To put it bluntly: if you aspire to be a bank director, you cannot also be a bank robber. Similarly, if you aspire towards mastery in Yoga, you cannot also be a moral good-for-nothing. It is important for a Yoga practitioner to pursue a proper livelihood. That means earning one’s living in a decent and respectable way that does not violate any of Yoga’s many moral virtues. Another way of putting this is to say that we should cultivate integrity in all matters, including the work we do.

Practising Yoga in your career

Would it be appropriate for a Yoga practitioner to be a hired overseas enforcer for an international corporation, a factory farmer, a casino manager or a lobbyist for a cut-throat pharmaceutical company? We think not. All these jobs involve unsavoury practices or goals that definitely compromise a Yoga practitioner’s moral integrity. We actually had a student who, attracted by a handsome salary, took on a job at a casino. Before very long, he found that the atmosphere in the casino was so disagreeable that at the end of the day he felt filthy and didn’t even want to continue with his practice of Yoga. In the end, he resigned and has never regretted his decision.

Your beliefs are not part-time

We cannot practise integrity part-time, or in one aspect of our life and not others. Integrity cannot be compartmentalised; it is an all-or-nothing matter. We regard integrity as an aspect of truthfulness, which is considered a major virtue in Patanjali’s Yoga and, of course, in other branches of Yoga as well. He tells us that when a practitioner is firmly established in truthfulness, whatever he or she affirms comes true. We personally would limit this ability to spiritual matters, because in worldly affairs a master often relies, like everyone else, primarily on information that may or may not be entirely correct. As a rule, however, a master does not indulge in chitchat or unconsidered opinions.

The splintering of Yoga

Regretfully, the contemporary Yoga movement in the West lacks integrity in several respects. The first is that many Yoga teachers give the wrong impression that Yoga is no more than a postural practice. This is unfair to traditional Yoga, which is obviously much more. It is also unfair to newcomers to Yoga, who don’t know any better, but should be given an opportunity to explore the spirituality of Yoga and the full range of its practices.

Most deplorable is the absence of traditional Yoga’s moral disciplines from many of the teachings offered at modern centres.

This is like offering a person a chair with only three legs to sit on, which is an accident in the making. What good, one may ask, will it do for a student to know the headstand if, when he or she has a car accident, they do not know how to manage life afterward? Or, of what advantage is mastering the Warrior III pose when the mind is worrying about death?

Not only is modern Yoga by and large not grounded in the moral precepts, it is also shot through with the moral apathy and shallowness that characterises our mainstream culture.

Yoga is a way of life

It is irresponsible for a Yoga teacher to tell his or her students [as we have heard] that the moral disciplines are unimportant. In fact, without them there can be no attainment of mental health, never mind inner freedom. And it is negligent for a Yoga teacher to publicly dismiss the spiritual orientation of Yoga, because this is precisely what is missing from our troubled culture. Integrity, among other things, means to present and practise Yoga as the spiritual tradition that it is. Anything less is dishonest.

Excerpted from Yoga: A Beginner’s Guide by Georg and Brenda Feuerstein.
Published by Jaico. Used with permission.

This was first published in the December 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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