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In the Western tradition we are familiar with three ethical theories also found in Indian Philosophy

  • Virtue Ethics: the good character produces the right choice. 

  • Consequentialism: the good end justifies the right choice. 

  • Deontology: the right choice justifies the good action. 

Yoga (also called Bhakti, or Devotion) is a fourth ethical theory unique to the Indian tradition: 

  • Yoga/Bhakti: the right choice is to be devoted to the Ideal of the Right (Sovereignty) and the good is the perfection of the practice. 


Sovereignty, or (Īśvara in Sanskrit) is defined by two traits: it is not stuck in its past (it is unconservative, experimental, willing to try new things) and it makes its own choices, determines its own values (self-governing). 

To practice Yoga, the Ethical Theory, is to hence 

  • Engage in a practice of devotion to Sovereignty (Īśvara praṇidhānān), 

And to also practice its two essential traits: 

  • Unconservatism

  • Self-Governance

As we practice our devotion to this ideal, by freeing ourselves from past prejudices, habits and pathologies by working on our own self-mastery, the outcome is our own autonomy (kaivalya).

  • As we transform ourselves, the world transforms. Our personal trans-formation involves changing the world to make it free for people to be unconservative and self-governing. 

Hence, by adopting an ethics of Yoga, we bust the myth that carrying for ourselves is selfish, and that our own prosperity and welfare depends upon self-denial and asceticism. A commitment to the ethics of yoga involves an expansive concern for people across species, and the Earth, all of which are people in so far as they have an interest in their own unconservativism and self-governance as a condition of their own thriving. 

Ideas of competition and scarcity as a basic fact of ethical life are among the facts of life structured not by our commitment to yoga, but conservatism and a lack of self-mastery. 

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