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Yoga's Hindu Roots

shahalad2010-07-05 08:19:03 +0000 #1
Namaste, Yoginis and Yogin.

The Truth About Yoga discussion inspired me to create this topic. I believe that while one obviously does not have to be Hindu (or a Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh) to practice or teach Yoga--one should appreciate the religion and culture that produced it.

Every Yogashala (not Yoga Studio) worth its name should have at least one icon of a Hindu god. Every class should begin with the Invocation to Patanjali (in Sanskrit) and end with an Anjali Mudra. Every asana should only be called by its Sanskrit name. Anyone who believes that Yoga can be pulled from its Hindu roots would be better off doing (ugh) Pilates. Let's discuss.
amritaraj2010-07-05 08:34:55 +0000 #2
Basically I agree with you (about the yogashalas), although every teaching has to be adapted to the level of the student (with the hope that they will advance). However, didn't yoga originate with the rishis, and can they be said to Hindu?

Arjun2010-07-05 08:35:12 +0000 #3
One needs to understand where yoga comes from and what it is in relation to "Hinduism". The first time the word Yoga appears anywhere in history is in the Bhagavad Gita, spoken by Lord Krishna. The word Hinduism is not found in the "Hindu" religion. In fact there is no such thing as the Hindu religion. Hindu comes from Sindhu (a river), the Persians or Arabs called the people who lived in India "Hindus", in their language "S" becomes "H". For instance in Persian the Asura of Indian Vedic mythology became the Ahura of Persian mythology. So the Sindhus or river people became called Hindus, this is because their cities were almost exclusively around the great rivers Sarasvati, Indus or Ganges. The religions of these people came to be called "Hinduism" by the British. In fact there is no religion called Hinduism, its a label that means the various religions based on the common ancient Yoga Texts and Vedas. Yoga is the religion of "Hindus". There are different types of yoga. Hatha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti yoga, etc. Bhakti Yoga is what most of the people in India follow. This is what the British called "Hinduism".

Chanting mantras and praying to a diety etc is part of the "Sadhana" of the Bhakti Yoga system. It is not a cult activity, in fact 85% of Hindus follow this as their religious or yoga practice. Yoga is a religion, the Asanas or meditative teachniques are one aspect of the Yoga system or religion. The Upanishads and the rest of the Vedic texts are the philosophical aspect of the Yoga system. They deal with explaining the nature of reality, the conclusion or Vedanta of this philosophy is argued about within the various Yoga schools or Sampradayas. Essentially there are Two schools of thought that predominate. There is the Shankara school who are called Advaitins or followers of A-Dvaita, or non-duality. They teach that the ultimate goal of Yoga is to attain mukti or moksha, which to them means to attain a consciousness free from seeing duality in the world and recognizing everything as an illusion. Ultimately everything is One and returns to the state of Oneness after attaining liberation through Yoga. It's more complex then this but this is the basic idea. Merging our consciousness with the universal consciousness or Brahman is considered the height or goal of the yoga path.

The other main Yoga ideology [Bhakti Yoga] teaches that Brahman or the universal consciousness is a thinking, willing, person. In this Yoga the goal is to realize the truth of the existence of Bhagavan or Purusha, the Supreme Being, Para Brahman.Instead of seeking to merge our consciousness into the universal "Brahman" the goal is to realize our eternal role as a companion of the Person-who-is-Brahman. Moksha or Mukti in these traditions is to ultimately live and play with the Supreme Being in a Heavenly realm, called by various names depending on the tradition, Vaikuntha, Goloka etc.85% of the "Hindu" population believe in the concept of Bhakti Yoga, i.e belief in a Person-who-is-Brahman. Chanting or Mantra Yoga is done in all Yoga schools, although it has different philosophical meanings in different traditions. This is the basics and very simple, the depth of each of these ideas fill thousands of ancient yoga texts.

This site gives an overview of the major schools of Vedanta, the philosophy of Yoga. Although the site is run by a proponent of a specific school and gives preference to the Advaita school, still it gives a good over view of the main yoga traditions.
amritaraj2010-07-05 09:41:18 +0000 #4
A couple of comments, and then I'll focus more directly on the original topic Shalahad wishes to discuss; namely, "Anyone who believes that Yoga can be pulled from its Hindu roots would be better off doing (ugh Pilates. Let's discuss."

First of all, let me clarify some I said. I replied to Shalahad by saying that yoga came from the rishis. By this statement I was referring to its eternal and timeless aspect, its nature as a revealed truth. I think this is a fair statement with scriptural support. I tend to think of the rishis as being universalists and as having ennunciated universal principals, which then later have come to be associated with a particular religion, Hinduism, which contains a wide variety of sects/paths/schools/practices or whatever terms one prefers. Of course we should keep in mind the view about 'Hinduism' that Arjun articulates, namely that "there is no religion called Hinduism, its a label that means the various religions based on the common ancient Yoga Texts and Vedas." Fair enough, a common view, but not one shared by all 'Hindus': in any case yoga then just becomes associated with that family of religions. Same difference, a semantic and technical issue.

In the same sense one could, fairly, object that the term 'Hatha Yoga' should be used instead of just 'Yoga. But the most important point is that we understand each other.So back to "Anyone who believes that Yoga can be pulled from its Hindu roots would be better off doing (ugh Pilates.)" Leaving aside the apparent aspersion on the noble activity of Pilates, I think the question really boils down, in part, 'What is real Hatha Yoga?' Yikes!, anyone want to tackle that? My short answer would be that I should conform with the scriptural teachings, but then... how many western hatha yogis, not to mention teachers!, practice real brahmacharya? So we all fall short of the mark, and in a sense we are (almost) all divorcing our practice from its spiritual roots.

I think your question also leads to another question, one that I hope people will respond to: ' How commonly does Hatha Yoga which is begun only for physical reasons awaken spiritual interests?' My feeling is fairly often, and thus if someone's inclination is to practice hatha yoga 'without the Hinduism', i.e. only for physical benefits, then that should be looked favourably upon. As their physical vehicle becomes purified conscious is also somewhat purified.

More on the early use of the term 'yoga':

There are uses of the term 'yoga' before its appearance in the Bhagavad Gita. It is used once in the Tattariya, Upanishad (2.4.1). David Frawley claims "Yoga can be traced back to the Rig Veda itself, the oldest Hindu text which speaks about yoking our mind and insight to the Sun of Truth. Great teachers of early Yoga include the names of many famous Vedic sages like Vasishta, Yajnavalkya, and Jaigishavya." But I think the usage of the term in the Rg Veda occurs in a compound form, and there are different views as to its meaning. Can anyone cast further light on this?

I like Frawley by the way, but sometimes I think he might push the dates for his claims a bit farther back in the past than current evidence warrants. Possible the olderst reference to yoga occurs in the form of the famous image of the statue of Pasupati (?) meditating (?) in half-lotus from Mohendro-daro, part of the Indus civilisation, or Harrapan culture, flourished from 2500 BC to 1500 BC., thus making it an earlier, or later possible reference to yoga, depending on the actual dates of the Rg Veda.

I think I better stick a sock in it for now. (Question does this comment violate ahimsa?)

Viraagi2010-07-05 09:00:21 +0000 #5
I am very impressed by the way both Amritraj ji and Arjun ji..totally do not answer Shahalad ji's questions...I agree with Shahalad ji..(but I am not so strict. I would like yoga shala's to have some Hindu/Indian Icon to show gratitude)

I have often heard Yoga is from the "rishis" is one can claim it..agreed baba...but can you point out to one rishi who practiced hatha yoga (let's simplify and say asanas, bandhas, mudra, pranayam) before Nath Yogi's GorakhNath and Matsyendranath came into picture?? go to Varanasi/Rishikesh and explain to Nath Order of Yogi's saying.."Yoga is Universal..It is not Hindu"..then we can continue this discussion further..

Yours truly

cathy2010-07-05 09:12:09 +0000 #6
If the owner of the studio does not "believe" in the Hindu Gods, why should they place an icon in their studio? Why not teach the asanas in both Sanskrit and the language of the country you live in?

Yoga does not belong to Hinduism. No icons in my studio.... but a love and respect for all....

Isn't this enough?


Arjun2010-07-05 08:54:15 +0000 #7
You take what you like & you discard what you don't saying you don't believe in it as if it is an optional component.

Yoga is just a synoym for Hinduism.
amritaraj2010-07-05 11:36:13 +0000 #8
The problem with having a Hindu symbol in a yoga studio is that it will put some people off from pracitising hatha yoga who would otherwise benefit from yoga practice. Isn't it better that hatha yoga be presented in a variety of ways - i.e. both with and without symbols - so that a fuller range of personality types are drawn to it and have the opportunity to purify their mind's. What's more important the symbol or the practice?

As much as I love India and Hinduism, I think a yogi's real loyalty should be to Truth, and hence he or she should avoid potentially divisive temporal or nationalistic allegiances.

Yoga is a part of Hinduism but isn't Hinduism a a part of 'Sanatan Dharma' - the eternal religion/dharma/truth. The real religion is Truth and Truth must be eternal and universal or else it is not True; thus It can't really be claimed by any nation or group of people. Truth is eternal and universal, It can have greater temporal manifestations in certain times, places, but it can't be claimed by any of these places, just as we, ultimately, don't belong to these places either.

The Gorakhnathis themselves, though often said by historians to be the originators of Hatha yoga (although archeological evidence of yogic poses and practices predates them by many millenia) understand this very well, and they actually teach that their sect, and thus hatha yoga, existed before the world was created.

cathy2010-07-05 12:15:48 +0000 #9
Yoga is not a synonym for Hinduism. And its not what I like... it is what I believe; as in my religious belief system. I am not Hindu. I do not practice Hinduism. I do practice yoga. I do not believe in the Hindu Gods. I do have respect for them. I do believe in the power of words and I will not chant words to something that is irrelevant to what I believe. So yes, it is optional.

So if what you write is true... then may be only people who practice Hinduism should practice yoga. But then I must ask why did the masters send their teachers to the west.... to convert the masses?.. or was it just to get some of those nice US dollars? Or was it to share their love of yoga. I like to think it is the latter. But hey, I may be wrong.

Yoga touches people's hearts regardless of religion. There doesn't seem to be a need for icons. Only an open heart and a willing spirit.

When any individual attempts to enforce his or her views or practices on another I have to wonder why?

Regardless, I will continue to practice yoga, with no icon, no chanting Hindu Gods names, .... only with an open heart.
Viraagi2010-07-05 10:10:58 +0000 #10
By placing icons, you do not create a gap/divide in humanity. You celebrate diversity by appreciating facts. For instance, the number "Zero" came from India, by accepting have you created a divide between all people who use the number zero in their daily lives?? appreciate the and acknowledge fact..same thing..

I never said Hinduism be practiced, or chanting needs to be done or even Hindu Gods be respected. If you read my original post, I said 'Indian/Hindu Icons'. I felt all Yogashalas need to pay gratitude, for Yoga provides them with livelihood and it an

activity they thoroughly love. Wouldn't you acknowledge the source of love? Why are millions of Yoga studios cropping up every minute? (Yoga has turned into a 27 Billion dollar industry, mats, beads, Yoga studios, incence stick..what not??) Is it just to cash in on its popularity..Is it for love of those nice US dollars? OR is it to share their love of Yoga..I'll like to think it is the latter..But hey, I may be wrong..

And do you really believe by placing Hindu Icons you'll turn into Hindu? If that is the case I have been to a Mosque, Synagogue and Church a few hundred times. So I have turned Moslem, Jewish and Christian?? Placing of Icons was about showing gratitude and not about converting into religions.

Okay I am not going to discuss if Yoga is Hindu or not..But can we atleast agree on one thing - 'Yoga came from India'..Can atleast the place where it came from needs to be appreciated...Or did Yoga come from California??

Yours truly

justwannabe2010-07-05 11:12:16 +0000 #11
if yoga came from the divine, and the divine is everywhere, then yoga came from everywhere? maybe yoga was experienced in the cave man days a million years ago but not put down on paper so we may never know where it really originated from, Just a thought. I do understand about acknowledging the past and respecting it. Respect what those before us has helped us with understanding, but also out of respect we can refine and improve upon. Some people call others, his holiness, and things of the such. Personally I do not agree with those labels because all people are equal, no matter what they achieve

I appreciate what prophets teach us but I also appreciate what drug addicts teach us. One helps us to understand a better way to live and one reminds us of a more challenging way that we turn from. I can read about buhda and what he has done to help me gain insight, but I would not hold him up on high, especially since I never met him. I may meet a person and be able to say, now that person has done good things, but I would not call them a great person, cause all people are great and serve a purpose. I dont know, just rambling
justwannabe2010-07-05 11:51:09 +0000 #12
to addd some more thoughts

in regards to chanting, according to some of the reading I have been doing, certain sounds have effects on the body, and some can have very strong effects. according to yoga documentation some people have developed enough control over their voice that they ended up doing extrordinary things. supposedly people have been healed through sound. A chant of the word OM for 20 minutes is supposed to realax every atom in the body. Science is now learning how sound can break glass and make things explode but in yoga this has been known for a long time now. I do know that when in yoga class and we say OM at the begining and OM at the end, sometimes the OM at the end will feel so powerful it gives me chills. Just more random thoughts

in yoga/life, be open to the possibilities




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