I’ve spent the past week in two yoga ashrams along the banks of the Ganga — one in Rishikesh and the other in Haridwar. Both cities are important destinations for pilgrims who come from around the world to pray, bathe, and pay homage to this river, considered holy by Hindus.
The air is alive with a cacophony of sacred sounds coming from devotees and pilgrims who gather at the many ashrams and temples along the banks — the sound of conch shells being blown during prayers at dawn and dusk; temple bells ringing; the beating of drums; the murmur of chanting; the clanging of symbols; and sacred melodies being played on various musical instruments, accompanying devotional singing called Kirtan.
Cars, motor bikes, rickshaws, bicycles, cows, dogs, carts, people and more press through the narrow streets of both cities, which are lined with vendors selling everything from yoga mats to cucumbers. It’s a bazaar experience that borders on the bizarre at times — a strange amalgam of sacred and profane.
Amidst the bustling banter of shoppers and shopkeepers are numerous wandering sadhus, mendicants dressed in ochre who have taken yoga to its highest level, giving up everything for God, living gently on the earth with only a tunic, walking stick, and a bowl in their possession. In this environment of the marketplace, two different worlds converge: the frenetic world of material consumption encounters the challenging world of renunciation. The lives of the sadhus are a reminder to me that a yogic life is a simple life, walking and living lightly on the planet.
Meister Eckhard has written that “God is willing to give great things when we are ready, for righteousness’ sake, to give up everything.”
Simple living doesn’t mean being confined to a life of poverty. I believe we can live comfortably while living lightly on the planet, recognizing, as the psalmist writes, that “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
It has been said that simple living is the art of using minimum means in order to attain maximum results–just the opposite of what happens when we are drawn into the addictive patterns of our consumer society. To live simply is to live gently, keeping in mind the needs of the planet, other creatures, and generations to come. In so doing, we lose nothing– the interest of the whole naturally includes our own being.
This is the message of all the great religions of the world repeated over and over throughout history. When Gandhi was asked to sum up the secret of his life in three words, he quoted the Isha Upanishad: Renounce and enjoy!
This is the key to a complete and fulfilling life, a yogic life.