Yoga gets us out of bed in the morning because it teaches us the “Transcendentals”—the Good, The True and the Beautiful through the body.
In the formula for transformation modern yoga provides, the poses open us to the sweet flood of awareness that makes the body feel alignment with the Beautiful, True and Good, and—from there—trues us to create these three in what we conceive and do.
It connects us to how we feel whole and urges us to be good in the world.
The urge has a lengthy pedigree. Cultures of both West and East have loved these three for millennia.The great yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, died in 2014. In his last book, The Core of the Yoga Sutra, we read, “Yoga is the perfect embodiment of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.”
In the oldtime brain trust, Aristotle sorted through them in his Metaphysics, Plato touched on them in his Phaedrus, and the medieval Christian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, weighed them in his reflections on aesthetics.
But if we look at the specific East-West conversation that made our modern yoga, we can eavesdrop exactly two centuries back, when these ideas became big memes—it happened just as Eastern books like the yogic Upanishads began sparking new ways of seeing life in the West.
Both these homeboys were rabble-rousers. They wanted the True, Beautiful and Good, not just for themselves, but for society as a whole.
Emerson railed against slavery beginning in 1837, and in Thoreau was hauled to jail for protesting America’s Tex-Mex war (1846-1848) by not paying taxes.
Thoreau inspired Gandhi’s satyagraha (“truth force”) that he launched in the 1890s.
But two years after his night in a Concord jail, Thoreau, proclaimed he was “a yogin“ and the intertwining of Satyam (the True), Shivam (the Good) and Sundaram (the Beautiful) through the activist, artistic and philosophic sciences has been accelerating in yoga ever since.
In 1900, the political, educational and yogic activist Katherine Tingley formed her Raja Yoga academy in California, while protesting militarism and foregrounding art and performance in her educational center trued by the East’s bright lights.
Emerson and Thoreau both devoured the yoga of the circa 200 CE, Bhagavad Gita.
In chapter two, verse 15, it tells us:
“Words do not cause distress that are true, beautiful and good.”
Yoga and the Transcendentals go hand in hand.
We moderns aren’t satisfied with spiritual pursuits that disengage from social good, deny the feel for beauty, and are blind to the open terrain of truth. Yoga’s bodywork finds both inner and outer beauty as it refines our hearts and minds to embrace the sweetness of truth in the many places it’s found.
In Iyengar’s The Core of the Yoga Sutra, we read, “Yoga is the perfect embodiment of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.”
The idea of the Transcendentals keep coming ‘round.
This trinity will guide a yoga pose or a life.
If you embrace all three with pleasure and delight, know that our long tradition meets you there.
Author: Eric Shaw
Editor: Travis May