Today’s culture is permeated with violence and terrorism. This past week in particular was dotted with assassination attempts using pipe bombs, the mass shooting of Jewish worshippers in their synagogue, the bitter fighting between political candidates vying for particular offices, and the bickering back and forth of the media and the president. How does a practitioner of yoga deal with all this negative stimuli?
All this violence and fear-producing activity, whether intended or just a product of the times, are totally opposed to the Yoga Tradition’s understanding of the practice of “ahimsa”. Ahimsa, which means non-harming, is the number one restraint (yama) of the Yoga Tradition. Ahimsa emphasizes the presence of the divine in all people by stressing that one’s thoughts, words and actions must never harm another.
Violence and terrorism also contradict the core of all the religious traditions that clearly state in their sacred writings that humans are made in the image and likeness of God. This core belief, which is not just a Judeo-Christian belief, emphasizes the dignity and potential sanctity of all humans. Just this past week, the Catholic Church announced that 6 more people, including Bishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 for opposing the unjust oppression of the poor, are now considered saints.
As a matter of fact, all of the Christian denominations—Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, and Catholic—celebrate All Saints’ Day every year on November 1st. The people of India identify holy, compassionate people as “living saints.” Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were two of those saints.
So, religious traditions and yoga tell us something different than the presentations of our current United States culture. Why doesn’t our culture spend more time emphasizing our human beauty, our human goodness? Maybe we are being influenced by the wrong sources.
Why have we forgotten that all of us at our core, especially when we are kind to our family members or when we help each other out of tough situations, are saints? And too, why is there so much animosity toward people, cultures and ideas that are different from the ones we espouse? Is it that we forget that all of us are the same at our core? We certainly as a culture spend more time with the Eve of the Hallowed Day—Halloween—than we do with All Saints’ Day. Lots of people march from door to door demanding a treat or promising a trick. Why don’t we go door to door blessing everyone (every “saint”) in the house or giving them some sort of kindness?
Yoga’s foundational belief is the unity of all life, especially all human beings. Yet, the joy of that unity does not seem to be experienced or celebrated enough in our human culture.
Why is that?
Yoga says that it is because we do not experience unity within ourselves. Yoga says that it all goes back to our personal spiritual journey, our own inner journey. We often feel the division within our own emotional world. Ambivalent feelings and judgments about ourselves tear us apart inside. This internal disconnection leads to actions of self-hatred and negative thoughts that flow out into the world in the form of blaming others, or striking back at perceived threats.
I wonder what state our culture would be in if we paid as much attention to All Saints’ Day rather than the differences between people or even to Halloween? I wonder, too, what it would be like politically if we all focused on the common good and our joy at experiencing our unity as a human race?