We are humankind, even if we may not always be human-kind, as when mistreating animals, plants or one another.
Some people deny humankind’s oneness by using labels to pit one group against another; or they caricature and propagandize one group as being less important than another. But at our most intimate level of biology, humankind is one.
The practice of yoga accepts this as a starting point and assumes that the yogi is kind. Practicing kindness is not only good karmic insurance; it’s also a good way to live now. Yoga’s core philosophy has not changed much in 5000 years, but humankind has.
That’s why it’s time to grow yoga’s new literature and share it, making sure it addresses humankind’s problems philosophically and psychologically.
A kind yogi’s role in humanity is ethical.
Every religious or spiritual tradition has considered common norms of behavior. When behavior is bad, groups have always found ways to deal with and stop it. That’s how ethics developed, as they are humankind’s reflection upon their behavioral decisions in the world. The ethics of yoga, and the practice of kindness, needs an update.
All of the people I know want to be kind, and their kindness shows as they make efforts to get along. A yogi is like everyone else though: sometimes we get tired, impatient or we feel entitled to get what we want. But wherever and whenever possible, the yogi tries to be kind.
In times like ours, when many people are unkind and care only for what they want, a yogi improves humanity by remembering kindness in all his or her choices and actions. Anything less than kind behavior is not yogic consciousness and therefore subject to criticism, correction and discipline.
The yoga world has work to do in this area. The yoga community, part of the larger pool of humankind, needs to do some honest soul-searching and develop clear ethics and guidelines to deal with bad behavior. The yoga world needs to better protect the vulnerable, the young, the animals and the environment. If the studio owner paints his/her studio but then dumps the paint thinner down the drain after washing brushes, the community must object and find a way to correct this bad behavior.
A kind yogi’s role in humanity is aesthetic.
Yoga’s aesthetic has traditionally been one of minimalism. The yogi doesn’t need much because her focus is beyond the material. Such an aesthetic is built upon inner and outer peace which is not only an absence of conflict but a feeling of security. A person can only feel secure when he is not under threat of attack or abuse, physically or psychically.
Kind yogis share a peaceful space and assist one another toward a minimalist aesthetic: walking gently on the earth, honoring one another in the salutation of Namaste, living in truth-seeking and non-violence, and acting out good stewardship with their resources and their bodies. All of this helps a yogi keep the central thing: peace.
A kind yogi’s role in humanity is spiritual.
A recent study of yoga practitioners maintained that 57 percent of practicing yogis classified themselves as spiritual and interested in exploring spirituality in connection with their yoga practice.
Most people in the U.S. are Christian, or at least have an awareness of Christianity. Christianity, at its core, posits a loving God whom followers are encouraged to trust, pray to and live for. In yoga, we may hear a teacher say, “trust the process.” The statement reminds practitioners that the results of yoga take a long time to accrue. Trust reminds yogis that the best way to access yoga’s benefits is with spiritual teachings.
There is no need for the Pope, or anyone else not practicing yoga, to comment about what happens spiritually in yoga. Yoga promotes a spirituality of acceptance for self and others. If one wants to reach for yoga’s spiritual mountaintop, it’s possible by embracing yoga in the depth of its ethics, aesthetics, and spirituality.
But nobody I know is attempting to reach that ultimate goal, which would be complete and utter union with God. The realization of that goal means personal identity would melt away into the river of an all-encompassing Brahman.
This runs so counter to the American culture’s mindset of individual achievement and ambition that I don’t see it as threatening. In reality, we are left with a very old practice in a very new land and we are changing its end game.
American culture and yoga’s original intention seem to have little in common, and this is why the practice of yoga is in transition today. Our ethic, our aesthetic, and our spirituality are evolving even as we practice.
Let’s hope for the courage to grow and change while leaving yogi-kindness in tact. Our world needs each of us now more than ever to be kind, to be at peace, and to address bad behavior with courage and discipline. The end game is true human kindness, and true yogi kindness.
Author: Gregory Ormson
Editor: Caroline Beaton