BG 3.21

yad yad ācharati śhreṣhṭhas 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.

We all need heroes to look up to. A form and examples who show us the way, inspire us, guide us and help us to be strong in times of doubt and uncertainty. Through yoga teachings Deities or Gurus can play this role of a hero for us. That is where devotion can have an important role. Devotion will let the devotee attain the qualities of the object of devotion, and the object of devotion then will live on inside the devotee. You can call it a reincarnated quality or embodiment through vibration.

In the Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa says to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra “I see there are many people who are looking at you oh Arjuna, you are a great person, whatever you do, people will follow you”. One of our main jobs as humans in this life is to represent a positive example in the world, to become the embodiment of a hero, a guru, a saint, or even a deity. Cultivating good qualities and being an example for people at our workplace, friend circles, families, etc. is therefore very important. If they see our actions being pure, kind and rewarding they certainly will follow. I have experienced it with my friends back in Germany. When I stopped drinking alcohol and started living a compassionate vegan lifestyle people would first be annoyed and make fun, but then some friends found it inspiring and occasionally do, what they called a “green Dean weekend” free of alcohol and full of healthy vegan foods and exercise. My mother even turned her life around and stopped smoking, drinking, and eating animal products. Now she is an inspiration for her friend circle and environment. We cannot expect to inspire others if we are not willing to do the work ourselves.

Unfortunately that is what the modern yoga world is becoming. Yoga teachers see their practice, devotion, and teachings as a business. A person that follows the yoga teachings and practices what they preach is very uncommon. Yoga teachings are guiding the practitioner to avoid drugs and alcohol, to not consume and use animal products, to engage in meaningful conversation and not gossip. If we are meditating only occasionally and celebrating being on “spiritual drugs”, following our desires with overconsumption and looking for loopholes in the teachings to justify our actions is this living by example, are we practicing what we preach?

A good leader needs to follow the yoga teachings and has to have a clear mind interpreting them, without being blinded by desires. Only then people will follow. It is never easy to be an example and nobody is perfect, but following standard books of moral and spiritual codes is crucial for a leader. People like the Buddha, Lao-Tze, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and many more show that it is possible to be a human hero. Their examples of compassion, courage, and devotion still inspire millions today and will continue to inspire in the future. Many live by following their teachings a happy, joyful, and meaningful life. These were just ordinary people like us who followed standard books of moral and spiritual codes.

We have a great responsibility as humans, our every action affects our surroundings, whether good or bad. Our actions can circle the earth many times infinitely into the future. Can we even risk taking a single breath without being of service or inspiration to others? To change the world we need to first start changing ourselves and lead by example. Hopefully our yoga practice can be a driving force for positive change. How we use what we learn in yoga classes to help drive this positive change can start simple. The challenge and mental fortitude developed through the difficulty of the practice, the ability to sit still and reflect on our own thoughts, the flexibility of mind to see things from different perspectives, to be in tune with our bodies and know how the food we eat and where it comes from not only determines our energy and output but also has corresponding reactions for others in the world. The phrase ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ can be overused but with good reason, it forms a powerful tool and reminder for the potential we all have to be great leaders, teachers and students in life.

– Dean Galip