Last week, the world celebrated the fourth International Day of Yoga. Millions of people all across the globe participated in mass yoga sessions. The ancient spiritual practice has been repackaged to appeal to the modern world resulting in the tremendous success of the International Day of Yoga. This is, undoubtedly, a testimony of India’s growing soft power in the world.
However, as Yoga is becoming ever more popular in the world, especially the west, its connection with Hinduism and spirituality is getting obscured. What we see being sold in the name of Yoga these days is a vulgarised version of the original practice, for consumption by people with little to no understanding of Hindu theology, spirituality, and philosophy. Yoga has been reduced to the status of stretching and bodyweight exercises such as gymnastics, calisthenics, and Pilates- none of which have a spiritual component.
Partly, the reason for this vulgarisation is the obsession of the west with exotic things. They find exotic things trendy. Few people in the west actually ever give a deep thought about any of the practices associated with Yoga. For many of them, Yoga is but a set of cool poses and muscle stretching, when in reality, it was the path used by Dharmic seers and sages for millennia to attain “moksha”, that is, liberation of the soul from the unending cycle of births and deaths through the inhibition of the senses. The ancient Hindu text, Katha Upanishad defines Yoga as:-
“When the five senses, along with the mind, remain still and the intellect is not active, that is known as the highest state. They consider yoga to be firm restraint of the senses. Then one becomes un-distracted for yoga is the arising and the passing away”
Yoga in its literal sense is the union of the self with the Divine. However, the Divine of the Dharmic faiths is patently different from that of the Abrahamic ones. The Dharmic divine, Paramatma, is an all-encompassing omnipresent, and dispassionate entity. Unlike his Abrahamic counterparts, Paramatma has no enemies and no friends. Union with the Paramatma is the ultimate goal of Yoga.
Perhaps this definition offers another explanation for the secularisation of Yoga by stripping away its underlying spirituality. The western world is predominantly Christian. No Christian true to his faith would ever engage in any pagan practice whatsoever, let alone something like Yoga that involves the union of the soul with a pagan God. For the Bible-thumping Christian, this practice is trap laid by the Satan to deviate him from the path of Jesus. But, the self-proclaimed Yoga Gurus who wanted to sell this practice some cash had to find a way around this hurdle. They did so by marketing Yoga as a set of harmless stretching exercise safe for Christians. Thus, the popular bastardized version of Yoga was born.
And, yet another reason why Yoga has been severed from its Hindu roots could be the rise of Atheism. A lot of atheists regularly perform the popular form of Yoga. For obvious reasons, they couldn’t care less about religion and spirituality. Hence, for them too, Yoga is nothing more than muscle stretching and cool poses.
But, this new trend is surely detrimental to the Hindu culture. Without a deep understanding of the Hindu philosophy, the practice of Yoga is nothing but a mockery of our heritage. If we don’t save our culture from the rampant appropriation by hypocrites with a fetish for exotic things, soon nothing would be left with us. These hypocrites will make our culture an object of ridicule.
In fact, it has already happened on multiple occasions so far. For instance, the mis-translations of our sacred texts by outsiders now abound the mainstream academia. And, those mistranslated texts and distorted historical narratives based upon them have been exported back to India. Generations of naïve Hindus have mugged up all that nonsense and are now totally unappreciative of their civilization’s past glories. This must serve as a lesson for all Hindus as to what neglecting our own heritage and allowing outsiders to abuse it can do to us.
We must stand together to save our civilization from appropriation and abuse by outsiders before it is too late.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SatyaVijayi