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THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE 21ST CENTURY SADHIKA/SADHAKA

by Clare Nicholls | May, 2024


Om yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas tat tad evetaro janaḥ sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute lokas tad anuvartate


A great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.


Bhagavad Gita 3.21


My mother taught me that we lead by example. Our behaviour, not our words is the measure of who we are. We make a profound difference day by day in how we interact with the world. Do we behave in a way that we would wish others to emulate?


Here, in chapter three of the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna is telling Arjuna to stand up and take responsibility for his actions. Arjuna has a responsibility to act, Krsna expounds that action is more than a responsibility, it is inevitable. Even inaction, according to Krsna, is a kind of action just not a responsible one. Arjuna has turned to Krsna for advice,


It is the eve of a great war and Arjuna is questioning exactly what action he should take. His first instinct is to do nothing. Krsna explains patiently this is not an option and lays out for Arjuna in terms of jatidharma (Arjuna’s responsibilities by birth), kuladharma (Arjuna’s responsibilities to his family) and svadharma (Arjuna’s personal responsibilities) why this is the case. Arjuna is a prince and a warrior his responsibilities are clearly defined in the cultural context of the Bhagavad Gita.


What are our responsibilities, who and what define them in the 21st century, in our own cultural contexts? I pose this question to you as a modern practitioner of Yoga, a Sadhika[1]. Does practicing yoga in the modern world bring with it inherent responsibilities? Yes. Yes, it does. Yoga is a method by which we can come into our true nature, we can see ourselves for who we really are (1:3 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). We want to gain greater understanding of ourselves, yet this could be perceived as a selfish aim. It depends on what we then do with that greater understanding. It depends on our actions, our behaviour.


Many of us begin our practice (our kriya, our action) because we want something, we want to feel better, look better, we want to be more flexible or strong. We think that through doing something we will achieve something. Krsna teaches in chapters three and four of the Bhagavad Gita that being motivated by what we get out of an action will lead to unhappiness. Instead, we need to act because of our responsibilities without thought for what we get out of an action. We act because through acting we improve the state of the universe. This is a subtle and important difference; it is not the outcome that enhances the cosmic order but the act of acting because it is our responsibility to do so.


Bringing us back to the question of what our responsibilities are. Let us begin with the verse above. I suggest that in this verse Krsna is reminding us that we have a responsibility to lead by example. We are the śhreṣhṭhas Krsna is describing. Why are we these “best, most splendid, most excellent”[2], because we are trying our best to see ourselves for who we really are. If we are following the Patanjalian method for seeing ourselves we will be adopting practices such as non-harming, truthfulness, not taking more than we need, cleanliness etc (2:30, 2:32 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). If we are śhreṣhṭhas then the rest (everyone else) will follow. This potential to lead carries with it responsibility. We are often quick to pass leadership responsibilities off to politicians and those who are elected to social office. What if rather than hiding from our own responsibilities to act we stand up and acted for the benefit of all? Take, for example, climate change. Should we wait for our governments and institutions to instigate change, or can we make small meaningful changes now that will have a positive effect? Remember we are not expecting or demanding the positive effect to benefit ourselves instead we are acting in this way because it is our responsibility as a yoga practitioner to do so. I am not only a vegan because I believe that all living beings have equal right to an unoppressed and unabused life: I am a vegan because as a yoga practitioner who ascribes to the yamas I have a responsibility to adopt a plant-based diet in accordance with the practice of ahimsa.


In our lives we are bound to action. That is the nature of being alive. Our actions make a difference. It is empowering for us to take the responsibility, to set the standards that Krsna suggests we can in this verse. If action is inevitable then surely as people who strive to see the best in all beings, the true nature of all beings and ourselves, and who are unwavering in our commitment to freedom, isn’t it our responsibility to uplift and liberate the rest though the example we set?


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”― Margaret Mead

[1] Sadhika feminine. Sadhaka masculine. https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5741/sadhaka

[2] W. Sargeant. The Bhagavad Gita, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009, p178.

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