Today, Hindus around the world celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, which symbolizes the light of knowledge over the darkness of ignorance. It’s a day for children to light small firecrackers, family and friends to exchange mithai, and celebrants to light diyas in their homes. As Diwali greetings fill my inbox, one in particular stood out. “For an oil lamp to burn, the wick has to be in the oil, yet out of the oil. If the wick is drowned in oil, it cannot bring light. Life is like the wick of the lamp; you have to be in the world yet remaining untouched by it.”
These three lines so beautifully capture the Hindu philosophy behind yoga, explained by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras: “Yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations.” If we are constantly drowned in emotions of happiness or sadness, jealousy or anger, stress or laziness, then our mental state is always fluctuating. Our emotions arise from attachments to “things” – whether we are in search of them, or have them and can’t bear to part with them, or lost them – we are emotionally vested in “things.” We are happy when we get them, sad when we lose them, jealous when someone else has them, disappointed when we try to get them but can’t, and angry when they are taken from us. So, the mind becomes a victim to constantly changing emotions.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains:
“For a person dwelling on the objects of the sense, attachment to them develops; From attachment, selfish desire develops; form desire, anger develops. From anger comes bewilderment, disturbed memory; from disturbed memory, loss of discernment; from loss of discernment one becomes lost.”
The goal of yoga is to reduce the emotional highs and lows in order to find a more balanced state allowing us to find inner peace. Krishna continues:
“There is no discernment for one who is not absorbed in yoga; and for one not absorbed in yoga, there is no meditative state; And for one who has no meditative state, there is no peace – for one who is not peaceful, from where is happiness to come?”
So, like the wick of the diya, the goal is to be able to live amongst “things” but not be drowned by our desire for them. And the in wake of Hurricane Sandy, with so many New Yorkers continuing to struggle for basic necessities, it’s a good time to try to reign in our many wants and find contentment with all that we already possess.