True education is about filtering—the ability to distinguish the substantial from the trivial. However, it is not easy. Many of us tend to get carried away by the outer manifestation of a thing—its immediate utility, packaging and visibility. Again, as a matter of protest the critics negate the entire thing, and as a result, they too miss the fragrance of the substantial. That is the riddle. This small piece throws new light on this riddle—particularly with reference to the packaging of yoga.
We live in a world that promotes all sorts of dualism and division. And modernity—particularly,its dominant pattern, we all know, is centred on this dualistic principle; Francis Bacon established man’s supremacy over nature; Rene Descartes pleaded for the duality of body and mind; rationalists separated physics from metaphysics; and secularists deprived the phenomenal of the touch of the transcendental. In fact, violence is not an aberration; violence is inherent in the dualistic principle of modernity. Yet, as many non-modern/ancient civilizations have shown us, there has been a quest for overcoming all sorts of duality and division—the quest for the ultimate union. And yoga is precisely this striving for love. Because love arouses the infinite in the finite; love transforms the body into an aesthetic site for the play of the divine; love releases the energy that manifests itself in positive/life-affirming action and knowledge. Love is the ultimate union. Yoga unites love, knowledge and practice.
However, our cunning intelligence and politics have the capacity to appropriate and hence falsify everything. As a result, yoga can be reduced into a doctor’s prescription – asanas and pranayam for curing blood sugar and hyper tension; yoga can be sold as a brand product from a particularly country or religion. True, yoga cures and heals the body; but then, it does not stop there; it prepares the body for the union with the divine. Likewise, it is true that the principles of yoga were nurtured and cultivated in ancient India, and its many sages—from Patanjali to Sri Aurobindo—took it to a great height; but then, its very beauty is that it cannot limit itself to a particular culture or religion. In other words, if we attach a purely politico-instrumental meaning to yoga, it loses its deeper meaning and function.
In modern times we seem to be in a hurry. Speed characterizes our times. We understand only the language of utility. No wonder,yoga is popularized as yet another medicine; or yoga is seen as a ‘nationalist’ symbol that the proponents of cultural nationalism are eager to promote; and television channels and ad agencies realize its market value, and sell it as a packaged product. As a result, everything that is really profound about yoga—silence, tranquility, meditative concentration and boundless love—is forgotten. What remains is a spectacle. Or some quick breathing control exercises in the railway coach, in the open park—at the time of morning walk, or in front of a television set.
At the same time, it is absurd to negate yoga in the name of secularism. The task is to filter what is truly meaningful from what is trivial. A television-mediated guru, or a government with a certain school of thought, or many confused souls striving for some sort of immediate relief from their physical maladies might have distorted the spirit of yoga. But that should not mean that the true quest for yoga, or for the non-dual in a dualistic world is wrong—the way even in a violent society the spirit of Chirst’s Sermon on the mount cannot be said to be undesirable, or even in a class-divided society Marx’s plea for a communist society (communism, wrote Marx, is the transcendence of all dualities) is not wrong. In fact, like all noble truths (be it buddhahood or sufi ecstasy) yoga doesn’t have any religion, any boundary, any nationalist tag. How can you limit the infinite? If secularism misses it (and there is every possibility that it might miss it because it too is a product of a dualistic/modern world), it falls into the same trap—no less different from religious nationalism (another modernist cult) as far as its orthodoxy is concerned. The real challenge is how we internalize its true spirit.