We are a nation of yogis. Or maybe I should say pseudo Yogis. We are spiritually enlightened and evolved; we quote from The Bhagvad Gita at the drop of a hat; Ramdev or no Ramdev , we know “yoga” very well,; we worship animals and plants as manifestations of the Divine; we have a plethora of gurus, saints and sadhus. Name what you desire in the name of god, religion or spirituality and you will find it hidden in some corner of the country. It has often been said that you can take an Indian away from God but cannot take God away from an Indian. Even the most atheistic of us has god lingering somewhere in the periphery of his or her existence- maybe in the form of a devout spouse or parent or the ever so welcome public holiday.
However,we have our own interpretation of religion, spirituality and Bhagvad Gita that changes as per our needs. At the core of our existence and existential dilemma lies the body-spirit duality. Dwelling in the spiritual realm as we do, we look down upon the body- anything physical in fact. So it’s perfectly okay to just sit around and bloat up rather than exert and get into shape. The body, we say, is not worth fretting over. Not that there are many fitness enthusiasts, but a few who do take physical fitness seriously are frowned down upon as being vain. They are deemed to be too caught up with corporeal affairs to pursue our higher spiritual goals seriously. When did being physically unfit translate into being spiritual, I fail to see. All that we do in the name of physical exercise is a sham of a walk and a bigger sham of yoga. Walk means a community get together of men or women strolling along discussing their household or national problems. Yoga, one of the best gifts you can give yourself, has somehow become synonymous with furious stomach pumping and graceless poses struck at all odd angles. Visit any community park in the morning and you will know what I’m talking about. Ramdev may have popularised yoga, pranayam more specifically, but the way this ancient practice is being carried on leaves a lot to be desired.
Strangely, the body that we deride throughout our lives, gains paramount importance when someone dies. Yes, the death of a beloved is a great loss and I don’t mean to belittle that loss. My point is simply that, when someone dies and a body departs, we don’t take a second to burst into collective outpouring of grief, forgetting that the soul is immortal. The same body that was not worth caring for is now of paramount importance. The knowledge about the soul being immortal and the body being mere garments as espoused in the Bhagvad Gita, is reserved only while being lazy, ignoring the body’s legitimate demands of being cared for or for consoling others. The whole relationship and dynamics of the body-soul seem rather nebulous and open to interpretation.
Closely related to this Yogic quest for even mindedness in the face of adversity is the reality of our existence wherein we daily fail in this search. The first trial of the day, a traffic snarl or a recalcitrant child, and there goes the equanimity. If anyone dares to point out this shortcoming, we are quick to retort with one of the many anecdotes from Hindu mythology- say of Lord Shiva Himself losing His cool on losing His wife, Sati. When Lord Almighty failed, what can be expected of us lesser mortals? Yes, life is full of trials and tribulations, some of far greater gravity and intensity than our daily tin pot tragedies. Repeated attempts at maintaining and regaining this ever elusive equanimity alone will get us somewhere on the path- professing it out loud and making excuses when you fail, will not. Again, the line between even mindedness and smug complacency is so fine that most of us err on the side of the latter.
“Karma” and destiny are other concepts that never fail to beguile me. As I see it, the former basically translates into something as simple as “As you sow, so shall you reap”. Yet I have heard it in all its avatars- a threat when someone else commits a wrong (“your karmas will come to haunt you”); refusing to assume the responsibility for a wrong action and instead attributing the result to a past karma. Combine it with our lopsided understanding of “destiny” and you have the deadliest of all combinations. Refuse to be proactive, blame destiny; face to face with the repercussions of a foolish decision, blame both karma and destiny; refuse to introspect and learn from your past – blame destiny, karma and the stars above instead. So many more such permutations and combinations are afloat that it is truly bewildering.
As we blunder through our daily lives, we the denizens of this land of snake charmers and sadhus, seem to have forgotten the very basic tenet of The Bhagavad Gita- Surrender unto me.
mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja
ahaḿ tvāḿ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear. (Chapter 18, Verse 66)
Or maybe we haven’t. Only that this surrender too we have interpreted superficially to suit ourselves- blame the Lord above and continue in your foolish ways while taking His name once in a while. And so lives on the Great Indian Pseudo Yogi!