In recent weeks there has been much confusion and fog spread about the introduction of Yoga. Much of the fog is created by vested interests that fear dilution of their doctrines if Yoga is introduced. It should be also acknowledged they may have a point there, however it must also be clear what aspects of their doctrines get diluted if their members/ followers take interest in Yoga and its principles. Thus to clear the mist, a few aspects must be investigated.
Primarily the words Yoga and Religion are used quite subjectively and understood quite differently by different people, particularly those from varying backgrounds. Yoga itself comes from Sanskrit “Yuj” to Join/ Union/ Yoke derived) from Yoga itself. Yoga is about the Union/ Joining/ Yoking of what? The Supreme Lord of Yoga Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita uses the word “Yoga” over a 100 times and tells Arjuna:
“He who sees the Whole Universe within that Self and the Self everywhere in the Universe-is the Perfected Personality- The Great Yogi” [Chapter 6:29; Bhagavad Gita]
The Union/ Yoke is ultimately at it’s highest all about the Self Realization that the Individual Self and Supreme are one and the same, the fundamental realization of the oneness of all life. Yoga is the technique that ultimately helps achieve this. Disciplining of the Body, Mind and Self are all part of the process. It is for that reason Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to be steadfast in Yoga. Even Sanjaya at the penultimate chapter of the Gita calls Krishna as Yogeshvara, the Lord of Yoga, in verse 18.75 says:
“By the grace of Vyasa I have heard this supreme secret of yoga from Krishna, the supreme Lord of Yoga,appearing directly before my eyes, speaking it himself”
Disciplining of the Body, Mind, Self by itself isn’t really a ‘religious’ act itself. It is also not an end to itself in Yoga but only a basic launch platform to ultimately realise the Unity/ Yoke/ Oneness of the Self and Supreme. The act of disciplining the Body, Mind for the ultimate Yoke has led to many streams of Dharmic Orthodoxies that have their own procedures and processes laid down. Many of these Processes and Procedures within the norms laid down are nowadays termed as different ‘Religions’. Yet all these different Streams/ Orthodoxies/ ‘Religions’ within the Dharmic streams have no issues to say the introduction of Yoga in Schools or other Institutions. Neither do people who believe disciplining of the Mind and Body or just the Body as many streams of Westernized Yoga nowadays espouse. Many simply practise it for the health benefits its practise provides.
So who should really be opposing it so vehemently and why? The answer may not be too complex. Yoga at whatever level is practised, through it’s breathing, postures and procedures tends to turn the persons’ search inward. It is a subtle process, but the change is transformative. Many orthodox Religious Doctrines from the Middle East discourage looking inward in a meditative manner and the answers are not found in any transformative self disciplinary inward journey but at looking at a Supreme outwardly and completely separated from the self itself. The transformative self discipline is enforced by edicts, harsh laws, punishments and the fear of a retributive, vengeful God. The primary doctrinal clash with Yoga arises in the way Dharmic Faiths look inwards for Transformative change and Abrahmic Faiths where it is discouraged to look in that manner.
Many in the West only take to Yoga for Bodily discipline and understand it as such. However the healing benefits of Yogic techniques many of which have found acceptance within the Scientific community of late, also contribute in its spread much to the chagrin of many Middle Eastern orthodox doctrines. With this spread also come large numbers of people who take with Yoga an inward journey and way of looking at the Self. This change in thinking is fundamental for many people leaving their Orthodox outward looking faiths and adopting Dharmic centered ones. There is also an associated abandonment of Excluvist thought (If you don’t worship my God X, you go to Hell) and subsequent development of a more Pluralist approach to the concept of Faith itself. One would have hardly heard of Yoga groups contemplate suicide bomber squads for grieviances. Possibly even the community of those that have embraced Yoga even in its most basic forms would be amongst the most tolerant, humanist and peace loving groups world wide.
True Humanist Faith must seek the Oneness between all. The practise of Yoga even at a basic level helps subtly enhance the desire to seek that oneness. It subtly opens doors and prepares the body and mind to accept a plurality hitherto not compatible with much of Middle Eastern origin Religious Doctrine. No Humanist Faith must in reality oppose Yoga for this very reason it is being opposed. BG 6:29 once again, as it is of utmost fundamental import to understand where Yoga ultimately leads to:
Sarva (all) Bhuta (beings) Stham (situated in the) Atmanam (Supreme Atma)
Sarva (all) Bhutani (living beings) Ca (also) Atmani ( in the Self)
Iksate (does see) yoga-yuktatma ( united/ self realized in Yoga)
Sarvatra (everywhere) sama-darsanah (seeing things equally)
Above is the “Religious” Doctrine that is fundamental to Yoga. One can appropriate a few procedures from Patanjali, but one must never call that Yoga. There cannot be a Christian or Islamic Yoga as the above Sloka contradicts the very fundamentals of Islamic and Christian doctrine as we know them today. So whatever Faith or Orthodoxy one may be, surely take to even basic Yoga for all the health benefits it can help derive, but its no harm looking inside and being a part of the ecosphere where one tries to transformatively see the oneness of all life.