In his recent article for On Faith, Aseem Shukla laments the disconnect between yoga and its origins in Hinduism. He’s certainly right that the practice of Yoga has become a “spiritual discipline” that is open to anyone of any faith. But it’s strange to find him disapproving of this fact, for several reasons.
First, yoga is a spiritual discipline in India, and always has been. The aim of the practice is liberation. When liberation occurs, the yogi is freed from the religious trappings that enclose Yoga. Those trappings have always been incidental to the deeper aim of enlightenment.
Secondly, yoga did not originate in Hinduism as Prof. Shukla claims. Perhaps he has a fundamentalist agenda in mind, but he must know very well that the rise of Hinduism as a religion came centuries after the foundation of yoga in consciousness and consciousness alone. Religious rites and the worship of gods has always been seen as being in service to a higher cause, knowing the self.
Beneath Shukla’s complaints one detects the resentment of an inventor who discovered Coca-Cola or Teflon but neglected to patent it. Isn’t that a rather petty basis for drawing such a negative picture? Most Indians, when they contemplate the immense popularity of yoga in the U.S. may smile at the pop aspects of the phenomenon but feel on the whole that something good is happening. Shukla regards the same scene with a withering frown.
If you strip away his sour mood and questionable assumptions, I think Shukla’s real lament is like that of Jews who see the young fleeing from the old ways and Christians sitting in half-empty churches. To him it could be said what is often said to these other religionists. Maybe it’s you who haven’t found a way to keep the temples, synagogues, and churches full. That’s a very different matter form the millions who are finding a spiritual path on their own, outside organized religion. If yoga serves them, we should be celebrating any step of progress being made, through whatever means.
Published in the Washington Post
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