Yoga for myself and for many other women and men has been instrumental in developing self-confidence, physical fitness and emotional strength. There is no doubt that it works even though most people do not take it seriously.
The essence of the yogic path is to guide the practitioner to an enlightened life; a life that is not ruled by convention, addictions or fear. When you realize that money, marriage, children, beauty, status, church, etc. do not provide true happiness you continue to search for an answer. Not everyone is ready to embark on that search, but we don’t need everyone to change the world.
The yogi is a seeker who learns that the source of happiness is within his or her self. The self they discover is the universal self, not the small egoic self. There is nothing that can shake, rattle or roll someone who has discovered who they truly are. They are standing on solid ground. There is nothing they cannot relate to and they have no need to dominate anyone. They are secure within themselves and they are not a slave to anything or anyone. This freedom holds tremendous power and that power can be used for helping others or for personal gain. If it is used selfishly it will cause great suffering so we need the ethical teachings to create a healthy society.
Yoga’s ethical teachings are the same basic teachings we have heard from Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed and others. They are a lot like the 12 Steps of AA. They have to be practiced, and when they are practiced by someone very powerful they can have dramatic effects. When they are practiced by someone who is not powerful they will make them powerful. The ethical principles are the most important part of yoga. Gandhi worked hard to practice the principles of satya “truth” and ahimsa “non-violence”. By showing the British the truth of their brutality, without resorting to killing them all, India was able to free itself. The Indian freedom fighters won the battle with their own fear of physical and economical harm when they practiced non-compliance with their subjugation. They used internal methods to change external reality and we all do that to some degree for better or worse.
Women who have gathered together for acts of non-compliance with their subjugation have brought about tremendous change as well. African Americans have done the same. Nowhere in history have people been “given” their rights. They have always had to meet violence face to face. We cannot kill everything that threatens us but we don’t have to comply. The power of a group of non-compliers can go way beyond one’s imagination.
Greed and fundamentalism are aggressive methods of achieving power over others. They are seductive as well as scary. Most of us comply with greed in subtle or obvious ways. When it’s “our way or the highway” we are the fundamentalists. The battle with these forces is within.
Most of us want beauty, love, compassion, harmony, peace and all things good. It boils down to how willing we are to accept the consequences of being our authentic self.
The ethical principles are practices that bring us into harmony with the truth of who we are and where we are meant to go. We will never be satisfied with anything else. In the yogic system we call these ethical principles the Yamas and Niyamas. You can pick any principle to start with and by practicing it wholeheartedly you will see in yourself the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi’s phrase). This is a very practical system!