Non-violence is the beginning of yoga. As a general rule I like to stay out of controversies, current events, or trumpeting my political views from the platform of a yoga teacher. As a general rule I spend very little time focused on current events besides the daily process of becoming a sadhaka (or true seeker in yoga). I have even found I can keep up to date with current and world events by simply listening to the conversations of those around me. But when I heard last Friday about the killings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, something gripped me in my body. I had to stop and pay attention . . .
You probably know the facts but these hit me hard:
20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 were shot at least three times, some up to eleven times . . . some at close range.
The adults that were killed at the school were killed in the act of trying to stop the gunman, one young woman was shot to death while using her body as a human shield to protect the children.
I first read “a rifle” was used. It was an assault rifle–a “Bushmaster .223.” I’ve seen pictures. It’s a machine gun.
According to the investigation, the gunman had a noticeable inability to experience physical pain, like the pain of being burned, and had to be protected while playing baseball so as not to inflict severe injury upon himself due to some apparent lack of appropriate biofeedback and pain response.
So what in the hell do I have to say about this? Nothing really. I have nothing to say. No insights. No answers. But something in me demands that I write this and see what emerges in the process. There are just thoughts that keep popping into my head that are asking me to put them into writing so I can get a different look at them–perhaps a desperate but futile attempt for my human mind to try and answer its compulsion to make sense out of the facts it is presented with.
Here’s what I know. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has four parts or “pada.” The first pada focuses on Samadhi. One translation of samadhi is “blissful absorption.” It is a state associated with superconsciousness, tranquility, goodwill. It is described as a state of union with one’s true, abiding, blissful self, the entire creation–God Almighty. This is the state that gives rise to the experience (as opposed to the slogan) “we are all one.” In B.K.S. Iyengar’s words, “samadhi is yoga and yoga is samadhi . . . it is both the means and the goal.” This first pada of the Yoga Sutras goes on to acknowledge this state doesn’t exactly come easily as the path is wrought with obstacles. However, the sutras state, these obstacles can be overcome through the cultivation of certain states of mind. Iyengar calls them “healing states of mind.” They are: Maitri or friendliness, Karuna or compassion towards suffering, Mudita or rejoicing in the success of others, and Upekshanam or indifference to the vices or shortcomings of others (as well as to pleasure and pain). Let’s think about that: to overcome the obstacles to supreme happiness (the goal of yoga), and to deal with the sorrows that come in life, it is suggested we cultivate friendliness (maitri has also been translated as loving kindness), compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity . . .
Adam Lanza shot 20 children and 6 adults multiple times with a machine gun. What was it inside him that crowded out the maitri, the karuna, the mudita, the upekshanam?
After the luminous description of the exalted state of samadhi (or Union, or Yoga), Patanjali then turns the focus to more specific means for its attainment. The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is entitled Sadhana Pada. Sadhana means “practice.” This chapter contains in it an inescapable implication that a definite and conscious effort is required to move to the state of Samadhi. It essentially begins by acknowledging that ordinary human life is subject to affliction. These affliction grow as naturally within the life of a human being as a vital seed grows in fertile soil. Having established this, Patanjali then goes on to describe the purpose and the practice of yoga. The purpose of yoga is to enable the human being to overcome the afflictions and attain to a state of supreme happiness (I know I said this before, but it strikes me as so relevant).
What a different story would be told about Adam Lanza had he attained to such a state. I know I might step on some toes with this statement, but I don’t think that can hurt any worst than what’s happened.
Impossible, you say? Nope. Sorry. It is possible. Anyone with a human nervous system and physiology can be “tuned up” in a certain way through the yogic process. Anyone. Period. I’m not talking about putting your leg behind your head, or executing the perfect Warrior posture, or sweating and stretching your body to fit size 0 spandex. No. I am talking about the yogic process as the application of a highly refined and luminous science that creates certain conditions in which the optimal expression of life must happen.
I realize I may be entering a debate with certain skeptically-minded folk who will wish to challenge these assertions and argue vehemently that nothing is a cure-all, that there is a thing called sociopathy . . . that some people are simply beyond aid . . . that nothing works for everyone. Again, I say, Nope. Sorry. That isn’t true. But that is another discussion, which I welcome, for another time and another place.
Just two points here. First, Yoga exists as the answer to affliction and suffering. I assert that yoga exists solely to cause an absolute and total liberation from affliction and suffering. Said another way, yoga exists to unite its practitioner with, again to borrow Iyengar’s words, the state of “unalloyed bliss, purity, wholeness and joy.” What else could be left after sorrow and affliction are eradicated? Second, yoga provides a systematic process for this emancipation to occur. This process is called the “eight limbs,” or ashtanga yoga. These limbs are as follows*:
- Yama or self-restraint (also known as “the don’ts”)
- Niyama or internal observances (also known as “the dos”)
- Asana or posture
- Pranayama or regulation of the breath and life force
- Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana or concentration
- Dhyana or meditation
- Samadhi or blissful absorption
At this point I want to look at the yamas. Patanjali enumerates five yamas or ethical observances. They are:
- Ahimsa or non-violence
- Satya or non-lying
- Asteya or non-stealing
- Brahmacharya or continence
- Aparigraha or non-hoarding
*-For those who wish to study this further, please read Sadhana Pada in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, especially Sutras II.28 – II.55.