This monumental volume, Universal Brotherhood Through Yoga, was released at Vigyan Bhavan on 21 January 2019 by the Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu and Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Sarsanghchalak in the presence of a numerous and distinguished public. The aim of the Somaiya Vidya Vihar editors was to produce a compendium of literature on yoga in all its aspects, historical, cultural, spiritual, physiological and social, which all contribute to India’s intangible heritage and expanding soft power in the world. Samir Somaiya, president of the Vidya Vihar, alludes in his preface to the renaissance of yoga triggered by the proclamation of international yoga day by the UN General Assembly on 21 June 2015.
Browsing through the book one gains awareness that yoga is much more than a breathing technique and a gymnastic based on a psycho-somatic theory. There is in it both an underlying cosmology emanating from samkhya epistemology and a transformative philosophy of society related to the purusharthas, the varnashrama dharma, as well as an ethics delineated by the ashtangas and the 13 acharas. The three converging paths of karma, jnana and bhakti traced by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita are open to all human beings according to their personal dispositions and to their aspirations and abilities for self-improvement. Yoga may be seen as the flexible but strong framework valid for both individual life and the community in the sense that it provides a beneficial discipline and reveals a worthy goal for all to pursue, over and above success and wealth acquisition.
Although it does not lay out a political model or an economic concept to be legislated, yoga can be seen as a series of principles to regulate and shape local and national societies and eventually the global community in full harmony with the laws of nature and with the human psychic and material needs while giving free rein to cultural diversity. By optimising human capital, the yogic praxis helps every person to define their dharma in consonance with self and common interest much more consistently and effectively than the arbitrary and piecemeal, often internally contradictory concepts of human rights, group rights and other claims which provide the justifications for contemporary political and financial theories and institutions. For that reason India could become once again, as she was in the times of pan-Asian Buddhist expansion, the promoter of a new and yet ageless social philosophy for the world. The time is ripe following the slow demise of Soviet and Chinese-style socialism and in a context of turmoil and possibly terminal crisis for western free market liberalism and secular democracy.
Appropriately the sixth of the seven sections of the book is dedicated to the social dimension and in it, Justice B.N. Srikrishna contrasts the values of Hindu tradition with those upheld in the country’s secular Constitution.
The aforesaid seven sections cover most applications of and fields of relevance to the discipline. While some of the contributors of the first part, among them N.G. Kulkarni and Uma Vaidya analyse the philosophical underpinnings of yoga in the Patanjali sutras and the Yogavasishta they unearth its historic roots, pointing to the parallels and commonalities with Buddhism and Jainism, others like Archbishop Machado of Vasai highlight its interreligious message which resonates with mystical traditions of the West and Sabir Shaikh emphasises the fundamental role of asanas in the yogic journey. Jordan Walker investigates the psychological method (relevant to our times as well) used by Sri Krishna to dispel Arjuna’s mental confusion and intellectual rigidity and Ian Whicher brings out the social, collective concerns of the yogic worldview (integrating the moral and the mystical) too often ignored by those who want to see it as a self-centred, almost misanthropic attitude. In that sense he responds to Kulkarni’s essay which emphasised Patanjali’s viyoga concept of radical separation of purusha (the static divine soul) from prakriti (dynamic but blind matter) and underlined the rather dry and surgical concision of the yogasutra. S.H. Agashe depicts I.K. Taimni’s methodic approach to yoga and its impact on the modern evolution of the discipline.
Various authors address the matter of supernatural powers which Patanjali describes as effects (vibhuti) of ashtangayoga sadhana and which rationalists regard as fictional or as beliefs caused by hallucinations. Whatever we may think of those allegations various “yogic” paranormal powers have been demonstrated and studied under scientific conditions and we cannot dismiss a possible factual basis for those claims. Patanjali takes pain to warn that such siddhis are obstacles to the attainment of samadhi, the true objective and should therefore be shunned although tantric texts do not necessarily agree with his verdict as Kala Acharya points out in her nearly exhaustive review of yoga schools and traditions in ancient and medieval India.
The second part examines the practices and effects of yoga on the lives of individual practitioners and on society. S. Mhaskar analyses the transformative impact of yoga training on jail inmates in the penal system. A. Ganesh Rao covers its evident relevance to sports, while H.R. Nagendra examines the implications of combining a yogic therapy with “western” medical treatment. A case study by M. Khanna and V.S. Bhilawadikar of the impact of a major yoga-based manufacturing and commercial venture, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali is followed by A. Bhatia and A. Sengupta’s assessment of the relevance of yogic training and mindset to the very contemporary issue of Artificial Intelligence’s invasion of the workplace. K. Dhargalkar attempts to relate the attitude generated by yogic practices with the features demonstrated by exceptionally creative and influential individuals such as Nobel science laureates.
In the third section the book enshrines some thoughts contributed by a few figures who propagated principles of yoga in various forms including Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda, Shri Nimbalkar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar and even more recently Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Swami Paramatmananda and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The vast number of those modern masters has not allowed the authors of this book to dedicate articles to all of them and several like Swami Sivananda, Ma Anandamayee Ma, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Ranganathananda, Yogi Bhajan or Baba Muktananda do not feature in its pages but the reader however can form an impression of the contribution of the yoga-vedanta culture to almost aspects of human activity since thousands of years.
The fourth section encapsulates the personal yoga experiences of practitioners from diverse backgrounds. The fifth, dedicated to religion and cultures features scholars and spiritual seekers belonging to various countries and civilisations: pre-Colombian Central American, Islamic and Christian.
The seventh and last section looks at the “global scenario”, focusing on the successes of the system in the modern world and yet noting misunderstandings and deviations arising in a “western” context far-removed from Indic notions and ideas. At this point one cannot avoid reflecting on the contradiction implicit between the yogic rejection of desires to justify action (nishkama karma), implying to relinquish even hope in order to reach mental equipoise and the wholly goal-oriented, passion and greed driven ideals and praxis of the modern civilisation. Can our societies acknowledge the need to modify people by a sense of duty rather than by the often unrealistic expectation of success and reward which can in reaction generate depression or revolt?
The epilogue by D. Karambelkar sums up the overall thesis that yoga is a suitable and comprehensive foundation for achieving the ideal of universal brotherhood, which also implies union (yoga), for a global Rama Rajya.
Four appendices conclude the volume and the second consists of a very useful anthology of yoga texts through which the reader may pursue his quest and rise in his understanding of this metaphorical ocean of wisdom.