Why is it that we practice Yoga? Is it merely for our own benefit: for our health, our mind, and our spiritual upliftment? Or does Yoga have a greater role to play in our society?
The story of Arjuna
Perhaps the most profound text upon the philosophy of yoga is Bhagavad Gita. The two protagonists of this text are Arjuna, the greatest warrior of his age, and Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu. They are on the battlefield. The war is about to begin. And to win this war, Arjuna must kill his cousins, his uncles and great uncles – the people he’s loved since he was a child.
As you can imagine, the bow feels particularly heavy in Arjuna’s hand. His mind is filled with doubts about what is right and what is wrong.
Throughout the 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains the mysteries of the cosmos and the path of eternal order (Dharma) to Arjuna. One particular passage comes to mind:
“Krishna,” says Arjuna after Krishna has explained to him the importance of knowledge in the path of Yoga, “If you consider knowledge superior to action, then why do you ask me to wage this terrible war? I’m confused with this ambiguous advice. Please tell me once and for all the path by which I might attain the highest good.”
To this, Krishna replies: “I explained to you two paths to enlightenment: the path of knowledge and the path of action (karma). But one cannot achieve freedom from karma by abstaining from one’s duties. Nor can one achieve perfection of knowledge by following the path of renunciation.” (Bhagavad Gita III.1-4)
And this is perhaps the hardest thing for a yogi to accept: that despite decades upon decades that we spend in contemplation and meditation; it is not enough.
I started upon the path of Yoga because I was curious about the mysteries of life. As I walked the path, I rapidly realized just how little say I had in my own life. My mind, its emotions, its desires, and its fears controlled me. I wasn’t acting. I was merely reacting to life.
I didn’t like it. I rapidly realized that Yoga was the only way to break free of the shackles with which my mind constrained me.
The Delhi I grew up was a harsh place. And it has gotten even harsher now. But I didn’t let that distract me. My path was Yoga. Why should I bother myself with what’s happening in the rest of the world? Especially since it merely takes me away from the peace of mind that I require to progress upon my path.
When I moved to France, the same individualistic approach to Yoga continued. I didn’t really think I was going against the teachings of Bhagavad Gita. Whenever someone asked for my advice, I did the best I could. If I saw someone who required aid, I helped if I could. But neither did I go out of my way to worry about larger issues dealing with society and climate. I was certain that this was the right thing to do.
But in the past couple of years, doubts have begun to creep in.
The path of nonviolence
There are a few things that I firmly believe:
- Ahimsa parmo dharma: Nonviolence is the greatest of all duties. Whether it is through thoughts, words or acts, there is never any reason to harm someone.
- True transformations can only happen within a person. And that person should want to transform. You can’t impose a transformation on anyone.
- Peace of mind is of utmost importance. If the mind isn’t at peace, we lose all objectivity.
But when violence erupts around me, and I do nothing (or not much of anything), am I truly following the path of nonviolence? By not taking a stand against social injustices, am I too not an accomplice to those who inflict those injustices?
My mind is at peace. But what of those to whom I teach? Those who are just starting the path of Yoga and must face the trials and tribulations of the modern lifestyle? What is my duty towards them? Merely teach them what I learnt or act in whatever way I can so ease those trials?
The simple fact is that we are at war. Whether we look at the impending climate disaster, the ever-growing aggression in the society or the plethora of social injustices; our actions have put us in grave danger.
But what is my duty in this context? I’m still searching for the right answer. What do you guys think? What is our duty? Should we merely concentrate on our own path and let the world do whatever it wishes to do? Or should we take a stand?