A popular misconception is that being materially successful and prosperous is exclusive of being a yogi. Many yogic principles go against the mainstay of Western consumption and comfort. The Niyamas and Yamas, for example, are specific guidelines on what we must do, how we must live, to attain the ultimate state of yoga (union with the Infinite). These “do’s and don’ts”, respectively, encourages and discourages certain thoughts and actions. Acting in accordance to these principles allows one to live in deep harmony with others, with one’s Self, and the universe.
Two that can specifically apply – and confuse – material success and prosperity, in the sense that we’ve come to know them as, is the niyama, Contentment (Santosha) and the yama, Non-Greed (aparigraha). The former refers to the ability to accept things just as they are. This can contradict the common societal norms of the American rat race. From childhood, we’re taught the values of competition in academia and sports and, as adults, we train to climb the professional corporate ladder. Better is good; best is even better. Observing Contentment, one has the opportunity to be satisfied with the basic necessities in life.
The latter refers to the practice of Non-Greed. This may seem self-explanatory and simple, though its challenges are not negated. Far too often, we work on the basis on what we “need” as the driving force of our financial goals. What if we looked at the basics of what we have and worked our way around it? Here’s an example: according to a research study by Experian, the average American family owns 2.28 vehicles, while 35 percent of American households own three cars or more. It’s no secret that climate change is a reality and, while transportation contributed to more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and almost a quarter of hydrocarbons in 2013, Americans continue to practice their “freedom.” A question to ask each 2-car householder is: is it possible at all to carpool, to use public transportation, to exercise to work, or switch to electric cars and be open to alternative fuels? The answer to our dragging feet is partly due to the fact that, as consumers, we can. And when there is no regulation on consumed goods, there is a fine line between necessity and greed. How do we know our limits when there are no set standards? Thus, there is the default of bigger, better, faster, more.
This is not to say that a yogi can’t enjoy material luxuries and a capitalist can’t be a spiritual yogi. James J. Lynn, later ordained as Rajarsi Janakananda by his guru Paramhansa Yogananda, was a self-made millionaire who rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to become one of the most successful business in America of his time. Yet, he later recounted, “I was a totally frustrated man. I had thought money could give me happiness, but nothing seemed to satisfy me. I lived in a state of nervousness, a state of strain, an inward state of uncertainty.” He began practicing yoga under Yogananda’s direction, and his rise to spiritual fervor was just as meteoric as his professional and material advancement had been.
Janakananda attributed much of his material and spiritual success on devotion to God and Guru. Even after his deeply spiritual transformation, Janakananda continued a full schedule of business activities for another twenty years. He devoted more time to his spiritual life and less to his corporation, yet his businesses continued to grow and prosper. He did, however, admit to the difficulties of keeping centered in God while living in a demanding worldly environment. But, his devout love for God and openness in his Guru’s guidance allowed him to persevere in spiritual efforts despite outer distractions.
Another popular figure and embodiment of East-Meets-West is Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American author, public speaker, general practitioner turned alternative health advocate who is known in today’s New Age movement. He has brought spirituality to the forefront, making the yogic teachings more palatable to the average American. In 1994, Chopra released a self-help booklet entitled The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams. It is freely inspired by Hindu and spiritualistic concepts, which attests that personal success is not the outcome of hard work, precise plans or a driving ambition. Rather, success is attained by understanding our basic nature as human beings and how to follow the laws of nature. According to the Chopra, when we comprehend and apply these laws in our lives, everything we want can be created. These laws – summed up in 7 – are summarized as follows:
1. The Law of Pure Potentiality: Take time to be silent, to just BE. Meditate for 30 minutes twice a day. Silently witness the intelligence within every living thing. Practice non-judgment (a yama).
2. The Law of Giving: Today, bring whoever you encounter a gift: a compliment or flower. Gratefully receive gifts. Keep wealth circulating by giving and receiving care, affection, appreciation and love.
3. The Law of Karma: Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. Choosing actions that bring happiness and success to others ensures the flow of happiness and success to you.
4. The Law of Least Effort: Accept people, situations, and events as they occur. Take responsibility for your situation and for all events seen as problems. Relinquish the need to defend your point of view.
5. The Law of Intention and Desire: Inherent in every intention and desire is the mechanics for its fulfillment. Make a list of desires. Trust that when things don’t seem to go your way, there is a reason.
6. The Law of Detachment: Allow yourself and others the freedom to be who they are. Do not force solutions—allow solutions to spontaneously emerge. Uncertainty is essential, and your path to freedom.
7. The Law of Dharma: Seek your higher Self. Discover your unique talents. Ask yourself how you are best suited to serve humanity. Using your unique talents and serving others brings unlimited bliss and abundance.
It is possible to balance material and spiritual success. One must tune into the divine and equanimity. We can place value for success in good health, energy, enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being and contentment, and a peace of mind. As Chopra puts it, “Success is a journey, and it includes much more than material wealth which is only one component that makes this journey enjoyable.” Recognizing other aspects of our existence is equally important and allows us to realize the divinity within us to live in harmony with the natural laws of life.