Yoga gets us out of bed in the morning because it teaches us the “Transcendentals”—the Good, The True and the Beautiful—through the body.
In this formula, the poses align the body with the Beautiful, True and Good, through physical sensation—and this bodily resonance guides us toward actions that reflect these virtues.
Yoga connects us to our Wholeness. By sensitizing us to feeling and giving ethical guidance, it leads us to right action in the world.
Our taste for the Good, the True and the Beautiful has a lengthy pedigree. Cultures of both West and East have celebrated these three virtues for millennia.
Among the Greeks, Aristotle sorted through them in his Metaphysics, Plato touched on them in his Phaedrus, and the medieval Christian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on them in his writings on aesthetics.
But if we look at the specific East-West conversation that made our modern yoga, we can eavesdrop exactly two centuries back, when these ideas became really big memes in the West.
It happened just as Eastern books like the yogic Upanishads began sparking new ways of seeing Reality for Americans and Europeans.
Among the West’s great philosophers, Kant had made the Transcendentals the topic of his three great books, and Hegel and Coleridge riffed off him.
Then in 1836, our American East-West heroes, Emerson and Thoreau formed the avant garde Transcendental Club.
Both dudes were rabble-rousers.
They wanted the true, beautiful and good, not just for themselves, but for society.
Emerson spoke against slavery beginning in 1837, and in 1846, Thoreau was hauled to jail for resisting taxes.
Thoreau sparked the activist credo of Gandhi. He was a fan of Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience,” and began refining his own style of passive resistance in 1893 in South Africa.
Two years after his night in a Concord jail, Thoreau, proclaimed he was “a yogin“ and the intertwining of The Good, The True and The Beautiful through the activist, artistic and philosophic sciences has been accelerating ever since.
Known as Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram in Sanskrit, they have a special place in the Indian traditions.
They are philosophical underpinnings in Indian aesthetics, and are said to be the “signature” of Shiva: their appearance in the world is the sign that he is present everywhere.
In 1900, Katherine Tingley brought these together in her political, educational and yogic activism behind her Raja Yoga Academy in California. She was a leading protester of militarism, and she foregrounded art and performance in education–trued by the wisdom of the East.
Emerson and Thoreau both devoured the yoga of the Bhagavad Gita.
Through their exegesis of he book, they enlarged America’s conversation with the Good, the True and the Beautiful, imagining them as moral imperatives in a style we might lable “Biblical.”
In the Gita, chapter 2, verse 15, we read:
“Words do not cause distress that are true, beautiful and good.”
Yoga and the Transcendentals go hand in hand.
We moderns aren’t satisfied with spiritual pursuits that disengage from moral goodness, that lack a feel for beauty, or that are blind to the open terrain of truth.
Yoga’s bodywork finds both inner and outer beauty as it refines our hearts and minds to embrace the surety of truth in the many places it’s found.
In Iyengar’s last book, The Core of the Yoga Sutra, we read, “Yoga is the perfect embodiment of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.”
The idea of the Transcendentals keep coming ‘round.
The trinity guides a pose or a life.READ IT AT ELEPHANT JOURNAL