I’ve never been a fan of organized religion. I didn’t grow up with it, so it made little impact on my life except around the holidays when everyone started picking sides – Chanukah or Christmas. Given my mother’s propensity for food and presents, I celebrated whatever holiday could be covered in foil, ribbons and chocolate. And that was fine by me!
As an adult, though, organized religion concerns me a great deal. It is too often misappropriated and used to wield power and manipulation. What worries me most, though, is its divisiveness. “You’re wrong, I’m right.” “My God is the only God; yours is a false God.” “I’m going to Heaven; you’re damned.” It seems like since the dawn of time – or perhaps even before that – spirituality was inextricably linked to judgement.
I used to see yoga as an antidote to that.
People ask me frequently whether or not yoga is a religion. The answer is no. And maybe a little yes. Yoga is first and foremost a science; a blueprint for understanding how to relate to yourself, those around you and the universe. If you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or other, it won’t make you any less so. Even if you are atheist, as I was for many, many years, yoga has much to offer you. I came to yoga with no belief in any sort of God and the practice has had a greater influence on my life than almost anything else I’ve experienced.
After years of being a devout atheist, my yoga practice slowly led me to a place of spirituality. One of my greatest yearnings at this point in my life is seeking connection to the divine. That is pretty magical, in my opinion. It is pretty bleak to think that when these containers we call our bodies decay, the light that is our souls is snuffed out as well. Yoga has led me to a place where I don’t, given all that I have learned and studied, think that way any longer. So yoga has some of the hallmarks of religion, I suppose.
Another similarity between organized religion and yoga, though, is decidedly darker. The “right” vs. “wrong” mentality that exists among different religious groups is prevalent among different schools of yoga. No doubt it’s always been this way, but the microphone of the internet is now amplifying this noise into a cacophony that hurts my not only ears but my heart.
It’s amazing to me that people — yogis! — Who describe themselves as deeply spiritual would attack others simply because their beliefs vary. And I won’t deny that I sometimes find myself getting caught up in this judging as well. I suppose there is something very comforting in feeling superior.
But why must we be so aggressive and even hostile about it? Doesn’t yoga ask us to at least attempt to be non-harming? To me, it’s tantamount to “pro-lifers” who attack, threaten and kill. It is the height of hypocrisy.
In the Yoga Sutras (Book 2, Sutra 44), it is written: “Through self-study one ascertains one’s necessary path to spiritual enlightenment.”
I am sure some will argue that I am misinterpreting this, but it seems to me that there is a message here that each “one’s” path is their own. So why do we get so caught up in the “my way or the highway” mentality? If the way you seek enlightenment is different from mine, why can’t we both go on our merry way? Why must we try to convince everyone around us to believe exactly as we ourselves do? Wouldn’t that make for a pretty boring world? Maybe you have something to teach me or maybe I can teach you. If not, why can’t we just walk our own path side by side and not judge or fight with one another?
The word yoga means “to yoke.” Can we not be better partners on this path, joining together instead of tearing one another down? Lord knows there’s enough of that going on in the word already. It pains me greatly when yogis contribute to the mess.