Yoga is not unidimensional. It is manifold in forms. It embraces in its scope diverse approaches to attain higher consciousness and elevate oneself from the material, body and sense based existence to a higher level of realisation. To reduce it to only some form of Asanas or breathing exercises is to miss the totality and essence of Yoga which Swami Vivekananda described as "one of the greatest of sciences" and said "Breathing, posturing, etc,. no doubt helps in Yoga , but they are merely physical. The great preparations are mental." That is why the mind and psyche rooted in ethics and morality and reared by the ideals of non-possession, non-violence and non-stealing are considered integral and indispensable to the pursuit of Yoga. The ethical and moral orientation of mind needs to be emphasised by the proponents of Yoga who often focus attention on the Asanas or physical postures and completely lose sight of its very basis and foundation. That is why celebrations of Yoga should be celebrations of ethics and morality and constant strivings for evolving from one stage of consciousness to a much higher stage of consciousness. A fractional approach to Yoga by emphasizing only on Asanas is a partial and limited approach which unjustly portrays this great science and reduces its deeper significance to only one dimension. All those who stress on Yoga and pursue others to embrace it in daily life need to be mindful of the highest ideals of acceptance, tolerance, fraternity and fellow feeling. The binary notion and vision of seeing the world in terms of "us" vs. "them" and hate those who do not pursue Yoga or coerce them to do follow it is a negation of Yoga itself. A Yogi can never say that Islam and Hinduism cannot coexist. Swami Vivekananda wrote, "Yoga means the union of man with whole humanity; to the mystique his lower and higher self; to the philosopher, it is the union of all existence. This is the meaning of Yoga." Mahatma Gandhi wrote on 4th December 1930 that "Yoga is no use, nor is the saffron coloured robe nor mixing up all thy food. Whether thou wearest bhagva or white garments is of little significance, the thing to do is not to hurt any creature and to wish it well".
Foundational Pillars of Yoga -Truth and Non-violence- Inspired Mahatma Gandhi
Such broad and expansive approach in the context of Yoga is missing even as celebrations of International Day of Yoga are now becoming annual features both at the global and national levels.
A peep into our history reveals that the freedom struggle spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi witnessed unprecedented endeavours by him to invoke the foundational pillars of Yoga such as Satya(Truth), Ahimsa(Non-violence), Brahmacharya(disciplining of senses and carnal desires), Aparigraha(Non-posession) and Astreya (Non-stealing) to give a much needed moral dimension to liberate India from colonial rule. He integrated these foundational pillars with his other ideals such as Sarva Dhrama Sambhav(Equality of all religions), Sarvatra Bhaya Varjana(Removal of Fear), Swadeshi(use of indigenous and local resources), Sparsha Bhavana(Removal of untouchability) and Sharira Shram(Bread Labour) and Aswad (Control of Palate) and framed his eleven vows. His main emphasis was that by following such ideals individuals would be able to first rule themselves on the basis of a disciplined body and mind and usher in self-rule for our country by putting an end to British rule through non-violent means. He envisioned such a larger vision of self-rule shaped by disciplining of mind, body and senses for the cause of a non-violent social and economic order which would be beneficial for India and the whole world.
The Divine Life Society (Divya Jivan Sangh), founded by Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh, keeps its shrines open to people of all faiths and castes including Dalits on all days. It celebrates Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 every year in a special way. The Society and its revered monks and devotees recall gratefully the phenomenal contributions of Mahatma Gandhi in applying the foundational principles of Yoga (Satya, Ahimsa, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha, Atreya) to the complex problems of politics, economics and society and, above all, for our liberation from centuries of foreign rule. On that day Dalits are invited to the sanctum sanctorum of the Divine Life Society and they are respected and honoured by the senior monks. On one such occasion, while speaking at the august gathering on October 2, Swami Nirliptananda, a senior monk, said that during freedom struggle Swami Sivananda was deeply impressed by Gandhiji’s method of struggle for freedom by applying the basic principles of Yoga and, therefore, he used to send a special emissary to Gandhiji to extend him his support. He also said that Mahatma Gandhi, by applying the main principles of Yoga to find solutions to intractable problems confronted by humanity, earned for himself the position higher than the position of all monks in the annals of spirituality. Swami Nirliptananda’s message on that occasion was that by following the central aspects of Yoga or Sanyasa Gandhiji launched the non-violent movement for freedom and independence and gave a much-needed moral dimension to our arduous struggle for liberation from colonial rule.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Yoga
Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book Discovery of India, reflected deeply on Yoga to underline the magnificent narrative associated with the ancient wisdom of our country. In his quest for understanding and exploring India’s rich cultural and civilisational legacy he reflected on Yoga in that book in the late 1940s to sensitise the younger generation about our invaluable spiritual wisdom which gives meaning and significance to material and sense-based life. He wrote: “The Yoga system of Patanjali is essentially a method for the discipline of the body and the mind leading up to psychic and spiritual training.” He understood its deeper meaning by writing that “... it is based on the psychological conception that by proper training of the mind certain higher levels of consciousness can be reached”. He added that “it is meant to be a method of finding out things for oneself rather than a preconceived metaphysical theory of reality or the universe”. He further stated that “this old and typical Indian method of preserving bodily fitness is rather remarkable when one compares it with the more usual methods involving rushing about, jerks, hops, and jumps which leave one panting, out of breath, and tired out.”, He could understand that it gave some degree of poise and composure to life and concluded by saying it results in “an unruffled calm even while it exercises the body”.
Modern Research on Yoga explores its deeper significance
Modern scientific explanations of Yoga have been found to be very fascinating and useful for addressing many complicated health problems. One study, conducted by Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Laureate in Medicine for the year 2009, reveals that by doing Yoga and meditation the number and length of telomeres placed at the two end of chromosomes determining the youthful look can be sustained for long. Her study revealed that the youthful stage of life dependent on access to quality food and other material aspects is also greatly dependent on non-material dimensions which shape the mind and healthful and wholesome living. One such non-material aspect is Yoga, the constant practice of which can make the individual more youthful even as he or she may not have abundance of material facilities in life. It has been explained in the article "Can meditation really slow down the effects of age? One Nobel Prize-winner is finding the scientific in the spiritual" authored by Jo Marchant and published in bbc.com
on 1st July 2014.
Yoga means no privilege based on differences of natural attributes even as it celebrates diversities and differences. Swami Vivekananda, who transmitted the philosophy of Yoga to the Western world, always underlined its ethical and meditative aspects to counter fanaticism and the monstrous materialistic greed. He stressed on the Himalayan quietness to pursue Yoga and spirituality. All those who hanker for publicity while sitting in meditation negate that vision of Swami Vivekananda
Indian Parliament took up the cause of Yoga in its first session in 1952
The Indian Parliament has remained in the forefront in taking up the cause of Yoga right since its inception in 1952 after the first general elections. It was evidenced from the discussion on the Resolution moved by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in the Rajya Sabha on December 16, 1952 for recording the general approval of the House of the principles, objectives, and programmes of development in the First Five Year Plan document. While participating in the discussion Dr W.S. Barlingay, representing the Indian National Congress, stated that health education would have to be given priority to address health issues and suggested that the ancient wisdom embedded in Yoga should be adopted and integrated with the scheme of health education for the whole country.
Yoga means Higher Consciousness beyond any denomination
Yoga means higher consciousness which remains tuned to infinity and, therefore, is devoid of narrowness and sectarianism. Sri Aurobindo in his book "Synthesis of Yoga" very rightly observed that "All Life is Yoga". Being tuned to Yoga means being tuned to an outlook which respects all life forms. Yoga is non-denominational and is infinite in scope. There is no scope in it for violent thoughts. It was Swami Vivekananda who prophetically wrote that the day mankind would discover and explore Yoga that day would be far more significant than the renaissance and reformation which gave birth to modern science. His profound articulation that ethics is inseparable from Yoga makes us mindful of the ethical orientation and outlook which should precede the practice of Yoga. Any compromise on ethics would constitute serious compromise of Yoga. That is why in Raja Yoga exacting moral standards are prescribed for a Raj Yogi . In other words, overwhelming emphasis is given on disciplining thought which Swami Vivekananda described as internal motion. The disciplining of the internal motion would lead to disciplining of external motion which the revered Swamiji said is manifested in action. So while celebrating the International Day of Yoga we need to be more ethical, more non-violent, less possessive, imbibe the values to share more and be more respectful to the faiths of others. In other words, we need to be more noble guided by cosmic consciousness which will broaden the mind and remove narrowness. The celebrated space scientist Carl Sagan had famously stated that tuning of humans to cosmic identity would enable them to prevent a nuclear war and the resultant nuclear winter. The idea and ideals of Yoga are much more than the Asanas performed. These are cosmic and confluential is dimensions which celebrates reconciliation and embraces the other.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.