Today we celebrate India's birthday - August 15th, 2017, 70 years of independence - and many of us are reminded of India and her progress. Every year on this day, I have to address my fear that India may, in her pursuit to advance and modernize, over time lose her deep-rooted connection to Yoga, especially as less and less of her citizens have a true understanding of what Yoga is about.
If you ask an American what Yoga is, you will probably hear "a set of postures". If you ask an Indian what Yoga is, you will probably hear "a set of postures." The common thought is that Yoga is asana and asana is Yoga. I can understand that the practice of postures was brought to the West many years ago and it was termed "yoga", and hence those living here would naturally associate the two. But it was a surprise to me to find that most Indians have no further understanding of the meaning, practice, and depth of Yoga, or the essence of our history and tradition stemming from the ancient Vedas.
I was born on August 15th in America. Since childhood however I always considered myself to be Indian, and I owed this to the fact that somehow, being born on that date, I was induced with Indianism in my blood! When I was 16, I began reading vedic scriptures to understand who I was and where I was from. I was drawn to Vedanta, and read as many books as I could find from various great saints. I began studying Bhagavad Gita with commentaries by various known and unknown authors. In the same year, I decided to take a trip to India specifically for the purpose of inquiring about Hinduism and spiritual life. Though I had taken several trips to India prior, this one would be a solo trip, staying with my traditional relatives, with hopes of gaining insight from them on what I had been reading.
To my astonishment, no one in my family had ever heard of "Vedanta". When I inquired about real Yoga, they said they could buy me a mat or put me in classes. When I asked questions about Gita, they never described it as the greatest text on Yoga. In fact, there was no link at all in their mind with Yoga. When I spoke of Brahman, they corrected me and said, "No, it's Brahma." Or they'd say
"We are of the kshatriya caste, not brahmin, Amita." I visited bookstores and would ask for books on Vedanta... again, no one knew what I was talking about. I talked to as many people as I could. No one spoke to me on the topic of Yoga beyond postures or Vedas beyond history. I was disappointed.
Over the last 25 years, I've made annual trips to India for some reason or other, and not much has changed. I find myself explaining Yoga to people. That Yoga is not a practice of doing poses to get flexible and skinny. That Yoga is the spiritual path (of which there are four) which leads one to moksha. That Yoga is also the state of being described as existence-knowledge-bliss. On this 15th day of August, as I'm reminded of India and all she has given us, I wanted to take a moment to write that as members of this Mission, we are all carrying the torch of vedic knowledge forward. Yoga, as taught to us by Gurudev and our devoted Swamis and Acharyas, will remain alive in it's true depth of meaning. Our children will learn, and they too will pass on the knowledge. Not only is our Mission helping to serve us and our families, it is helping us to serve our Indian civilization, the source of our Vedas, to remain rich in vedic tradition and heritage.
You may not realize this, but you are one of the very few people who have a grasp of what spiritual practice is, beyond mere ritual. You're learning Yoga as derived from our ancient Vedas, and that learning in itself is a great service. You are protecting an ancient knowledge from going astray. In the same way that some individuals are trying to protect endangered elephants from becoming extinct by distributing knowledge of their diminishing population, we will become the means to distribute knowledge of a diminishing heritage, of a lost meaning of Yoga and Vedanta.
On this day let us celebrate India for all her glories, and let us celebrate our dedication to the cause of Chinmaya Mission, to continue the teachings of Gurudev in Yoga and Sanatana Dharma that was once, and should always be, India's greatest mark.