Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yogis: fundamentalists or liberals?

Who are Yogis?

Is the practice of meditation and yoga fundamentalist? Progressive? Liberal? Is it lacking in a moral creed? Is it neutral to social and political trends, democracy, technology or ecology?

There are as many positions on such matters as there are yogis. Yoga is not indifferent to the suffering of others, or to the activities of daily life. Rather yoga posits that one can only find one’s right relationship to this world by ever deepening contact with the transcendent consciousness which gives birth and intention to this world.

A yogi can therefore be a Republican, a Democrat, a monarchist, or just about any kind of “ist” on the basis of core values of calmness, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of Oneness and connection with all. A yogi is just as likely to discipline his children as not; to rail against governmental interference in the lives of citizens as to vote to have government correct abuses, extend charity or education to the disenfranchised and so on.

Paramhansa Yogananda considered himself a Republican: the party of Abraham Lincoln is how he put it. He questioned the wisdom of the New Deal for undermining personal responsibility and initiative and creating institutional dependency and a sense of entitlement all in the name of charity and compassion. But he was certainly not against charity and compassion, however. He demonstrated plenty of both during his life. Yogananda was strongly in favor of abolishing institutional forms of racial discrimination (what to mention individual prejudices).

Yogananda taught that the soul entered the womb at conception not just at birth and that abortion, therefore, was not something to be encouraged. A true yogi would naturally promote self-control, moderation, and responsible forms of sexuality. But a yogi also affirms freedom of choice and its corollary of personal responsibility. This stems in part from an understanding of the law of karma and its companion, reincarnation. But who can say what his position would be in respect to the passing of laws for, or against, abortion. He would certainly make his views known but I, at least, tend to doubt he would campaign in a political way in respect to laws. His interest was in changing consciousness through individuals and their own personal desire to awaken and change.

Yoga is fundamentalism in the sense of the fundamentals of proper behavior that are universal and timeless, and not dependent on fads, trends, or social custom. Yoga is fundamental in the sense of affirming the Oneness of God and the ultimate purpose of human life is (to quote the Baltimore Catholic catechism) to “know, love, and serve God.” (For the yogi, “knowing” includes striving for inner, divine communion and ultimately mystical union in Oneness.)

At the same time, yogis, taking the perspective of countless human incarnations, incline towards acceptance of others and tolerance, for the fact of feeling that each soul has the right to choose and to learn his or her own lessons in the vast expanse of time. Some yogis would espouse complete nonviolence or pacifism in the face of evil, whereas others, including Paramhansa Yogananda, in affirming the value of human life, would caution that in this relative world there are times when self-defense is the right course of action. This can mean that there are times when a just war may be required. It includes the efforts of police to prevent or apprehend perpetrators of violence or criminality. The karma for violence can include the punishment by man for acts of violence.

A yogi, above all, tries to be practical: both in his yoga practice (balanced and sustainable, health-inducing and peace-filled) and in his view of action in daily life. There is no career or job barred to the practicing yogi (assuming it isn’t unethical, immoral, or criminal.

Yoga practice bestows patience and self-acceptance even as it inspires the yogi to strive for the highest in himself.

Thus yogis are not necessarily distinguishable from others in the marketplace of daily life unless it be by an aura of calmness or peace, openness to truth (rather than mere opinion), and respect for others. Yes, many are vegetarians. But there are many vegetarians who are not yogis, are there not? Will yogis ever be a political force? That’s difficult to say, for yogis are not constrained to ignore politics. But yogis’ understanding of the relativity of good and evil in the creation will generally give a longer-view perspective, on the one hand, yet no yogi is excused from turning a blind eye to injustice or evil, especially when personally involved or a sense of personal dharma is awakened in his conscience.

Nonetheless, at this stage of history, yogis are (generally) committed to spreading the message and practice of yoga as their duty and contribution to the health, well-being, and peace of Planet Earth. While some social activists may dismiss this as a cop-out or irrelevant, yogis feel that changing consciousness is the real need for humanity and that legislation, education, and scientific advances are important and at best equal, but in many ways secondary for all three have shown themselves poor substitutes for individual goodwill and integrity.

If even only half of earth’s citizens were in touch with their higher self, in harmony with themselves, felt a kinship with the planet and a respect and acceptance of others, how much less exploitation, greed, obesity, anger, hatred, war, and pollution would there automatically be?

Yes, yoga, therefore IS for everyone. It requires no religious, political, racial, or social affiliation. Yoga practice invites us “inward” to discover our calm, wise, compassionate and ultimately transcendent higher Self. This Self is the Self of all. By living in harmony with this higher Self we perform the dutiful actions of daily life in an increasing spirit and attitude of calmness, nonattachment, and effectiveness. What greater or more universally accessible lifestyle for a new age can there possibly be?

Religion is on the rocks of divisiveness. Individual spirituality is in the ascendant. Yet somewhere the twain must meet so that a new expression of universal spirituality can in fact be a force for change on this planet. Yogis must "unite" (after all "yoga" means "union!") to help give birth to a more peace filled and harmonious planet. But, as Mahatma Gandhi is now so popularly known to have counseled, "Be the change you seek." Or as Jesus Christ put it: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Or, as Ananda's motto puts it: "Joy is within you."

Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman