In a moment of testosterone-fuelled animality, a billion viewers cried in shocked unison, “what on earth is Zidane doing?” For, the captain of France’s football team, in their chase for the World Cup, had just launched a charging headbutt at Italian player Materazzi, knocking him to the ground. The Frenchman was shown the red card and sent off the pitch.
It was an iconic moment â€“ one that will surely be stamped into the collective memory of this year’s tournament and of Zidane’s largely brilliant career. This was his last game before retirement and the manner in which he chose to exit left the crowd dazed with tension and confusion.
The game seemed to sour from that moment on. It became difficult to root for France… They had lost the moral advantage.
Though we see cultural variations of the details, there exists a universal code of morality and ethics embedded deep within our human psyche. Many people would agree that after their death they’d like to be remembered as a good person. Being ‘good‘ may equate to being honest or kind, or some other universally accepted norm of morality.
The ancient system of yoga describes some important guidelines for ethical living. And while many religions and individuals consider morality to be a goal in life, yoga considers it to be just the starting-point, the foundation upon which a person may expand towards self-realisation and spiritual liberation. For, it is not only the effect that a moral or immoral person will have on others that is at stake, it is also the peace of mind of that person.
Meditation â€“ the introspective practice for self-realisation that is prescribed by yoga â€“ is particularly difficult for a mind that is ill at ease. Guilt and shame create mental turbulence that can be difficult to quiet. Hence, yoga gives great importance to the practice of moral living. These are not simple dos and don’ts, not rigid commandments to be followed without thought, but instead a dynamic consideration of each situation that one encounters, to be given an appropriate response.
The ten ethical principles described by yoga (known as yama and niyama) are as follows:
- Ahimsa â€“ To avoid causing harm by thought, word or action.
This does not equate to non-violence or non-force, since one may be required to defend oneself or others in extreme situations. And it does not mean non-action, for choosing to remain passive is in itself an action.
- Satya â€“ Benevolent truthfulness; to use words for the benefit of others.
This does not necessarily mean absolute truthfulness, because there may be situations where that causes more harm than good.
- Asteya â€“ To refrain from stealing, or depriving another person of what is rightfully theirs.
- Aparigraha â€“ To live simply, without accumulating more material goods than one needs.
This helps to keep the mind unburdened and allows resources to be utilised by all of society.
- Brahmacarya â€“ To see all people and objects as an expression of the same universal Consciousness.
- Shoaca â€“ To maintain cleanliness of body, mind and environment.
- Santosa â€“ To be content with what one has in life, rather than wishing for something else.
- Tapah â€“ To make sacrifices for the benefit of others.
This may be done by assisting a person’s physical, mental or spiritual needs. This is given with no thought of reward or return, and may require some personal discomfort.
- Svadhyaya â€“ To make an effort to understand spiritual subjects and to incorporate their lessons into daily life.
- Ishvara Pranidhana â€“ To maintain a regular practice that expands one’s mind towards the Infinite.
Can you imagine a World Cup of ethical athletes? There would be no red cards or tantrums for Rooney, no elbows in the face from De Rossi, none of the incessant diving from the Portuguese team, just great football and good sportsmanship.
Can you imagine a society where even 5% of the people are sincere in practising moral living? Are we ready to embrace such an overhaul of our personal conduct?