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Is Yoga Religious ? Yes

– By Rev. Clete Hux –

Last year the Governor of Alabama and its State School Board members received a communication from Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism. Pointing out that most public universities of Alabama were already offering some form of yoga, Mr. Zed requested  the State of Alabama to end the prohibition of teaching or practicing yoga in its K – 12 public schools.1 The prohibition is Alabama Administrative Code (AAC), Rule 290-040-040-.2, which was has been in place since 1993.

Following Zed’s request, the validity of this longstanding AAC rule is being challenged by House Bill 449. As an opponent of the bill, I recently gave testimony in a public hearing at the State House in Montgomery as to why the AAC Rule 290-040-040-.2 should not be overturned but should remain in place. It was for good reason that the AAC rule passed twenty-six years ago due to the intrinsic and inseparable relationship between yoga and the religion of Hinduism. The practice of a religion, in this case yoga, will invariably promote that religion, in this case, the religion of Hinduism. This would be in violation of the Establishment Clause of Religion in the First Amendment.

Proponents of House Bill 449 are attempting to do is what a lot of people here in the west try to do and that is to separate the practice of yoga from its religious philosophy and historical beliefs. Embracing such separation is a redefining of yoga and Hinduism as a religion. Such would be an attempt toward revisionist history. With these things in mind, I offer this short article. Let’s begin with some history of yoga.

History

The earliest evidence of yoga practice dates back 5,000 years to the beginning of human civilization. It is believed that it grew out of Stone Age shamanism because of the cultural similarities between modern Hinduism and the ancient society of Mehrgahr, a Neolithic settlement in present day Afghanistan. Many of India’s ideas, rituals, and symbols appear to have their roots in the shamanistic culture of Mehrgahr. Early yoga and shamanism both sought to transcend the human condition, eventually evolving into more inward-focused practices.1 The first archaeological evidence is found in stone seals excavated from the Indus Valley and dated to about 3000 B.C. These seals depict figures performing yoga postures (asanas).2

Early written references to yoga are found in the Upanishads, one of the scriptures of classical Hinduism (c. 500 B.C.). They were written to explain the relation of the individual self (atman) to ultimate reality or God (Brahman). The general idea was that “atman is Brahman”—each human soul is identical with the great world Soul, which is God.

The word “yoga” is derived from the Hindu Sanskrit word yuj, which means to “yoke” or “bind together.” Simply understood, it implies the ideas of union, harmony, and stability. In its philosophical background, the idea of union reflects yoga’s tradition of joining body, mind, and soul into a unified whole. Thus, yoga is historically a religious philosophy and spiritual practice. Accordingly, Robert E. Van Voorst defines yoga as “a physical discipline to promote knowledge that the individual soul and the world soul are one.”3

It is difficult to separate any yoga practice from its Hindu roots. It can be said that there is no Hinduism without yoga and no yoga without Hinduism. Also, yoga has influenced and been influenced by Buddhism and Jainism. These facts strongly suggest that yoga is primarily spiritual in nature, which is the explicit understanding of its Eastern practitioners as well as many of its Western devotees. If Indians perceived yoga as primarily a form of physical training, this would seem strange. Indian citizen and philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi explains that “Yoga was never meant to be a fitness regime. In Indian philosophy yoga is a means to salvation or liberation (moksha). The original philosophy behind yoga defined liberation as the soul’s isolation from the body. Obtaining ‘out-of-body’ experiences is still the goal of some popular forms of yoga.”4

Furthermore, yoga is usually synonymous with Eastern meditation. As such, the goal of the yoga practitioner is to unify him or herself with the Divine Self or God-Self. Through yoga meditation, the practitioner attempts to lose contact with the conscious mind for an altered state of consciousness. Such dissociative techniques are often used by the practitioner to detach him or herself from conscious existence so that becoming one with the divine Self or God-Self can be realized. Even those who do not connect such altered states of consciousness with Eastern pantheism have nevertheless shifted in their thinking from a Western world view to an Eastern world view.

This has been according to plan. Pamela Frost, a TruthXchange board member, points out in a podcast that in 1993, a group of Hindu students in America organized a movement called World Vision 2000. The purpose of the movement was and is to change America from Biblical theism to the Hindu worldview of Vedanta by holding seminars on college campuses. The worldview of Vedanta is monistic (all is one) and pantheistic (all is divine).5 In Biblical theism there is a separation of Creator and creation, but not in Hinduism.

The statement of purpose for World Vision 2000 is as follows: “The seminars to be held in various campuses will only become successful if a team of Hindu students are inspired to work hard. Let us try to reach out to every Hindu student, or others who has respect for Hindu ideals. There are several youth organizations on campuses promoting Yoga, meditation, Eastern studies, etc. The new age movement which has accepted the great ideas of the East should be brought closer to our vision. Let us contact all the faculty members who have anything to do with Hindu philosophy or Bharat. Let us invade the American Campuses armed with the vision of Vedanta.”6

Sounds like a trojan horse, doesn’t it? The nature of this was explored in an article, “Hinduism Gains a Foothold in America” published in the February 8, 1993 edition of Christianity Today. The article explains how the New Age Movement prepared the West to receive Hinduism by yoga missionaries.7 That reception has been taking place warp speed for decades, so much so, that most people have no clue what has taken place.

Yoga and the Christian

Unfortunately, Christians don’t fair much better than those who would advocate separating the practice of yoga from its religious foundation. Invariably, it is asked, “Can’t we just practice yoga without any religious meaning?” They do not understand that it is not possible to do true yoga apart from its religious goal of becoming one with Brahman, the ultimate impersonal Hindu God. Or, they may ask, “Why can’t we do yoga for God’s glory?” Such mindset is to Christianize yoga, but to do so would be to baptize paganism. Further, the attempt to remove the true meaning of yoga would, as one author put it, be like removing Christ from Christianity.8

Frost says that even though Westerners in their own minds, including Christians, may be doing yoga for non-spiritual reasons, the gurus who brought yoga to the west understood that the practice of the postures(asanas) alone would influence one’s worldview towards Hinduism. She also notes that K. Pattabhi Jois, promoter of Ashtanga yoga, believes that practicing the postures, apart from any knowledge of or exposure to the Hindu meaning behind the postures, will of itself influence one toward Hinduism because the postures are designed to incarnate Hindu deities.9

Yes, this is spiritual warfare. Those who promote yoga and those who don’t have warned about it. One author cites Purohit Swami, a Hindu teacher, as warning that people have suffered permanently because the right steps were not followed. The same author says that Hans-Ulrich Rieker, author of The Yoga of Light, pointed out that yoga is not to be taken lightly, that a misunderstanding in the practice of yoga can mean death or insanity!10

Christian apologist Douglas Groothuis summarized some potential dangers of yoga: “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions, even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a purely physical discipline. Even advocates of yoga report the dangers of the energy (kundalini) it may awaken. This may involve insanity, physical burning, sexual aberrations and so on.”11 These authors are telling us not to play with fire because it is dangerous.

Conclusion

In closing just remember that yoga means union instead of separation. It has an intrinsic and inseparable relationship to Hinduism. Again, there is no Hinduism without yoga and no yoga without Hinduism. This becomes more understandable when you think of yoga as the way of salvation in Hinduism. Perhaps an illustration would be helpful.  Christ is to the Christian what yoga is to the Hindu. What Christ is to Christianity yoga is to Hinduism. Christ is the Christian’s salvation. Yoga is the Hindu’s salvation. For the Christian, Christ is the liberator from the bondage of sin. The same is true for yoga being the Hindu’s liberator or moksha from the bondage of karma and reincarnation. The truth is yoga is a way of salvation and every school of yoga sees itself as a way of salvation.12 Therefore; yoga is religious no matter if someone or some law tries to change it.

1https://www.rajanzed.com/hindus-welcome-alabama-public-universities-for-embracing-yoga/

2”A Complete Overview of the History of Yoga.” Internet article found at www.abc-of-yoga.com/beginnersguide/yogahistory.asp

3 Robert E. Van Voorst, Anthology of World Scriptures. 4th ed. (Blemont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003), 53

4 Vishal Mangalwadi, “Five Ways of Salvation in Hinduism.” Internet article found at www.wisdomfromindia.com/wfi_yoga/ft_yoga.htm

5 https://truthxchange.com/podcast/9-a-discussion-about-yoga-and-christianity-2/

6http://www.hindunet.org/vivekananda/gk_gv2000

7http://hiebertglobalcenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Reading-3-Hinduism-Gains-a-Foothold-in-America.pdf

8https://www.watchman.org/Yoga.pdf

9https://truthxchange.com/podcast/9-a-discussion-about-yoga-and-christianity-2/

10https://www.watchman.org/Yoga.pdf

11 Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity Press, 1986), 68.

12  Clete Hux, “What Is Yoga?” Areopagus Journal Vol.4 No. 4, p. 4

 

Picture from Pixabay.com

 

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