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Are the Yamas (Moral Disciplines) of Yoga Unnecessary? (1) by Georg Feuerstein

Traditionally, the five yamas are considered key limbs of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, which are universally applicable. They are deemed foundational and indispensable by virtually all yogic schools.

Not so in contemporary Yoga. Several prominent Yoga teachers are on record as having dismissed the moral disciplines as old-fashioned and unnecessary. Is this a valid perspective? Or are those teachers out for lunch?

My own opinion is that they are not only out for lunch but also are irresponsible. Here is my reason: As I have explained in my book Yoga Morality (2007), which the review media have all but ignored with the notable exception of the Vancouver Sun, our modern civilization is in a moral quagmire that is the equivalent of an economic depression (not merely recession!).

In other words, we are in dire trouble. Our situation is similar to an ocean liner with a broken engine and without a working rudder. Anything goes. We are morally adrift. People pretty much make up their own convenient morality if they have—and often even if they have not—jettisoned the moralism of their theistic religion. They are holding up flash lights to guide the traffic on a stormy sea, with dark thunder clouds overhead and billowing waves beneath.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you noticed that Yoga people, who should know better, behave as if they had no moral compass? What has been your own response to the situation? Are you confused? Please share your thoughts and feelings.

I have seen people flee into religious or secular fundamentalism just to have tentative (if dubious) guidelines. I have seen others avoid moral issues like the plague. Is this compatible with authentic Yoga? I think not. As Yoga practitioners, I suggest, we must face the question of our moral stance in the world. Should we endorse harming in deed, speech, and thought personally and culturally? Lying? Theft? Greed? Sexual exploitation (usually of women and children)? Of course not. But how can we act responsibly? How can we be true to our calling as Yoga practitioners?

Georg Feuerstein