Yoga & The Cultivation Of Freedom

A couple of years ago, I was in Shizuoka, Japan visiting my favorite Japanese tea farm, Yamanien. It was a blissful experience, sitting in their beautiful, ancient tearoom and speaking with Goto-san, the farmer and tea master. Yamanien teas consistently win gold medals in Japan and their top-level sencha is the tea favored by the royal family.

On my visit, I noticed that the tea plants were left to grow wild. This is very unusual, especially in Japan. Almost all the tea bushes that I have seen in Japan are highly manicured and tended. When I asked Goto-san about it, he nonchalantly gave me a giant pearl of wisdom. He said “If the plant is healthy, the tea will be good.” For over 400 years, his family has been putting that understanding into practice. Through free cultivation, the result is a world-class tea that brings bliss.

This has me thinking about the deeper meaning of cultivation and of impact —the manifestation of our choices. What is it that we are really trying to cultivate through yoga and through life? Is it compassion and a vision of hope and peace and joy and love for all living beings, grounded in a sense of moral and ethical principals, or do we just want to get our ya-yas out? And, how about impact? Do we truly care about our impact or do we choose to be oblivious to our impact on those around us and the world at large? Are we rooted on the path of yoga, or tumbling down the path of bhoga (pursuit of sense enjoyment that brings suffering?)

Bhartrihari, one of the greatest Sanskrit poets writes about the dangers of a life wrapped in the confusion of yoga and bhoga. He writes:

We did not enjoy pleasures, instead we ourselves were consumed by them. We did not practice austerities, but only underwent suffering. Time did not pass, only we are passing away. Our desires did not decay, only we are growing old.

When we cultivate with a foundation of skilled principles that are rooted in experience – either our own or the wise who have gone before us, our actions become healthy. When our actions are healthy, the impact that we have, not only on ourselves, but on those around us can also be positive. As the saying goes, “When the tide comes in, all boats rise.

Yoga is the path of action. This is the central message of the Bhagavad Gītā. When we allow ourselves to act, while at the same time detaching from identifying ourselves AS that action (ie, I AM my job, etc), there can be freedom from ignorance. Like tea plants, we can let ourselves grow in our natural state. Freeing ourselves from negative, limited, habituated patterns, allows health to flourish on all levels. When health flourishes, all those around us can be uplifted.  This is true freedom.

Seeing our impact on others is vital as accurate feedback to avoid self-delusion. Yoga is a path that constantly moves towards the relief of suffering. If one sees freedom as simply being able to do whatever one wants and yet other people in proximity are suffering because of those actions, this is avidyā (ignorance) disguised in freedom’s clothes. True freedom does not leave a body count behind. Is there really a greater gift then helping to uplift those around us – those close to us and even those who we don’t  know? Why be here at all if not to add the fruit of our cultivation as an offering to the world?

Sometimes, wrapped in the middle of our lives, it is easy to lose perspective and we can veer off course without realizing it, creating suffering. It is challenging to have the courage to recognize this. Cornel West says “It takes courage to interrogate yourself.” However, seeing the impact on others is a instant reality check. My mom read me a great quote from Jack Kornfield the other day that says “If the bird and the book on birds disagree, always trust the bird.” The negative ego lies. It tells us that we are living free and spiritually when our actions are producing suffering. Do we have the courage to face the impact of our actions, take inventory, and change if we don’t like what we see?

Tea, at it’s essence, is very direct – the interplay of water and leaves. In a way, yoga is the same, the interplay of human and divine. Yoga is not meant to make us more spiritual —we already are more spiritual. It is a path to make us more human.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debra Evans
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 18:09:16

    Such a thought-provoking, call-to-honest-action post, Josh! I’m moved by it. I also love the tea/yoga analogy…very moving to me. As humans, we are the tea leaves (form) and the divine is the water (formlessness) that awakens us…that makes us supple again. Thank you for blogging!


  2. Eléonora
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 22:50:51

    Really nice story. It really is what it is, more we try to control nature and have it bend to us, the more it suffers on different aspects. The more we give it love and trust the perfection of its own path, the better the results. Not sure I say it as nicely as you, but I really like the story of this japanese Tea Master. “If the plant is healthy, the tea will be good.”

    “Growing wild” is only our own concept, our own vision of how things should be. But nature and the universe knows best, all we have to do is follow the course of nature, and be deeply good and compassionate. Things will just fall into places.

    Thanks for sharing this!


  3. devorahsackse
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 17:13:56

    love it! you write such truth….thanks josh.


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