As we look around us today, world peace and happiness for all beings seem all but an unattainable distant dream. Wherever we turn we are confronted with stories of exploitation of others and of the earth natural resources, corruption, greed, murders, rapes, wars, terrorism...
Mahatma Gandhi explained the solution: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
So if we really want to live in a world of social justice, peace and harmony, we must start with ourselves and change our own thoughts and behaviour patterns. The battle we have to fight is not with the world outside but within. As spiritual warriors we must have the courage and discipline to travel the internal path that leads to our Eternal Self. Staying on the path is a constant battle; as well as the expected crossroads, bumps and potholes, we encounter many temptations and false prophets that distract us from our ultimate purpose.
Throughout the ages the secret of yoga was imparted through oral traditions only until the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first record a road map in the form of sutras (aphorisms). These threads reveal the safest route and detail eight steps that culminate in the blissful state of our final destination.
The first step outline five yamas (bridle or reins). These five pearls of wisdom guide our relationships with all sentient beings and guard us from going astray. They are ahimsa (non violence), satya(non lying), asteya (non stealing), bramacharya (walking with Brahman) and aparigraha (non greed).
The second step gives us five niyamas (positive duties or observances). These five jewels ask us to cultivate our mind garden with virtues that help us take care for our inner being and keep our inner light shining and our path illuminated. These are saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadyaya (self-study) and ishvra pradnidhana (surrender to the Divine).
The third step teaches us to release the knots and tensions help in the physical body. Through the exploration of asanas (physical postures) we develop the strength, flexibility and stamina necessary to withstand hours of meditation.
The fourth step initiate us in pranayama (control of life force). There, we learn various breathing techniques and practices to explore our energy body. With the combination of asanas and pranayama we can combat diseases and retain optimal health.
The fifth step, pratyahara (control of the senses), offer an expansion in self awareness so we can observe the inner working of our mind without external distractions.
On the sixth step dharana (holding steady or concentration) gives us the tools to keep our mind focused on a single object to prepare us for the meditations ahead.
The seventh steps, dyana (meditation), is defined by Swami Satyananda as when the mind has been able to transcend the knowledge of smell, sound, touch, form and taste, and at the same time, when the consciousness is functioning around one point.
The last and eight step of our journey culminates in samadhi (a joining together) also known as the state of perfect bliss that merges with the Cosmic Consciousness.
Even more important than getting on our mats is the practice mindfulness throughout our day. It doesn't take any time to bring your full attention to our inhalation and our exhalation. By bringing our attention to our breathing we are able to unite body and mind and arrive fully in the present moment. When we come home to the present moment and let go of thoughts about the past or the future, we can generate peace and joy and become an instrument of peace.
Getting on our mat each and every single morning to perform our sadhana (spiritual practice) is not easy but well worth the effort. We must practice for the Universal Mind, even if we struggle to do it for ourselves. We are all part of this huge sea of consciousness: when we look at the ocean we cannot see the individual droplets, just the huge expanse of water: but even the tiniest drop in its own subtle way pervades the entire essence of the ocean. So we must think very carefully about what we are feeding into the sea as individual.
We must also remember that only by changing ourselves first, can we hope to achieve creating a fairer world for all beings to live in peace and harmony.