by Steve Kumar
An Eastern sage once said that he could write the biography of’ a Westerner in three words, “Hurry, worry and bury.” In our rush for successful living we often fill victim to tension and stress. In our crisis nothing sells better than a recipe for relaxation. In TV, sports, business and even in education yoga is promoted as a panacea for stress, health, success and peace. It is attractively packaged as an exercise for the body and cleverly presented as a science of the mind. The sales person for yoga tells us it has nothing to do with religion. What is the real truth?
The verdict of Professor Ruth Tucker, a leading authority on contemporary religious, should be noted, “The true religious nature of yoga is frequently disguised in the West, and individuals frequently practice the exercises without, they claim, becoming involved in the actual religion. But the two are deeply entwined and ought to be viewed in that light,” (Another Gospel, p. 386). Another authority, Professor Irving Hexham of Calgary University, in answer to the question “is yoga truly a religion?” declares that people who practice yoga, “gradually and imperceptibly begin to accept other concepts which involve definite religious convictions.” He argues that, “despite claims to the contrary . . . yoga cannot be practised in isolation from other Indian beliefs. The whole concept of yoga is based upon a carefully worked out theory of beliefs about the human condition. The terminology used to explain the practice itself involves acceptance of presuppositions with religious origins,” (Update, Sept. 1986, p.6). US. District Judge H. Curtis Meanor declared the practice of T. M. yoga “is religious in nature.” There are five reasons that one could propose to establish the religious nature of yoga.
REASONS WHY YOGA IS RELIGIOUS
1. The Origin of Yoga
The origin of yoga goes back to Hinduism. It is the outworking of Hindu religious metaphysics. In other words the Hindu perception of reality gave birth to the techniques of yoga. This notion is irrefutable as virtually all respectable scholars disciplined in the field would agree.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “Yoga assumes the existence of God, who is the model for the aspiration to spiritual release.” (Vol. 12., p.846). Mary Ann Lind in her book, From Nirvana to the New Age insists, “Ask any Hindu living in a village in India and he will tell you that yoga is a very intrinsical part of his ancient religion.” (P. 74). She correctly points Out, “When we trace the origins of yoga, our search takes us to the ancient Hindu sacred text, especially to the Bhagavad Gita, in which the Hindu hero god, Lord Krishna, introduces yoga as a pathway to heaven,” (p.75). T. George Harris, editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, insists, “All the Eastern exercises grew out of religious roots, and all are designed to evoke specific religious experiences. The word yoga literally means yoked with God. ” (Dec. 1975).
2. The Meaning of Yoga
The very meaning of yoga confirms its religious element. The word (Sanskrit) yoga literally means “yoking” or “union.” The question is “union with what.” The consensus view is union with Brahman; the individual (Purusa) soul must unite with the cosmic being. According to Hindu scholars yoga is designed to reverse the process of evolution and get back- to the original cosmic stage. Since the mind dominates the body and causes the soul to experience pain and pleasure the mind must be mastered and emptied in order to reach its original stage. It is a method by which one brings self-redemption or self salvation. It would be meaningless to talk about union with nothing. According to Hinduism the answers to our problems and suffering, are found in yoga. It is the key to humanity’s liberation. In the practice of yoga, as professor Arindam Chakrabarti of University Delhi affirms, “A self can get back to its pure essence and stop suffering,” (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p.355). Hindu thinkers have always understood yoga as the uniting of the individual with the cosmic force. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy states, “The object of yoga is to isolate this eternal element (the soul) and to free it from implication in the material world” (Vol. 8, p.358). The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, explains, “Yoga is the discipline or yoke necessary for the pure subject to recognize itself, and separate itself from the empirical reality with which it is confused”
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary declares that yoga is, “A Hindu theistic(God) philosophy teaching the suppression of all activities of body, mind and will in order that the self may realise its distinction from them and attain liberation.” The Encyclopaedic Edition of Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary confirms that yoga is, “A Hindu system of mystical and ascetic philosophy which involves withdrawal from the world and abstract meditation on any object, as the Supreme Spirit with the purpose of identifying one’s consciousness with the object.”
3. The Practice of Yoga
When one practices yoga one is engaged in performing a religious ritual and activity that has its origin in Hinduism and is an essential practice of the religion. The Hindu text says, “Disciplined action, study of the self, and Surrender to the Lord, constitute the practice of yoga” (Yoga Sutra 11.1). Bruce Nicholls confirms, “Yoga has come to be universally practised by the religious sects of Hinduism, however much the metaphysical interpretations may vary” (p.148). The yoga physical postures (Asana) are specifically developed to control consciousness. It is meaningless to deny that an activity is nonreligious when its origin and practice are intrinsically Hindu. Redefining something and calling it nonreligious does not deny its essential nature. A rose with another name is still a rose. Yoga is central to Hinduism, without yoga Hinduism has no meaning. Trying to isolate yoga from Hinduism is like attempting to isolate fish from water. They are mutually dependent. You cannot have one without the other.
William Watson, author of A Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions, states, “The practice of yoga, with its various postures and exercise, leads man to self liberation and god-realization,” (p.259). Ronald L. Carlson in his book, Transcendental Meditation: Relaxation or Religion, points out, “Yoga’s practical motive is to attain salvation or liberation through disciplined activity,” (p.41).
A leading authority in Hindu philosophy, Sarvaepalli Radhakrishum in his work, A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, confirms, “The special feature of yoga system is its practical discipline, by which the suppression of mental states is brought about through the practice of spiritual exercises” (p.453). Dr. Ruth Tucker, a research specialist on contemporary religions, points out, “Yoga is a Hindu system of mental and physical exercises, the goal of which is to separate the soul from the body and mind in order to release the soul from the endless cycle of reincarnation” (Another Gospel, p. 385).
Yoga is a central part of many pseudo-religious groups including Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishnas, Transcendental Meditation, Sri Chimnoy, Sathya Sai Baba, Theosophy, and Eckankar. Hindu gurus have long insisted the discipline of yoga is religious both in purpose and practice,
4. The Consensus of Scholars
Virtually all scholars who have specialised in the study of yoga unanimously agree that yoga is a spiritual activity. Even to attempt to justify the above assumption is as futile as trying to inform mode mind that our world is global. One only has to read standard texts on religion and encyclopaedias to see the truth. Hindu teachers, priests and philosophers including Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekenanda, Gandhi, Aurobino Ghose, Sai Baba, Bhagwan Rajneesk all agree on the religious nature of yoga. Even the most popular work The Encyclopedia of Mind, Magic & Mysteries by Francis X. King admits, “Many, perhaps most, Westerners tend to think of yoga as no more than an unusual type of culture, characterized by strange postures and breathing exercises. In reality this physical yoga–hatha yoga is vastly more complex than is generally appreciated, there being a great deal more to it than its purely physical component” (p. 194). In his insightful book, The Spirit of Hinduism, Dr. David Barnett notes, “Hatha yoga was not developed to stand on its own, but as a preparation for Raja yoga” (p.203).
Why Yoga Should Be Rejected in Schools
Introducing yoga to our schools is a subtle means of introducing Hinduism. It is politically wrong to use taxpayers funds to promote a religious practice in the name of education. This is essentially proselytising which clearly violates the stated purpose of neutrality claimed by educationalists. We believe in freedom of religion in New Zealand and if religion is to be kept away from schools then Hinduism should not be promoted in the name of creativity, arts, drama or even therapy in the fight of overwhelming evidence that yoga is religious. To promote it in schools is to impose Eastern religious systems and beliefs on our youth.
Yoga advocates must not ignore the warning of Julio Ruibal, a former yoga master and guru; his experience is most revealing. He states, “I became the youngest guru in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most advanced and powerful. Twice a week I taught yoga on television. Hatha Yoga sounds like a nice simple set of exercises; everyone thinks it is just gymnastics. I want to warn that it is just the beginning of a devilish trap. After I became an instructor in Hatha Yoga, my guru showed me that the only thing these exercises do is open your appetite for the occult. They are like marijuana; they usually lead you on to a drug that is worse and stronger, binding you so completely” (A Mirage from the East, p. 8). Yoga teacher R.L. Hittleman admits that in yoga, health benefits are secondary and that he used the health angle to hook Westerners on the Eastern metaphysical view. (Guide to Yoga Meditation, pp. 9-14).
It does not take too much reflection to understand the devastating consequence of the practice of yoga in the son of India. As researcher Dave Hunt points out, “Hinduism has turned India, in spite of its vast natural resources and manpower, into one of the poorest and most suffering countries on earth.” (Peace, Prosperity and the Coming Holocaust, p. 82). A sensible mind must ask the crucial question, What is the fruit of yoga? The test of the fruit is in the roots. If the teaching and practice of yoga has been such a miserable failure in the East would it help us any better in the West.