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In this episode we welcome Pamela Frost, a truthXchange board member, staff researcher, and good friend of our ministry for years. Pam has spend many of these years studying interfaith spirituality, contemplative practices, and their effects on the culture and the church. During our time together we talked about yoga, and specifically, addressed questions presented to us by followers on our Facebook page. After our talk, Joshua sent Pam a followup question via email and Pam shared, at length in response. You’ll here some of the content in a special portion of the podcast, but we wanted to share the text with you in its entirety here.
The question was asked if you could practice yoga with out the meditation and philosophy. Yogis/gurus have said that you can’t. Today, many have said, “So what? That’s their expert opinion, but they can’t control what I think or do. It’s my body, and I am going to do yoga to the glory of God.”
How would you respond?
In response to the question, the late nineteenth century brought a religious revival of Hinduism in India and thus a revived interest in all the forms of yoga (the basis of Hindu religion). The goal of each of the different forms of yoga is self-realization through mystical absorption into the ocean of impersonal divinity called Brahman. There are many schools of yoga and each one is designed to lead to self-realization (samadhi). The word “yoga” means “yoked,” with the idea of attaining union or yoking with universal divinity, the Hindu version of the gospel. Some of the prominent paths of yoga are: karma yoga (self-realization through good works to end the cycles of reincarnation due to bad karma), bhakti yoga (enlightenment and union through devotion to a chosen Hindu deity), jnana yoga (experience of union through esoteric knowledge of the Vedas), raja yoga (royal yoga, following Patanjali’s 8-limbed path of ashtanga, including bodily postures, breathing, meditation, toward self-realization), kundalini or laya yoga (based on the Hindu tantric tradition seeks to awaken the serpent goddess kundalini to ascend the spine opening the chakras, cosmic energy centers, until the serpent takes over the mind in the crown chakra above the head resulting in self-realization of the serpent’s spirituality), and hatha yoga (incorporates ashtanga yoga and kundalini yoga to attain self-realization through bodily postures, breath control, and meditation).
In reaction against the Christian missionary movement in India, the nineteenth century saw a revival of the Hindu religious practice of yoga in all its forms. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair, introducing America to the Hindu religious philosophy of Vedanta based on the principle of Advaita, meaning “not two,” so that through various practices of yoga, enlightenment to universal divinity is attained.
In 1993, a group of Hindu students in America celebrated the 100th anniversary of Vivekananda’s address to the World Parliament of Religions by organizing a movement called World Vision 2000. Their endeavor was sponsored by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) that is dedicated not only to stopping the advance of the gospel in India, but also to advancing Hinduism in the West. The Hindu students behind World Vision 2000 clearly understood themselves as Hindu missionaries determined to “transform the cultural foundation” of America from biblical theism to the Hindu Vedanta by holding seminars on college campuses to present the Hindu worldview. They felt the time was ripe for such a transformation because of the advance work that yoga and meditation had already done by introducing Eastern thinking through their practice. Their statement of purpose and scope explains:
“The seminars to be held in various campuses will only become successful if a team if Hindu students are inspired to work hard. Let us try to reach out to every Hindu student, or others who has [sic] respect for Hindu ideals. There are several youth organizations on campuses promoting Yoga, meditation, Eastern studies, etc. The new age movement which has accepted the great ideas of the East should be brought closer to our vision. Let us contact all the faculty members who have anything to do with Hindu philosophy or Bharat. Let us invade the American Campuses armed with the vision of Vedanta.” http://www.hindunet.org/vivekananda/gk_gv2000
In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the Parliament of the World Religions, an article titled “Hinduism Gains a Foothold in America” appeared in the February 8, 1993 edition of Christianity Today. The article emphasizes the role the New Age Movement played in preparing the West to receive Hinduism and quotes this insight from an Evangelical mission newsletter, “The West is clearly open to the Hindu message, ready to hear about yoga, meditation, mysticism, healing, and the ancient ways.” The same newsletter explains that “A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha, and kundalini – …is about to set upon the Western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes.” http://hiebertglobalcenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Reading-3-Hinduism-Gains-a-Foothold-in-America.pdf
So, while Westerners, even some Christians, were practicing yoga and meditation for their purported health benefits, Hindus knew they were actually changing the Western worldview to fall in line with the Hindu Vedanta. And the gurus who brought yoga to the west understood that the practice of the postures alone would influence one’s worldview toward Hinduism. This is because the postures are designed to incarnate Hindu deities, sacred animals, spiritual power, and universal divinity. The two major Sanskrit yoga texts, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, explain that performing the physical postures of yoga (asanas) results in the siddhis, supernatural psychic powers. B.K.S. Iyengar, the guru most credited with the spread of Hatha Yoga in the West explains:
“Siddha means a semi-divine being supposed to be of great purity and holiness, and to possess supernatural faculties called siddhis. Siddha means also an inspired sage, seer or prophet. (Light on Yoga p. 116) He further explains that the dedicated practice of certain postures will result in awakening the siddhis (p. 117).
K. Pattabhi Jois is well known for his insistence that the practice of the Ashtanga yoga postures, apart from any knowledge of or exposure to the Hindu meaning behind the postures, will of itself influence one toward the Hindu worldview. In other words, the postures were designed to embody spiritual power when performed in the system of yoga.
I realize that many Christians who practice yoga are unaware of the liturgical aspect of yoga as a sacrament to the Universal Spirit in which the body becomes the temple of the gods. Renowned yoga scholar Georg Feurerstein explains that during the practice of yoga, “The practitioners’ body becomes the body of the chosen deity… That is to say, it is as that deity that the yogin or yogini approaches the transcendence of all forms, until he or she is one with the supreme Deity, or Godhead, which is sheer Being (The Yoga Tradition, p. 366).” They are most likely unaware of the meaning of Hindu rituals within the practice of yoga such as opening classes with the greeting “Namaste,” meaning “the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you,” while bowing to one another with hands folded over the heart in the anjali mudra, signifying an offering and seal in recognition of the divinity within all of creation. The common practice of chanting OM during yoga is actually an invocation of the divine creational vibration of Brahman, the impersonal ocean of universal divinity. The poses of the sun salutation sequences are actually ritualistic worship and invocation of the sun god Surya. Sitting in Lotus pose with hands in Chin Mudra indicates the union of human and divine consciousness, the actual goal of yoga.
The meaning behind yoga has often been so downplayed that many view yoga as merely physical exercise. But when we look carefully at the postures and techniques of yoga, we find that each element is designed to facilitate evolution of consciousness toward realization of union in universal divinity.