[Hinduism and Yoga con’t …]


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I also imagine that Rupa’s arguments in his editorial on Hinduism and yoga ring true for many Hindus in America today, as they spoke directly to this point.

He begins his commentary by lamenting a group of Caucasians at a party who were improperly using, and cheekily mocking, the Indian greeting namasté.

He also rightly points out that “tens of thousands of non-Hindus are practicing an art that is central to the Hindu religion and quite often misunderstanding and misrepresenting many of the teachings.”

To illustrate his point, he didn’t have to wander any further than a few experiences from members of his own family. “My sister attends yoga classes,” he said, “but on her first visit, a religious faux pas was immediately apparent to her. A small statue of a Hindu God sat in the front of the room. If my sister did the postures correctly, her feet would have pointed in its direction, which, in Hinduism, is the highest gesture of disrespect.”

Also relating the experience of his cousin who attended a yoga-instructor training class in New York, he claims that “when the teacher explained the philosophies of Hinduism and yoga, he got the basics all wrong.”

Even cranky email swami had a valid point. Yoga is not the exotic physical fitness system that it is being portrayed as today. Is it correct, though, to say that Hinduism and yoga are one and the same?

Although many elements of the science of yoga are certainly inherent in Hinduism, and although yogis may easily identify with Hinduism, all Hindus are not necessarily on the yogic path.

Religion and spirituality are not the same thing. Religions, as mass movements, are more concerned with social order than spiritual awakening. Their followers, many Hindus included, often engage in a lives wrapped in samskara, or subconsciously conditioned thoughts and attitudes, and not lives reflecting a passionate search for the highest truth and understanding.

Every religion, though, has its spiritual saints, the ones who peer into the deeper dimensions of their respective teachings; the ones who engage in a profound exploration of the ‘inner self’ to find the ultimate spiritual transcendence. They are the Christian mystics, the Islamic sufis, and in Hinduism, the yogis.

It would be accurate to say that yoga stems from the ancient Vedic culture of India, the spiritual tradition from which the Hindu religion arose, and in many respects, is still reflective of today. The Vedic period refers to an earlier time when life was lived, in every sense, the yogic way.

As Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani says in her essay, “Returning To the Roots: Classical Yoga”,

“this was a time when yoga was a way of life, a culture, and a life style, which encompassed not just techniques, practices, and ideas, but also eating habits, bathing habits, cultural use of body, prayer, social interaction, and work.”

She explains that the Vedic period was defined by

“a vast body of attitudes toward being, an ingrained sense of morality and ethics, so strongly etched on the character that it would be literally unthinkable to transgress them.”

She recognizes, as well, that

“any attempt to return to the roots of yoga, must necessitate a return to the life style, attitudes and realizations of the great Rishis (seers, of this ancient period).”

Rupa Shenoy also reminds us that Hinduism and yoga are intimately connected; that yoga is “part of a religion and culture that deserve respect,” a feeling no doubt shared by millions of silent Indians around the world today. But, adds, “Our religion is very accepting. We don’t really like to make waves.”

With such a placid attitude, however, this anchorless modern yoga ship may remain adrift on its own sea of samskara for a long time to come.

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About the Author:

Yogacharya is the director of International Yogalayam, www.theyogatutor.com

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