An online post on social media by a western yoga teacher was postulating how yoga was not religious and could be practised by anyone from any faith whilst adhering to their religion without fear of conversion.
Does practising yoga make one a Hindu? As a yoga teacher who teaches westerners, I come across this oft-asked query to which I have a counter-question.
Do they think of Hinduism, as a religion, and Hindus as a class of people practising a set discipline? My reply is based upon their response to this question.
If Hinduism is a religion, Yoga cannot be divested from it just because people from ‘other’ religions want to practice and reap the benefits of this time-tested ancient technique without getting out of the comfort zone of their belief system. They have to understand that Yoga is part of a great spiritual philosophy, now known as Hinduism. It is a culmination of rigorous self-study, imposed austerities, and deep reflection on the nature of the self and is based on a solid foundation of a sustained practice of thousands of years.
Many who are called Hindus today believe the ‘ism’ and the term Hindu were imposed upon them by the Greek, Mughal and Colonial marauders to put them in a box they could comprehend, as comprehending the diversity of this land was impossible for their small limited minds.
The present-day Hindus themselves believe their roots are deep in the Sanatana Dharma philosophy, an eternal way of life that evolved/is evolving, is alive and is the result of extensive study, introspection and realisation of the nature of humankind and their relation to the divine, with many paths and movements branching out from this study, of which Yoga is one. There was never felt the need to give this a limiting label of an ism. This system accepts even atheism as a philosophy and they are free to adopt, refute and challenge the belief systems of scholars.
This is proof of an enlightened spiritual tradition not an excuse for marketing Yoga as not a religion and giving examples of atheists practising yoga to draw in students.
Therefore, to understand that Yoga is not a religion you have to yourself be realised that extent. But to frivolously mouth yoga is not a religion and that one can continue being a Christian or Muslim or Jew while practising Yoga is insulting the universality of yoga and extension, the religion now called Hinduism of which it is a part.
So yes, if you think Hinduism is a religion then Yoga is Hindu. But if you have broken the shackles of religion, in all its limitations, then not only yoga but all the paths that have come out of this deep reflective philosophy are not a religion but an invitation to explore and realise.
“The pilgrim, the path and the goal become one – LOVE,” says Yogiraj Siddhanath a realised Kriya Master, a foremost example of how versatile and evolving Sanatana Dharma is.
Author: Jyoti Subramanian is a Kriyacharya who has been teaching the practices of the Siddhanath Yoga Parampara since 1999.
This article was first published on www.esamskriti.com/. We have republished it with kind permission.
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