Every religious tradition has its own religious New Year. Just like the business world, which is celebrated on January 1, each religious tradition begins anew, celebrating again the beginnings of its religious journey. The Jains, a religious community based on the Vedic Traditions and the teachings of Mahavira from the sub-continent of India, celebrated its New Year on November 8. Mahatma Gandhi was a Jain and lived the Jain lifestyle of non-violence completely throughout his life.
Orthodox Christians celebrated their religious New Year at sundown on November 14th, while the rest of the Christian community, namely, the Catholics, Protestants and Anglicans, will celebrate the beginning of their worship year on this coming Saturday night and Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.
A new year is always the time for new beginnings and resolutions for change and growth. This is especially true for the religious/spiritual traditions, like yoga. Yoga has no special “New Year.” The yoga tradition believes every day can begin a new year. Every day can be the beginning of some new practice that will transform and change us into the people we long to be.
Every morning when we open the Center with prayer, the person doing the opening prays:
“Asato ma sad gamaya. (Lead me from the unreal to the real.)”
That opening prayer is important to our Center’s work because we dedicate ourselves to changing reality holistically. We dedicate ourselves to changing our spiritual and physical world. According to yoga, reality is neither just the spiritual nor just the physical, but both physical and spiritual. When we change our thinking, the outside world changes. When we change our outside world, we alter our inner workings. Yoga says that changing one of those aspects of reality will change the other aspect. Let’s take the issue of global climate change as an example.
When I walk to the Center in the morning, I am not only saving myself money by not burning fossil fuels, I am also making myself physically healthier. When I buy my produce from a local organic farmer, I am not only healing myself inside with higher quality food but also supporting the “carbon-absorbing” soil practices of organic farming and expending less fossil fuel used in transporting food long distances. When I realize that as I exchange air with all the students in the yoga class and all the people in California, I become aware that I am no longer separate from the events and concerns of my fellow earthlings.
The fire-burning rituals of many of the spiritual traditions alter the external and internal realities as well. When the Native American Indians intentionally use the burning of sage to purify the environment, science has proven that this ritual actually clears the air of harmful bacteria and viruses even from the insides of the one breathing the “saged” air. The same is true with the Yogic Fire Offering called the havan. The smoke carries the Sanskrit prayers into the air and balances and purifies the entire surrounding environment for at least 24 hours.
Our own prayers for the people suffering from the devastating fires in California, or the horrendous flooding in South and North Carolina, or the loss of coral reef species because of the warming oceans make us more aware of our own use of the land, air and water around us.
The yoga tradition says that these internal and external realities are one. If we are not aware of that, then we are living in the unreal world. We are not moving from the unreal to the real. Every single one of our actions, whether we are awake to it or not, effects the environment. Every thought, especially a thought about not having enough, will affect how much we think we need to consume in order to be happy. The world of the external, natural disasters, yoga says, is more closely connected to our internal world of separation and pain than we know.
This “new-year-season” can begin us moving toward a sustainable environment by moving us to think differently about our relationship with our own use of food, water, shelter, fossil fuels, clothes, air and all the other aspects of our outside world.
That new thinking will bring a new environment, a new planet. That new thinking will “lead us from the unreal to the real.”
Happy New Year’s resolutions!