotus flower has its root in stinking mud, but it produces a beautiful flower. We go through stuff that stinks in our lives, to find a diamond in the rough you have to smash through a great, big hammer. I think the human race goes through exactly the same thing. It’s not just confined to the Dalai Lama (Laughs). We have to live ruthlessly, without fear, otherwise if you live with fear, everybody is going to control you, so I teach people to liberate themselves. Jah Rastafari, just live.
For more information on future events and fundraisers, visit the Yogabeats website.