On the fourth of July I used to dress up in a bespoke, multi-layered dress that really belonged on an immigrant from early 1800s-era America. I’d then jump in a car and head down to Historic Fort Snelling, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where my parents were historical re-enactors—and so was I.
Now that I’ve left the home front, I don’t quite know how to relate to the 4th. There aren’t exactly a whole lot of obvious tie-ins when you write for a yoga magazine. And at the Himalayan Institute, where I live, I can definitely say that there are no patriotic speeches, no two-day pig roasts, and no third-rate farces. No re-enactor will shout at me about Great Britain while pork fat drips down his face and small pieces of meat fly to the ground as he jabs at the air with a pig’s head on a sword.
Amateur history lessons aside, however, yoga does have a lot more in common with why America celebrates the 4th than I realized.
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait illustrated some of the similarities a couple weeks ago. The founding fathers, he noted with a laugh, probably never read the Vedas. They didn’t practice yoga or host study groups to understand the wisdom of the Yoga Sutra. But they still wrote “the finest piece of Vedanta and yoga,” he said, in the form of the American Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence: two documents, at heart, about the pursuit of happiness and “liberty and justice for all.”
Isn’t that what yoga is all about? The idea that anyone can experience bhoga (freedom) and apavarga (happiness) in his or her own lifetime? More to the point, Panditji noted, none of this depends on our religious or cultural beliefs, and the Founding Fathers (for their part), understood that. Because it’s a path inherently accessible to everyone: yoga practitioners, spiritual seekers, and global wanderers alike.
Whether or not you celebrate the 4th of July, if you practice yoga or study yoga philosophy, this is one idea worth contemplating. The signing of the Declaration of Independence is just one example among many, of universal wisdom manifesting itself everywhere in the world—even in politics.
For my part, I will be celebrating. Probably not in costume. But definitely with my whole heart.
Yoga Philosophy In-Depth
When Panditji speaks of bhoga and apavarga, he’s referring to concepts from yoga philosophy noted in Yoga Sutra verse 2.18:
“The objective world is made of elements and senses. Illumination, action and stability are its inherent qualities. The objective world furnishes conscious with the means of achieving fulfillment and freedom.”
For an expanded commentary on the meaning and purpose of the sutra, check out Panditji’s full commentary online here. Or take a look at our discussion with Four Desires author and Yogarupa Rod Stryker on (pursuing) happiness.
Bonus: Interested in studying the Yoga Sutra further? Our complete yoga sutra study guide is free and accessible online, where you can access Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentaries on each verse, read translations of the devanagari and original transliterations of each verse, and listen for comprehension to DC Rao’s audio recitations.