Learning From Other Traditions While Staying Within Your Own

A Christian asks if studying yoga is against her religious beliefs.

Q:

I am a Christian and love Jesus Christ. I want to practice yoga and meditation because I feel the need to be centered. Is this against my Christian beliefs? I pray continually and still feel led in this direction. Please help.



A:

Take heart, for you're not the first person to struggle with this issue. Many Westerners drawn to Eastern practices have wondered whether they're violating their religious beliefs, even committing heresy.

In the past 40 years, despite warnings about the dangers of stepping outside the bounds of Judaism and Christianity and falling into an abyss of paganism and occultism, large numbers of people have dared to explore yoga, meditation, chanting, and martial arts to fulfill needs that otherwise weren't getting met. What they learned by immersing themselves in the Asian traditions has literally changed their lives, though not necessarily their core religion. I know of many people, including myself, who have greatly benefited from crossing over into what fundamentalists consider forbidden territory.

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The body itself is neither Hindu nor Baptist nor Muslim.

One man immediately comes to mind. He was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and entered a religious order. After more than 30 years as a Jesuit, he decided to enrich his prayer life by going on sabbatical to the Hindu-Buddhist world. For 13 months, he participated in Buddhist forms of meditation, chanted bhajans (hymns sung individually or collectively in praise of a deity, such as Vishnu, Rama, or Krishna), took yoga courses, and lived with laypeople and monks of the different traditions in several countries. But it wasn't until he returned to his Jesuit lifestyle and his graduate theological world in California that he realized what a deeply positive impact his Asian experience had on him.

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Mirka Knaster
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