Inner paths for the good life
Author: Dr. Christoph Harrach
Issue No: 89
“Without peace there can be no sustainable development(United Nations 2015: 2)
and without sustainable development there can be no peace.”
(Sanskrit: May all beings experience happiness and harmony.)
“Lokāḥ Samastāḥ Sukhino Bhavantu.”
Economist and yoga teacher Dr. Christoph Harrach explores in detail how the philosophy and practice of yoga can contribute to sustainable development. In doing so, it becomes clear that yoga as a spiritual path of practice directs the gaze from external structures to the inner self of human beings in order to achieve the desired changes towards a just and healthy world.
How can we live in such a way that peace or Sanskrit Shanti is possible for all? This article would like to make an attempt to answer this question from two different perspectives, whose interactions have not yet been sufficiently studied and discussed. This is despite the fact that both perspectives are highly relevant to our society today. First, it is becoming clear in the public and political debate that the way we live today (especially in the Western industrialized nations) is not sustainable. Our consumer and fun society consumes too many natural resources through a materialistic lifestyle, which is, however, politically legitimized by the ideal of steady economic growth. At the same time, signs of change are becoming visible beyond the protests of the “Fridays for Future” movement: when, for example, before the formation of a new German government, almost 70 major German companies publicly appeal to it to launch “an implementation offensive for climate neutrality” as quickly as possible (Foundation 2 degrees 2021), this is a clear signal that the issue of sustainability has moved from the “cereal corner” to the center of society and among decision-makers.
The imminent need to change the way we live and do business represents a major challenge for all of humanity, and there are countless ideas on how this can be implemented.
In the search for suitable solutions for the “Great Transformation” (Schellnhuber et al. 2011), the focus is more on technological and less on social innovations. In addition to these political and economic changes, a trend of alternative healing methods can be observed in Western countries. In the search for a healthy body and mind, the importance of Far Eastern healing methods is increasing. A popular discipline that can be connected to Western culture comes from India. As a practical exercise system for maintaining health, yoga has gained a high level of social acceptance in recent decades. In studying the effects of a yoga practice, in addition to the many positive health effects, we find the first indications that yoga can also have a positive impact on social development.
Wondering how yoga can contribute to a more sustainable world? Find out more in the full version of the text – you’ll find the link below after the text excerpts!
THE GREAT CRISIS – SUSTAINABILITY
Against a backdrop of intensifying social, environmental and economic global challenges, the issue of sustainability is becoming increasingly important to society. It is understood as a concept originating in forestry, according to which people should not take more wood from the forest than can grow back naturally (von Carlowitz 1713). The politically derived idea of sustainable development describes “development that meets the needs of the present without risking that future generations will not be able to meet their own needs” (Brundtlandt et al. 1987: 51). The “Post-2015 Development Agenda” adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 (United Nations 2015: 1) provides a new reference point for sustainable development under international law. This “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” sets out a comprehensive global understanding of prosperity in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To achieve this prosperity, the so-called “Five Ps” are prefixed in the preamble as core areas that are to apply as principles guiding action to achieve the 17 goals: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. In this context, the aspect “peace” represents the overall goal of sustainable development and “partnership” can be understood as a synonym for shared responsibility between different social groups.
WHAT IS YOGA?
This section presents yoga as a tool for crisis management. It begins with a philosophical introduction before going on to present the development of yoga in the West. Then, various classical paths of yoga are explained to conclude with a synthesis of important yoga principles.
In one of the most important scriptures of yoga philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, yoga is explained in verse 50 of the second chapter as “skill in action” (Sankrit: yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam) (Sivananda Swami, 1998: 70). This action-based definition should be understood in the overall context of the Bhagavad Gita. The dialogue in the epic between a spiritual teacher named Krishna and his disciple Arjuna is about overcoming a great crisis of humanity. It is about good and evil, responsibility and ethics, decision-making in extreme situations and, in essence, how we as humans should deal with crisis situations. The warrior Arjuna plays a crucial leading role in this. He is overwhelmed with the tragic situation he finds himself in, and in the first chapter (verse 30) he shows specific symptoms of burnout: “The bow escapes my hand, and also the skin burns all over my body; my legs fail me, and so my mind becomes fickle.” (Sivananda Swami, 1998: 47) In the following chapters, Krishna instructs him to realize that all problems in the material world always originate in human consciousness. In addition, Krishna teaches him concrete principles and practices as a “coach” on how to respond as a human being to such challenging situations.
Can we overcome the current crisis in human history if we behave more skillfully in the spirit of yoga in the future? Download the full article and learn more.
Sangha describes the principle of community in yoga. With this principle it becomes clear that yoga is more than a personal path of practice. Although in the classical yoga traditions of India there are also the ascetic practices of withdrawal from society, the exchange with like-minded people and the common practice are central pillars in yoga.
The goal of this community is to inspire each other, in the spirit of Swami Sivananda’s quote, “To light a candle, it takes a flame.”
This image can be interpreted in two ways: The yoga practitioner needs inspirational people who can light the flame in his/her heart. And every yoga practitioner has the potential to ignite this flame in other people. The values of living together “Yamas” by Patanjali are especially relevant. In chapter 2 verse 30 they are defined as follows: “The yamas consist of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence and incorruptibility.” (Bretz 2001: 115) If we abide by these basic rules, peaceful community is possible. Sangha can be used to express the cooperative and partnership approach in yoga.
Seva means “service” in Sanskrit. It is a principle of cultivating one’s ego by serving other people and God. Behind seva is the value of universal equality of all creatures, which can also be expressed as “Unity in Diversity.” This idea that in all different manifestations in the material world there is the Divine is expressed in verse 18 in the fifth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita as follows: “Wise men see no difference between a learned and pious Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, and even a dog and a casteless man.” (Sivananda Swami 1998: 119) The more a yogi:ni helps and uplifts his/her fellow creatures via unselfish service, the more he/she can realize compassion, solidarity, social justice and human dignity in everyday life.
About the author: Dr. Christroph Harrach
Yoga teacher and economist Dr. Christoph Harrach is considered a thought leader for sustainable and healthy lifestyles as well as responsible business. In 2010, he received the German Sustainability Award for his work with KarmaKonsum. He is one of the project sponsors of UNESCO’s Decade for Sustainable Education and is an ambassador for the common good economy.
He has practiced integral yoga for over 27 years and conducts research as a sustainability scientist on the organizational psychological aspects of sustainable development.
This article has also been published on the German Website: Yoga der Nachhaltigkeit