Home » Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Indian Medicine & Ayurveda, Spirituality & Philosophy

“We started this, really, for our kids…”

30 November 2010 645 views 17 Comments

Stumbled on this yesterday in the NY Times (emphasis added):

We started this, really, for our kids,” said Dr. Shukla, a urologist and a second-generation Indian-American. “When our kids go to school and say they are Hindu, nobody says, ‘Oh, yeah, Hindus gave the world yoga.’ They say, ‘What caste are you?’ Or ‘Do you pray to a monkey god?’ Because that’s all Americans know about Hinduism.”

The “Dr Shukla” mentioned in the article is Dr Aseem Shukla and what he is talking about is the “take Yoga Back movement..Below, some excerpts from his recent article on “The theft of Yoga” (emphasis added):

Nearly 20 million people in the United States gather together routinely, fold their hands and utter the Hindu greeting of Namaste — the Divine in me bows to the same Divine in you. Then they close their eyes and focus their minds with chants of “Om,” the Hindu representation of the first and eternal vibration of creation. Arrayed in linear patterns, they stretch, bend, contort and control their respirations as a mentor calls out names of Hindu divinity linked to various postures: Natarajaasana (Lord Shiva) or Hanumanasana (Lord Hanuman) among many others. They chant their assigned “mantra of the month,” taken as they are from lines directly from the Vedas, Hinduism’s holiest scripture. Welcome to the practice of yoga in today’s western world.

..The Yoga Journal found that the industry generates more than $6 billion each year and continues on an incredible trajectory of popularity. It would seem that yoga’s mother tradition, Hinduism, would be shining in the brilliant glow of dedicated disciples seeking more from the very font of their passion.

Yet the reality is very different. Hinduism in common parlance is identified more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the notoriously arduous twisting posture; with millions of warring gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition–that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a tradition of colorful and harrowing wandering ascetics more than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BCE commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that form the philosophical basis of Yoga practice today.

Dr Aseem Shukla

Dr Aseem Shukla’s photograph, courtesy: University of Minnesota

Why is yoga severed in America’s collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization–they are today’s syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism–the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored.

…The Los Angeles Times last week chronicled this steady disembodying of yoga from Hinduism. “Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting [and] no one religion can claim ownership,” says a vocal proponent of “Christian themed” yoga practices. Some Jews practice Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, and even some Muslims are joining the act. They are appropriating the collective wisdom of millenia of yogis without a whisper of acknowledgment of yoga’s spiritual roots.

Not surprisingly, the most popular yoga journals and magazines are also in the act. Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as “ancient Indian,” “Eastern” or “Sanskritic,” but seem to assiduously avoid the term “Hindu” out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise. The American Yoga Association, on its Web site, completes this delinking of yoga from Hinduism thusly:

“The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries…The techniques of Yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions.”

So Hinduism, the religion that has no known origins or beginnings is now younger than yoga? What a ludicrous contention when the Yoga Sutras weren’t even composed until the 2nd Century BCE. These deniers seem to posit that Hinduism appropriated yoga so other religions may as well too!

As some of you may remember, I have written on this before…(also read, The dreaded “H-word”)

For the more curious amongst you, here is what Yoga is really about:

“There is no physical yoga and spiritual yoga.  If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be yoga.  Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.” – Prashant Iyengar, son of B.K.S Iyengar

Yoga, from the word “yuj” (Sanskrit, “to yoke” or “to unite”), refers to spiritual practices that are essential to the understanding and practice of Hinduism.  Yoga and yogic practices date back more than 5,000 years — the Indus Valley seals depict figures in yoga poses.

…With the popularity of Yoga skyrocketing throughout the world, particularly in the West, there arise two main points in need of clarification.  First, that which is practiced as “Hatha Yoga” – a form of Raja Yoga – in much of the Western world is but merely a focus on a single limb of Yoga: asana (posture). ..this “asana heavy” form of Yoga – sometimes complimented with pranayama (breathing) – is only a form of exercise to control, tone and stretch muscles.  Ignored are both the moral basis of the practice and the ultimate spiritual goal.

Bonus Links: Sandeep’s excellent post on “The Hindu Roots of Yoga and Rajeev Malhotra on “A Hindu View of Christian Yoga”

P.S. Please note that I am travelling for the next few days so there may be some delay in moderating and responding to comments. Thank you for your patience and support, as always.

17 Comments »

  • 1. Manu said:

    Sir when Patanjali was writing the yoga sutras did he call himself hindu? Or does any Indian yogic/vedic/religious text mention the word hindu…. Hindu like muslim like christian like jew is a political word…. Hindu is what the world called us… It was worlds way of painting us in their colours of using god as a means to rule…. Let them practice yoga by any name… Slowly and steadily it will rid the world of religion…. Let dharma rise not religion…

  • 2. Vinay Thakur said:

    you never know one day they might patent Yoga (like they did with Basmati Rice) and then we might have to pay to practice Yoga…or again fight the case in court to prove that this is our traditional Hindu knowledge…we need to be very accurate and assertive about these historical facts…why to hesitate to associate Yoga with Hinduism all Rishimunis used to practice Yoga and its integral part of our religions, even if you say our prayers properly they are like Pranayam…but the problem is that we dont care about our traditions unless others (west) start appreciating it.
    Vinay

  • 3. Sid said:

    I have read the sometimes-heated exchange between Dr. Shukla and yoga-baniya Chopra about the roots of Yoga. While my sympathies are extended to the good doctor, I do not think we can prevent the powerful yoga businesses from stealing the yoga asanas. This is what one gets for being obsessed with non-violence and pacifist-Gandhism BS, your wealth gets stolen and you can not do a thing.

  • 4. Indian said:

    I am with Dr.Aseem Shukla! He is right! Liked this post on Yoga and about Aseem Shukla!

  • 5. flawsophy said:

    This is so true … we need to pick up a thing or two from Christianity about marketing. The popularity of Christianity owes it all to the participative marketing and proselytizing by their religious institutions, pastors and other spokespersons. Say what you want but they do a great job in upholding the feel-good image of charity and volunteerism and importantly ensure that you know that they DID it … In fact, it can be argued that America owes it a lot to the legacy of the church for it’s magnificent ability to market their products, their culture, their arts … the tactics they use have a much deeper roots !!! it’s all connected … :)

    We have create a better image for Hinduism because it matters in ever-churning milky ocean of cultures and globalization. Sorry, but I don’t know what schools a single religious institution in India runs and what wonderful things are being done with all the money from the hundis. If we have to go to their website to find that out … well, that’s not what marketing is about …

    I know it’s not in our basic nature to “sell” and find the very word debasing … but that’s the way nature is designed to work … we have to market ourselves to be important in the scheme of things and we do it all the time … no need of any shame in that. I urge the religious institutions to acknowledge this evolutionary battle.

    And lastly, thanks to this blog which does a great job at the propaganda of the great culture, religions and philosophy we can take pride in …

  • 6. Khandu Patel said:

    The dispute goes to the root what is meant by religion. For the West, religion is how lie should be lived, through prayer, service etc. There is not the same tradition in the West as there is with Hinduism’s yoga which prescribes a detailed and comprehensive regime of exercises which is also spiritual. It is the absence of spiritualism in the gym workouts which has inclined those whose needs are either spiritualism devoid of religious doctrines (whether Hindu et al) or of those who are already well settled in a non-Hindu religious denomination. The fact remains that probably more 90% of Hindus do not themselves practice any form of yoga and do not feel any less Hindu, does lead credence to their claim for adoption of this one spiritual element and nothing more. In today’s world this should not be surprising. People pick and mix what they want of a religion, and it is no less the case with yoga. To expect anyone other than a Hindu born into the fold, to feel connected to Hinduism through yoga has to depend on the Hindu message. The practice of the Hindu religion is led by priests who are invariably Brahmins in which the Hindu is only ritually required to perform the rites. The rest is about religious beliefs and social ordering of Hindu society. I just don’t see any Christian, Jew, or Muslim buying into the Hindu order of society and religion. I have argued in these columns that the message and doctrines of Hinduism could benefit substantially from reform (and that should include how India is governed). As long as such reforms are not forthcoming, the worlds view of Hinduism is not likely to change for the better.

  • 7. Bhagwad Jal Park said:

    I feel this is a good thing. It’ll enable more people to embrace the benefits of yoga without feeling that they also subscribe to a religion. After all, the goal is to help as many people as possible and not to “claim” anything.

    What does it mean for a discipline to “belong” to anything? I practice Tai Chi at home without caring for the spiritual chinese aspects of it. To feel that Hindus must “take back yoga” I feel reveals a kind of longing for importance. Just being part of a religion doesn’t make one special after all – we were accidentally born into it.

    My personal opinion is that people who feel that Hinduism or India has to be “associated” with Yoga would like to feel special in some way or another without doing anything to deserve that feeling.

  • 8. santosh said:

    I wonder how can one remove Yoga from Hinduism,

    1- When you say Crucify – it is permanently ,positively related to Christianity , In the same spirit Yoga is to Hinduism. There need not be any other thought.

    2- As it is difficult to segregate Science from technology, Pure scientific principles evolved into practical applications in technology, I believe (& can be conceptually or theoretically established ) , Yoga is a practical application of Vedanta (Science behind Yoga). & it is not possible to separate the two.

    It will be interesting to explore qualitatively or empirically , “Why opponents of this thought are not willing to accept the logic”.

  • 9. VoP said:

    Here’s the excellent debate that you may want to link also
    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/undergod/2010/04/shukla_and_chopra_the_great_yoga_debate.html

  • 11. Khandu Patel said:

    There are far more serious questions for Hindu leaders to address than whether the practice of yoga in the West is not quite the real thing such as because it is not practiced religiously. Religion has become on par with politics in the competition to grab headlines. The most serious issues facing Hindus is the fact that in a very real sense as a religious community they struggle to be recognised in the UK. Of course there is the usual customary pat on the back for Hindu work ethics and family values. There still remains a feeling of a very real grievance that what should be due to them is not forthcoming because others shout louder and scheme more effectively. As the same is replicated in Hindu majority India, we might be forgiven for thinking that just as suicide bombing is the hall mark of the hard core Muslim, the feeling of the very low esteem of the Hindus has more to do with the self-inflicted wounds of the Hindu religion and society than any other cause. The millenniums of mauling of Hindu India has made Hindus fatalistic instead of a people who should have learned the lessons and swore that it would never happen to the again. The British do not have the lines in “Rule Britannia” that says that they “never, never will be slaves”. India aspires to be a world super power but there must be a question mark over that with Hindus in their present state of mind. India has all the equipment to make it a super power: a country of continental dimensions, resources of all types in abundance, a history though tarnished has no shortage of achievements to inspire the genius of its people. To be top dog, requires very real effort on the part of all of us. Self flagellation is so much easier. The Hindu religion of a country does not have to be perfect. The old Hindu religion is far from perfect: in my eyes the Sikh religion leads the way for a better India. It is the will of the country and its peoples who should want to make a country great which is important. If India is not surely on the path to greatness, why should anyone respect any aspect of India’s great heritage including yoga?

  • 12. Suhas said:

    Deepak Chopra is a baseless lotta and a charlatan. Stupid fellow, an intellectual dustin.

    BKS Iyengar is the living authority onn Yoga. Please read this below.

    http://www.bksiyengar.com/modules/FAQ/faq.htm

    What is Yoga?
    Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy.

    The word “yoga” originates from the sanskrit root yuj which means Union. On the spiritual plane, it means union of the Individual Self with the Universal Self. Yoga is the union of the body, mind, emotions and intellect.

    Sage Patanjali penned down this subject in his treatise known as Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

    What is the relevance of yoga in today’s world?
    The practice of yoga helps anyone to gain good health, mental peace, emotional equanimity and intellectual clarity. With a healthy body, clear mind and pure emotions, the practitioner can learn to excel in his chosen career. For example, violin maestro Lord Yehudi Menuhin acknowledges Guruji as his Best violin teacher.

    What are the different stages/aspects of Patanjali’s Yoga ?
    Sage Patanjali’s exposition consists of just 196 terse yoga sutras which cover all aspects of life. The eight aspects (astanga) of yoga are :

    Yama and Niyama : depicts of moral and social conduct
    Asanas : adjust the body in various postures
    Pranayama : regulation of breath
    Pratyahara : internalization of the senses of perception
    Dharana : concentration
    Dhyana : meditation
    Samadhi : the ultimate state of self realization.
    What is Iyengar Yoga?
    Sage Patanjali’s treatise on Yoga consists of just 196 terse aphorisms compiled in the 5th century B.C. Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar has made it possible for ordinary human beings to experience the wisdom of the yoga sutras. He finds the meaning of the sutras by practical search and regular practice. Iyengar Yoga has shown and taught how all the eight aspects of astanga yoga are integrated. His style of teaching yoga which is now being followed by certified teachers has been called as “Iyengar Yoga”.

    What are the unique features of “Iyengar Yoga”?

    Iyengar Yoga can be practiced by all.
    The emphasis is given to precision and alignment in all postures.
    The use of self designed props such as wooden gadgets, belts, ropes helps the practitioner to achieve perfection in all the postures.
    The aspect of “sequencing”. An “Iyengar Yoga” practitioner is aware of the sequence in which different groups of asanas have to be performed.

    Sage Patanjali was the pioneer.

  • 13. Anonymous said:

    @Bhagawad Jal Park,
    Man, nobody is asking foreigners who are practicing yoga to care or adapt Hinduism. But they write Yoga’s introductory lessons, why they desperately try to distance Yoga from Hinduism. Hindu belief is seeking the “god”(whatever god means) in yourself. And Yoga,dhyana..and all the stuff are the tools or practices to achieve the same. If other religion fellows or atheists want to practice it …everyone welcomes it. But… Yoga stemmed out of Hindu philosophy of seeking god in oneself.So the basis is Hinduism. Wait, we don’t want all those yoga-practicing foreigners to bow down to Hinduism.But at least when they write about Origins, why did they negate this truth? just acknowledgment we are asking for. nothing else.Now u guys can say..there was never a word Hindu by the time Some patanjali written a treatise on yoga sootras. Well boss, Let them use the word Sanaatana-Dharma..or whatever work that indicates the religion of the India.They can use word ‘Hindu’…and on the footnote they can mention the history of the word ‘Hindu’. Alchemy was the primary reason behind today’s chemistry. But at onetime alchemy considered evil and wrong. And now a days it is a laughing joke.But that does not mean we could not acknowledge it today while writing the history of chemistry. When the notorious alchemy can be mentioned in the history of Chemistry, Why could not the still living religion Hinduism could not be acknowledged in the history of Yoga?

    @Khandu Patel,

  • 14. Anonymous said:

    @khandu patel,
    I appreciate your comment on revising Hinduism.fine.We have lots of homework to do. And you know it will take sometime for us to revive it.Like first we have to fill the many empty stomachs and catch with the new world. Once the stomachs fill up, once we have good sanitary conditions and time to look out of everyday struggle, people will definitely come back to Yoga, real Hinduism..whatever stuff all wants. It is auto-process. But, bringing our home to order does not mean you should not try to claim what is truly urs. like I said already, we are not asking all the people of other homes to come to our home. They could use what we invented in our home. We welcome. they need not to bow before Hindu God Vishnu or they need not do the Hindu rituals. But… Yoga is Hindus’. We want them to agree it. that’s it. Ayurveda is Hindus’. And we fought for our patents when someone claimed it theirs. we did not stop to claim back Ayurveda patents because we could not provide Ayurveda health care to millions at our home. Claiming back Ayurveda and providing health care are two different things practically, though on the top they both belong to the topic ‘health of people’. You could say that all the Hindu supporters who want the world identify that Yoga belongs to Hinduism should and must propagate it to millions at home. All the Hindu spirituality and it’s tools should be spread to millions in India.But that does not mean we could not rightfully claim our tools before we make all our people experts in using them. That is utterly fractured argument.

  • 15. B Shantanu (author) said:

    *Must Read* post “On Yoga Asana the Hindu Legacyby Sarvesh/भारतेन्दु. Brilliant exploration of YogaAsana-s.

  • 17. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Placing this link here for the record:
    Disguised Hinduphobia by Swaminathan Venkataraman, dt 7 March 2011 rebuting Meera Nanda’s article..
    Some excerpts below..
    ….Then why did she fail to respond to the central thesis of my rebuttal that lays this claim to rest? I provided detailed references tracing the evolution of asanas within Hindu tradition over the centuries, from the Upanishads to 6th to 7th century commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, to hatha yoga scriptures of the 14th to 17th centuries and the Sritattvanidhi of the early 1800s.

    She also does not respond to many other facts that I presented, such as Shiva’s 108 dance poses containing many vinyasas (perhaps European sculptors descended into India in the Middle Ages or Bharatanatyam was inspired by Native American foot stomping?). What about the fact that Krishnamacharya learnt vinyasas from his Guru who lived near Mount Kailash? Hinduism’s guru-sishya tradition has always had numerous teachings not found in any text (the Vedas themselves were an oral tradition). Or the fact that the Indian Government has recorded nearly 1300 asanas by consulting Hindu scriptures and yoga institutions to preclude foreign patents? Are there any counter-claims from the Swedish Government? Perhaps Nanda won’t allow Hindus to claim anything post-Vedic as their own. What next? Shankaracharya as Buddhist and Bhakti saints as Christians?

    Nanda is also quiet when I point out that Norman Sjoman, who first studied Krishnamacharya’s work in the Mysore palace, acknowledges that the 200 asanas and vinyasas of BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois are independently found in other traditional Yoga schools. Mark Singleton also names Swami Kuvalayananda, with whom Krishnamacharya spent time, as having influenced Krishnamacharya’s work. All said, Singleton finds 28 asanas out of 200 taught by Krishnamacharya’s school (which itself is only one among numerous schools of Yoga) as having “similarities” with European Gymnastics. Nanda wants to use this to pull the entire Hatha Yoga tradition out of Hinduism. Nauseating vulgarity seems to pass for scholarship these days.

    The Hindu origins of Yoga asanas are so obvious that Meera Nanda’s arguments only remind me of a popular Tamil saying which roughly means “Don’t attempt to hide a whole pumpkin inside just a plate of rice”.

Share your thoughts below.

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Share your opinions responsibly. Stay on topic. Please note that by posting a comment, you indicate consent to the terms and conditions of this site. First-timers, please read the comments policy here

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.