Author, speaker and teacher of yoga philosophy Simon Haas had the privilege of being invited to speak at the United Nations on 21 June, 2019, the International Day of Yoga. His subject was ‘Four Yoga Principles for Outstanding Leadership’.
Simon has written two books: The Book of Dharma: Making Enlightened Choices (2013) and Yoga and the Dark Night of the Soul (2018). We interviewed Simon a year ago about his second book and you can read that interview ‘Delving into Yoga and the Dark Night of the Soul with Simon Haas’ here. Members of staff at the UN who had read these books put forward Simon Haas’ name as a speaker at the United Nations on the International Day of Yoga 2019. In his work, he’d set out and explained the Dharma Code, a set of universal principles that belong to all nations and all traditions. As Simon explains, ‘These teachings were originally intended for kings and queens to make wise decisions. They’re therefore potent leadership principles: they speak to each of us, but also to the leaders of nation states and the decision-makers at global organisations.’
In our recent interview, we asked Simon about his personal experience at the United Nations.
What were your feelings leading up to the event?
Excitement. Gratitude. Humility. It was my first time at the UN headquarters in Manhattan. And I knew this event was going to be live-streamed to the world’s 300 million yoga practitioners. My intent was to approach the event with a mood of service.
And what for you was the highlight of the day?
The highlight was the opportunity to meet so many incredible people who are dedicated to helping others and making the world a better place.
What did you bring away from the experience?
The International Day of Yoga was founded by a UN Resolution in 2014. Each year, it has a specific theme, and this year’s was climate action. I came away with a deeper awareness of climate change as a global issue.
We also took the opportunity to ask Simon to briefly explain the Four Yoga Principles for Outstanding Leadership that he spoke about on the day.
Simon Haas: To help resolve the world’s most difficult challenges, we need outstanding leadership. In ancient India, the rishis, or sages, understood how the quality of a leader’s decision-making is paramount. It determines the future of generations. So, they devised a system for making wise decisions, called the Dharma Code.
The Dharma Code is a set of four yoga principles: Truth, Purity, Non-violence and Discipline. Yoga practitioners will recognise these principles immediately. They are yamas and niyamas, or habits of excellence, in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These four are especially important for decision-making.
When we apply these four principles simultaneously, the Bhagavata Purana explains, we invoke something far greater than us—something known as “Dharma”. The Sanskrit word dharma comes from dhri, which means “to uphold” or “to sustain”. This is when our thoughts, words and actions are of such quality that the universe supports us in our efforts. We are aligned with the hidden laws of life—the laws that govern sustainability and human excellence.
Of the four principles of Dharma, Non-violence is the most important. That’s why it’s the first yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. To understand Non-violence, it helps to look carefully at the various ways we can be violent in our life. We can be violent to others, to ourselves, and to the Earth. Actually, whenever we are violent to the Earth, we are simultaneously violent also to others (which includes non-human life forms) and to ourselves. In that sense, aggression to the Earth is the greatest form of violence.
In the Atharva Veda, we find what is maybe the oldest environmental text, known as the “Prithivi Sukta”, or “Hymn to the Earth”. Thousands of years old, this text refers to the Earth as mata-bhumi, “Mother Earth”. In one poignant verse, the “Hymn to the Earth” exhorts, “O purifying Earth, let me not pierce your vital points or your heart”.
Through climate change caused by humans, we have already killed off half the world’s coral reefs. We are now causing the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. We are increasing the frequency and destructive force of hurricanes and droughts. Within our lifetime, we will have submerged entire islands and coastal regions in the rising sea, while rendering large parts of the Earth near the equator uninhabitable. No one is isolated from this impending catastrophe. It affects us all.
We call ourselves Homo sapiens sapiens, “wise, wise human”. But how wise can we really say we are?
In ancient India, the birthplace of yoga, wise rulers were known as bhupala, “Earth guardians”. The Earth is the shelter of all life. Therefore by being responsible caretakers of the Earth, we are protecting all species—including our own. Faced with climate change, runaway pollution, and the mass extinction of species, yoga asks each of us to become an “Earth guardian”.
There’s plenty of food for thought right there, isn’t there? However, if you would like to hear the whole interactive discussion on Yoga 4 Climate Change, you can listen to it here.
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