From the book, Holy Yoga, written by a recently born-again Christian:
“The usual criticisms of yoga from a Christian standpoint fall into a few major categories:
*Yoga can’t be separated from the Hindu religion
*Yoga is about emptying the mind
*Yoga’s goal is to find divinity in oneself
*Yoga opens you up to false gods and demonic influences
*Yoga will be a stumbling block to your Christian witness”
I’d like to address some of the above claims based on what I’ve learned to date.
1) Christians would generally take offense with Hinduism’s pantheistic approach, that God has many sides of himself that are equally of value to worship by anyone of any means. The fact that you can worship a rock, or a picture of someone else’s creative version of God is unacceptable. Their assertion is that God is strictly defined: God is a “he”, God has a Holy Spirit, God has a son named Jesus, a nemesis named Satan, and a crew of angels.
My issue with the Hindu religion is its concept of karmic rebirths. So until I become immersed in Samadhi, my crown chakra open to the universe, and I become aware of all that is and all that was, and it is revealed to me that I lived many lives before and finally became a being fit for yogic union with the universe, I probably won’t buy the idea that the billions of years involved in our creation was so that humans could experience bliss with God, something that other creatures and inanimate objects merely “aspire” to.
I think if you were truly open-minded and tolerant, you would know that all the plants and animals and humans less “gifted” with spiritual longings are absolutely perfect just the way they are. I suppose if this is the case, then the practice of yoga is reduced to, evolutionarily speaking, simply another way of extending our odds of survival by creating harmony in our species so that we don’t kill each other or other important creatures in our ecosystem off. Which, I think, is a great reason to practice yoga in and of itself.
So, no, why buy the whole cow (Hinduism) when you get the milk (Yoga) for free? On the other hand, if the ancient Yogis were brilliant enough to dream up this almost flawless scientific system for living a healthy, peaceful, life, maybe the Hindus that were smart enough to adopt Yoga knew something that I don’t about previous lives and rebirths…
2) Yoga is about emptying the mind:
Yes it is. And if you think a devil is going to take control of your mind if you stop thinking for 1 minute about what you’re going to have for dinner and what you should have done at work that day, then, what can I say? The old age quip that an empty or idle mind is the devil’s playground probably applied more to juvenile delinquents than to people simply trying to bring a little peace to their lives. On the other hand, if you empty your mind with the intention or expectation that evil thoughts will enter, then they probabaly will, and you probably shouldn’t do it.
3) Yoga’s goal is to find divinity in oneself:
Again, although the Bible says God is omnipresent, and all things came from God, Christians refuse to entertain the notion that if everything came from God, then everything is a holy expression of God. How could it not be so? Even if you try to use the “he is the potter and we are the clay” argument, it doesn’t quite hold water, because it was he who made the clay, and the wheel, etc. Everything is exactly as it was meant to be, because God is perfect, therefore, imperfection cannot come from God.
“Na-mas-te” is a common phrase used in Yoga. Roughly translated from Sanskrit, it means “that which is divine in me recognizes that which is divine in you.” We say this because we know that we are more than just our bodies; we are some incomprehensible expression of an all-encompassing, all-powerful universe, that in-and-of-itself could be called “God.” Some people need a more personal, ego-centric, more removed-from-the-events God, so to them, our universe/existence is rather God’s creation, or God’s dream. But ultimately, it is all just God in the end.
So the question of whether you are looking inward for divinity is the wrong question. The right question is WHY you look for divinity. And if looking within yourself for divinity causes you to think you are valuable above everything else in existence, then you have missed the point, and are NOT in line with Yogic precepts. Yoga teaches us to examine our thoughts, eliminate wrong thinking and replace it with spiritual thinking, so that the SELF becomes less and less important, and the essence of the self, which is the same in all of us, which is an expression of God, becomes more and more important.
The last 2 points aren’t really worth discussing at this juncture. That’s my brief-as-possible justification for Yoga for today.
I think you are lucky if you find divinity (a.k.a. God, a.k.a. anything more wonderful than yourself) anywhere, and you should probably treasure it and be grateful for it whatever form you find it in.
he he mom told me about the book and I was wondering how you would like it. :)
Point 1: Most Christians that I know, including all the pastors of my life, believe that as God created all things, he has all sides of himself: love, humor, beauty, sadness, anger, etc. We believe that it is like looking at a stained glass window. You might focus on the red, blue, green, sadness, anger, love, but what you are really worshiping is the sun that shines through the glass. What you perceive as humans is only what you can realize in the stained glass. There are things that we believe like Jesus was God incarnate as a man, God has a spirit, God is the creator, man is flesh and spirit, and like most things God creates that which he created is like him. I use the male gender, but to be perfectly honest most Christian faiths believe God has no gender, but that he is quote “gender” itself so how can he have one. Most Christians I know wouldn’t think of worshiping the sun, but there are moments that I cry in thankfulness to the one who created the sunrise over the East Ridge.
Point 2: I never saw Yoga as emptying the mind, but quieting the mind. Isn’t that what I do when I pray?
Point 3: In a narcissistic society, I think that some in Yoga do look for divinity in ones self, but that can easily happen at the hair dresser too. Most Christians I know believe that everything is a holy expression of God. So I must disagree with your point that Christians refuse to entertain this notion. Every church I have attended has embraced that ALL is holy, even pain.
Your last two statements I agree with whole heartedly. You should treasure and be grateful for all he has created as it is holy.
Please, dear friend, don’t gather Christians or Christianity and lump us angrily together with a general perception. You are too loving to do such a thing.
Thanks for your comment Hana, and I appreciate that you sensed my lingering disdain for the narrow-minded “Christian” attitudes I grew up around. I was wrong to use the broad term “Christian” to describe a particular worldview held by some Christians I know.
I was quite upset when I wrote this article because I felt the author didn’t understand the fundamental precepts of Yoga, and had twisted it to suit a more narrow ideology.
Thanks for the reminder; I absolutely should be coming from a place of love and I definitely need more work there!
Great to hear from you…