By Bikash Sarmah
As the world observes the first Intertiol Yoga Day today, it is time indeed that we pondered as to whether yoga is just yet another form of physical exercise to keep oneself fit and moving in a world where there is no paucity of adulterated food with its concomitant health hazards or whether this ancient Indian practice, modified though to myriad forms today, is mere physicality.
What is yoga? It means union. Union of what? Of body, mind and soul. The body is palpable, the mind is a mystery, and the soul is a far deeper mystery. The body is prone to malaises of different hues, and so we have hospitals of different hues too. Yoga offers the best solution if performed regularly and rigorously — of this there is no doubt as proven time and again, more so in recent times when yoga has already metamorphosed into a roaring industry. So much so that in the US, the Western yoga hub, it is a $27-billion industry with 20 million people practising it — one in six households.
What about yoga vis-à-vis mind? The mind is restless. Seldom is it empty. Seldom does it rest. Why so? That is the very ture of mind, the character of mind if one may say so. Yoga makes a serious effort at stopping the tumult called mind, trying to make it rest, however little be the time, thus trying to make an impact on its very character. What kind of impact? An impact that would have the mind mind itself! The mind becomes its own observer. Some kind of control thus, some mental refreshment, some flow of new mental energy, some new insight.
Praayaam is said to be the best form of yoga to tame the mind. It is a set of breathing exercises practised at ease without pressuring the body in any way, except in the practice of kapaalbhaati in which there is a bit of pressure on the abdomen. It has been proven that the regular practice of praayaam serves as a pacea to almost all ills. Research continues ubated. But what is remarkable is the manner in which it works on one’s mind, putting positive fetters about it, controlling it. Of course it depends on the practitioner — he must do it with full concentration, trying his best to control the restless and fleeting mind.
Now the strangest of all, the soul. Many definitions have been given as to what really soul is or whether there is anything called soul by a whole gamut of erudite philosophers, psychologists and spiritual leaders. But clarity is still missing. Swami Vivekanda talks of a Universal Soul — the Ultimate Reality, the Infinite, the Absolute — of whose reflections individual souls are. To a layman, this is a very complicated philosophy. But to use simple language, soul is perhaps (the word perhaps is used because even here there is no clarity) the spirit or life force that generates our consciousness and drives our intellect or mind — the soul is the driver and the mind its beloved passenger with profound impact on another passenger, the body, while all are obviously interconnected. Praayaam, interestingly, is also about this strange life-driving formlessness called soul. But one has to be in an absolutely meditative state to realize all this — the life force, the vast human potential, the man-is-god realization.
That said, we must now harp on Nichiren Buddhism, an interpretation of Buddhism based on the Lotus Sutra where one finds the highest teachings of the Buddha, founded by Nichiren Daishonin, a brilliant 13th-century (1222-1282) Japanese monk. This stream of Buddhism is based on the belief that every person has limitless potential and has a Buddha ture within that one can realize in this lifetime. In other words, Buddhahood is a great possibility and opportunity. The Soka Gakkai Intertiol (SGI), a Japanese spiritual movement based on Nichiren Buddhism, which started in 1930 but took its present shape in 1975 (SGI is actually an intertiol NGO based on Nichiren Buddhism and working in the field of peace, education and culture in 192 countries, including of course India, with 12 million members), goes a step further and talks of ‘‘human revolution’’.
But why on earth are we dwelling on all this when we are talking of yoga? This is so because when it comes to praayaam vis-à-vis soul, there comes the question of one being able to go into a deep meditative state, the same kind of state if possible that the Buddha had when he attained enlightenment, the same kind of state that every person can have if he so desires so as to attain Buddhahood — something that Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes and something that SGI refines further as human revolution. In other words, there is a relation between yoga and human revolution.
Now what is human revolution? It is inner transformation towards realizing the vast human potential inherent in each one of us, which is unexplored and unimplemented in most of us, and being free from fear, hate, envy and all other negative emotions so that we evolve into human beings filled with love and compassion and are capable of being happy at others’ happiness. True, it is tough indeed, but not impossible. Through the right practice of yoga, accompanied by meditation, human revolution is possible.
The most valuable aspect of it all is that when human revolution takes place, religion gets a new attire and core — it is no longer about visiting places of worship, performing myriad rites and rituals to propitiate gods and goddesses, believing that one’s religion is the best one and deriding other faiths, and thus no longer about parochialism and hate that is so perilously prevalent today. Yoga, in that sense, is the best pacea to the problems bedevilling this hate-filled, violence-ridden world.
The controversy, therefore, as to whether yoga is a sheer Hindu tradition, which is repugnt to people of other faiths, is extremely unfortute. Yoga guru and spiritual leader Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, who is one of the most liberal and ratiol spiritual leaders in the country, has a classic counter to that controversy: ‘‘What is Hindu? This land that is protected by two geographical features — the Himalayas and the Indu sagara. If there is an earthworm here, it’s a Hindu earthworm. Now the political discourse has made Hindu into a religion. But there is no fixed belief system to be a Hindu. This is not a land of believers. This has been a land of seekers. And yoga as a science of inner well-being became a possibility here because we are a land of seekers.’’ So very true.
As said earlier, yoga can bring about an inner transformation and consequently human revolution that can go a long way in ushering in sustaible peace, and it is this aspect of yoga that is so very relevant in the Northeast today. Affected by militancies of varied hues, with their concomitant bloodshed, the Northeast, otherwise an ethno-cultural jewel (given its incredible diversity and pristine heritage), is crying for peace aloud. What better thing to do than to popularize yoga, not just as physical exercise but also as a psychological and spiritual venture beyond any religion, and thus help people revolutionize themselves. We have had enough of political and social revolutions in this region. Yes, we need economic and industrial revolutions here, given the lack of development and prevalence of backwardness. But more than anything else, we need a human revolution first, and when this happens, the rest will follow eventually. It is all a matter of individual will and, most importantly, the courage to decondition oneself and take to the path of human revolution to be evolved, enlightened and better human beings. In fact schools, colleges and universities can have yoga courses in their syllabi — after all, yoga is about educating oneself towards revolutionizing oneself.
Happy Yoga Day.
(The writer, a former Editor of The Sentinel, is doing independent research on yoga. He can be reached at email@example.com)