Escalation of war and sectarian violence, religious strife, race riots, climate change, Ebola - in 2014, humanity seemed to be coming apart at the seams and it was easy to lose sight of all the divine elements in the world as we were fed cable news hysteria of one crisis after another.
As the year comes to a close, I wanted to share some very good news that you may have missed.
It seems that Yoga is the one thing that the whole world can agree on.
In December, the United Nations declared June 21, International Yoga Day. The resolution had 175 out of 193 nations joining as co-sponsors, the highest number EVER for any United Nations General Assembly resolution.
The head of the United Nations said: “Yoga can bring communities together in an inclusive manner that generates respect; it can promote peace and development”.
The resolution was first proposed earlier this year by the new Prime Minster of India who tweeted:“Elated, have no words to describe my joy, Yoga has the power to bring the entire humankind together; it can bring harmony between man and nature, simpler lifestyles and can help fight climate change. It beautifully combines Gyana (knowledge), Karma (work) and Bhakti (devotion)”.
Here Prime Minister Modi, who is himself an avid Yoga practitioner, is referring to yoga as more than just Asana. He is also inferring the Sanskrit word “Yoga’ that pervades all of the Vedic/Hindu scriptures to mean, yoke, join, or unify the fragmented human psyche and the disjointed human family through a holistic and spiritual lifestyle.
Yoga is one of the six branches of classical Hindu philosophy, which comprise of natural laws that govern all human existence regardless of race, era, religion or culture. The teachings contained in these philosophies pave the way for the coexistence of all creatures under the Vedic principle of Vasudev Kutumbhkam, meaning “The Universe is One Family.”
We are free to follow and combine different types of yoga based on our unique constitution and circumstances and need not reject any religion, God or belief to do so:
Gyana Yoga – Yoga of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation
Karma Yoga - Yoga of selfless action, service, mindfulness & fulfilling karmic responsibility
Bhakti Yoga - Meditation, prayer, spiritual practices, devotional practices and Love
Raja Yoga – Practicing control over the mind and senses
As a daughter of a United Nations diplomat, I grew up as a world citizen without a country, religion, dogma, creed or even a language. Most of you reading this article may not have grown up in such an environment but probably have the same level of acceptance of people from all races, countries and religions.
However, if we want to achieve the peace and good will on earth that we all envision, we have to go one step further by also embracing the individual differences with our partners, friends, neighbors and family and friends.
Universal harmony, tolerance and acceptance sound really good in theory but they are the hardest thing to practice in real life.
You know I cannot resist a good Amma (my spiritual guru) story to illustrate my own experience
Many years ago, before I spent my days doing Vedic Astrology readings, I was deeply absorbed in yoga and meditation practice, sometimes sitting for up to 4 hours or more a day. I was being pulled by the” light” that allowed me to leave my body and touch the essence of my spirit on a daily basis. I was filled with bliss during meditation and blessed by the constant grace of peace and love that filled my heart. But when not meditating, I was troubled because my husband, a very rational scientist and mathematician, had no interest in exploring the path that was consuming me.
His mind was just as preoccupied with the beauty of software code, computer models and big data!!
He was good enough to go to see Amma with me once a year but beyond that he showed little concern that our lives seemed to be diverging in two very different directions.
One year we sat patiently with the children in the darshan line waiting for our turn for a hug from Amma. My husband was tired and jet lagged, as he had just flown in from a business trip from China, and not really in the mood for a hug at 2:00 am. He made a couple of unsanctimonious comments about the long wait that really pushed my buttons, so by the time we finally reached Amma an hour or so later, I was seething with anger and irritation.
I had waited a year for this special occasion for the whole family to receive a group blessing from my guru but hardly got any pleasure out of it. Once the hugging was finished Amma raised her eyebrows knowingly… her eyes said.. ”what’s up… why all this antagonism? I stared back at her, too embarrassed to say anything. She prodded further … “family OK”, she asked in English?”
I don’t speak the same Indian language as Amma, so a translator is usually at hand when Amma wants to have a conversation. I replied defiantly, “no Amma, family not Ok, he has no faith or belief in anything and especially not you, this makes it very difficult”.
“Amma he is very naughty, I said”. (I used that English word as I knew she would know the meaning).
Amma, laughed and pulled my ear (a gesture of punishment when you have been a naughty child in India), she said playfully…”you are the one who is very naughty”. Then she got serious and the translator took over, “everyone does not have to have to believe the same thing, forcing people to change and accept your way of thinking hinders their evolutionary progress”.
The next family was already in her arms and Amma’s assistants were ushering us back into the hall.
Ironically, I was embracing the Yogic teachings of surrendering my ego into the greater whole of universal consciousness, yet, I was struggling with practicing it in my own home, with my own husband.
I realized that the excitement and enthusiasm of blissful spiritual experiences on the meditation cushion (Bhakti Yoga) are not necessarily enough. Other practices prescribed by Yoga; selfless action and sacrifice (karma Yoga), introspection, contemplation and study (gyana Yoga) and control of the senses, cravings of strong likes and dislikes (Raja Yoga) may also need to be incorporated to fully open our heart.
Shortly afterwards, Amma suggested I take the up the study of Vedic Astrology which is a form of Yoga of knowledge (Gyana yoga). It revealed a whole new world to me. I learned that every single person has their own unique axiom based on their distinctive karma and dasha (planetary period) in the horoscope. Certain combinations of planets and their placements produce believers, others non believers, some like ritual and ceremony others cringe at the sight of it. Some yearn to lose themselves in the material world of money, power and success and others recoil at the thought of it. Some have the gift of discernment, others daring and courage.
Uniformity is un-natural and contrary to natural and divine Law. Contrast and disparities will always exist in the world but Yoga teaches us that all objects and beings in the world are children of the same One supreme consciousness - the divinity, the Self or the God in me is the same in all.
This Oneness is acknowledged in the Hindu tradition by joining our left and right hand together to say, Namaste, recognizing the meeting of opposites. Going even deeper into the spiritual meaning of Namaste is true Yoga -
"na maha" (not me) + “te” (you)- in other words NOT Me but YOU.
Wishing you all much Peace, Love and Light this Holiday season.