Sustainable living in a sustainable society- The role of Ashtang


Author: Marco Iotti




The history of the world in the last century has seen an amount of changes in such a short time, as it had never experienced before. The end of several empires in the old world (Europe), the new freedom of many colonies (especially in Asia, Africa and Oceania) and the affirmation of new superpowers (U.S.S.R, U.S.A.) during the Second World War divided the world for 50 years in two areas of influences. The fall of the Berlin’s wall in 1989 and the following disintegration of the Soviet Union resulted in no more contraposition to the capitalistic and consume oriented model adopted and sponsored by the U.S.A. and many other countries in its influence.  

Today’s society is a result of this historical events and the pace of changing in the world in the last twenty years is, if possible, even increased. However, to understand if this change is something positive for the human race is hard to say and it is probably only a subjective point of view. There is no doubt that science and technology in the last century have developed many new important instrument (not last the notebook I am writing this essay now) and discovered new principles that are now part of our daily life and that those change made our lives more enjoyable and gave us additional time (additional free time and additional time in absolute value due to the extension of life expectation). However, how we cope with them? What kind of relationship are we having with those new technologies and goods? Is it the modern man more aware and much happier than his ancient relatives?

Erich Fromm in his book “to have or to be” affirms that mankind has become a commodity himself because of mass consumerism. We became ourselves slaves of money and the “commodities” that those can buy. This continuous process of craving for something that we don’t “posses” yet and we extremely want (until we finally can buy it, at that moment we are already thinking and craving for something else) is endless.  In “happiness and peace” Swami Nikhileswarananda affirms that the common idea that happiness is proportional to money is surely not true, at the contrary it seems that the opposite is real; the more we have, the more we want and the less we are happy. None is here affirming that money are not important for happiness and to enjoy life but together with money we need to have a full control of our mind that allows us to do not become slaves of them. We need to establish a balance between us and the consume knowing that we should be the one in control of our habits.

Yoga and many principles included into the philosophy can help us and make our living more sustainable, and in this case I refer more to an emotional and internal sustainability, which however, as a connected result leads to environmental, social and economical sustainability.  It is impossible to change and solve problems created by the human beings without solving issues connected with their own being first. A person that has no balance and no control on his life can’t make wise decisions and every single person in that matter can make a difference.

Vedanta says that instead of searching for peace outside, we should look for infinite joy and peace, which is already within us. Sant Kabir also said that fools search for happiness and peace outside, instead of searching within. Discipline for the emotions trough Bhakti yoga, have a total control of our actions Trough Karma Yoga, stimulate our intellect to do not become fools with Gyan Yoga and having a strong discipline of the mind trough Hatha Yoga are all processes that will help us in being stronger, develop our awareness and become better and more “sustainable” citizens of the world. 

Together with them Ashtanga Yoga and its eight fold (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi) are essential tools to achieve this sustainability. In particular following one of the 5 Yama, Aparigraha or non possessiveness, will help all of us in being happier and find a better equilibrium in ourselves. Once this equilibrium is reached, the misbalance present all over the world would probably be eliminated and in finding our own happiness, we’ll be serene enough to make logic and mind driven decisions. In doing that we’ll create a better and more sustainable world to live in. 

Attachment is the source of all the miseries and suffering and the need for luxuries (which goes against the Niyama Tapa, austerity and Santosha, contentment) are only needs to satisfy the childish vanity and desire to appear superior to other fellow men.  There is no such a think as superiority; if we become aware of the final goal of “oneness”, the ego and the need of appearing will disappear, leaving the time to enjoy the real happiness that is inside of us. 

Learning from the history of mankind is always something wise to do because as we know history repeats itself. Looking at it, it is possible to discover that very wealthy people had usually reached their own peace and balance only when they finally renounced to them in favor of poor and needy. John D. Rockefeller (the richest man in the world in the late 19th century) contemplated many times suicide before meeting the Indian monk Swami Vivekananda and following his advices started to give large capital to help and serve the poor and needy. Bill gates, the modern time Rockefeller, once left Microsoft gave almost all his part of gains (32 billion of dollars) to charity and humanitarian actions, keeping 10 millions for himself and his family. As we can see, the history repeats itself one more, men of great mind usually achieve greatness not only in the material side. In the behavior of them and in their actions, we can find all the elements of Santosha, Tapa and Aparigrapha. 

In the book “work and its secrets” Swami Vivekananda says: “Do your best and leave the rest”, we have the right of working and not the right to the fruits or the end results. With this lack of expectation and no attachment for the outcome (material and not material), following the principle of Ashtanga Yoga, we can be more serene, happy and equilibrate in our daily life. 

“People make up the world. If we change ourselves, we change the world” 

–Unknown-