Yoga Morality: Ancient Teachings at a Time of Global Crisis, by Georg Feuerstein
Hohm Press, 1890772666, 292 pp. (incl. bibliography and index), 2007
“The idea current in some circles that spirituality has nothing to do with morality is an unproductive and even dangerous will-o’-the-wisp. If spirituality is not embodied here and now, it is nothing at all.”1
In the preface Feuerstein writes that “Yoga is not to be measured by the glamour of its spectacular physical postures or fabulous states of meditation.” Instead he notes that yoga is a spiritual tradition “concerned with personal growth and the goal of self-transcendence to the point of perfect inner freedom.”2 As such, this book as little to do with the yoga we’ve become familiar with, no postures, no exercises. Instead, Yoga Morality focuses on the ethical side of things, as Feurerstein sees it.
Feuerstein asserts that “the behavior of a liberated adept – or even an adept close to the ultimate realization of freedom – shows a basic grounding in the universal moral virtues. It would seem that inner freedom and goodness go together and that a liberated master who is evil is simply an impossibility.” This seems to be a bold claim, given that one cannot easily quantify what it means to be a “liberated adept”, much less “evil”. However, he tempers this by explaining “prior to full liberation or enlightenment, adepts can manifest character traits that we would normally classify as highly undesirable or even psychopathological.”3
Viewing the religious language of sin as “outmoded”, he allows “there undoubtedly is conduct that is unbecoming, nonvirtuous, or detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. Our behavior is ‘sinful’ when it takes away from our true nature, or authentic spiritual core.”4
Ethics are focused on examples derived from Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, further illustrated with stories from the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata. Examples are repeated several places throughout the book.
In commenting on present date situations, particularly in relation to America and the “Western” world, Feuerstein looks at the effects of consumerism and other dastardly things, but rarely examines possible causes, or concrete was to improve the situation. Instead we are treated with examples of what yogis and other sages have done int he past – ancient and more contemporary – but not how we can hope to effect change in the world ourselves.
Particularly troubling is his overly simplified interpretation of capitalism. He paints a broad picture which could incite riots, but fails to demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of corporations or finance or wealth. This book was written in 2007, before the present financial crisis made itself known, but while ranting about it might make some feel a rude sense of righteousness, it doesn’t address capitalistic realities as they stood then, or now.
Feuerstein’s ventures into scientific territory are well intended, but misguided. He would have benefited by reading Richard Dawkins or someone similar to better understand how DNA works, and avoided the misconception that nature “improves” itself (this conflates evolution with progress), and in general avoid projections that do not reflect a solid understanding of evolutionary theory, which would actually speak against his purposes.
In Yoga Morality Feuerstein has written an interesting book about his perceptions of a desireable harmonous life, however flawed.