Yoga and Religion: A debate, really?

OnFaith, a Washington Post blog, recently referenced various public figures’ commentary on the rapid adoption of the practice of yoga and how it has, for some odd reason, become something of a religious debate.

In the article, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggests that Christians should not practice yoga to avoid inter-religious flirtation/temptation. Aseem Shukla believes that yoga should be reserved for Hindus only, while Deepak Chopra disagrees. All debaters make interesting points but they, for lack of better words, seem to miss the point.

With regards to the metaphysics of it all, the word “yoga” literally means unity. It does comprise a set of physical and mental exercises whose culmination is indeed Moshka. But it’s not necessarily as articulated in the Hindu American Foundation’s note – “a liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth.”

It is however, for most people, a more achievable and tangible state of unity and mindfulness – an understanding of your place in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is that Hinduism fundamentally stems from the practice of action (Dharma – your responsibilities, and Karma – the implications of your actions), and all the other rituals and prayers it is known for are in fact layers added on top of this. Being strongly based in the act of living, its core philosophy can blend into any system of thought or meaning.

To put it into the context of the broader culture, many western philosophers, ranging from the transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, amongst others) to the idealists (Hegel, Kant, Schopenhauer, even Nietzsche), tapped into the same sources from which yoga emerges when developing their frameworks of philosophy – and none of this weakened Hinduism in any way.

Hindus should not feel their system of beliefs threatened by the adoption or re-interpretation of yoga into other traditions of thought either. The point of yoga, like any religious or spiritual knowledge, is not about exclusivity, but being freely available to anyone asking the questions it answers. And if leaders of various faiths are worried about the spread of yoga, they shouldn’t be. Hinduism has neither stated interests in proselytizing, nor does it have rituals to “convert” people.

In the 24x7x365 lives we lead today, we are all bricoleurs. We are constantly bombarded by all sorts of stimuli; and we learn to cope with what we can find around us. The practice of Yoga is one way to reclaim time for yourself, to be with your own thoughts, to clear your head and find yourself. If it helps you cope better with the pressures in your life, study or work, if it helps you bring a little more sanity to life whirling all around you, then all the other discussions are merely academic. So downward dog it up!

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Aditya Anupkumar Like many in our generation, I've grown up not really belonging to any one place, ideology or belief. I've lived in China, India, Europe and the US; studied engineering and the hardware of the world, and culture and the software of the world. The interplay between those two, across political borders is what fascinates me. In my day job, I'm a strategist with an advertising agency.

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