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Beyond religion: Ultimate goal of Yoga is the “Abidance in Atman”

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By Nithin Sridhar

In what is being seen as a landmark judgment by some quarters of population world-wide, an appeals court in California, USA has upheld a decision by the San Diego Superior Court that the yoga program in the Encinitas School District is ”devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.” The appeals court has ruled that the said Yoga program is secular and it did not had the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. This judgment has once again raised the question “Is Yoga Secular or Religious?”

Understanding Yoga

Yoga literally means “Union”. Patanjali Yoga Sutra (1.2-3) defines Yoga as a state wherein the patterns (vrittis) of the mind has been removed, so that the “seer” (i.e. Atman) abides in his real nature”. Hence, yoga is a state of Samadhi, wherein the Self or Atman has been isolated from the limitations of Non-Self entities like body and mind so that the Atman alone shines. This state is achieved by stilling the mind by causing all the various thought-modifications of the mind to cease. Just as various thoughts and dreams are products of modifications of “manas/mind”. Similarly, from purely subjective perspective the objective universe one perceives is also due to the modifications of one’s mind. The Atman is the witness and the body and the mind are the objects. Hence, when the mind is stilled and the modifications of mind are brought into a stop, the objects merge into the subject and the Atman which is the subject alone remains. This state of Samadhi is called as “Yoga” or “Union” because there is a Union of duality of object and subject giving rise to the non-dual abidance in Atman.

What is the goal of Yoga?

The whole system of Yoga is designed to attain this state of Self-abidance. Patanjali describes an eight limbed process to attain the ultimate Union. These eight limbs are- yama (external discipline), niyama (internal discipline), asana (posture), pranayama (breath regulation), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (one pointed concentration), dhyana (meditative absorption) and samadhi (Ultimate Union). It is to be noted that Asana or practice of various postures and pranayama or the practice of breath regulation are not considered as foundational limbs. Instead they occur as third and fourth limb respectively. The foundation limbs are yama and niyama which constitutes various external and internal disciplines. Yama includes ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy) and aparigraha (freedom from avarice). Niyama includes shaucha (cleanliness), santosha, tapah(austerity/control of mind and senses), svadhyaya (self-study) and ishvarapranidhanani (devotion to God).Without a constant practice of these yama and niyama, no amount of Asana can lead to higher limbs of Yoga. The Yama and Niyama aims to purify the mind and impart detachment and dispassion to the practitioner. The aim of Asana is to keep the body healthy and make it a proper instrument for higher practice. The Pranayama aims to regulate the breath which is very much necessary for stilling the mind. It is only by a proper synchronization of all the four limbs that a person is able to withdraw his senses (pratyahara) and attain one-pointed concentration (dharana). If, a person was to practice postures alone then all one will be able to attain is a healthy body. But, developing a healthy body is not the ultimate goal of Yoga. In fact it is not the ultimate goal of human life itself. According to Hindu philosophy, the ultimate goal of human life is Moksha and all other activities and goals be it Kama, Artha or Dharma are to be aligned to make way for an individual to ultimately reach the goal of Moksha. Hence, be it Yoga or Bharatanatyam or Indian Classical music, every aspect of Indian life was conceived as a medium to attain an eternal abidance in Atman i.e. Moksha.

Hence, having a healthy body or a healthy life-style cannot be ultimate goal of Yoga. Instead it can only be a secondary and interim goal that is aimed at turning the body and the corresponding lifestyle into conductive instruments that are then able to attain the ultimate goal of Samadhi.

Yoga is the “Abidance in Atman

“Secularism” refers to the separation of religion from political, social and economic systems and institutions. The creation of this separation is rooted in European history where the concept was used for the separation of the state from the hegemony of the church. But, no such separation ever existed in the Indian concept of life. The foundation of Indian life is Sanatana Dharma and this Dharma dictates every aspect of Indian life. There is no artificial division of sacred and secular in the Dharmic view of life because there was never a conflict between secular subjects and faith-based subjects, between science and religion. Dharma guides both secular and sacred aspects of life. In fact, it harmoniously unites both and helps an individual to work towards the highest goal of Moksha (enlightenment). The Hindu concept of life aims at using even the most secular activities into attempts at reaching the higher goal. The music, dance, martial arts, physical exercises or medicine everything is helpful in equipping an Individual to attain the Moksha.

Hence, to the question whether Yoga is Secular? The answer is definitely a “No”. Whether Yoga is religious in the sense that it is faith-based alone? The answer again is a “No”. When any activity is upheld as being secular, it often means that the activity is completely nonreligious in nature without any element of religion or spirituality. Similarly, when any activity is considered as “religious” it is understood that the activity is only faith based without any scientific or verifiable element in them. But, Yoga does not fit into either of the definitions. It is not secular because it is not a physical exercise regimen that is devoid of any religious value. Instead the ultimate goal of Yoga is the “Abidance in Atman” which is among the most basic tenet of Hinduism. Similarly, it is not entirely religious in the faith sense, because it is a well-designed complete system which rests on individually verifiable results and not on blind faith. Yoga is a dharmic life-style system that has both, faith and non-faith elements, both verifiable and ethical elements that aim at imparting the highest goal of “abidance in Atman” to the practitioner. Hence, when a person or an organization attempts to secularize Yoga, it results in serious consequences.

Secularization or Destruction?

In the present incident, it is reported that the Yoga program was secularized by removing all the religious elements including the removal of the usage of Sanskrit words like Namaste and Sanskrit names of the postures. The Padmaasana for example was promoted as “criss cross apple sauce” posture. Now the question is, what is the basis of considering the terms like “Namaste” and “Padmaasana” as religious and hence needed to be removed? Padma-asana simply means “lotus-posture”. It is one of the basic postures that help a person to enter a deep meditation. The term “Padma” or lotus is used not only because the asana resembles a blooming lotus but also because, a person retains the grip on his body even after entering deep meditation. Just as a lotus floats in water, staying above water yet in constant touch with it, a practitioner will remain in deep meditation without casting off his body. But, any such symbolism and understanding is lost when it is translated as “criss cross apple sauce”. That exactly seems to be the goal. The present example clearly denotes that in the name of secularization, a ripping away of Yoga from its Indian and Dharmic roots is being carried out. The words like Padmaasana are being discarded because they are words of Sanskrit and hence indicate that Yoga is a product of Indian Civilization and Sanatana Dharma. This is a clear case of dilution and digestion of Yoga.

What is the way forward?

The genuine teachers of Yoga in India and the west must take initiative to counter any attempts at dilution or digestion of Yoga-

  • The Yoga teachers must first become strongly grounded in the traditional practice of Yoga. They must not only be thorough in various aspects of philosophy and practice of Yoga but they must also be aware of basic Hindu philosophy.
  • The Yoga teachings must be imparted only to those students who are competent to have it and it must not be sold like a commercial products.
  • The Yoga must be taught as a wholesome dharmic system whose aim is both material and spiritual welfare and not as an exercise regimen.
  • The Yoga teachings should not be diluted for the sake of promoting oneself or gaining more students. The traditional teachings, its terminologies, its meaning and significance etc. should not be distorted.
  • The Yoga teachers must uphold the tradition and promote the tradition instead of promoting their own self.
  • Any specific part or limb of Yoga should not be promoted as a distinct practice on their own. Instead a wholesome teaching of Yoga must be imparted but specific instructions can be based on Individual capacities.

The Hindu parents should become aware about Hindu religion and philosophy. They must become aware about significance of Yoga in material as well as spiritual welfare. They must learn Yoga in its entirety and practice them as a medium to attain the ultimate goal and not just as a health regimen. They must teach the same to their children as well. These simple measures go a long way in preserving the authentic tradition of Yoga and protecting it against secularization and digestion.

(The writer is a Civil Engineer from Mysore, Karnataka who has deep interest in Politics, History, Religion and Philosophy especially in context of Sanatana Dharma.  He could be reached at sridhar.nithin@gmail.com)

 

 

Next Story

Westerners Adopt Indian Practices, Deny Giving Due Credits

There is an argument by some Hindu liberals thinking “what the problem in it”? They think our knowledge is globalized by West in the same way we consume inventions of the West. But it’s a very naïve argument.

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Its time Indians in general and Hindus in particular should be vigilant and should have an academic mind set to respond to such misadventures to protect our own heritage and Dharma. Hindu Council Of Australia

By Shashi Holla (WA) and Surinder Jain

Colonial or a white supremacy mind set may be clever enough to adopt Hindu practices but denies giving credit where it is due. Stealing Hindu Intellectual Property, they do not hesitate to rename and repackage so that they can sell it back to India for immense profits. Off course, they will leave no chance to tell Indians to stop their superstitious ways and to adopt the new scientific knowledge which “they” have “invented”.

Following has been already digested or appropriated by West. Some of the Western academics don’t believe that they belong to India.

Yoga Nidra   AS  Lucid Dreaming

Nadi Shodhana AS Alternate Nostrils Breathing

Vipassana  AS Mindfulness.

The latest addition to this list is

Pranamyam AS Cardiac Coherence Breathing

Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders.[29] But the latest attempt has taken the appropriation too far. An American magazine “Scientific American” in its article titled “Proper Breathing Brings Better health” termed “Pranayama” as cardiac coherence breathing. (15 January 2019). The article gives us an idea about how West is so sophisticated in stealing knowledge from ancient cultures particularly Hinduism.

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Man doing Yoga. Wikimedia Commons

Prāṇāyāma is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavad Gītā.[11] According to Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, prāṇāyāma is translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”, also being made from the two separate Sanskrit words, prāṇa and āyām.[12] Pranayama is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[14][15] Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice.[16] Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.[18]

“Pranayama” a department of Yogic science practiced and documented 5000 years back ( even 15,000 years back) by Rishis is not even acknowledged by the author of the article. If one read the article they vaguely suggest that breathing exercises also existed in China, Hindu and in Greek culture.  This is how appropriation of ancient techniques takes place by West.  As Sankrat Sanu an entrepreneur, researcher and writer put it in his tweet “after erasing the origin they claim it as their own invention, attack original traditions as Superstition”.

As famous Indian American Author Rajiv Malhotra summarizes: “The article standardizes cardiac coherence breathing as Chinese, Hindu, Greek and various traditions as equal origins, and then modern West turns it into science”. Its time Indians in general and Hindus in particular should be vigilant and should have an academic mind set to respond to such misadventures to  protect our own heritage and Dharma.

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The article standardizes cardiac coherence breathing as Chinese, Hindu, Greek and various traditions as equal origins, and then modern West turns it into science”.  Pixabay

There is an argument by some Hindu liberals thinking “what the problem in it”? They think our knowledge is globalized by West in the same way we consume inventions of the West. But it’s a very naïve argument. West has created an eco system and mechanism in which their knowledge system is Well protected and patented by international norms. Unless West does not give a new name and fits into their framework native wisdom is not recognized in academia and media. Whereas Hindus were generous in sharing their health techniques freely from millennium never thought they will struggle in proving things which belong to them. In fact in a westernized framework of Yoga and other techniques Indian scholars, insiders and practitioners are blatantly ignored. So our own knowledge will be repackaged and exported back to us at an extra price and conditions.

Also Read: Climate Change Will Melt Vast Parts of Himalayas: Study

Many of our practices are being called to be Biofeedback systems. According to WikipediaBiofeedback systems have been known in India and some other countries for millennia. Ancient Hindu practices like yoga and Pranayama (breathing techniques) are essentially biofeedback methods. Many yogis and sadhus have been known to exercise control over their physiological processes. In addition to recent research on Yoga, Paul Brunton, the British writer who travelled extensively in India, has written about many cases he has witnessed. (Hindu Council Of Australia)