Friday, September 21, 2012

In Answer to Your Question, Yes

Anyone else join those linkedin groups for members of specific professions, and then find themselves roped into discussions?  Well, don't.  You may think that a discussion full of professionals would be consistently intelligent and civil, but no, all the rules of talking to strangers on the internet apply.  To be fair, I suspect the level of dialog is miles above what you'd find on your average forum.  The trouble is, we all have our own ideas, and we all just restate them in various ways, throwing in snarky comments toward those who disagree with us as the opportunity presents.  Sigh. I'm going to unsubscribe, I really am, just as soon as I throw some snark at this one guy...

The discussion for the last few weeks has been, "Can Christianity and Yoga Practice Inhabit the Same Space??"  Looking back I wish I had just said of course they can, as long as the yogis clear out of the church basement during Sunday mass to make room for the children's liturgy of the word.  I couldn't help myself, though.  As a Catholic yoga instructor, I had a lot to say on this subject.  Plenty of people agreed with me of course, but some people had a bone to pick with the idea of these two separate systems being compatible.  They felt that ignoring the differences between yogic beliefs and Christian beliefs did a disservice to both, and they weren't swayed by a chat room full of people going on about how we're all connected, all the same etc.

I simply did not agree.  Nothing yoga teaches conflicts directly with my Christian beliefs, with the exception of the idea that the ultimate goal is to be absorbed into the oversoul before you die, which doesn't really come up much in a day to day yoga practice.  It seems that the individuals in this discussion though, were referring to Hinduism when they talked about irreconcilable differences, and that I could agree with!  I love Hinduism.  It's a really beautiful faith system, with amazing ideas, and beautiful rituals, but, yes, some Hindu beliefs contradict some Christian beliefs.  This is a fact.

HOWEVER, their argument that yoga and Christianity are incompatible was based on the idea that Hinduism and yoga are indistinguishable from one another, and I think that is the ultimate disservice one can do to Hinduism, yoga, and Christianity, in one fell swoop!

I'm not a historian, or even a dedicated researcher, but a great deal of my information regarding the history of yoga as it relates to Hinduism comes from a certain translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, namely, this one
 It opens with a summary of yoga history, and though that's a far cry from due diligent research into the topic, it confirmed for me an idea I had already read briefly about: that yoga as a philosophical system predates Hinduism.  Yoga philosophy was rampant as Hinduism developed into the complex and systemized religion we know today, and of course, yogic beliefs were part of the base of what became Hindu beliefs.  The easy metaphor is to say it's like Judiasm versus Christianity, but that's a crappy metaphor, because it's not really like that at all.  Hinduism is very very very different from Christianity.  It evolved slowly, and there's no way to actually say when something that we can conclusively call Hinduism began to exist.

Logically enough, yoga fits in very easily with Hinduism, and by being affiliated with Hinduism, it grew and spread, and for quite a while, was considered to be inseparable from Hinduism.

Fast forward quite a bit, and we find that lots of non-Hindus are practicing, and loving yoga: everyone from atheists to Hasids, to Mormons!

Are all of these people closet Hindus, practicing the Hindu faith while depriving it of its proper credit by outwardly practicing other faiths?  No!  They're atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. who practice yoga as a supplement to their own beliefs.  Two important sources support this view:
A.) the history of yoga as we know it, and
B.) the Yoga Sutras themselves, which suggest that if you have a spiritual belief practice, you keep right on practicing it, because devotion to God[dess] is an easier path to the contentment yoga promises than pure yoga techniques on their own.

That doesn't sound like a system that's inseparable from Hinduism to me.

That said, since Hinduism and yoga did form within the same culture, they share similarities in their understanding of the cosmos that differ from the Abrahamic faiths, namely, the idea of reincarnation.  A whole lot of the Yoga Sutras mention or deal with this idea of endlessly reincarnating, being stuck on this wheel of ups and downs, and yoga is viewed as the method for getting off the wheel, remembering who you really are, and finding true happiness.  If you just take out that word, 'reincarnation' though, we can all relate to feeling like we're stuck on a pesky wheel of ups and downs in this one lifetime we're in, right?  How about this idea of losing your consciousness by being absorbed into All That Is?  Well, I tend to view it through the lens of Christian mysticism, right brain anatomy, and the fact that I don't really have the faintest idea what Heaven will be like.  I suspect the reality of it will make me cringe for ever using such a cutesy name for it.  But you can sort that out any which way that does it for you!  There you go.  Irreconcilable differences reconciled.

My point is, yes, you can believe, or not believe, anything at all, and yoga will still be a powerful tool for you to reclaim your true identity as a naturally blissful, peaceful person.  Don't let anyone, Hindu, Christian, or anything else, tell you otherwise.

Live Omily,
~em

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