In broad terms we all share a common identity. We all wish to be secure, healthy, loved and self-determined; Maslow’s basic needs. When we identify with something outside ourselves, such as nationalism, and imbue upon it such responsibility for our character and our actions, it is in yoga philosophy known as a klesha. Klesha, a Sanskrit word from one of the earth’s oldest languages, refers to a mental state that clouds the mind manifesting in unwholesome actions and beliefs.
A picture paints a thousand words. Looking at the world map with the flags of every nation drawn upon the continents, Africa reveals that there are many countries and boundaries on that land mass whose history shows much stress and strife. Africa is where science seems to support that humanity started. Is this where humanity will end? Caught up in our klesha of nationalism, convinced our particular country owns the truth, we deserve this or that, this is our land not yours, you don’t deserve to live because your way of life offends me. The list goes on and on; all because we create our external story of what we are about. Is it not possible for humans to evolve into peaceful earth citizens? It seems that fragmentation is on the rise across many regions and countries. Are we destined to collapse in on ourselves and devolve instead of evolve?
In the now water stressed regions of northern Africa through Saudi Arabia and reaching up into Central Asia, some of humanities oldest civilizations were developed. Ideology mixed with nationalism, due to centuries of poor leadership and corruption, is creating terrible results for humanity and the environment. Centuries of neglect and disregard for others has created an elite with access to all the resources and the majority of citizen with little to no access. One could propose that Saudi Arabia made a valiant attempt to share their country’s wealth, but there was still a separation between a now vast royal population, those whose kleshas convince them that they are special and somehow more deserving than the rest of the citizens they live amongst.
The Ottoman Empire in the heart of one of the oldest trade routes the Silk Road had deep roots in globalization and was a vast and wealthy region from which many human advancements grew. Yet it also fell victim to the klesha that made their national leaders in conjunction with the kleshas of a western elite think they were uniquely special. Now it is one of the most unstable areas in the world with Turkey struggling to hold onto their identity, Iran determined to stay isolated, and Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in disarray. Libya and Egypt as well as much of the Middle East are also in crisis. The kleshas in some of the oldest civilizations are clashing and splashing onto the world-wide media platforms for us all to witness.
China and India have also traditions that reflect a more unified perspective on life, and their unity is often times quite powerful. But alas, corruption as well as often cruel leadership has taken its toll even in these vast regions under one flag. In the name of unity the leaders behave as if they own the truth and impose their klesha onto the disempowered masses. Russia experienced a crushing of their national klesha with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but we see nearly 30 years later support for a unifying but decidedly unique identity separate from their neighboring nations has reemerged. They now have a new klesha in common seemingly powered by a renewed sense of nationalism.
Europe remains firmly divided, desperately clinging to their national identities in the face of what economics, behavioral science, and history teaches us does not create long term growth for the society as a whole. Years of statistics reveal that people trade the most with their closest neighbors. With the advancement of technology countries have greatly extended their trading reach, but the value of a permeable border with the closest neighbors has a more profound impact on the wealth of the nation. The Marshall Plan’s goal to knit a more peaceful European region together after WWII, is proving difficult to sustain perhaps because the overarching goal was to ‘separate’ Europe from the influence of communism.
Throughout South America there is also much strife and identification with nationalism. Corruption has eroded most regions and the leaders are struggling or are unable to secure their citizens’ security sufficiently to allow human ingenuity to emerge and advance their societies. The people in power are so corrupt with a klesha that convinces them they are “better” and are blinded to the disintegration of their society. North America is not immune to the damage of kleshas nor is Australia or Southeast Asia. Japan has held itself so separate from other humanity for so long that it is a society debilitated and struggling to care for its citizens. What’s going on? Can we not realize that how we treat others is essentially how we treat ourselves?
Science and quantum physics teaches us that we are all made of the same energy. The energy we put out creates a communal atmosphere both in our words and our actions. We all have the ability to step away from our “stories” that we tell ourselves, “samaskars” in Sanskrit, and realize that we are all in this together, and we need each other to stay vibrant and survive. Patanjali, a scholar who historical record places his life around 400 CE, compiled a road map for humans leading to peaceful lives that drew upon lessons of the ages. The 8 Fold Path is a way to live if not free of kleshas, at least able to identify them for what they are and not become blinded by them. The details of this philosophy are beyond the scope of this essay, but it is instructive that the 1st of the 8 fold path is a guide for how to treat others. The 2nd is how you treat yourself. If everyone on earth practiced the 8 Fold Path, peace would not only be possible, it would be inevitable.
Sarah Chayes writes very persuasively in her book Thieves of State about the historical reach of corruption, a clear trespass on the 1st of the 8 Fold Path, and the serious security threats it creates for humanity. Her discussion at the Carnegie Council was very enlightening, and her book elucidates the damage caused by the kleshas surrounding nationalism. The reach of technology brings more trespasses to light but seems to be a knife that cuts both ways in that it reveals deep divisions between us while simultaneously bringing us closer together by forcing us to experience a tragedy of the commons. The world wide web could be the catalyst that makes humanity realize that we are all in this together. The Dalai Lama has noted that “of all the various delusions, the sense of discrimination between oneself and others is the worst form, as it creates nothing but unpleasantness for both sides.”
Nationalism has been a hinderance in many ways across the ages but perhaps in this technologically connected world eventually humanity will learn that we are more powerful and stable if we drop our identification with our borders and realize that we are all citizens of planet earth, and we share the same basic needs. Perhaps from the ashes the phoenix will rise, and we will practice the golden rule 'to do unto others as you would have others do unto you'.
Teaching and studying yoga is my profession, so I am not a teacher in the classic sense that this essay calls for, but I was instantly drawn to this subject and wanted to share my thoughts with Carnegie Council. I have always been a student of life, and I have been a Carnegie Council member and follower for 20 years. I am thankful for the body of work you all create. It is valuable to human development and has helped me tremendously over the years step away from my kleshas and see things from a broader perspective. Practicing yoga for 16 of those 20 years has provided a unique platform from which to view life. I try to respectfully share yoga philosophy with my students during the 11 years that I have been leading classes. It is in this spirit that I respectfully submit this essay for your consideration.
Christine C Cooper
Kripalu Certified Teacher & Bikram Yoga Teacher
Post-graduate MBA; Bond University, Queensland Australia 1995