The Paths to Personal Growth This Ramadan
It is day 13 of the holy month of Ramadan – of fasting from sunrise to sunset. My body has still not adjusted to the changes. It takes me a long time to be fully awake and functional. After the first pint of water at sunset, Ramadan feels so smooth and easy. I wonder what the fuss is about, and why I am having such a hard time adjusting. Until the next morning.
Fasting forces one to withdraw the senses and turn inward, much like the fifth limb of Yoga: pratyahara (where the senses are essentially brought under control). Freeing oneself from the bondage of being bound to objects of desire, fasting aims to bring about this liberation by controlling the senses.
In Yoga philosophy, man together with the entire cosmos, operates within three main qualities:
1.Sattva, the illuminating and pure quality. A person in sattva is on a path that leads to the Divine. This person is fearless and pure, generous and self-controlled.
“He is non-violent, truthful and free from anger. He renounces the fruits of his labour, working only for the sake of the world. He has a tranquil mind, with malice towards none and charity towards all, for he is free from craving. He is gentle, modest, and steady. He is illumined, clement, and resolute, being free from perfidy and pride.” –B. K. S. Iyengar.
Such is the person who is truly fasting. It is the person who does not judge others. It is the person who works even harder in times of hardship because the goal is to serve for the sake of serving. It is the person who neither speaks badly of others nor wishes them harm. And it most definitely is the person who will not hurt a living soul.
2.Rajas, the quality of mobility and activity. A person in rajas is passionate and as such may be greedy and envious.
“As he is passionate and covetous, he hurts others. Being full of lust and hatred, envy and deceit, his desires are insatiable. He is unsteady, fickle and easily distracted as well as ambitious and acquisitive. He seeks the patronage of friends and has family pride. He shrinks from unpleasant things and clings to pleasant ones. His speech is sour and his stomach greedy.” B. K. S. Iyengar
It is a person with rajasic qualities who will send out tweets at 3am with potentially destructive consequences. It is a person so engrossed in his own self-aggrandizing illusions that he will not stop to consider for a moment the repercussions of his actions –even if they include the devastation of the planet. It is the person appoints himself Ramadan police and chases others with a stick.
3.Tamas, the dark and restraining quality. A person in tamas is heavy, passive, and leaning towards demonic qualities. This person is deceitful, rude, and conceited.
“He is full of wrath, cruelty, and ignorance. In such people, there is neither purity, nor right conduct, nor truth. They gratify their passions.” B. K. S. Iyengar.
It is this person who will get into a van and mow down innocent people walking on a bridge at night. It is this person who will stab a young lady of 17 years old out to celebrate the end of exams and high school. It is this person who is so blinded by greed that he will convince a beautiful young mother to undergo life-threatening surgery for a chance at instant gratification to reach an ideal of beauty set by tamasic standards.
As we grow and evolve –over many lifetimes, we are affected by these three attributes. And as we learn to study the self and control our senses, we begin to recognize in our thoughts and actions those three qualities. Ultimately, our growth is to eradicate the tamas and achieve a sattvika state of mind and existence. Only then, as Iyengar states, “the human soul has advanced a long way towards the ultimate goal” – the fullness of the Universal Soul. Beyond that, beyond the pull of these attributes, one is emancipated and free.
We start with baby steps. One step at a time. Withdrawing our senses by controlling our desires is a start. Having the discipline to rise out of bed in the morning without that precious mug of coffee is our sense boot-camp.
We always end our yoga practice with this prayer:
May all beings everywhere be happy and free. And may all we do be in service to humanity.
As we move into the second half of this holy month, my hope is for every one of us to find comfort and faith. It is in this freedom that we can be of service to humanity in whatever we do.
This article was originally posted on 9 June, 2017