To Karma Yoga or not to Karma Yoga?

Our yoga mats on the rooftop at Mitra Youth Hostel

Our yoga mats on the rooftop at Mitra Youth Hostel

For the past two weeks, my first activity in the morning has been Yoga on the rooftop of our hostel with our lovely teacher Natasha and some of my adventure-mates. Yesterday, as I was transitioning from one asana to the next one, I was reflecting on a kind of Yoga that is followed in Auroville and that I find particularly interesting in the framework of sustainable (self)development. I am talking about Karma Yoga. By an approximate definition, “Karma” means action and Karma Yoga is the Yoga of work, the way of good works, aimed to a greater good; the work of Mother Teresa for example. It means to unify body, mind and soul through action and practice. So it isn’t simply doing some stretching exercises in a gym, but it also doesn’t necessarily entail devoting one’s life to healing the sick and helping the poor. From what I have experienced so far in Auroville, Karma Yoga means to help, heal and share as part of our everyday actions, wherever these might take place.

Reading about or even seeing people involved in socially responsible work often does inspire us momentarily, but after some time we are back to the same place from where we had begun. There are so many things that come into play when people want to bring change into society. And change doesn’t inherently equal a positive force, it can also be negative. It all depends upon the human intention behind it. In its turn, human intention is dependent on the underlying motivation. Unless we are motivated to do something, the seeds of intention just do not germinate in us. According to the theory of reasoned action, if people evaluate the suggested behaviour as positive, and if they think that their significant others want them to perform such behaviour, this results in a higher motivation and they are more likely to do so. Karma Yoga is but one such motivation to do good to society. It is a means to give something back to society. It is a way of changing behaviour for the common good. We shouldn’t just learn from society and move on in a selfish learning process. We need to ask ourselves “What good have I brought to society?” When the answer is a long deafening silence then it isn’t a sustainable practice. Learning about sustainable development also means learning to bring about incremental positive change in our own lifes.

Imagine how easy life would be if we all started helping, healing and sharing with each other and in the process continuously and positively influence one another. This is in essence what I see sustainable development striving towards. And it is what many units in Auroville, especially the social enterprises, are working for. I believe that society worldwide needs such enterprises not for economic reasons alone but for socio-cultural empowerment as well. Hence, as future managers, directors and administrators, it becomes our responsibility to lead all kind of actions with a perspective of giving back to society. It all depends on us and on whether we can fill the gap between what we want and how we behave.

In conclusion, there is one piece of advice that I would like to share with those who think that it is too hard, if not impossible, to make a difference. This was given too us during a lecture in Auroville about choice architecture by Minhaj Ameen, a sustainability consultant in the fields of renewable energy, agriculture and waste management (and a lot more!). First, commit to one change in your life that will align you with your core values. Then, connect with projects and initiatives that will help you implement that change and you will start to unconsciously make decisions for a sustainable (self)development together with the other people involved. So I say let’s all Karma Yoga!

Mia Marzotto, American University of Paris

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