(I was compelled to write this article in keeping with the urgency of the situation and the sham response of the hierarchy in India and Mumbai to the issue that is eating into the church like cancer)
The world will celebrate world yoga day. While the Muslims have raised their voice against the imposition of yoga, the voices in the government have managed to appease them by removing the suryanamskar from the routine.
The Catholics seem to have welcomed the World Yoga day minus the day chosen, which is a Sunday; a sacred day for Christian. Otherwise they don’t seem to have any objection to the practice of yoga.
Why would the Catholic Church in India not object to Yoga and the world yoga day?
It is solely because the hierarchy themselves, in search of the concealed “ray of that truth” and in seeking to separate the good elements from the bad are indulging in yogic spirituality. Unfortunately it is part of the formation in many of the seminaries in India too.
Could it be true that even the Catholic Church at the UN voted in favor of the world yoga day without assessing the deceptive claims? (Some of these false claims have been answered in this article without highlighting them)
Besides the practice of it, many from the hierarchy seem convinced and have either written introductions to books on the subject, written or commented positively on the subject, conducted sessions and classes or invited others to do the same and some of them are even exporting it to other countries, earning for their lavish lifestyles. Some have either started ashrams or are even heading institutions which promote and claim that they use yoga to reach out in healing for the people; which percentage of claim stands in need of verification because deception is always a fruit thereof.
How compatible is yoga, even the so called exercise form (Hatha Yoga) with Christian spirituality? We need to especially look into what seems to be the most innocuous part of it: The so called physical exercises.(In reality yoga is not mere exercises but always referred to as postures (asanas).
Unlike Hinduism which is free to adapt to a dual or even a multifaceted spiritual lifestyle, a Christian is supposed to be singular in his focus and cannot be dual in his ways, thinking and action. The word of God is supposed to be the primary focus and a basis for discerning and accepting every thought or action and these thought and actions are to ultimately be subjected to Christ through the Church's tradition and magisterium. It is so because we are capable of self-deception, no matter how intelligent and hence the historical action of the Holy Spirit manifested through the rich Catholic Tradition and Magisterium needs to be respected in all humility
There are well defined moral standards too for a Christian, whether he puts it into practice or not. One is supposed to do so without any duality.
All this, for a striving Christian, is made possible on account of the Salvation which Christ Jesus has accomplished on the cross. Jesus offers one the hope, the healing, the health, consolation and courage and above all the eternal salvation.
Therefore, Yoga in any form is unacceptable to a Christian who believes in Christ Jesus, whether it is the meditations or the postures thereof because Christ Jesus offers us the fullness of salvation and not a partial one.
Critical Analysis of the claims of Yogic exercises from a Christian point of view:
Yogic postures are incompatible with Christianity because it is incompatible with truth. In other words, it doesn’t have a basis in truth. For Christians truth is the guiding factor. Unfortunately many may have been deceived into falsity in search of that 'ray of truth' when they either through deception or wickedness of heart missed the fullness of it in Christ Jesus.
The reason why yogic exercises have a growing popularity is on account of its many positive claims; some of which could be true but many are deceptively false, especially from a Christian world view.
Yoga, it is claimed has nothing to do with religion: While many of promoters of yoga claim that it has nothing to do with religion there are some yogi’s who have clearly affirmed that it has everything to do with Hindu religion. Some even accuse and condemn the Christians of trying to separate yogic exercises from the Hindu system and then condemn the Hindu’s as damned. Even though they may be disputes as to its religious leanings but no one seem to dispute as to its origin, which is Hinduism. It should be noted that even if a Christian tries to Christianize the system, it cannot be accepted since it is rooted in Hinduism.
Hence from a purely Christian point of view it has everything to do with religion, if one finds it difficult to understand that then let me put it differently: “Yoga and the postures thereof along with its goals and aims opposes the Christian understanding of Man created in the image and likeness of God.” And hence any such opposition to the Christian faith is a new religion or cult.
Secondly, for a Christian it is important to identify the source for further and right action. In the scripture, in the temptation narratives of Matthew and Luke when Satan comes to Jesus with the pure written word from the Bible, Jesus could have adopted the new principles of modern man in search of the 'ray of truth' in other religions and separated the written word of God from him and observed it diligently but instead rejects it because the source and the application of it is not in God’s interest and thus in the interest of humanity.
Thus the Catholic Church in its document in 2003 makes this element of argument clear: “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. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others.” (Chp. 4:1; Jesus Christ the bearer of the water of life)
Hence anyone claiming that the church has not taken a stand is only abusing his office to deceive the ignorant laity. Similarly those suggesting that it can be safely practiced apart from its philosophy are already walking in deception and if they are shepherds then they should humbly step down for leading the flock astray for long and for acting to be wise in the ways of God.
Let’s arrive at the truth about the exercises from the existential point first:
The west, steeped in secular, scientific education and materialism, had failed to understand the Christian doctrine and many of them were left empty in their spiritual or psychological quest for God, peace, happiness, solace and relationships. They had the money to buy everything but didn’t realize that the fruit of the gospel was freely available to those who seek it in humility in Christ.
Many entered into the deception of yoga because it claimed that it has nothing to do with religion. Their rejection of religion mired in the pride of education made it difficult for them to see the truth. They may be right in their thinking from their perspective but specifically from a Christian viewpoint it has everything to with religion as you will see from the explanations below.
The Church, in such circumstances, too failed to communicate the gospel of hope to them.
Hence their materialistic pride thought them that they could buy everything, including truth and in return they got the deception they wanted. (cfr. Rom. 1;17 ff)
No human being can attain God on his own wisdom, knowledge or efforts unless they humbly seek it, with perseverance: “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.” Jer 29:13 (Bible)
In the same vein yoga is considered scientific too. Though there are some verifiable facts about yoga and certain things about yoga can be verifiably affirmed but some the psycho-social benefits can be disputed about. What is apparent or may be initial benefits or a deceptive feeling of well being on account of partial difference may be claimed as achievements.
For example: India should have been a sporting giant on account of its roots in yoga and practice of yoga in sports but it is definitely a great giant in corruption and creating an index of unhappiness. We still need foreign coaches and trainers to train our sports personals.
The following are the practical reasons why one gets into yogic exercises and how compatible is it with the truth and with the Christian world view:
1. To fight stress or for de-stressing: Most of the stress we experience is due to hurts, un-forgiveness, guilt, every day conflicts and trials of life or taking decisions which are incompatible with one’s abilities. If a Christian can handle these through prayer, confession and sound counseling then does one need to practice yogic exercise to de-stress? I have seen countless number of people being healed of the symptoms of stress through the right approach to prayer and through the Sacramental ministry of the church.
2. To attain peace of mind: Yoga doesn’t offer anyone Peace of mind and those who claim that have not really experienced the real peace which Jesus offers to his followers. In fact what yoga definitely offers is a state of calmness and this is often or even deceptively referred to as peace. It is like a deceptive baker selling his bread as a cake because the natives have never seen a cake.
Since one may imagine that I am only disputing about words; let me explain: If one is disturbed on account of a public insult then yoga deals with it through its method of either breathing or mantra or physical exercises, either by ignoring it, rationalizing it or suppressing it. On the other hand the Christian deals with such disturbances in prayer, either through surrender, forgiveness, letting go of what one has held back. Further, to help the weak do it we have the wisdom of the cross and the grace thereof to attain the peace that surpasses all understanding. (Phil 4:6)
3. For good health: Exercises do give us good health but do they deal with the problem at its root? What is the main reason for most of our ill-health? The few reasons for ill-health:
- Our not being reconciled to the one true God is the primary reason for the ill-health we face in life and this ill-health working in us can ultimately lead us to eternal destruction, even though we may live long on account of our disciplined life of right eating, right sleeping, and right exercises.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.” Rom 5:8-11 (Bible)
- The bitterness of un-forgiveness can be also a big reason for ill-health and most of our sickness. What would be better: to eliminate the problem or to ignore or rationalize or suppress it or may be just rise above it?
- The guilt of wrongdoing could affect us and lead to some deep emotional problems too. But yoga will seek to ignore guilt as bad and thus suppress or ignore it rather than deal with it as catholic would do through the confessional.
- The pain of deep hurt and rejection can leave deep emotional scars which again could be suppressed through physical exercises.
- The deep rooted fears could be calmed too by yogic exercises with seeking to eliminate the root reason for it.
- Likewise, many other emotional issues are not dealt with in the true human spirit and thus yoga rejects the truth of man.
Yoga through its exercises seeks the physical and spiritual bliss by ignoring the reality of the above mentioned problem.
4. To lose weight/ slim down: On the one hand it is claimed that yoga brings about harmony between man and nature and deal with climate change and on the other hand it does encourage the reduction of weight through exercises; which means indulge yourself and then exercise to lose weight. Compare this with the ascetic spirituality of being frugal with our eating and drinking and thus donating and support the poor and orphans. Which would be more environmentally friendly? Most of these yogi’s are such vegetarian fanatics that they would want to preserve the bovines in order to increase the green house gases in the universe but will not give up on their milk.
5. To remain young and youthful: The new self is self-confident, seeks to achieve, believes in oneself and adopts a spirituality that helps them in their selfish ambition to be achievers at any cost. There is very little of the moral principle at work. What is forgotten is that one could remain perennially young and youthful but lost forever into eternal damnation. Because scripture reminds us that God had reduced Man’s lifespan so that he may, reflecting on death would think of his creator and pay him homage (cfr. Gen 6:3; Ps. 39). Whereas yogic exercise has to lead you the other way: long life and youthfulness but eternal damnation.
6. For better performance: Indeed yoga could help one perform better in rote learning and may be alertness and in concentration minus the moral principles and emotional control! Unless one has brought their sense of morality along on account of their family or school background one is lost in the maze of a deceptively glorified idea. Much of the sound discerning wisdom is in the morality of life’s principles. In India a cow may be of more value and may be worshiped than a human being. I have seen how concern for human life is poor and the karma principle justifies the indifference.
The immense evil in Yoga vis-à-vis the human being is remarkable: Though yoga may offer some of the benefits which I have acknowledged and described above but in keeping with its tall claim it ignores the moral principle in human nature and even the emotional nature of man. The claim of peace, de-stressing, equanimity, etc is at the cost of ignoring of the human conscience. What sets human beings apart from the animal world is their conscience which at times even needs to be formed so that he may respect the other, not cheat or give false hopes and promises and make lofty statements of assurances and not fulfill them and give different value or meaning to the same word of assurance given.
All that unity and harmony that it claims to achieve in man is done minus/without reference to the conscience of man which is either ignored or suppressed or harmonized in oneself in order to create a new situation of health, harmony, goodwill, etc. But what appears apparently to be good is nothing but a creation of an intolerable world view that will not tolerate opposition to its ideological claims once it attains full power.
Finally, a hint of the evil in certain physical exercise revealed in Scripture: “In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, "Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us." This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.” 1 Macc 1:11-15 (Bible)
Choose: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days,” Deut 30:19-20
For a still more detailed write-up on the subject I plan to write a book. Those interested could kindly write to me at email@example.com with name, address and the number of copies.