Hillel and yoga? Really? In what world might there even conceivably be any kind of connection? Well, in my world where I have the time to let my mind ramble, wander, and bounce off the walls a bit. So, here goes.
First, a bit of yoga. One of the more challenging basic yoga poses is Vrksasana the tree pose. You begin by standing in mountain pose – stand strong with both feet square on the ground, and your body nicely aligned square and tall. Then shift your weight slightly onto your left foot, keeping that foot strongly on the ground, and bend your right knee. Bring your right foot up and place the sole of your foot against your left inner thigh. Keep your pelvis directly over the left foot. Bring your hands to prayer position and take 5 slow, deep breaths. There you have it! The tree pose. Easy, yes? Hmm. You might think so. Just stand up, step away from your computer, tablet, put your smart phone down, and give it a try.
Now, Hillel. There is a wonderful story of someone challenging Hillel to teach the Torah while standing on one foot. It seems to me that there was some, shall we say reward (never a bet), if Hillel could accomplish this teaching.
And, here’s the link, at least in my mind: Hillel gracefully takes the Vrksasana, tree, pose, and replies: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is mere commentary. Go and study.” And, Hillel continues to breathe deeply for a few more breaths, and calmly places his right foot back on the ground.
Let’s have a look at how this injunction might be realized in an ah ha moment in India, the mother land of yoga….
Once upon a time, in a three generational family lived together in a small home in rural India, just on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. Johar, his wife Mira, and their son Deepak struggled to keep home together and food on the table, but they were happy together even as they worked hard. Then Amar, Johar’s father moved in with the family when Amar’s wife passed away. The family initially welcomed Amar, but his presence in their home was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There just was not enough space. There was not enough food. Soon the family’s harmony was replaced with discord. They all worked to make things work. But, the discord and frustration grew in spite of their best efforts.
One day Johar and Mira were working alone in the field and as the sun reached its zenith, they sat under a shade tree to take a bit of a break. Soon they fell into conversation about the conditions in their home, and they concluded that something must be done, and sooner rather than later. The situation was rapidly becoming intolerable. Shivaratri, the great festival of Shiva, was just a few days away. Johar and Mira lit upon a solution. They would carry Amar to the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar in a basket. During the night while the pilgrims were praying in the temple districts, they would leave him there in the basket, and hopefully one of the rich devotees would find him, and take pity on him and care for him.
Deepak was working among the trees as his parents spoke, and he quietly listened in on their conversation. His heart was broken as he heard their plans. Then he became angry. He decided to plan a way to punish his parents, because he had come to love his grandfather very deeply in the time that they had all lived together. Quietly, he went to his grandfather, and warned him of his parents plan. He told his grandfather of his desire to punish his parents for their cruelty.
Amar was a compassionate and kind man. He listened thoughtfully to Deepak. Then he helped Deepak to understand his parents struggles and frustrations. Together as Amar and Deepak talked, they formulated their own plan.
Later that evening, Johar sought out Deepak and told him of the plan to carry Amar to Lingaraj in the basket and to leave him there in the basket for a devotee to find. Deepak listened carefully, to his father. He nodded as he listened, and then he asked his father, “Pitaa Ji, could we leave grandfather at Lingaraj just as you say, but please, let us bring the basket home. Otherwise, what will I use to carry you to Lingaraj when you become old?”
Johar was stunned at his son’s words. Tears came to his eyes before he could speak. In his astonishment, he remembered the words of that Jewish fellow who practiced yoga: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your family or friends. And as he remembered, he went to his father, begged his forgiveness, and redoubled his efforts in the fields glean more food for harvest. He worked with Deepak to build a small additional room onto the family house for Amar.
Life was not nirvana, but a new level of community and harmony was built among the family as they more often remembered that which is hateful to you, they did not do to each other.