World Needs Sustainable Peace
June 21 is Now ‘World Yoga Day’!
After Indian Prime Minister’s call for adoption on September 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly made the declaration on December 11, 2014. It was supported by 177 nations and is among the quickest adopted resolution in the UN!
Should this be seen as humanity’s recognition of Yoga as the universal tool to promote peace and harmony in a world beseeched by greed and consumerism and threatened by climatic disasters and terror?
Or, should it be seen a universal tool for global integration of humanity which is badly fragmented by beliefs and faiths?
Regardless of how one looks at it, the world finally acknowledged that Yoga is universally acceptable. But what makes yoga so easily accepted?
It is an art or science (depending upon the way you look at it) of human evolution through personal efforts, regardless of where you come from and what you believe or don’t believe. Although today Yoga is more popular as physical postures and breathing exercises that relieve stress and promote good health, but it is a system of holistic living with higher spiritual goal. What binds us in mundane human life is the ego and craving for sensory pleasures; yoga is the technology to go beyond. Humanity has enormous potential if it is taught to look beyond sense gratification. The firm mind of a yogi develops the capacity to explore higher dimensions of life that fall in the realm of meditation.
It guides us to find happiness and peace where it exists: inside us!
Indian envoy to the UN, Ashoke Kumar Mukerji, expects that
“International day of yoga will encourage the growth of a sustainable pattern of consumption and lead to a balance between man and nature.”
Yoga is an Universal Art of Evolution
The charismatic prime minister of India who is also a long time practitioner of yoga describes yoga as:
“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.”
Ancient India, several thousand years ago much before the Christ (2000 years) or even the Buddha (2500 years), was a land of spiritual research. It was a land of sages (hrishis) who devoted their life to find a systematic way of spiritual evolution leading to self-realization or liberation (Moksha) (from the endless cycle of life and death). If, historically, the civilizations in the West looked for laws of nature outside, the sages (hrishis) explored the world within. They compiled their knowledge in the 4 Vedas and numerous other scriptures and commentaries. The science of yoga, which is a science of mental cultivation, also evolved in that period.
Yoga takes you to an inward journey using awareness as the tool of self observation. As you move forward first the gross realities come to light then the subtle realizations get progressively subtler. As you advance, you begin to feel the sense of oneness within yourself and the surrounding nature. This feeling of oneness deepens as you move along; it is very peaceful state which is quite different from the mundane sensory pleasures and is difficult to describe in words. This is an experiential understanding that is open to all.
The word ‘yoga’ comes from a Sanskrit root yuj which takes two meanings. In Panini’s Sanskrit grammar, one sense is conveyed by the phrase ‘yujir yoge’ where it means ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’. In the sense of union or merger yoga is the merger of the individual ‘soul’ with the ‘universal soul’ (god) or union of individual energy with the universal cosmic energy.
The other sense is given in the phrase ‘yuj samadhau’ where yoga points to state of Samadhi (mental concentration). In this sense yoga is self-realization which happens in the state of perfect concentration. It is a profoundly impactful life-transforming experience when all the shakiness of mind is gone. Although the two meaning appear different, but in reality they describe the same thing.
Philosophically speaking, Patanjali defines yoga as stopping the wavering tendencies of the mind. Yogvasisht say ‘The skill to get liberated from the endless cycle of birth-and-death is Yoga.’ In fact, all ancient texts, right from the Vedas, connect yoga with liberation (moksha) in one sense or the other.
Different forms of yoga like Bhakti yoga (yoga through devotion), Raj yoga (yoga through knowledge), Karma yoga (yoga through actions) etc were evolved by people with different mental dispositions. However, the ultimate goal is the same: Moksha (liberation) or freedom from ego that manifests as greed and hatred.
The path of liberation necessarily involves coming out of the sensory attachments which require deliberate and sustained effort. Therefore, abstinence or restrain from indulgence in sensual pleasures runs across all yoga texts and commentaries which describe yoga from different viewpoints. The ideas of self-control or self-restrain are almost out of fashion these days but are all the more relevant today when the collective avarice of humanity is threatening the limited resources of the planet and when violence and terror is endangering global peace.
What is widely known as Yoga today comes from sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which must be seen as compilation of yoga principles lying scattered in different books. His eight-fold Yoga system lays down the philosophy of yogic living that anyone can practice: 1. Yama, 2. Niyama, 3. Aasan (physical postures), 4. Pranayama(breathing exercises), 5. Pratyahar, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana and 8. Samadhi.
The first five practices are considered ‘external.’ They prepare the yogi to turn inwards so that the task of mental development (concentration) in the last three stages leading to sustained meditation (Samadhi) can be taken up. The Sanskrit word Samadhi denotes the metal state of concentration or absorption; it is a state where the mind is highly firm. In the stage of Samadhi the yogi experiences deep bliss with the sense of oneness with the universe – this is the culmination of Yoga as envisaged by sage Patanjali.
Taken together the eight steps lay the foundation for a healthy and peaceful living. This lifestyle is different from the ‘usual’ indulgence based life devoted to satisfaction of endless sensual craving.
The first two steps (yama and Niyama) are preparatory and deal with the personal conduct; they are like voluntary dos and don’ts. Yama prescribes 5 abstinences (don’ts): you refrain from indulging in violence, telling lies, stealing, sexual misconduct, and accumulation of physical facilities or wealth. Then Niayama prescribe 5 things to adopt (dos): keeping clean or pure, cultivating contentment, cultivating tolerance and patience, learning and exploring good things, and surrendering before the Teacher and Universal Energy (religions personifies it as ‘God’).
These dos and don’ts of personal conduct are universal; anyone from any religion, race, culture or background can practice them. They incline the mind towards non-violence and good personal conduct. Unfortunately, such character development is the most neglected aspect of life today; yet, this is what the world needs today.
Next, the physical postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) revitalize the mind-body complex – the ‘YOU’. For most people ‘yoga’ is synonymous with physical postures. They certainly have the ability to relieve stress and improve health, but enormous amount of benefits remain unexplored if done mechanically like other physical exercises. They do improve muscle toe and oxygen intake but there is lot more at the subtle level which become clear only when meditative efforts are made.
With consistent practice one should move on to the fifth stage, Pratyahar, which means withdrawing sense organs from outside objects and turning them inwards. In other words, you train to become indifferent to outside objects of five sense organs – a voluntary mental withdrawal from sensory excitements. This is, in reality, true renunciation without going to Himalayas, changing costume or leaving the family or society. This introverted state of mind –withdrawn from the outside world – is ripe for the practice of meditation.
The final three stages take you progressively into deeper states of meditation – ultimately leading to the experience of oneness with the universe, the final Yoga (union).
Thus, the eight stages are designed to break the ‘union’ with unhealthy and gross things of ordinary life and to ‘unite’ with the subtler forces of nature.
“For me, Yoga is not just a workout – it’s about working on myself.” – Mary Glover
Relevance of Yoga Today
In a world where terrorists find guns and sanctuaries easier than the poor get food and shelter, the International Yoga Day offers the message of sanity and in a world where good health is a privilege of the rich, the Yoga Day sends hope to the poor.
The international Yoga Day will serve as an annual reminder to the global leaders to sit down and meditate which would make them real messenger of peace. The road to global peace goes through sense of peace within. Yoga is the best hope for people tired of chasing flimsy pleasures of sensory excitements and for those who find lasting satisfaction elusive no matter how much they achieve or accumulate. It needs inner strength and training to say no to temptations; yoga empowers you to do that.
In a world where families are decaying and more and more children are growing up as love-less loners sitting on computers playing war games humanity’s conduct and its lifestyle is increasingly becoming a problem for the health of the planet. It is clearly a problem of quality of mind and the mental software that dictates the social behaviour.
Fortunately or unfortunately, human mind is highly mouldable. The most unfortunate examples come from the so-called ‘Islamic Jehadi’ terror groups, who brainwash people (even young kids) to kill themselves to kill others with the promise of ‘paradise.’ These ‘human bombs’ happily blow themselves or turn into killing machines. This is the most destructive use of human mind humanity has ever seen and points to the dangers of faith based indoctrination.
Someone has rightly said: “Religion is the worst intoxicant discovered in last two thousand years.” We all know how intoxication cuts off people from both reality and humanity. Of course, if taken with awareness and in moderation an intoxicant may have medicinal value! But sad enough, we live in the age of extremes of all manners.
Yoga is the right anti-dote for this delusion. It develops and uses ‘self-awareness’ for self-healing and self-discovery. Every step is walked through personal effort and self-control. You trust what you discover and ‘experience’ inside, not what someone else wants you to believe. It is a universal path that progressively frees you from physical and mental afflictions at every stage, until you are fully liberated!
If yogic postures and breathing exercises remove physical imbalances and lay the foundation for good physical health, all eight steps when taken together tone up the mind by freeing it from hatred and greed. The disciplined and firm mind of a yogi takes delight in the virtues of non-violence, patience and universal compassion – violence, hatred and greed are the distinctive stamps of weak and sick mind.
Yoga changes things at the level of personal conduct; hence, ideal to transform human-consumers back into human-beings and put the global development agenda on the sustainable path. It can also train people to seek joy in inner peace instead of games of violence and wars. It is free from superficial rites or rituals and imposed beliefs. It neither demands you to believe or disbelieve in some particular god, faith or philosophy, nor to change your religious label or costume. Only yoga can unite the humanity sick with the virus of “my-god-and-my-faith is better than yours”!
Today people are not the target of development; this is the source of all global problems. The focus is on developing economy and technology; people are mere tools to do that. Education system has degenerated into producing human resource (just like natural resources) for commercial consumption so that the economic engine keeps running. Yoga puts development in the right perspective and puts the focus on people. Only “developed” people can create a peaceful world; “developed” economy or technology can’t!
World Yoga Day on June 21 should serve as a reminder every year!