~~~Fr. Conrad Saldanha
(May Jesus bless you as you read it prayerfully. Also Pray and reflect on God's Word daily with Fr. Conrad @ http://dedicateddiscipleship.blogspot.com/ )
The practitioners of yoga have often claimed that Yoga has nothing to do with religion. They could be right in their own eyes because they who practice it look at the world in such a manner. But for a Christian, it does not communicate the mind of Christ and His body, the Church. Yoga is the lie of the devil and his deception that is infiltrating the church under the guise of being un-harmful and propagating health benefits which in some cases may be true. What should be understood is this: what is contrary to the Christian faith has to be contrary to the very nature of man and thus in the final ending, harmful for humans and the human race as a whole. Health is not the highest value of life but faith is. One cannot exchange ones eternity for apparent good health and relaxed body here on earth.
And then, one can enjoy better health benefits when one receives the sacramental grace offered through the ministry of the church. Similarly, some claim to have tamed the stuff and call it Christianized yoga, this is a greater deception when one understands the relationship between Truth and lie; a relationship which I am also discussing in my article.
There have been many who have written about the evil of yoga and the reason why one should shun it, though I am unaware of how many have striven to write about it from an existential anthropological angle. Thus the aim of this exercise is to analyze the whole issue from an existential-anthropocentric point of view.
The reality of ourselves from an anthropological perspective: How are humans different and what makes them different from other living creatures?
Human by nature have the capacity to reason and express themselves in varied languages and words. They have a capacity to remember, imagine and create which is unique to their persona. Each is so different from the other that no two human beings even if they look alike are the same in every attribute. They may be similar to each other yet not the same as each other.
Hence in the light of the above, the spirituality a human being imbibes has a marked impact on his persona. If he practices a spirituality that is steeped in mantra, concentration and focus on one object, which could be the breath or a mantra or bodily sensations, then it in no way promotes the uniqueness of his creative abilities. There are better ways to achieve the goal of concentration and relaxation rather than having concentration as its goal.
On the other hand, the aim of Christian prayer is not concentration, though the ability to concentrate better could be the fruit thereof. Jesus never gave his disciple a mantra to utter. To approach God by way of a mantra and / or to think that we should attain God by using a mantra is not only an insult to the persona of the created being and also to a God who has created us with such varied wisdom. We who communicate using a language with many words have to reach such pitiable state in order to communicate with God our creator, is an inhuman exercise. This method of communicating means to go against our very persona; which expresses in varied words and language, with emotions and feelings, with non verbal gestures and expressions. The animal and bird kingdom speak in a mono language each according to their nature speak their own sounds (mantras) to communicate.
Some are foolish enough to compare the Rosary or the holy ejaculatory prayers to a Mantra. If one understands the Christian doctrine on God then one would be both watchful in its practice and welcome the beauty of such devotions. While the Rosary is based on sound Christian doctrine, repeating the words about Mary as revealed in Scripture, its recital never invites one to concentrate. Rather it is an invitation to ponder like Mary on the Mysteries of the life of Jesus, with Mary with us on the pilgrim path. Thus, it should lead us into that contemplation which allows the mystery to work in us through constant revelation. Hence, we do not lose our persona in order to claim oneness with the universe or the cosmic creation whose consequence is often a make believe world ridden in escapism or a form of detachment that suits one’s mindset.
Therefore, Christian meditation or pondering is not an abstract activity that trusts itself but a reliance on a creator in a creator-creature relationship. It is relationship in which we allow the creator to communicate with us his wisdom without which we cannot grow; our vocation to transform the world is thus carried out in union with the God through the Holy Spirit. This is contemplation and is unique to Christianity. A Christian who remains stagnant at only meditation is still a yogi and has not understood the reality of his faith. There are many practitioners of yoga who claim that they now understand faith and scripture better. I pity them for such pride which prevents them to be open to the revelation of God, as in contemplation. This makes them trust their own reasoning’s, with fabulous logic and yet with a sound foundation in falsity and lies.
On the other hand, all the formulated Christian prayers have their sound root in the doctrine of Christ and his tradition. All Christian prayer that is approved and based on sound doctrine is valid and acceptable to God, even if the one reciting it is not doing so with efforts of meditating nor concentrating. It is nevertheless considered effective irrespective, but this degree of effect may vary to the extent to which one is fervent. Thus in Catholic circles we have the concept of ‘ex opera operato’, the heart that is fervent and the intention with which it is prayed adds to the effect. As explained, the rosary is also a prayer that recognizes the limitation of the created being and humbly acknowledging this, calls on God to intervene through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But if one meditates on the mysteries and recites as per the doctrine of the Catholic Church and then one enters into a state of contemplation allowing God to speak through the Mysteries which are a compendium of the Gospel.
There are other areas of differences too between a Rosary and a mantra but this should suffice.
Unlike a yogic approach, the Christian approach to God is personal. One approaches God with the aim of either asking or communicating or seeking a relationship. Hence it is not an abstract approach to an abstract concept of god. On the other hand the yogic approach ends up ‘with me’ as the centre of the universe; tat tvam asi or aham brahamaasmi (Sanskrit: you are that/ I am he or I am the universal being/ ultimate reality)
In a Christian approach every bit of surrender and submission is strongly rooted in one’s ego which seeks to die to itself and in the end is raised up to a new person, in God’s own image and yet with one’s own uniqueness and quality. Never will a Christian at the end of his prayer experience claim that he is ‘He’ or “I am one with creation.”- Pantheism!
Yoga’s origin is Hinduism and is steeped in a mystery of incoherent understanding of the truth. The Hindu concept of the universe and life can often lead one to doubt in its many beliefs. Yoga comes as an aid to rescue such a mind set of confusion. Doubt in Hinduism is looked down upon as negation of the rational mind that is not still. Therefore it has to be calmed by either the discipline of exercises, mantra or hyper activity as in karma yoga or focusing on objects, a word or breath. The mind that is hyperactive needs to be controlled and focused on in order that one may achieve concentration and altered state. This practice is a great affront to the assimilation and understanding of truth.
Human beings are born to relish and celebrate beauty and truth. Yet truth eludes the human mind in the many reasoning’s of the mind. A glimpse of the truth is enough to give a false sense of satisfaction and to be deceived and be led astray. It is like being so enamored by the beauty of the rose that one fails to see the beauty of the plant. The Christian understanding is this: Truth is not immanent to man and hence he cannot arrive at the truth even through a brain storming session of high profile intellectuals. Yet it is seeking and in knowing and understanding the truth and acting on truth that he finds his real freedom and happiness. In truth is his fulfillment.
Truth is objective and to be understood not as we choose to understand but for its own sake. The moment we seek to understand truth as we want to understand it then we are not doing justice to truth. For the Christian truth is also dynamic, constantly revealing itself and contemplation in the power of the Holy Spirit is the way to assimilate it.
Whereas the Hindu concept of truth and its understanding is this : one is in the truth already and it has to be realized through meditation and yoga, i.e. by attaining knowledge, achieving enlightenment and realization through yoga is the method to arrive at such consciousness. Good and evil are almost non-existent concepts and truth diminishes into an abstraction wherein everything is considered to be a part of the cosmic universe. Morality which is an important component of truth is low on the quotient and is ignored totally in the spiritual achievements of the yogi. Suffering and poverty, the existential reality, is attributed to one’s karma or previous life and one’s destiny is already pre-ordained. Detachment here means being separated from the realities and confrontations of daily life. Pain, hunger, desires or carnal manifestations are part of the manifestation of the universal being. How to explain concrete realities of poverty and pain and sufferings? Attribute it to one’s Karma=deeds done in previous life.
How then does one handle matters of truth and morality and the existential realities of life? An ordinary human being confronts this reality or may rationalize about it and if necessary may even take an aggressive posture to deal with it. The Yogi on the other hand deals with it through the structure and methodologies which boastfully is affirmed as being well rooted in ancient religious wisdom. This yogic methodology ignores the basic reality of life and enters a world of experiences which is termed as the god experiences by some or a state of bliss or nirvana, etc. by others.
Truth sought through the subjective human conscience is totally ignored. Hence many among the Clergy who have trodden this path have been highly wary of the confessional and have even abused the confessional making a mockery of the sacrament besides suppressing the truth of Christ. Morality, which communicates truth, is the dynamic ray of the truth of life.
They who have dabbled with such occult practices have often been in the forefront of attack against the prayer group spirituality, retreat centers and the sound teaching of Christ and the Catholic faith in matters of sin and morality. “They induce guilt” is the popular allegation and why will they not when they are in a state of deceptive bliss achieved through human effort, i.e. yoga, vipassana, etc. They ignore the reality of the self that finds true fulfillment in truth; which includes the moral element too.
The most deceptive element of this spirituality is the love that they often talk about. Of being kind to everyone and doing good but the most practical aspect of this love and kindness is overlooked: morality, truth, forgiveness and commitment is of no or less value. Relativism and perspectavalism are objective truths, a contradiction in the contradictions they hold on to. It is a way of willfully shutting out the truth about God arising in the conscience of every human being. “Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame” (GES. Para 19:3, Vat II).
Jesus, the perfect one, reveals man to himself (cfr. GES 22, Vat. II) which includes his sinful and immoral state cut off from God. He came to set this imbalance of relationship right with God and one another through the reconciliation of the cross. He speaks to the conscience of every man especially those who have submitted to the obedience of faith to lead a life worthy of his calling by the power of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism. The Holy Spirit constantly working a programme of renewal, through repentance faith and surrender, transforms us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
Hence, reason and doubts are not shunned but meet their satisfaction in the search for truth in Christ Jesus who claimed to be the way, the truth and the life and the one way to the Father and no one goes to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6).
In the light of the above we can say that Yoga then deceives at two major levels. In the first major and immediate way, it deceives the self through its methodologies whereby one through its practice unknowingly walks the path of escapism in an experience which can be compared to that of a drug addict; a altered state of mind. There are some who have come out of it and acknowledge this element of the psychedelic experiences. This is further affirmed by experts who vouch that the experiences of yogic arousals are the same like that of psychotropic hallucinatory drugs. In India, in some place there are a band of yogi’s who achieve their spiritual goal through the use of such drugs.
The second major deception is that of relegating everything to the deep, the subconscious, and building a wall surrounded by an experience of deception. This wall is often difficult to break through both for the practitioner or the one seeking to help the victim of yogic philosophy through the truth of the gospel. Unless the practitioners cry unto God to liberate them from such self imposed bondage which they have put themselves in they will never be free.
In my experience in ministering to people with such background of dabbling with the New Age, I have often come across cases of such deception. They reason and have great confidence in their ability to reason out things scientifically and logically. But they have forgotten the important drawback of logic, viz. that of basing oneself on a wrong premise: All that is logical is not necessarily the truth but the other way is true, all that is truth is always logical, but the yogi finds it difficult to grasp it and sees them as foolish.
There was this person who was involved in the art of living. He had come with problems in interpersonal relationship wherever he went. He was often discouraged from practicing the calming exercise, the yogic methodology of calming oneself. But after many reminders and prayers and not without much arguments with logical reasonings that he came one fine day to confess that though he practiced the calming exercise yet within himself he always had this raw feeling of agitation and becoming boisterous often.
A total renunciation doesn’t comprehensively handle the problem. At our retreats I would encourage those who had dabbled with such occult to renounce or strictly follow the discipline of the retreat. I would tell them that Christian silence is different from that of the yogic silence. Here in the Christian silence you are still communicating to the living God while the yogic silence is communication with an abstract reality with abstract techniques and methodologies. Those who obeyed the discipline of silence as followed at the DD retreats emerged successfully contemplating the beauty of God in all that they did but others went away empty.
Another case was of a woman who had gone for a vipassana (Buddhist form of yoga, which focuses on the breathing and bodily sensations. Since her conscience was compromised and was into activities which have its roots in Marxism, she had great difficulty to comprehend the truths of the faith and hence couldn’t deal with her larger fears and anxieties since they were suppressed in the deep subconscious and hence suffered many fears and pains.
As mentioned at the outset, one may ask; how come they who practice these New Age practices receive healing. My contention is this, the healing may be real but it is again rooted in deceiving the body. While the healing received through the practice of Yogic exercise is different from those received from the practice of yogic meditation. When a certain nerve causes pain the doctors have two broad options whether to allow the processes of healing through medicine or other forms of palliative care or go for a surgery to cut the pain causing nerve. Both options are not of equal value and significance, the former, if possible, is always a better option. Yet the doctor and the patient could say; “look I want quick results”, this can lead to long term disaster. Likewise the yogic healing is for this life and cuts us one off from the eternity of life which God has prepared for those who seek their Salvation from him who paid a great price to offer it to them; the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
Similarly, the effect of yoga can lead to immediate gain but an eternal disaster for ignoring the truth which Jesus came to reveal in order to give us eternal life.
The Catholic Church warns about the evil of yoga through its various documents. Here below I would like to mention the two documents:
1) In 1989 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (SCDF) came out with a letter called “Orationis Formas” on some aspects of the Christian meditation.
2) The second one was written by PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE, on 6th Feb. 2003, “JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE” A Christian reflection on the “New Age”
Some ask whether we could separate the exercise from the yogic meditation. If you want to eat the food products of Fukushima after the radiation risk in spite of knowing it then it is to your destruction. Similarly, since we know for sure that the exercises, however healthy and beneficial it may be, but, ultimately has its roots in Hinduism, leads to destruction, then we are opting to walk the treacherous path. “It is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity – innocent though they may appear – from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement.” (JCBWL: A Christian reflection on “NewAge”: Chp. 4:1)
Some prefer to practice what they call the safer and good elements of yoga, yet the above document, which I have quoted from, clearly warns about the dark and grim reality. Similarly, you cannot say to yourself I will take the name of Jesus while doing the exercise. It is like using a vessel used for unclean purpose for a noble purpose. Do not abuse the most Holy name of Jesus and crucify him again in your hearts for shortsighted selfish gain.
Truth has to be sought for its own sake. We cannot say now we understand truth better because of yoga. A contaminated vision cannot make us see things better even though that person may claim that he can see well. Similarly, those immersed in yoga and its philosophy may see things better through the glasses yet it is not a perfect vision in comparison to the direct vision. If the glass is tainted then the seeing also becomes tainted, though the one seeing through the taint may think that it is normal to see in such fashion. It is like this Alcoholic, with wife and children left to fend for themselves, who once told me that he was not wrong by drinking; because he was only harming himself, so why should his wife and children complain and nag him. The self was more important to him than the others towards whom he had a responsibility and commitment.
Yoga’s base as discussed above is a deception and not based on truth. A lie can’t make truth better. Whereas truth can enhance a lie to make it look better and more convincing; a good lie always contains a good bit of truth. In other words; lie added to truth only makes it a greater lie full of deception, likewise truth added to lie again qualifies for the same state. Truth stands alone and does not require the help of lie to qualify or enhance it.
Jesus is the truth that saves. The incarnate eternal Word of God is also the revelation of God to the human race in need of the truth that saves. He fully reveals man to himself and has given us knowledge about himself and us. He has revealed to us our true worth and yet in his great mercy and love revealed to us the great mercy of God to save us from our state of sin; a state that prevents us from knowing the truth unless we turn to him in faith. Faith is the foundation to know him; faith is also the beginning to receive this revelation of God. Faith which is expressed through all humility can even lift us up to his level because God is pleased with such humble trust. He does this by pouring into our hearts his life and love (Rm.5:5) so that through his Spirit of Sonship we may continue in the grace, daily nourished at his Eucharistic table and striving in the world.
If you have dabbled in yoga, vipassana or any other New Age spirituality then it is high time you said no to it and renounce this before the living God and turn to Jesus in all humility for help. Wait on him and ask him to guide your life by giving you his Holy Spirit, who he promised will guide us into all truth. (Jn.16:13)
Prayer: Father your Word is truth, forgive me for not accepting your word as your word and thus not allowing you to speak to me through it.