Readers of Harry Potter everywhere will fondly recall J.K. Rowling’s memorable opening sentence: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”[i] We all try so hard to be normal. We spend much of our time trying to fit-in; wearing everyone else’s clothes, listening to everyone else’s music, hanging out at everyone else’s favorite spots, ad nauseam. Let’s face it, there’s an obsessively-conformist, magically-numb muggle in us all. Being different, even a little odd, is a nightmare of Dursleyian proportions that most of us know (and fear) all too well. The magical world, however, has no room for such muggle-mindedness, and neither does the world of yoga.
The Harry Potter series starts off with a dreary glimpse into the life of the Dursleys—muggles of a caliber that “didn’t approve of imagination.”[ii] For a children’s book, this first chapter is a penetrating commentary on the existentially-paralyzing monotony of a modern, mundane existence, to which both J.K. Rowling and yoga wisdom offer us an alternative.
Most muggles are satisfied to believe that what they cannot see does not exist. In a society where everyone is conditioned to turn a blind eye to things mysterious and inexplicable, in the name of “rationality” and the search for “progress,” is it any wonder that all that is magical about life remains largely invisible to the consumption-frenzied and overstimulated masses? But witches and wizards, as well as yogis, are keenly aware of a world beyond the veil of anti-muggle charms and maya (the Sanskrit term for an illusory attribution of permanence to the temporary things of our world.) Daring to stray down the road less traveled, both yogis and magicians, seek out a realm beyond the ordinary and the visible, and strive to reach the fullest potential of the awakened, magical self.
Witches and wizards rise above the rigmarole of daily life through magic, and yogis transcend it through mysticism. What a witch achieves through magical blood, a yogini achieves through meditation. What for a wizard is a spell or a curse, for a yogi is a mantra or a siddhi (mystic perfection). Witches and wizards employ wands to conduct magic, whereas yoga practitioners use meditation beads. For every magical creature in Harry’s world, there is a mystical being in the yogic universe. For every divination teacher like Professor Trelawney, there is a fraud astrologer in the garb of a yogi… the parallels and comparisons between the world of yoga and the world of magic abound. But every Potter fan knows that what makes the books magical is hardly a product of charms and potions. Love is at the heart of Rowling’s epic, and this too the books share with the philosophy of yoga.
Rowling has peered into her own heart and found what lies at the core of all hearts: a desire to love and be loved. The whole-heartedly loving and trusting relationships that Harry builds with Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Dumbledore, lie at the core of the books. And it is these heartfelt connections that keep us going back to them over and over again. Those who have entered into the mysteries of the yoga teachings have discovered that yoga is a process of preparing the heart for exactly such relationships. Cultivating such meaningful connections and a deep sense of belonging—not only with other yogis but with all of reality—is an essential theme of mystical yoga practice.
Arguably the most influential person in Harry’s life is Albus Dumbledore, his teacher, guide, and inspiration. Dumbledore’s role in Harry’s life is very similar to the role of a guru in the life of a yogi. A guru is a teacher of yogic wisdom who belongs to a lineage of teachers who have dedicated their lives to passing on the ways and secrets of yoga to their students. The relationship of a guru and a disciple mirrors Harry’s connection with Dumbledore. It is one based not simply on learning, but on love and trust. There comes a time in the life of every yogi when they must embark on a search for their true guru, their very own Dumbledore.
In one sense, the Harry Potter saga begins and ends with unconditional love and an act of selfless sacrifice—first his mother’s and then his own—which empowers Harry to vanquish Voldemort. Even in this magical struggle for victory against the dark arts, we find a yogic parallel. As Harry had to defeat Voldemort, every yoga practitioner must overcome the tyranny of maya—the root of the dark arts and the veil of selfish desire that corrupts and contorts a clear vision of reality. And like it was for Harry, only an all-embracing, selfless love can free a yogi from the darkness of maya and uplift them into an enlightened vision of reality.
These parallels between the world of magic and the world of yoga are neither arbitrary nor coincidental. Harry Potter’s world has captivated so many millions around the world, for the same reasons that make the world of yoga so fascinating. Harry Potter, like all great fiction, is not an escape from the real world, but like the mirror of Erised, a clear lens into the deepest desires of the human heart—the final frontier of yogic thought. My understanding of yoga wisdom has benefitted greatly from growing up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while yoga wisdom itself has empowered me not to lose touch with the magic in our own worlds, even after the Harry Potter series has come to an end.
So, dear friends and Potter fans everywhere, when will you finally bid farewell to muggledom and enter the magical world of yoga wisdom?
For an introduction to yoga wisdom, please dive into an excellent translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Professor Graham Schweig, PhD.
[i] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholastic, 1997) 1.
[ii] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholastic, 1997) 6.