As we write this, from our home base in Minnesota, we have been reflecting on issues of race in yoga. From a philosophical perspective, any perceived difference between people (or beings of any kind) is not only a problem, but the cause of suffering.
In Samkhya, all physical matter is pakriti and therefore, not purusha. Meaning, bodies, skin, physical features are all of the material world. While the material world is real, we suffer because we mistake it for who we are. Liberation is the knowledge that we are not matter, but spirit.
In Advaita Vedanta, names and forms are nothing but Brahman. It is Maya, or illusion, that makes us see individuals as separate and prevents us from seeing everything as one. This sense of separation is why we suffer. Here, liberation is knowledge of the true self. This self is the same in all beings.
We were recently in a class where we were studying the Upanisads. A classmate raised some issues with a passage that we thought seemed standard at first glance. The passage says this:
Lightness, health, the absence of greed, a bright complexion, a pleasant voice, a sweet smell and very little faeces and urine-- that, they say, is the first working of yogic practice. Svetasvatara Upanisad 2.13
Our classmate highlighted "lightness" and "a bright complexion". When he pressed on, it was revealed that it could literally mean a light color of skin. Let's hope that was not the intended meaning for the verse. Regardless, it is a reminder to keep our eyes and ears open.
So, this is a time to carry on as people and as yogis. As students we have to be aware of what we don't already see. To continuously learn, question and practice with as much humility and discipline as we can muster.
As yogis we need to be ever kind, peaceful and clear with our words and actions. Black lives matter. Racism is wrong. On down the path we go.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
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