Yoga and Unpleasant Actions
by Rajiv Malhotra

A recent debate, on whether Wilber's misappropriations deserved a response from practicing yogis, but they were reluctant to "engage," reminds me of many similar instances. The common thread of logic is: even after becoming convinced that something wrong is going on, the person recoils at the very thought of engaging the issue socially, especially when it comes to confronting the opponent.

In justifying this "world negation" stance, in the face of social injustice, he uses various arguments, such as:

1. INNER ONLY THEORY: I am a yogi and don't believe in criticizing others, because mine is internal sadhana.

2. ILLUSION THEORY: Since it is all mithya, anyway, why bother with "fixing" this external illusory reality. (By implication, Mother Teresa's sponsors are right in that Indic culture is inherently inferior on this count. Ronald Inden called this the "patient-doctor" relationship, in which the colonized gets placed in an institution run by the colonizer.)

3. SAMENESS THEORY: Just as every drop of water that falls from the sky ultimately reaches the ocean, no matter what path it takes, so also every jiva ultimately reaches Brahman. Therefore, why should I criticize another's path?

4. 'KARMA = FATALISM' THEORY: To the extent it could be called 'suffering' (while in reality it is only mithya), it is what is meant to be happening, based on prarabdh caused by one's own past life karma.

Yet, on the other side, there are many arguments that oppose this world negation:

A. Historically, Indians were also very advanced in the Outer realm as compared to, say, Europeans of that time. This is evidenced from Harappan times to pre-colonial times, in materialistic, artistic and economic competence. Hence Outer is not in opposition to Inner, based on historical evidence. (This makes it vital to set the historical textbooks right.) Hence, Jung's warning that Westerners beware against the practice of yoga for it would turn them into less scientific, rational, and progressive, was based on his false diagnosis of modern poverty in India.

B. After attaining moksha/nirvana, great figures in Classical India engaged the world - Buddha, Shankara, Ramanuja, Abhinavgupta, Kabir, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, and many others. Inner heights did not make them neglect the outer, and on the contrary they became more committed to outer engagement.

C. The whole moral of Gita is on this very issue: Arjuna starts off as world negating, using the arguments similar to #1 thru #4 above. The whole scripture revolves around the importance of a yogi being also able to engage the outer realm, including actions that appear "unpleasant." This has to be done with dispassion. Any yogi who complains that responding to Wilber (for instance) is un-yogic should re-read the Gita.

D. Brahmin and kshatriya dharmas are job descriptions for work pertaining to inner and outer realms, respectively. This separation and distinction is very deeply enshrined in Hindu thought. It equates roughly to today's Western notion of separation of church and state, falsely considered a unique discovery of the Western mind. (Basing these jobs on birth is a corruption and abuse of the system, just as nepotism today in giving jobs to one's kids would be considered.) This doctrine also emphasizes that neither can be subverted or ignored by the other.

E. It seems that conquerors emphasized this world negating loftiness, because it enabled them to make Hindus into their servants, and yet in a manner that the Hindus could feel was in their own best interest. It started with Muslim conquerors agreeing to not slaughter the captured provided they would become slaves, and in many cases also agree to get castrated. This ethos of weakness, dependence, and servitude, became the opposite of the dominant culture's own self image as being in charge and destined to rule. The British continued this direction far deeper and in more sophisticated ways than the Muslims. Post-independence India adopted this ethos in certain ways as well. This led to over-emphasis upon on certain selected aspects of Hindu texts, without looking at the complete picture given in these texts.

F. Gandhi is falsely portrayed as "tolerant," when he emphasized the importance to stand up to injustice. He promoted nonviolent resistance and engagement with the opponents, or else there would have been no movement against the British. His was a path of intense self sacrifice to stand up and "confront" the opponent so as to bring down the mechanisms that sustained the opponent - largely economic boycotts and refusal to obey unjust laws. Too many so-called "Gandhians" today are using a false interpretation of Gandhi as a way to legitimize being lazy, inactive, TV couch potatoes. The first requirement of Gandhi, of starting with one's supreme self sacrifice - "be the change that you want to see in the world" - is not evident in their personal lives.

G. All rivers do not end up in one big Ocean. Some also end up in the Dead Sea. Otherwise, there would be moral relativism, in which "anything goes," including adharmic ways. "Hinduism = way of life" has become a dangerous copout by those failing to properly explain what it means. Even the drug culture, Al Qaeda lifestyle, corruption, and so forth, are "a way of life." In fact, EVERY lifestyle is "a way of life" of one kind or another. Hence, #3 above is a false idea.

H. Karma is NOT fatalism. On the contrary, by explaining the present circumstance using a comprehensive system, it compels the person to take full responsibility for his choices "to be made" in the present moment, and to stop blaming the universe for the present moment.

I. Advaita Vedanta is the only worldview, out of many Hindu theologies, that could possibly be interpreted as being world negating. All other worldviews, include many Vedanta interpretations, Kashmir Shaivism, Shakta/Devi paths, and so forth, are explicitly world affirming. Even Advaita Vedanta is not calling for becoming morons in the face of social responsibility - that is just a copout by those often seeking to glamorize selfish laziness. (Consider, for instance, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Pennsylvania. He is one of the foremost proponents of Advaita Vedanta today. Yet, he has tirelessly worked in social activism in all sorts of projects worldwide, for many decades. Followers should learn from his life lived, as an example of Advaita Vedanta in action.)

J. Sri Aurobindo inspired the Mother to build a whole city of Auroville in India, specifically as an experiment in the outer realm to imbibe certain principles. A visit there convinces one that this project is not founded on a world disengagement philosophy. With so many exemplars living world affirming lives as role models, why do so many Hindus continue to buy this nonsense about glorified moronism as the way to enlightenment?

I would welcome feedback on this. It is not specifically with respect to Ken Wilber, as that is merely the latest instance to manifest this meme-plex (of world negation) sitting within a vast number of Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas, and neo-Indic thinkers of various sorts.

This is part of my larger research into whether Indic traditions are the cause of today's social mess, or whether they offer resources for solutions.

At the same time, I want to caution against taking the above out of context and using it to promote any adharmic chauvinism against minorities, because dharma very explicitly also calls for respect for minority jatis. Dharma is very pluralistic, and against homogenization – that is another subject also of great importance.