Marian University’s guest speaker, Shavana Talbert, at the Breakfast Commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on Monday challenged all of us present to not remain silent in the face of racism, sexism, classism and any injustice that damages the dignity of each of us as human beings. Her message challenged me personally to think about the way that yoga would respond to such injustices in our external world, the world in which we find ourselves working, acting, eating, etc.
How do we act in such a challenging world of divisions in race, sex and class, when yoga believes that all is one?
As yoga says, we must live as much as we can in accordance with the yamas and niyamas, the ten commitments to becoming one with the divine. Yoga calls this “acting skillfully.” I’ve learned throughout my life that it is easy to practice the yamas silently; namely, not harming others, telling the truth, not stealing, moderating my sense desires, and not possessing lots of material things. I’ve also quietly learned to become more proficient in practicing cleanliness, remaining content, disciplining myself, studying my mind and my body and surrendering to the Divine; namely, practicing the niyamas.
However, all that skillful work has been focused just on myself. I have quietly proceeded to follow yoga’s path and sharing that path with others through the founding of The Center. I have not really done anything “loudly.” I have generally been silent about much of the pain and injustice in our world. I have not confronted evil, like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita did. Arjuna really did not want to struggle against his cousins and those that were doing injustice during his time of life. He wanted to peacefully and quietly practice “non-violence,” so as not to harm his “enemies.”
Krishna, on the other hand, who is the “God-figure” in the epic said that Arjuna had to confront the evil that was facing him. He had to fight his enemies so that he could live peacefully and joyfully in the kingdom that was rightfully his. Krishna helped him to understand that it was Arjuna’s duty to resist the evil that was happening. So, Arjuna took up the sword and proceeded to slay his enemies.
Ms. Talbert sounded like Krishna to me today. She asked me and all present at the breakfast to “no longer be silent” about the injustices that are happening in today’s world.
I am resisting her challenge because I now realize that I feel afraid to confront any injustice that I see happening. Fear, I’m aware, not only restrains me from confronting the systems that cause pain and hurt, but also restrains most other humans. We are afraid that we may emotionally or physically be hurt by publicly picketing unjust laws and rules. We are afraid to put ourselves on the line to change systems that violate another’s dignity.
What would it take for us to stand up against injustice instead of just silently practicing kindness and truthfulness in our own family and at our work? What would it take for us to stop evil when we become aware of its practice in our daily lives? What does it mean to even think of putting ourselves in harm’s way in order to resist the harm to others of different classes, races, or sexes?
For Arjuna, it meant realizing that he must perform his duty without being attached to this life or the outcome. Arjuna’s duty as a warrior was to lead his army against another army. Maybe for us, our duty is to stand in front of a bulldozer that is destroying the trees to make room for a road. Maybe for us our duty is to march for life or against a group that advocates for white supremacy. Maybe for us our duty is to not pay most of our federal taxes because most of the money is used for the military and today’s wars. Maybe for us our duty is to divest our financial resources from organizations that harm the environment or kill others. Maybe our duty is to picket retail stores that treat workers shamefully.
We can do all those challenging actions when we detach ourselves from our fear of losing ourselves, our joy and happiness. We must perform our duty as it becomes apparent to us.
In a world filled with peace and happiness it is relatively easy to do yoga’s ten commitments. Life becomes quite challenging, however, when our internal, private, silent life of yoga begins to move into the external, active, violent, hateful, angry, unjust world.
May we all know, as Arjuna did, the aid and help of a “Krishna”, God-consciousness, in these days. May this presence of God in our lives give us the strength to fulfill our duty to the non-spiritual world. May we learn to detach ourselves from all that limits us from acting strongly and publicly in the spirit of justice and peace.
This is my prayer today! Namaste’