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Ana Sereno Interviews Georg and Brenda Feuerstein on GREEN YOGA
Ana Sereno
20-10-2007


 

  • If Yoga isn’t something that we do, but something that we are or become, we all have inside us a green yogi nature?

 

As Vyasa explained in his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra, Yoga is both a process and a state of being. As we engage the yogic process, we become transformed. This transformation is possible only because in our true nature we already are what we aspire to. We are simple, peaceful, happy, and so forth. In other words, we are essentially green.

 

 

  • What kind of happiness is possible when the physical world we live in is breaking apart?

 

Happiness is always possible for us, because we are essentially happy. But without the right conditions, it is extremely difficult for us to remember our true nature. The Yoga scriptures emphasize the importance of living in the right place (desha) and, we might add, at the right time. Today, our biosphere is in great trouble, and things are getting worse. In view of the fact that every day some 150 species are becoming extinct, many biologists are speaking of a Sixth Mass Extinction. With global warming proceeding steadily, they expect matters to get much worse. Before long, this will translate into a great deal of distraction, which is what the Yoga masters have always been concerned about. Too many distractions prevent us from focusing on the spiritual path.

 

 

  • What do you mean by a “green spirituality” or when you say that the “colour of Yoga is green”?

 

We used “green” in the sense of environment friendly, that is, any value, attitude, or behaviour that is supportive of the natural environment by favoring sustainability.

 

 

  • Is Green Yoga a modern interpretation of the traditional teachings of Yoga? Like its adaptation to our present needs?

 

You could put it like that. We think of traditional Yoga as being essentially green. That is to say, it is inherently environment friendly. Green Yoga upholds the green values, attitudes, and practices of traditional Yoga. It is, however, necessarily more activist because of our present-day situation. Green Yoga is basically Karma-Yoga applied in the context of our current planetwide crisis.

 

 

  • How would you relate vegetarianism and Green Yoga?

 

Meat consumption around the world stands at c. 300 million tons. This demonstrably has a catastrophic effect on the environment in terms of soil degradation, pollution of water, and greenhouse gas emissions. Lifestock is responsible for no less than 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the matter of growing feed for livestock, usually corn, which requires huge amounts of land and water. It also leads to the clear-cutting of old-growth forests, thus adding to the huge problem of worldwide deforestation. And so on. There is another aspect to meat-eating, which is equally important. The meat industry is causing great suffering to countless animals. Factory farming, in particular, is typically a brutal affair. People don’t think about this when they pick up neatly packaged ham or a plastic-wrapped chicken from the supermarket. So, our answer to your question must be: Vegetarianism is essential for a greener environment, and it is certainly central to Green Yoga.

 

 

  • How did we get to this level of disrespect towards our home planet?

 

That’s a long and somewhat complicated story. The short version is that ever since the invention of cities and hence civilization, we have looked upon Nature as more or less exploitable. Living in cities has clearly alienated a good portion of humanity from Nature. Increasingly, we have left Nature and food production to the farmer, herder, and forester. This attitude of alienation reached a new level with industrialization and mass consumption.

 

Nowadays we hardly think about Nature anymore and how our civilization impacts on it, other than in times of natural catastrophes, such as severe drought or flooding. We think of Nature as an inexhaustible resource that is completely at our disposal, as if there were no other beings on Earth, who also want to enjoy life and survive. In other words, we look at Nature as a gift that keeps on giving. We have limited our interest in Nature almost exclusively to pleasurable pursuits like hiking, skiing, boating, etc. The developed countries have fallen prey to rampant consumerism, and the middle-class of developing countries like India is foolishly emulating the profligate lifestyle of North Americans and Europeans. Consequently greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, as is our planet’s basal temperature.



  • Is individualism in any way related to the state things are right now?

 

Sure. Ever since the Renaissance, which “discovered” indivi-dualism, we have increasingly celebrated “me,” “my,” and “mine.” Egocentrism seems to be an integral part of our modern lifestyle. We don’t tend to look at how everything is interconnected and therefore how our own life is merely one of many human and nonhuman lives, which are all interlinked in the Web of Life. For millennia, the sages have warned us of the fiendish “I-maker,” but few of us have listened.

 

 

  • Can we believe it is still possible to change the course of things? Isn’t too late for our generation?

 

Based on our reading of the available evidence and the opinions of a large number of scientists, we feel that our generation is in for a nasty surprise. Actually, outside of North America and Europe, the unpleasant effects of global warming are already in plentiful evidence. Just look at Africa, China, India, and Australia, which are all suffering from a shortage of water. Recently, the Australian Prime Minister advised farmers to start praying for rain, as he would otherwise have to put a ban on irrigation. The island nations of the world have formed an alliance to come up with a solution for rising sea levels. Megahurricanes, like Katrina, are becoming more frequent and more devastating. We are already reaping the karmic fallout from our unwise lifestyle.

 

 

  • Must we first understand the way to our own healing before we are able to heal the Earth? Or is it the inverse?

 

It is our belief that people cannot truly heal themselves without also healing our environment. As within, so without. Self-transformation and social and environmental transformation must go hand in hand. First, we must clearly understand the present precarious situation, which is imperilling the Earth’s biosphere. Next we must adopt a thoroughly green lifestyle, regardless of how many or few others are doing the same. A green lifestyle helps us and everyone else. Yoga’s role in this is to give us the necessary inner strength and peace of mind to persist in our self-transformation and the transformation of the world.

 

 

  • Do you think yogis should become a kind of “green army” in this fight against pollution commanded by their own minds?

 

We don’t like the militaristic connotations of a word like “army.” But we are calling for yogis and yoginis to become viryas. This Sanskrit word means “hero” in the sense of someone who is going beyond himself or herself in the pursuit of an ideal. We believe that the more people get in touch with their true nature, the more likely they are to act ethically and for the benefit of others.

 

 

  • Can you give us some practical examples of daily actions we can take to make some difference?

 

In our book, we have included 36 suggestions for greening one’s lifestyle. None of them are new. All this has been around for decades, but very few people have felt moved to translate these simple ideas into practice. The most important thing to do is to simplify one’s lifestyle; this will automatically eliminate a number of behaviours that are detrimental to the environment. For instance, if we adopt the yogic principle of voluntary simplicity (known as “renunciation”), we will think twice before we purchase an item; we also will reduce consumption, reuse or recycle items. Eliminate fast foods, which have a high environmental price tag, and become a vegetarian.

 

 

  • Is taking action a way of bringing some peace to our guilty consciences?

 

Well, adopting a Green Yoga lifestyle should spring from the recognition that we really have no choice if we want to restore our environment and give a liveable planet to our children and theirs. If this makes us feel less guilty and more peaceful, then that’s an added benefit.

 

 

  • Do you thing that by purifying our thoughts and minds we are somehow contributing to purifying the environment itself?

 

We are a part of Nature, a part of the environment. So, of course, when we purify our body and mind—especially our mind—then we also purify Nature. Remember, according to Patanjali, both body and mind are an aspect of prakriti. He recommended that we should purify ourselves to such an extent that prakriti becomes luminous. That’s when our Spirit, purusha, becomes fully visible and true freedom is attained.

 

 

  • According to your book, Green Yoga is based on two pillars which have origin in the Hinduism and Buddhism teachings respectively. Don’t you think this fact may introduce some confusion among the more exclusivist practitioners?

 

The two pillars we talked about are the Hindu Yoga ideal of loka-samgraha (benefiting the world) and the Buddhist Yoga ideal of bodhisattva (the practitioner dedicated to attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). From our perspective, Yoga lies at the heart of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Some exclusivist practitioners may find this confusing or annoying. It is, however, a historical fact. It’s time to see and respect this communality between those two cultural complexes, which were developed on Indian soil. So, what we are suggesting here is that exclusivism is itself a possible source of confusion.

 

 

  • This method you propose, based on the discipline of mindfulness, can it be applied to solving other questions, like human diseases, for example?

 

The method of Green Yoga is really the method of traditional Yoga. Mindfulness is fundamental to all yogic disciplines. We know from psychosomatic medicine that when our mind is balanced, we are less likely to experience illness. In our time, because of environmental pollution (which extends to the food we eat and the water we drink), our body is exposed to any number of toxins. It is becoming more and more difficult to stay healthy. The World Health Organization is in fact predicting a major pandemic in the near future, which may kill tens of millions of people, including Yoga practitioners. So, to the extend that Green Yoga can be effective in the world and help reduce pollution, this kind of dreadful scenario could be avoided in the future. But Green Yoga can only be effective in the world as committed yogis and yoginis make it. The responsibility is up to all practitioners of the age-old tradition of Yoga.

 

Ana Sereno is a Portuguese journalist and has been practicing Yoga for the last 5 years

Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., is the author of over 30 published books, including The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga, The Yoga Tradition, and Yoga Morality.

Brenda Feuerstein learned Yoga postures as a child and went on to become a piano teacher, physical fitness trainer, and Yoga teacher before discovering the spiritual depth of Yoga. Both she and Georg are practitioners of the Tibetan form of Buddhism.

 

Georg and Brenda Feuerstein’s book Green Yoga is available through Traditional Yoga Studies (http://www.traditionalyogastudies.com/).

 

 

 

 


 

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