Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Am I a Hindu if I Practice Yoga?

You bet your Assana!   Try to look up the word "Yoga" without it making reference to Hinduism. The truth is, Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu thought:



The six schools of thought in Hindu philosophy are:
1)Sankhya -distinction between mind and body
2)Yoga - meditation
3)Nyaya -logic
4)Vaisheshika - says that all objects in the universe can be broken down to atoms
5)Mimamsa -ritualism
6)Vedanta - knowledge

Now, this is a very simplistic list, with simplistic definitions, but enough for here.  The point being is that it is DEFINED as one of the six darshanas or teachings of Hindu Philosophy.  Now, you can argue that all you're doing is some physical exercises, and if that's what you're doing, then CALL THEM PHYSICAL EXERCISES, or Indian Stretching poses, or something.  Don't call them Yoga.  It's like I can drink wine and eat crackers, and call it drinking wine and eating crackers. But if I decide to start calling it Eucharist, then I AM a Christian.  Eucharist is a Christian term relating to taking wine and crackers which either ARE (Catholic) or REPRESENT (protestantism) the body and blood of Lord Jesus Christ.  Similarly real Yoga is a Hindu system for knowing/approaching the Absolute, to 'yuj' or unite with the Absolute.

Of course, a vast majority of those 18 million + people in the US that claim to practice "Yoga" would vehemently disagree, but this is how the Western world is today. They take what they want, do what they want, call it what they want, and everyone else be damned. 

Some like to say, "Well, we're practicing  "Hatha Yoga", claiming it means Sun and Moon.  Here, according to the Sanskrit dictionary is the definition of Hatha Yoga....

 m. a kind of forced Yoga or abstract meditation (forcing the mind to withdraw from external objects ; treated of in the Hatha-pradipika by Svatmarama and performed with much self-torture , such as standing on one leg , holding up the arms , inhaling smoke with the head inverted &c.)

Yes, I'm quite sure that's what millions of Americans are doing as they are seeking the perfect "Buff Yoga Bod!  In fact the word Hatha means 'violent' or 'forceful'.  I'm taking this too far, you say. Perhaps, but we now live in an Orwellian society where to lie means to tell the truth, ignorance means knowledge, up is down and down is up and nobody gives a flying 'you know what'.  

I have no problem with people practicing these exercises, particularly if it does draw them deeper into an actual spiritual practice.  But for most, since it's all about the body for them, it's the equivalent of me drinking vast amounts of wine, learning to make wine, etc. calling it Eucharist and saying it's spiritual. 

Okay, now can we define, "Bullpuckey"?

17 comments:

  1. My understanding of this 'forceful' translation of Hatha is to be 'adamant' in refernce to the force of willpower needed to practice hatha yoga. The forcefullness or will power to do the work, to make progress and the will power to maintain the poses long enough to receive the benefit etc... However much of what is taught as 'Hatha Yoga' today does fall into the category of violence.
    This whole idea of yoga being taught in a class is only around 50 years old. This was never taught in classes before. It was taught Guru to Sisya and the integrety of the practice was maintained.
    At least in the Iyengar tradition he taught us to interpenetrate the consciousness into the cells as part of the hatha practice. Through this fine grain precesion the body and mind are yoked, the body becoming the temple, the asana the prayer. Once this coherence was devolped, the rest of the raja yoga grew of it's own accord. I don't think I ever would have chanted a mantra if I hadn't done that first Trikonasana.
    However today people break away and teach there own systems, diluting the knowlege and lossing that which truly makes it Yoga.

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  2. Yes, Colin, there's obviously much more that can be said on the matter. This is basically a Baba Buzzkill Blog. And as far as creating their own systems, I ACTUALLY saw an advertisement for:
    Booty-Yoga-Aerobics!!!

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  3. us real Hindu's believe that no matter y'all 'mercan - or white (pronounced whaaaat) folks practice, unless you were born into a hindu family, you are just people with a skin color problem that are wannabe Hindus. :-)

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  4. I think once you receive Diksha into an authentic parampara you can consider yourself Hindu, no matter what your skin color. I'm not talking about just mantra upadesha, but diksha into a tradition where you can trace your Guruparama back to Dakshinamurthi and you become a part of the unbroken chain.

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  5. Hmmm, I kinda wanna stay out of this one. Except to say that you can say you are doing yoga or performing the Eucharist and not be either a Hindu or a Christian. Words 'live' in a context and when not stripped of that context, they can fully embody it. But they can also be abstracted out and appropriated without that context. This is how words become emptied of their meaning, they become flattened. Then there is often an attempt to reinvest a word with the meaning it once had. When you study words and their history, you can see many examples of this. I'll also say that is seems people often want to attach themselves to words in order to lay claim to the context in which they live. But they often want to do so without have to engage that context and take on what is required to fully live it. To fully take on something like the Eucharist or yoga is a life path that has nothing to do with doing some asanas and eating bread and wine. It is something you have to devote your life to, and most people aren't prepared to do that. So they can call what they do yoga or the Eucharist all they want and they are NOT Hindus or Christians.

    And I think Shaila actually brings up a good question. Being Hindu might be closely connected to one's ethnic origins in a way Christianity is not. Colin also brings up a good question, since the world is a different place than when Hinduism first developed into what it is. Traditions grow and change and evolve as we do, and access to traditions expands as we all become more 'global' in our contact with one another. No answers here, just interesting questions.

    Okay, that's all I'm saying on this one. :) That was more than I intended!

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  6. Oh, except to say that is one strange baby you've got on your site. Neat music, though.

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  7. 1. Perhaps I should re-rephrase something. It would probably be better to say, "They are practicing" Hinduism or Christianity, rather than they ARE Hindus or Christians.
    2. Perhaps in the West it might be better to call it Yuga rather than Yoga (as in Kali-Yuga).
    3. Or we can just sort of snort and say, "So-Called Yoga"
    Okay, now I'm just getting rude again. Tough job but somebody has to do it.
    Oh, and Alex - not one mention of Dakota. Good for you (although she is in your pic!)
    Shaila, what can I say, you south Dravidian-esque, Nortern-light-Aryan-type-wannabe :-D
    Also, I wasn't born to Hindus, but were my kids? Does that make them Hindus? Actually, most of the Indians I know say I'm far more Indian than they are. I mean, c'mon, lets get bindass Yaar!

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  8. I was being rude and difficult intentionally!! But I take my cues from the best. I like to be thought provoking.

    I am willing to go with "So-Called Yoga". That works for me. I am comfortable with being rude as long as it is with purpose.

    Yes you can "practice" Hinduism. But, even your kids don't get to be Hindus. not really.

    When I was still quite young, a friend of mine was a practicing Christian. She was still a Hindu, just going through a phase. Once you were born a Hindu, its not like we let you out.
    ever.

    I agree that you certainly and very likely your children are more "Hindu" than a LOT of Indians you will meet.

    I guess the critical question I ask is would my grand mother(she lived in the US the last 10 or 15 years or her life) recognize your kids as Hindu? Not likely.

    But then, I think being Hindu is just as cultural as it is religious. If your children had grown up in my house, not next to it, but in it, with all the rules that implies, I would say they would be Hindu.

    I can try to explain, but, it may well defy explanation. My cousin's son who is only two was saying basically no to his grand mother. But the words he used were I don't want any. Not "No". He got yelled at or punished when he said No. I remember My mom would yell at me for saying "No" to my uncles etc when I was a teenager. While I must admit I never got it as a child. I get it now.

    I am and was totally allowed to disagree with adults and elders. I was not allowed to be disrespectful. and this part of the culture is probably lost if not lost, getting there fast.

    I was raised in an incredibly traditional and very modern family. My dad insisted on education for my mom back in 1945 or so. My mom had enough education to teach at a college level in Hindi. and we were taught Yoga- asanas and Bhagavat Gita etc. all well before age 3.

    The world is a different place. but
    Oh Aja, I am sooo not a wannabe anything. I grew up in LA. I am a valley girl, and only at the core I am a Hindu girl.

    Also, try this ...... I was a friend's house a while back, we are there a lot. He was washing dishes. I noticed he washed dishes in a way that I had not seen since 1992 when I was in my friend's house in Oslo. When I mentioned it, he said, well, his parents are both Norwegian from way back. And I know he was adopted.(so, its not the genes). But, he washes dishes like my friend who is Norwegian and is from somewhere north of Oslo.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. This thing is funny, it said it lost that very long post, after I rewrote some of that, it had the previous post still.

    Impermanence!! its only a problem if you are attached.

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  11. Aja, As irreverent as I tend to be, you know that I love you more than words could ever possibly express.

    You are my guru, mother and father!

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  12. Hmmm, they are practicing Hinduism, etc. Well, I'm not so sure about that one either. 'Practice' implies, to me at least, that someone is at least somewhat committed to a path which involves 'doing' something in order to follow that path. There is an implication of a commitment to something larger than just the rote doing of the thing (the asana, the ritual). Calling something the Eucharist, does that turn the eating of wine into bread a ritual? If so, potentially an empty one.

    We all know people who take a course or two, read a few books, whatever, and start to call themselves a "####ist" of some kind or another. I have a friend who calls herself a 'shaman' (okay, no -ist at the end, but the same thing). She studied a bit with some native american medicine people and has a background in Jungian psychology. Is she a 'shaman'? If you want to see real 'shamans' see The Horse Boy. They go to Mongolia to see them and, given that it's where the term and the traditions really stem from, you can see some real shamans. It is their life, their work, their culture. And they don't go around with the word 'shaman' on their business cards.

    So does calling something you are doing yoga or the Eucharist mean you are "practicing" a tradition? There's another way to use the word 'practice.' You could say they have a goal in mind and they are practicing at it until they get it. Like practicing playing a flute piece for a performance, or just to get better at it. Does this fit with what they are doing?

    I think what you are describing is a practice or ritual that has become emptied of meaning and flattened. I think it's really a kind of violation, or stealing, or maybe that's not the right word. It's a kind of appropriation. Of trying to attach yourself to a tradition to give yourself a feeling of rootedness or authority or some other ego attachment.

    Or you are ignorant of all of it and are just doing 'yoga' for fitness or to feel better, with no awareness at all of what 'yoga' is. Is this practicing Hinduism? Or is Hinduism a life path, a spiritual commitment or a tradition you grow up with that becomes part of who you are?

    I think it flattens and trivializes Hinduism (or other spiritual traditions) to say that people who engage in yoga with no awareness or remote concern about the deeper context in which it developed and has been practiced for thousands of years are 'practicing Hinduism.' I think most people have their heads firmly placed up their backsides and have little awareness of anything they can't see in there. In other words, their own shit.

    How's that for rude and irreverent? Ha!

    Oh, and Dakota, my sweet girl...

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  13. well, this is a most interesting discussion! all I will add is that my so-called practice of so-called yoga (or whatever I've been practicing) has led to a deepening and broadening of my Christian faith and a far more profund (still incomplete) idea of 'god" or the Absolute. I'm reminded of what my teacher Matt often says: if someone is pointing to the moon, what are you going to focus on, that pointing finger or the moon? Without wishing in the slightest to disrespect or diminish anyone;s cultural or religious heritage or belief, I think maybe all these religious labels and practices are more like the finger than the moon. ps that is really a very freaky baby!

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  14. Some may look at the moon without being prompted by the finger.
    Finger, religion, norm, label: tools to be used when in need.
    Depending on who uses the tool and how it is used one result
    or another may be obtained...
    Maybe we want to look beyond the moon, maybe in looking at the
    Moon we discover the Universe. :)

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  15. As long as you commune with yourself - I think there is the union. I will still call what I do yoga, even though you purists say that it is a travesty. I have practiced, chanted, meditated for years. But then I have always done my spiritual practice by my own inner guidance, not by a set of practices, rituals, or whatever. Although I have learned many. It has all brought me to feel more whole. So I guess you could call me the modern American version of what?

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  16. Aja, I thought about you while reading "Kinship with all things" by
    J. Allen Boone. He wrote it in 1954. Published by Harper, San
    Francisco. Maybe you've read it too.

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  17. Some wisdom from Desikachar, in Heart of Yoga:

    "Just because yoga originated in India does not mean that we must become a Hindu in order to practice it. On the contrary, it is not even expected of a Hindu that he or she practice yoga. Yoga does not require a particular belief system and, if we already have one, it is not challenged by yoga. Everyone can begin, and the point at which we start is very personal and individual, depending on where we are at the time...The essential purpose of yoga practice is to reduce avidya so that understanding can gradually come to the surface."

    To me yoga is about progress, slowly working on better understanding and clarity. We can scoff at where many Westerners begin, that they don't have a clue about the depth of the tradition...But in gyms across America, people trying out a yoga class for their health and perhaps feeling a brief moment of clarity, calm, or body acceptance, that is 100% authentic yoga.

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