The Declaration of Independence, one of the crown jewels of the Western Civilization, is a collection of ideas that were far ahead of their time. The very first line of the Preamble asserts the existence of the unalienable rights:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Have you ever recognized that the science of yoga is a roadmap to the fullest expression of each of the three unalienable rights enshrined in the Declaration?
The coming of the Fourth of July is a wonderful opportunity to discover how the ancient discipline of yoga, one of the highest offerings of Eastern civilization, can help us fully express the noble ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, one of the highest achievements of Western civilization.
To make this discovery, we must first understand what the yogic science is truly about. Paramhansa Yogananda, whose foremost mission was to help unite West and East in bonds of ever-deepening spiritual understanding, explains the highest purpose of the yogic teachings as follows:
The True Purpose of Yoga
Visitor: What is yoga?
Paramhansa Yogananda: Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit.
Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures. But yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline.
I don’t mean to belittle the yoga postures. Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God, give less importance to the yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them.
Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.
The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.1
Armed with this knowledge, let us now see how yoga can help us fully express each of the three unalienable rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
As Yogananda states, yoga helps bring about the union of the little ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. The Bhagavad Gita, according to Yogananda the highest scripture on the teachings of yoga, states that this divine Self (written with a capital ‘S’) has the following awesome attributes:
This Self is not born, nor does it perish. Self-existent, it continues its existence forever. It is birthless, eternal, changeless, and ever the same. The Self is not slain when the body dies. – Gita II:20
As we realize through yoga practice that we, in our true natures, are this Self,— imperishable, eternal, and changeless — we are able fully to reclaim the first unalienable right that is voiced in the Declaration — Eternal Life.
The Bhagavad Gita also states:
(One) who has conquered the (lower, egoic) self abides ever in the Supreme Self. He views with equanimity all the dualities: cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.
He attains complete liberation (both while he lives and after death). His doubts removed, his karmas all obliterated, his senses subdued, delighting only in the good of all, he attains emancipation in Spirit. — Gita VI:7 & V:24-25
For most people, liberty is the ability to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do. However, this is not the highest octave of liberty, since, without wisdom such freedom often leads to wrong decisions and wrong actions whose painful consequences are borne by the doer. As long as one hasn’t united the little ego-self with the divine Self, the possibility of error and the concomitant possibility of suffering exists, thereby rendering true liberty elusive.
Yoga, by banishing ego-consciousness, bestows liberty of the highest kind: equanimity amidst all the ups and downs of life, freedom from doubts, control over one’s senses, ability always to be an instrument of goodness, and the true emancipation that results from the obliteration of all karma.
Attainment – Not Just the Pursuit of Happiness
The third unalienable right, the pursuit of happiness, is inspired by man’s universal desire to be happy and to remain perpetually in the state of happiness. Observation of lives of even the most successful people shows that no outward achievement alone ever yields a state of perpetual happiness. No matter what station of life man is in, he still quests for something more, still hopes to find that “something” which will bring him more fulfillment, more happiness. The Founding Fathers therefore expressed the third unalienable right as the “pursuit” of happiness.
The attainment, and not only the pursuit, of perpetual happiness is possible through the exalted science of yoga. The yogic term for the Divine Self, or God, is Satchidananda: Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy. In finding the Divine Self one finds a happiness that never grows stale:
The yogi lives in the ever-new joy of his own being. United to Spirit, he attains the perfection of Absolute Bliss. —Gita V:21
Ever-new Joy is God. He is inexhaustible; as you continue your meditations during the years, He will beguile you with an infinite ingenuity. Devotees like yourself who have found the way to God, never dream of exchanging Him for any other happiness; He is seductive beyond thought of competition.
How quickly we weary of earthly pleasures! Desire for material things is endless; man is never satisfied completely, and pursues one goal after another. The “something else” he seeks is the Lord, who alone can grant lasting joy.
Outward longings drive us from the Eden within; they offer false pleasures that only impersonate soul-happiness. The lost paradise is quickly regained through divine meditation. As God is unanticipatory Ever-Newness, we never tire of Him.
Finally, Paramhansa Yogananda shares:
Mankind is engaged in an eternal quest for that “something else” he hopes will bring him happiness, complete and unending. For those individual souls who have sought and found God, the search is over: He is that Something Else.2
From Inner Self-Transformation, Comes Outer Societal Transformation
Thus, the final, complete, and highest attainment of the three unalienable rights occurs when we transform our consciousness through the ancient discipline of yoga.
Why do so many people not enjoy the rights endowed by the Creator if these are truly unalienable, integral to our true natures? The divine Self, or soul, being made in the image of God is perfect. So long as we identify with the little self (ego) instead of the divine Self, our true identity remains forgotten and, consequently, we are alienated from the “unalienable” rights. Through the yogic teachings, we can rediscover that our true identity is the divine Self, and, as a natural consequence of that discovery, can reclaim our unalienable rights.
The science of yoga is universal. All people, no matter their station in life, can use it to reclaim their true identity as the divine Self. And when all of us as a society embark upon a yogic journey of “Self”-transformation, we will also bring into manifestation the outward utopia envisioned by the Founding Fathers: a harmonious society of equals, where everyone truly enjoys the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Perpetual Happiness.
1The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers.
2Man’s Eternal Quest, Self-Realization Fellowship.