In the tech world, there is a software concept called open-source (or sometimes just referred to as “free” – free as in freedom, not free as in free beer), which means everyone is welcome to use it and read or modify the source code. It’s been developed for the greater good, for kudos, or just for fun. The operating system “Linux” is built on this concept. Conversely, much software is not open-source (it is “non-free”), which means you need to pay for it, and the “knowledge” embedded inside it – how the source code works and what it does on a deep level – is hidden from the user.
Personally, I rather deeply love the concept of free software, because it’s honest, egalitarian, fundamentally equal, and helps us progress and build on each others’ ideas over time. Without it, we’d all be trying to solve the same problems, over and over and over again. Open source doesn’t discriminate access to those of a certain social class, educational background, gender, sexuality, or anything else.
The idea of knowledge (as analogous to source code) being “free” is important to me. For example, whilst I fully support schools of yoga that have their own style, phraseology, methodologies and training courses, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of restricting that knowledge to only those with the means to pay for it. It feels like a very westernised and capitalist concept of knowledge, and one that the tech world has done well to overcome, and remain that way in the face of capitalist might. There is a website called GitHub, where developers store and share code with anyone else that wishes to read and/or use it. As of April 2017, GitHub reports having almost 20 million users and 57 million repositories (stores of source code).
The idea that we all benefit from sharing knowledge is deeply embedded in the tech community, and also, I believe in the yoga community in general.Whilst open-source software is relatively new, the concept of open knowledge is old: one of the earliest complete printed texts of which we have record is a copy of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, produced in China around 868 AD, and in it can be found the dedication: “for universal free distribution“.
Over a thousand years later, Wikipedia was founded with the ethos of providing information that anyone can use, edit, and distribute. To clarify a point that feels important to make, this is not to say that nobody should charge for knowledge-based work. If you add value to something, it’s disingenuous for someone to ask for access to it for nothing in return. If you write a book, deliver a training course, create a video, or anything else that has value, it’s valid to ask for fair and just reward in exchange for doing so.However, the knowledge itself is not privileged. I consider knowledge to be equal to source code, and that approaching all aspects of life “the open source way” means expressing a willingness to share, collaborating with others in ways that are transparent (so that others can watch and join too), embracing failure as a means of improving, and expecting – even encouraging – everyone else to do the same.
It also means committing to playing an active role in improving the world, which is possible only when everyone has access to the way that world is designed.
The world is full of “source code” – blueprints, recipes, rules and instructions that guide and shape the way we think and behave. This underlying “code” (whatever its form) should be open, accessible, and shared—so that many people can have a hand in altering it for the better.
It is by sharing knowledge, information, skills and wisdom freely and openly that we progress and become better at what we’re trying to do, whether that’s developing software, researching climate change, improving healthcare, developing schools of yoga, or just trying to make the world a better place.
As Isaac Newton stated in 1675: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”