Yoga, Society and Values Today

The present time is special, because basically – with the exception of countries with oppressive rule – we have all we need and have a vast array of possibilities at our disposal. Simultaneously we are often inclined to be dissatisfied and even a small discomfort can cause a lot of perceived pain. It means that we are oversensitive to discomfort or to any unexpected limitations. As the coronavirus appeared on a global scene and we experience limitations, lockdowns, face masks, various tests and vaccines, we tend to become unsettled. As critical thinking becomes more and more rare and the majority tends to form a view from information available on the media/internet, “crowd driven thinking” became more and more popular and this is risky. With dissatisfaction, fear also comes in, and old negative feelings started resurfacing in our societies. 

Some time ago, vengeance infected movements gained footage in various societies. Presently we see e.g., extreme feminism, Black lives matter, Antifa, Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram and others to fight for influence. They all represent movements that seem to want to take vengeance on men or white people or past oppressors or Christians or Western culture. Then there are white supremacy people, who stand partly for the opposite. The sourness of the Covid atmosphere is aggravating the impact of these initiatives. Surprisingly it is also possible to see that the social and political response to the events provoked by these movements is weak and often illogical.

Now what would be the solution?

Kshama, “forgiveness”. The past cannot be changed, and the future is dependent on present moods and decisions. Then Prem, “love”. As a Slovak Roman-catholic priest, Marián Kuffa, mentioned in one of his sermons, addicted people do not have a strong will so cannot get free from addiction by will. But if there is someone whom they love more than the addiction, then this may give them enough strength. If their surroundings stops criticizing them but tries to love them and take the addiction as a disease, it usually helps. Then there are real life challenges that make one forget the addictions or dis-eases. S. Yesudian wrote that during the WWII, the number of civilizations related diseased dropped dramatically. People had real challenges to cope with and their system woke up to these challenges and suppressed the “well-being induced diseases”.

In yoga there are important concepts like rita – order and dharma – the righteous/just life. At every time there is a temporal type of order – given by the legal and moral system that is prevalent at a time and the timeless order, which includes the basic guidelines for a balanced life, like the Ten Commandments of the yama and niyama of yoga. Only if we mind them can we have a dharmic life.

As the society becomes more and more liberal, and the psychic disposition of people less dharma-bound, some of the basic features of life became questionable – like who is a man and who is a woman. I learned recently that at the time of writing this blog. Nighty gender types are known. Well, instead of the basic two. This may be unsettling to many people and also to the society, as the biological simplicity is seemingly overwritten by psychological concepts. When we have uncertainties regarding our identity, be it national, minority-related, ideological, sexual etc., we have greater problems in finding stable solutions to life induced challenges. 

Migration of individuals or whole nations is a millennia long feature. Often it happened in the East to West direction and it has led to a variety of new situations. In some cases, the newcomers gave their culture to the ones with whom they had to share the land, but the locals kept their language. At other times the culture was adopted by the newcomers and their language has changed. Sometimes whole nations became displaced and they kept their culture including language. In Europe for some years, we are experiencing a migration which started as a flow of refugees from Syria, but almost simultaneously it became a flow of migrants from Asia and Africa. Their reason for moving was various – war, political situation, a liking for benefits, a liking for adventure and also for some – a tendency to attack the West and its values.

At first the European response was a (somewhat naive) hope that the newcomers with a different culture and religion will integrate. Later it became evident that in most cases this has not happened and brought a significant discomfort both to the locals and to the newcomers. Here new phenomena appeared, like Europe started barring the migrants from getting to Europe. Then, a smuggler “industry” surfaced to get migrants to Europe. Subsequently a legal “industry” appeared that served to slow or bar the process of repatriation of people not qualified for the status of refugee. A real solution to this migration is, however not at hand and usually it is only after some terror related event that governments start thinking about e.g., attempts to educate better the migrants and to ban religious centers that spread terror related teachings.

What can yoga do in this situation?

The yogis are known to seemingly live outside the crowd and instead of beliefs they stand for knowledge – jnana, which is not knowledge about something but a knowledge stemming from unity in Being. This knowledge clears the way to treading the path of dharma. But this may seem to be too abstract under the present situation and too farfetched even for yoga practitioners. Nevertheless, there are examples, which show a way to the application of yogic principles. One such an example is the late swami Veda Bharati. In his ashram in Rishikesh there are a Christian chapel, a Jewish, Zoroastrian and other small memorials, that stand to witness that spirituality is above formal religion, but they all contain it. He himself declared that a swami (monk) does not belong to a particular religion, but has to be a person devoted to spirituality, which cannot be owned by any denomination. He was also an example of soft-hearted spiritual leader, who liked everyone to feel welcome at the ashram, but always found ways how to engage him/her in more intensive sadhana. Simultaneously he was a scholar and a Brahmin whose pujas were truly powerful. The experiments regarding paranormal processes that were conducted with his participation were showing that he was a yogi, whose perception and influence were detectable also outside the usual physical coordinates (see the book Yogi in the Lab). He was not only honored by the religious structures of various denominations, but they could cooperate with him in the area of making spirituality more relevant to all. He devoted his whole life to helping spiritual aspirants at various parts of the globe and spearheaded strategies even for fruitful and effective, polite communication that would be so useful at this time also in the West, where the “politically correct” information deforms the truth and often makes the problems undetectable and untreatable.

In the Sri Chakra Sadhana there are guardian principles that bar the access of insufficiently qualified aspirants to knowledge. In a way all of us are continuously tested by life situations and our response influence future situations that we are to meet. This is a way to learn what dharma is and what is our dharma, through which we could live a responsible life.

For adhering to dharma, we do not need much information from outside and definitively not the floods of information available on the Internet based platforms. In fact, the vastly oversize information pouring onto people through the Internet weakens them and makes it difficult for them to make correct judgements. It is painful to see how the world is becoming weaker and the people hypnotized by the countless useless information. They do not seem to notice their being pushed towards disempowerment. It is true, however, that the Internet based resource systems have a great value for those, who are able to select and discriminate properly.

Now how should a yoga practitioner look at these issues apart from what has been already discussed? Should he be silent and think “it will pass” practice dispassion (vairagya) and take no actions? Or should he be a hero who becomes a fighter for awakening? 

The classic texts like the Siva Sutra recommends for a yogi, who has realized the intrinsic “self-dependence” (svatantrabhava) that: “Such a yogi should certainly not be indifferent [udasina, “sitting on the side”]. On the contrary, … continuously [the yogi] should be attentive to avadhana [attention, placing oneself within], which is to say, direct his mind into, the ‘seed’, that is supreme Shakti. It actually means also that he should be attentive to his inner and outer environment.  His actions will flow from that svatantrabhava powered by Shakti.” (Siva Sutra 3:15). 

Dispassion in this context means living one’s dharma and not identifying with adharma. Tejomayanandji states that “To gain this dispassion there is no other path but strict adherence to one’s duties [dharmapalan]. Dharma is a discipline the very purpose of which is to restrain one’s mind from adharmic thoughts and actions and guide it on the path of virtue”. He further interprets verse 3:55 of the Bhagavad Gita as: “It is better to die in one’s own dharma than to follow the unrighteous [one] [adharma], though it may appear very comfortable and pleasing, but then it is only fraught with fear.” 

In yoga nothing is for free in the sense that even if the yogis help, or hint at the right path or experience, they do not grant a result without a proper determination or work by a yoga practitioner. So even if a yoga practitioner is a disabled person or is of a black or yellow or another color, he would not be offered a boon just for that. Whether the person is a man or woman (well, biological man or woman, not a gender philosophy defined person with mannish or womanish mind set), that alone would not evoke a boon from a yogi, what would enable skipping the otherwise necessary steps in training. Whether a person belongs to the majority or a minority in a country – just this would not make a difference in yoga training either. So, it is so surprising to see various benefits and privileges to be given in the modern society just because of belonging to some of the above-mentioned categories (with the exception of physically or mentally disabled people). The opportunities are the ones that have to be equal.

Thus, let us try to see the solutions to our challenges, and to use the extra time this period of lockdowns may give us to perfect our understanding of life (dharma), practice yoga and within it also meditation, so that we can see clearly how we can be a better part of the present society and its subsets; how we can be more kind – not only to ourselves, but to our families, friends or others.