Does Yoga have a Religion?
On International Yoga Day in 2016, in celebrations at the UN, Sadhguru led the celebrations and answered a lot of questions of the dignitaries there. Amongst the things he said some were:
- Yoga is technology. Just as gravity is not Christian, Yoga is not Hindu.
- Yoga is India’s gift to the world, it is no longer only of India.
After that event, one saw a multitude of “Hindu Activists” who have been fans of Rajv Malhotra’s books and discussions start the abuse and denigration of Sadhguru and what he said. That is because as per Rajiv Malhotra, shaving Hinduism context off of Yoga lends to its “digestion” by the Abrahamic forces. He is right in one sense. But he is missing the central point of difference between the nature and context of what Yoga is and what religion is.
I want to address all the issues that have come up and the obvious irony of the situation.
Digestion of Yoga by West
First things first – I completely agree with Rajiv Malhotra on every thing he brings up. The forces which are breaking India, the perfidy of the various evangelical forces to undermine India and Dharma – specifically Hinduism – the attack on Sanskrit and the difficult situation that Hinduism as a means of life and culture is facing. The many Churches are pumping in billions into India and trying to convert. The many hypocritical “intellectuals” are using various means to undermine, digest and destroy the very concepts that Hinduism gives to the world. The greatest and the most subtlest attack is from what Rajiv calls as “U-turners”. Westeners who come to Indian Gurus for tutelage and then go back and absorb the fundamentals of Dharmic Spirituality and Yoga whilst taking out the Hindu cultural backdrop to denude it of all things Hindu. This digestion has happened via psychology, metaphysics and even physics for that matter. All the while, the U-turner takes the credit for work that was actually done by the Yogis and the many seers of India. In that attempt, their aim is to take away all that is seems to be of value from Hinduism, absorb it into neo-Christian framework and posit Hinduism as nothing but a useless framework consisting of caste, cows, snakes and superstition.
The funding for these activities comes from the Governments themselves as is seen in the Joshua Project, and the devastating impact has been documented (Preparing for Harvest) – albeit hesistatingly – by media sometimes.
These days, Rajiv Malhotra has been warning everyone on how Kumbh Mela is being targeted by the Western intellectuals and Universities in connivance with the Church. There are attempts by the evangelists (and even Islamists) to pitch tents and carry out conversion during Kumbh on the one hand, and paint it in negativity on the other. He is on the dot on that. I have personally talked to senior police officers (even those who were in charge of one of the Kumbh Mela) and they say openly that they were aware of US “spies” who were at the Kumbh! Please check out Rajiv’s talks on this topic here – Attack on Kumbh Mela 1, Attack on Kumbh Mela 2, Attack on Kumbh Mela 3. Here is the playlist that you may like to listen to on how the Kumbh is being attacked.
Rajiv Malhotra’s work, therefore, is seminal and critical to Dharmic future itself. Something, that Sadhguru has himself taken note of.
Whilst Rajiv’s work is tremendous, and has encouraged and woken up many Hindus to see through the many machinations of forces that are inimical to India and Dharma, it has also led to a contradictions of sorts. We now have a situation of many outraged “Hindu Activists” who have passion, energy and motivation to “save Dharma” and their greatest tool is the reading of Rajiv’s books as well as their interpretations of various things Hindu. I maintain that it is creating a self-destructive situation where the passionate activism is itself going to destroy the very thing it is trying to save.
Let us take for example, Yoga and the abuse that has been heaped by some of the very passionate activists.
Passion with Ignorance = Self-destruction
My most fundamental issue with the activists like the one who is quoted above is that they have a lot of passion but little accomplishment in terms of the subject that they discuss. Hindus have grown with a familiarity of lot of things – chants, mantras, even rudimentary Sadhana or meditation and some basic Yoga. But that has not meant that most of the Hindus are accomplished to speak or even lecture on Yoga. In fact with lack of knowledge in its complete sense those who start to expound on topics related to Dharma or Yoga, are playing into the hands of those who are on a mission to distort Yoga, and things that are considered Hindu.
I came across a comment, for example, of a person who runs a “Yoga school” in US and she commented on how Sadhguru is diluting Yoga. Without the basic understanding of Yoga in its pure form – where it is a means to mastery of Panch Bhuta, she teaches yogic postures to people and possibly considers herself the authority on Yoga and Hinduism.
Those who have no Yogic attainment are the ones who are leading the charge to “save Yoga and Dharma”. That is like a passionate cricket fan signing up to inherit the legacy of Sachin Tendulkar. It will take only one ball to completely dismantle his or her wickets and harm Tendulkar’s legacy far more than if it was left alone.
And therein lies the problem. Rajiv Malhotra’s excellent research and analysis have fallen into the hands of people with no foundation in Dharma or Yoga. With their passion sans any Sadhana, they will run Dharma and Yoga into the ground.
What is Yoga and its relationship with Hinduism
Yoga is about mastery of self. Mastery of self – in all its dimensions – to the aim of complete stillness. Patanjali said of Yoga – Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind. Then there is abiding in the Seer’s own being. The journey to cessation of movement in mind is closely related to restraint of movement in prana (Vasistha’s Yoga, The Story of Hundred Rudras). It is dependent of one’s mastery of the five elements of existence. Without Bhuta Shuddhi, ability needed to master the mind and prana is absent. Yoga’s most basic and fundamental aspect is mastery of Panch-bhuta.
Unless one has complete mastery over Prana and the very basics of how energy flows and works, one cannot reach the final union while remaining in the body. That is why for the Yogis, the ability to handle one’s Prana and energies has been important. Towards this, an entire science of Agama and consecration was laid down (please read “Why Hindus do Idol Worship“). Hindu temples are a result of the need to master the energies to bring the required change in consciousness for cessation of movement in Prana and Mind.
In that sense, a Yogi’s attainment can be understood from his (1) Ability to master the Panch-bhuta, (2) Mastery of Prana and (3) Ability to transform energies to consecrate them to a certain end (as laid down in Agama).
Let us lay down certain verities to understand my contentions:
- Postures/Asanas are not Yoga and Health is not its end: To use Yoga for health is like using a 787 Dreamliner to go to the local grocery store. Because of your needs and inability to understand the complete profundity of the 787 dreamliner, you will cut off its wings and tails and use smaller tires because all these hinder your way through the narrow streets. Obviously, you never understood that Dreamliner is the machine to fly you thousands of miles in the air. It is better to die without ever doing Yoga as opposed to taking up Yoga and restricting it ONLY for health! For, you will destroy its greatest possibility in your life – Moksha. That is the greatest denigration of beings like Shiva, Patanjali, Krishna, Agastya Muni and Ramana Maharishi.
- You cannot believe your way to Moksha or Nirvana! Yoga starts where belief ends. Yoga is a seeking in all its facets and a path to Moksha. It needs purushartha (self effort) in terms of Sadhana of different dimensions.
- Hinduism as a way of life is the result of Yoga: From Shiva, the Adi Yogi to Patanjali, from Krishna to Agastya Muni to Buddha – many amazing beings have taken the most profound aspects of Yogic knowledge and distilled it to a level where the uninitiated can practice without even full knowledge. This was done to pave the way for common people to raise their consciousness so one day they can themselves walk the spiritual path of Sadhana in a concerted manner. Their work as it resides in Indian cultural milieu is now known as Hinduism.
- Hinduism’s claim to Yoga: While the basis of Hinduism, as it was fashioned over the many millennia from a way of life to a religion (as defined by others who knew only religion), was Yoga and Dharma, other religious dispensations that came to India thrived in not aligning with that spiritual framework, but as a challenge and even anti-thesis to that. Rejection of spiritual foundation of Hinduism – which contained the very nectar of Yoga and Dharma – was the sine qua non of other religious frameworks that came in touch with India.
- Yoga is Pure Science, while Hinduism is an Application: Yoga stands on its own. Hinduism is the result of distillation of Yogic knowledge for lay people. Hinduism does not own Yoga, but Yoga’s fundamentals reside only in Hinduism (and in many ways in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism). Yoga ceases to be if the Yogi attaches himself or herself with a belief. That is its very nature. So Yoga cannot be of any belief system. That in itself completely destroys its basics. However, Hinduism is Yoga’s only real repository in a cultural and common parlance.
- Yoga and the world: When Dharmic spiritual wealth was shared and distributed in Far East – from China to Cambodia to Indonesia to Thailand – many millennia back, it was done with no copyright. It was shared in its profundity and with necessary safeguards – which were enshrined in rituals and necessary actions. But it was free to take the cultural roots of that place. When Saptarishis left Shiva to share the spiritual wealth gained from the Adi Guru, Shiva didn’t go with them. He made sure that the Saptarishis were adequately “baked” in with the right knowledge and practice so distortions did not happen. So, Yoga was gifted to the world by Adi Yogi himself.
Should only Hindus speak on Yoga?
The most fundamental issue that Rajiv Malhotra has brought up is due to lack of Hindu voice, the external voices have tried to define Hinduism and its various aspects like Dharma and Yoga. So his contention is – very rightly so – that Hindus need to have a seat on the table and their narrative needs to be upfront. That is true and right.
However, there is a major issue.
The Church has but one book. Constantine settled the theology for generations to come. However ridiculously inept the theological detail may be, it has been settled and set in stone for many centuries now. It is only altered minimally to stay with time so as to gain more power and numbers. Similarly, Islam has one book and its interpretation is predicated on the lens of Hadiths – the life of one man. Through sword and power every interpretation or reform in the theology was snuffed out. There is very little, if any, room for debate or change. The greatest debates in both Islam and Christianity have been not on any spiritual aspect, but about the legitimacy of someone or the other. Ali in Islam and Pope in Christianity. Just these two debates – of whether someone is even a legitimate spokesperson or not – have accounted for millions of deaths in the most brutal form!
Hinduism has no set narrative. It has no set book. And it has no debate to fight over. Even when people like Charvakas contested basics, they were not killed. So, the obvious question is – who is capable of speaking for Dharma and Yoga?
The problem has been that Hinduism’s core was fashioned not by activists and intellectuals, but by Yogis. Adi Yogi Shiva did not read any scripture. He did not need to. Whatever he uttered was profound truth in itself. His work was his scripture. The same holds true of Patanjali or even Krishna.
In that context, with no set standard or narrative, who can really speak on behalf of Dharma or Yoga? An activist with no Sadhana or work in terms of dhyana and knowing the fundamentals of Yoga from personal experience and mastery of Panch-bhuta or one who has done the requisite work to attain to that level?
It is one thing to speak that Spiritual aspect of Yoga or – for example, Kumbh Mela – needs to be preserved, it is quite another to KNOW what that Spiritual aspect is! It is one thing to say that Yoga without Aum or Mantras is not complete, but it is quite another to know why! Only one who has mastered Yoga and its aspects will realize the reasons why something is done. Let me give you an example. Yoga is a work in energy dimension. Even Hatha Yoga – of asanas – is primarily an energy phenomenon. Some of the most critical things to NOT do are: (1) Have Music playing (2) Speak during asana and (3) Touch someone while in asana. Why because all these things impact the energy flow during that asana.
Now, how many of Rajiv Malhotra’s army of activists can correct the Yoga schools of US on these things? Do they even know the basics to speak credibly? Have they spent time enough and done Sadhana enough to know what is indeed the correct way of Yoga?
If you do not even know what the way to do an asana is, then how are you even going to argue for Yoga in a gathering of U-turner-led-Hinduism-digesting Yoga teachers?! The sad part is that majority of the activists have not even done Yoga or even rudimentary Sadhana in their lives. Mastery is a far cry. All these years when Yoga was being usurped by the West, Hindus did not do any Yoga. Now it has become big with the Western audience and now everyone wants to “take it back”. But in most of the Yoga conferences, seats are already taken by the Western Yoga schools! Where do activist Hindus come in and how?
To “take Yoga back” you need to have two things – (1) Knowledge of Yoga, preferably Mastery and (2) Credibility in the world in the field of Yoga. With all due respect and appreciation for his work, I don’t see Rajiv Malhotra or any of the activists ever being able to change the world of Yoga dominated by the Yoga Schools of the West. They may argue, but they cannot outdo their scale or work. If they cannot, then they will end up being activists and debaters, but 100 years from now, Yoga will change anyhow.
Domination of Yoga by the West is predicated on a lot of work by lot of motivated people – however negatively – to do things. They spent years learning and then crafting their own versions and then spreading that. To stop the distortion, Hindus need to outdo them. Debating and arguing will NOT bring the change on ground. Work will.
That is where Sadhguru’s work comes in. When the Yoga teacher argues that Sadhguru is diluting Yoga, she doesn’t know that she herself is an instrument of promoting the Western distorted Yoga!
Some years back, Sadhguru instituted two things – Hatha Yoga Teaching and Adi Yogi movement – to take Yoga back! Take it back in Real Sense!!
The former is to lay down classical Hatha Yoga with all the rules, strictures and methods and train teachers over a certain length of time. So these teachers, who were hitherto teaching distorted Yoga, became trained in proper classical Hatha Yoga with proper spiritual backup and understanding. Every Asana in Isha’s Hatha Yoga class is not a posture or movement, but an energy experience. That is how it is taught and that is how it is received. The Quality Control for such transmission is very high. Mantras, chants, invocations can not be changed or played with. The idea is to take the infrastructure which already exists in disseminating distorted Yoga and turn it around with several months of focused training and Sadhana into what is truly Yoga.
The Adi Yogi movement to make sure that the world realizes where Yoga came from. Not Madonna, not Deepak Chopra and not any Yoga school. But Shiva himself. Towards that, 50 temples are planned in the US for Adi Yogi and many around the world. These temples will be properly consecrated spaces with the necessary processes implemented to maximize the impact. Sadhguru explains it in this way:
Before I fall dead, I want to make sure that His contribution to humanity is recognized across the world. We are in various stages of doing this. One thing is we are building Adiyogi shrines. It is a twenty-one foot tall bronze Adiyogi with a consecrated linga in front of Him. It is a powerful space. The first one is coming up in our ashram in the United States, in Tennessee.
Everybody on the planet should know that He is the one who offered this science to the world. In the last five to six years, four major books were published in Europe contesting that yoga did not come from India, but is the evolution of European exercise systems. If they write another ten to fifteen books like this, that will become the truth. Whatever you read in your textbook as history, you believe is the truth. It is not, I am telling you, it is just written by some vested interest largely. So if they write twenty-five to fifty books like this in the next ten to fifteen years, after some time everyone will say yoga came from United States or from California, or that Madonna invented yoga. It is not a laughing matter, it can easily be done. There are people who are willing to write anything. Some very famous books are saying this. Dan Brown, in his book Angels and Demons, says yoga is an ancient Buddhist art. Gautama is only twenty-five hundred years, Adiyogi is fifteen thousand years. Now you say Gautama, tomorrow you will say Madonna.
“Taking Back Yoga” Needs Leadership in Yoga, not Debate
Rajiv’s work is critical in bringing awareness. But that is where it stops. His work cannot prepare people to actually take back yoga. They cannot. Unless someone actually not just becomes a Yogi but starts a movement that is larger than the Yoga schools of the West and sets the narrative from the highest echelons of the world. Short of that, activists of the RM Army will continue to bring awareness and show passion sans profound work in real sense.
For that, one needs so much work in not just Sadhana and Spiritual attainment but also marketing the work in a way that is unmistakably logical, scientific and difficult to argue against. Yoga and Dharma’s strength has been that it was a science and not belief. Anyone can raise himself to the consciousness of Shiva if one is willing to do the work needed. Shiva is not a closed chapter. That consciousness is available to anyone who strives. In that it is a science. And that is how it needs to be transmitted. Transmitting it as a belief system, which is the way that Rajiv’s work goes, is a mistake and self-defeating. It will not take anything back in real sense. It will only create disgruntled abusive activists.
When Krishna walked the planet, only a handful of people outside of Vrindavan and Gokul actually understood who he was really. Over a 100,000 fought against him in a damning war. Many abused him in his lifetime (like Duryodhana). Now, when he is no longer available in physical form, many revere him and indeed swear by him. But I want to leave the activists with a challenge question – If Krishna was walking in the mall today, how would you know? Do you have the consciousness to know Krishna’s consciousness if it was near you? No, he wouldn’t be wearing the fancy dress with the feather or in the form that the calendar artist has drawn for you… so how would you connect to his consciousness? Do you have the ability to connect to Krishna’s consciousness? If not, then how do you know if Krishna walked the planet again, you wouldn’t fight him in another Mahabharat?
Revering someone out of belief and fanaticism is one thing. Connecting to him in consciousness is another. People like the gentlemen above who abuses Sadhguru are like Duryodhana, who, in absence of full flowering of their consciousness miss Krishna and abuse him anyway purely out of their personal prejudices based on belief as opposed to a raised consciousness. They have missed the very essence of Yoga.
So, does Yoga have a religion? you figure out now!
Featured Image courtesy Isha.