Yoga is Hindu
Suddenly there is an attempt to secularize Yoga, euphemism for delinking it from the great Indian and essentially Hindu traditions. False narratives are being floated, all competing with each other to establish that Yoga is beyond religion, hence is not a Hindu tradition thus truly secular, ergo. This is being mostly done towards a noble purpose of making it acceptable to people who practice religions that did not originate in India and those whose allegiance is to ideologies not rooted in Indian ethos anymore.
Those people who are at the vanguard of this ‘Secularize Yoga’ movement do jugglery with semantics to distract attention from the indisputable fact that Yoga is the fruit of being Hindu a branch of Sanatana Dharma. Yoga arose out of Hindu philosophy and is metaphysical in essence. Yoga cannot be seen only as a physical exercise alone, but surely Asana can be practiced as exercise. The Asana have been used for ages as means to achieving spiritual enlightenment that is inextricably linked to Hindu concepts like consciousness, mind, inquiry and pursuit of truth to quell dogma. There is no guarantee that Asana will not spur the mind to inquire but to the contrary, a real threat to false and regimentalized religions.
As an analogy, not all who enrol in schools end up as experts at the end of their academic lives. The knowledge swells up, throwing up individuals who will transcend barriers but within the boundaries of the system of knowledge. (The curriculum being a part of knowledge system, it can never be proven that education is vehicle to boundless knowledge)
Out of those who begin practicing Yoga at young age, few will become experts not only in Asana but will also delve into questions relating to consciousness, the higher learnings of Yoga that encourages pursuit of truth by questioning the biases and values picked up in one’s lifetime. And this is again a threat to religions that present Gods who demand the followers submit, as mandatory condition for the religious belief system to live, thrive and survive.
Current neurological studies more than strongly suspect, and in some instances, with ample supporting evidence that a person is a product of his or her unique past and experiences. Yoga as a higher level encourages these clutches to be revisited and if need be thrown away and pursue truth beyond tenets, with a goal to be truly free.
And in that Yoga is Hindu in essence. Hinduism escapes the Abrahamic narrative and is not measurable in Abrahamic scale. It is another matter that due to this contradiction, Abrahamic religion portrays Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma from a crude and vulgarized culture imprisoned perspective. Yogic philosophy, beginning with Asana, is about releasing the practitioners from their prejudices and allowing them to look at themselves as doers and watchers at the same time. It recognizes the limitlessness of truth and acknowledges that one is never completely free. This is in total contrast to a religious belief that says their God is the averred truth, requiring no other validation and acceptance of this as axiom will make a person free. So Yoga is a problem for few.
Yoga is secular from a narrative perspective that lies outside Abrahamic definition; it encourages one to question the limits set by own upbringing, culture and inherent biases. If you are a Hindu, this is strength. Yoga sits well with an inquisitive philosophy that firmly believes in एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति
And it is no wonder that the objection to Yoga comes from religions that run counter to Hindu view of one truth and multiple paths. The Abrahamic religions aver that there is one truth and is projected to a singular idea of a particular God who demands that his followers submit to him without questioning. Not surprisingly, in this power game, there is no she God, unlike Hinduism. Hindus say that there is one truth and cedes that many paths may take to them, providing for enrichment from future times and things not understood yet. Therein lies the difference. Hinduism is essentially egalitarian while the monotheistic religions are monopolistic.
Coming to the question if Yoga is to be made compulsory, I think it should not be. However, just because it runs counter to the views of Abrahamic religionists, it should not be stifled either. I am not attempting to prove to anyone that Hindu religion to be superior to Islam or Christianity though that is my personal belief.
Let schools teach Yoga to people who want to free their minds, to pursue truth without prejudice. And those who do not believe in it do not have any right to stop it in schools. Though Freedom and freeing the minds are all nice things to talk of, it can never be thrust upon anyone.
Yoga is not secular as secular is defined today. It is beyond secular. Rather secular ideas are part of Hindu ethos that encompasses Yoga. If Muslim community feels that secular ideas are threats to Islam, they have the right to stay away. But that should not stop others from finding the essence of freedom as they see it. There are millions, including some Muslims, who have found great benefits of practicing Yoga. While core Christian group and influential Islamic groups are still against the practice of Yoga as they think that with Yoga, the Hindu values such as inquiry and questioning also may creep into their flock, which is a threat to their existence, not all of their followers seem to agree with the Institutions. Already Yoga has broken a shackle. J
When the schools teach evolution that essentially goes against the teachings of Islam or Christianity, there is not much outcry. Perhaps this may be due to the desire of Abrahamic religions to dominate the world, (a desire that seems to be absent in Hinduism) or the consternation arising out of people shunning the Institutions and voluntarily choosing a vehicle of inquiry that these Institutions consider inferior.
With 21st June coming up as World Yoga day, the pitch is only getting shriller. While the ‘Seculars’ want to keep ‘Hindu’ out of it there are people from other religious group who refuse to take part in it. I can understand the religious objection but the real enemies are the ill-informed seculars who know nothing about Yoga and Hinduism.
As a Hindu I am not shy of stating that Yoga is Hindu and practicing serious Yoga can make a person to think beyond dogmatic religious tenets. As one watches oneself, the objective views may change prejudiced dogmas. That can shake the foundation of those fragile belief systems that are held together by a promise that the after-life bliss is guaranteed only in exchange of unconditional submission.
For me Yoga is Hindu. It does not prevent non-Hindus from practicing it. Nor it forces anyone to. But it comes with a warning. Yoga is a vehicle of freeing oneself from misconceptions caused by distortions of the mind. Those who fear of being free have much to fear from Yoga. It is not a crime. Let them be.
Note: Much of the thoughts expressed here are result of dialogue I had with self after reading Dr Subhash Kak. Many of the ideas in this piece are his, I have only expressed my understanding of his truly exalted thoughts.