Yoga for a better world
The grand success that the International Day for Yoga has witnessed over the past few years across the globe clearly indicates that India has been successful in preserving the ancient tradition for future generations
In India, traditionally, any activity or event, be it a talk, prayer or a meal would end with “Om shanthih shanthih shanthih”, which means “peace to all”. This chant sums up the Indian civilisation’s vision and lasting contribution to world, not just today, but from way before recorded history. If there ever has been one comprehensive science that has mapped out a way for every human being, without exception, to attain to these qualities, these levels of achievement, and station in life, then that science is yoga.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, one of the definitive texts on yoga, begins with a profound vision statement, “yogah chitta vritti nirodhaha. tada drushtuh svaroope awasthanam” (yoga is the process by the help of which we stop the modifications of the human mind. Then the seer is established in his natural state of being).
If one were to assess what could be the greatest contribution of India, the oldest living civilisation in the world, to humanity, it can be argued that it is the institution of the guru-shishya, the master-disciple tradition. From the oldest scripture on earth, the Rig Veda, to the Upanishads, to the ancient Indian books on yoga, tantra, ayurveda, astronomy, trigonometry, architecture, law, logic, alchemy, metallurgy, the arts .. the role of the enlightened teacher or the guru has been revered and held above all other achievements, stations, roles and relationships in life. The body of material of yoga has not been passed on through books. They have been handed down from an enlightened master, the guru, to a worthy pupil who has achieved the goal. Thus, we have always had yogis in India, who have embodied the teachings of yoga, and it is because of them, to this day, that this stream of ancient wisdom remains relevant.
To sum up what the ancient texts of India have contributed to today’s world, it is that they said that a clear, sorted out, enlightened body, mind and soul is the best contribution to world peace. And this is what is the vision of yoga – to enlighten humanity. This method has always been rational. Yoga does not require you to believe, or to forsake your faith, but to experiment and find out for yourself. It is the science of self actualisation, of becoming the best you can be.
One among the many diverse approaches of yoga and the most popular in the modern day is Ashtanga or the eight-limbed approach, presented in the Yoga Sutra. These eight limbs are yama or discipline, niyama or duties, asana or posture, pranayama or regulation of the life force, pratyahaara or mastery of the sensory apparatus, dharana or single pointedness, dhyaana or meditation, and samadhi or being. In this presentation of yoga, the physical body, the psyche as well as the being are all addressed. Yoga, can, therefore, be described as the blueprint and a detailed road map for the transmutation of every human being to a Buddha, or the enlightened one, and the transformation of society into a peaceful, vibrant and joyous whole.
With the establishment of June 21 as the International Day of Yoga (IDY) by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, through the efforts of Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, yoga has now entered into the popular consciousness of the whole of humanity, with the day being not just observed but celebrated by the people of every country, who belong to diverse callings, nationalities, faiths and orientations.
This has been possible because Prime Minister Modi, who being a yoga practitioner himself, understands what yoga can do to every single human being by making the person cheerful, optimistic, and peace loving, and how yoga can, therefore, transform the very fabric of the world order. Yoga improves an individual and better individuals will form a better society, country and world.
Over the last two decades and particularly over the last four years, yoga has become a portal through which the world at large has connected with India’s real and timeless appeal, its soft power. The reason why India once accounted for 25 per cent of the world GDP and was the knowledge capital of the world, was due to its strong and visionary civilisational values that are embedded in its heritage of yoga. The growing global popularity of yoga and the IDY can help achieve the same again.
At a time when the world looks at how to handle great leaps in technology, how to move to the next level of evolution without being vulnerable to conflict, without having to pay the price of poverty, disease and exclusion, yoga is turning out to be a great tool to forge and strengthen relations between leaders who appreciate it, people who practice it and therefore, between all the stake holders of the global community. The day dedicated to yoga has helped India preserve this wellness stream that is relevant for the current and future generations of humanity.