A little less than a year ago, my friend and sometime yoga student Rick Ruzzamenti told me as we were driving from Riverside to Los Angeles for yoga workshops that he intended to donate a kidney.
He made it clear that it was not “for” someone, but just because he had learned there was a need for kidneys and it was something he could do. Thanks to his own misfortune as a mostly unemployed electrical contractor, he could be off work for a few weeks if necessary. It made complete sense, and we laughed when he explained having to go through repeated questioning about his psychological soundness.
A few months later, he told me that his donation had set off a chain reaction of donations that meant 11 people received kidneys.
Now, thanks to Sunday’s excellent New York Times article, I learn that Rick’s action was the beginning of a chain of 30 transplants. In the article, he credits his Buddhist beliefs with influencing his action.
Yoga in action
At the time of his decision, Rick was enrolled in the teacher training program at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. Rick credits much of his growth as a yoga student to his teacher Debra Ann Robinson, with whom he studied in Los Angeles. His years of yoga studies probably played a role. It certainly is why his gift made sense to me.
One of the reasons why yoga works is also one of the hardest concepts for us to understand: We act in a moral way because it is the moral thing to do, without expectations. If we do something expecting a particular result, that very act is tainted and quite likely to rebound with effects we might not desire or anticipate. We are to act without expecting to harvest the fruits of that action.
It was the nature of Rick's initial gift that helped keep donors in place. One woman in the New York Times story mentions quavering in her determination to donate after her husband received his donation. Just as Rick had given to someone in need, though, she knew that she must do that, too.
In some comments on the New York Times article, one reader inquires whether it is essential that the chain be started by a good samaritan. Could it not as easily be a circle of donations? A reply notes that problems arise when someone gives something, expecting to get something in return. Instead, a chain ultimately is stronger, in part because links can be reforged.
The 12th of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras in the first chapter describes the means of doing yoga: through both practice and detachment, abhyasa and vairagya. We study, we practice yoga, and yet, we must remain detached from both rewards and setbacks. We must do yoga for the sake of the yoga.
In his writings, B.K.S. Iyengar describes it well:
“It is impossible to do any action without an aim, but it is possible to do it without ambition. . . . Aim must be for the universal good, for universal use and utility.” (Light on Astanga Yoga.)
“Yoga works on each individual for his or her growth or betterment, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is meant for the whole of humanity. . . . A yogi’s actions are performed without vice and virtue, but with purity and divinity.” (The Tree of Yoga.)
More about Debra Ann Robinson: She herself is one of those who gives. She is the director of the Himalayan Children’s Fund, based in Beverly Hills, which raises funds for the charitable activities of Thrangu Rinpoche, providing food, clothing, basic medical care and education to the poor children of the Himalayan region.