Black lives matter. We do not deny that. However, racism casts doubt on how true that is in the lived experience of black Americans. Now, many across the country are facing up to that reality. For some people, it is the first time they have noticed and accepted the uncomfortable truth that not all people are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. So the world is headed toward a long-overdue systemic change. There is no shortage of writings on the present situation. Still, I would like to examine how yoga might view and examine current events.
This most recent uprising against endemic racism is sparked by horrific images of police brutality. Violence against black Americans, by representatives of the state or by individuals acting on their own personal racism, is deeply-embedded within the history of this country. One of the core tenets of yoga is ahimsa, or non-violence. So yoga is firmly opposed to violence, racist or otherwise. To meet violence and to counter it without also resorting to violence is a challenge.
The challenge of countering violence is helped by other yamas and niyamas. Tapas, or unwavering zeal, is necessary in the struggle to maintain courage in the face personal suffering and sacrifice. A commitment to truth (satya) is necessary when facing the lies and propaganda of those who would explain away racist violence. Svadhyaya, or self-study, is needed to examine the truth of one’s own place in the system and how that place can be used or changed for the wider benefit. With this in mind, when the inevitable changes come, some will feel that when others will gain then they will lose. Through the practice of aparigraha (non-hoarding), yoga trains one not to take things one does not really need nor collect things one does not need immediately.
Yoga is a personal journey toward unity. Not only a unity of body, mind and spirit, but also a unity with the wider world. Yoga teaches us that the core of our conflicts is the mistaken view that our ego represents our identity. This identification with our ego separates us from the world around us including from our fellow human beings. The journey of yoga then becomes not only the journey to make ourselves whole again, but also to remove the ignorance keeping us from connecting with those around us. This ignorance of the common and interconnected nature of human experience is the foundation of racism. The practice of yoga can help us transcend this feeling of separateness and live the slogan of black lives matter.
The personal journey of yoga is a microcosm of the larger journey of society toward justice and compassion. As each of us progresses on our journey toward wholeness, we express those qualities that bring us there. Qualities such as truth, non-violence and generosity. When more of us express those qualities in the larger society, those qualities define the society we live in. In this way, society progresses toward unity and away from division. Conflict is inevitable. But in a society characterized by yogic principles, conflict won’t mean someone will die because of ignorance and misunderstanding. No one should die over a bad check or because of a police raid on the wrong apartment. In the society that arise out of the current conflict, black lives will truly matter.