Advaita Stoian – the perspective of voluntary work in the traditional yoga system

Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society

Another special guest of our side event "Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society" was Mr Advaita Stoian.

Advaita Stoian talked on behalf of M.I.S.A. yoga school from Romania where he has been a student for the last 25 years when he began his spiritual path. From the perspective of a practitioner, he pointed out some aspects related to voluntary work, the topic of one of the side events organised by Soteria International within the OSCE – HDIM held on 30th September 2014, in Warsaw.

It is known that in the traditional yoga system, voluntary work is called karma yoga and it represents in itself a complete system of spiritual evolution or individual transformation. As a yoga practitioner, Advaita has often noticed how society and even the Romanian authorities have misinterpreted these spiritual practices currently used in M.I.S.A yoga school, tending to judge them from an individualistic perspective - this perspective excludes individual transformation and tends to preserve the individual status irrespective of its problems.

Such a perspective represents a genuine hallmark of modern society. As it is easy to observe, many spiritual traditions use similar modalities in order to help the practitioners shape or reshape their character in a spiritually evolving way. Action is one of the strongest tools in this respect, but what is important here is to look mostly at the way the action is done, namely the emotions and the attitudes one has while acting, and not just at the action itself.

Action is our way of transforming our environment, but the way an action is done strongly transforms its author. This is the reason why different spiritual schools have recommended learning the right attitude that will aid individual transformation while acting. This represents the proper spiritual perspective to look at these effective methods of transformation which a practitioner can use in every moment of his life.

The question is what happens with the exterior results of these actions that are done as voluntary work. It is the aspect where confusion can appear from one side or the other and abuses find their place. For the practitioner, the reward should be the very transformation when performing an action with a superior attitude. All the outcomes from an action should be directed towards the organization, the community, the society. On the other hand, due its structure the organisation should be transparent in order for its members to see how the external fruits of their actions are used. This should always be the subject of an intra-organisational debate, to ensure that it is done in a safe, proper, protected and responsible manner. Thus, the members have the freedom to engage in these activities and nobody will interfere with their choices.

The problem in the M.I.S.A. case is that the use of the karma yoga system became the main “weak” point - the reason for the school being attacked by twisting the meaning of this millennial spiritual practice (instead of leaving it up to the members to debate about the destination of the external outcome of karma yoga actions).

This external debate reduces its highlights only to its individualistic gains that are covered by social laws, but which never take into account the spiritual laws known by the practitioners of the respective system. The combination between the ignorance of these spiritual principles and the intention to hinder the activity of a spiritual school always makes room for abuses as we could see.

As a conclusion to these remarks and considering the fundamental spiritual principles of voluntary work (that are basically the same for all spiritual traditions), organisations using voluntary work should create a commonly agreed upon platform and constitute groups of communication with the legal frame representatives in order to shape it in a way which can really cover all these aspects and protect both organisations and practitioners from any kind of abuses.