UPDATED: Further commentary on the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Yoga Back” Campaign, and Yoga history and connection with religion in general - from authors Stefanie Syman, Mark Singleton, Deepak Chopra, and Hindu American Foundation co-founder, Suhag A. Shukla, Esq.
Via Times of India Op-Ed – “Yoga’s appeal is universal”
Yoga gives cultural weight to Brand India, enhancing it by displaying the multifarious facets of our society.
Subsuming yoga strictly within Hinduism misconstrues both the practice and the faith. Undoubtedly, there is a multiplicity of forms of yoga, but they may be practised by anyone. To constrict the varieties of the art within any particular religious, cultural or even personal order detracts from the universal availability and applicability of yoga by imposing ownership on the common fruits of Indian civilisation. After all, India has always been an inclusive culture. Nor has yoga been practised exclusively by Hindus.
As for that $6 billion yoga industry we’re often reminded of, it’s a highly fragmented one. People like Deepak Chopra or Bikram Choudhury who have built “empires” on traditional Hindu knowledge without, in Dr. Shukla’s view, giving it its due, are outliers. Most yoga teachers scrape by, just like the rest of America’s dwindling middle class.
Far from lamenting Hinduism’s loss of control of yoga, Dr. Shukla should be gladdened by the discipline’s proven ability to open Americans up to India and Hinduism.
Meanwhile, we seem to be navigating the poles represented by Dr. Shukla—yoga isn’t Hindu enough—and Dr. Mohler, who believes yoga is too Hindu for Christians, rather gracefully. Most of us who practice yoga have some sense of its Hindu roots and yet don’t feel as constrained by that fact as Dr. Mohler wishes.
LISTEN: Earlier today Stefanie Syman and Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, spoke on the topic of Yoga and Religion on WYNC.org’s Brian Lehrer show. Listen here.
Deepak Chopra weighs in at HuffPo, ‘Who Owns Yoga?’ :
The Hindu American Foundation is as mad about the “brand” running out as they were a year or two ago, and their claim is just as unfounded. There was bread and wine before the Last Supper, flies and frogs before the curses that Jehovah visited on Egypt and Yoga before Hinduism.
Nevertheless, what is certain is that ancient Vedic culture, which lays claim to being the first written spiritual tradition in the world, is much older than the loosely formed religion, Hinduism, that sprang from it. The spiritual practice of Yoga was part of Vedic culture long before Hinduism. In the interests of generosity, maybe we should refer to a famous Sanskrit aphorism, Vasudev Kutumbukam: “the world is my family.” Yoga is India’s gift to the world, and it would be a shame to bring back the phrase Indian giver, now banished from polite conversation, with a new meaning.
Indians would do well to lighten up. With a burgeoning economy at home and a return to importance on the world stage, Indian pride is getting more than its share of strokes.
Having written about spirituality for many years, I’d like to point out that the whole point of Yoga is to achieve enlightenment, and that the most revered practitioners, whether known as yogis, swamis or mahatmas, transcend religion. In fact, even if Yoga were granted a patent or copyright by the U.S. Patent Office, there is no denying that enlightenment has always been outside the bounds of religion.
12/3/10 Suhag A. Shukla, Esq., Co-Founder, Hindu American Foundation, via HuffPo “Of course no one owns yoga” and the “H-word aversion” :
…folks still don’t get that it’s not at all about ownership, but about origins. It’s not about branding, but about acknowledgement. It’s not about conversion, but about self realization. It’s about understanding that yoga is but one of Hinduism’s great contributions to humanity.
On history and origin:
It started back in 2008, with the Yoga Journal. The summer issue was not particularly different from any other — the mantra of the month, the sacred Hindu symbol, Om, sprinkled throughout the magazine, advertisements for products like bottom-shaping yoga pants and sticky yoga toe socks, and, of course, feature articles offering advice, insight and wisdom on yoga. What we did not find, however, was any reference to Hinduism. In fact, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism were more overtly associated with the discipline.
It was as if the Yoga Journal, as well as much of the $6 billion yoga industry, had agreed to some sort of unwritten covenant to use code words rather than what they deemed the unmarketable “H-word.”
But call it what you may, Sanatana Dharma, Vedic traditions and Hinduism are synonymous. Hindus have long self-referred to our way of life as Sanatana Dharma — the Eternal Law or Way which has no beginning and no end in history.
Deepak Chopra’s take is different, and absolutely wrong — at least in what he has articulated here on the Huffington Post. He is going beyond delinking yoga from Hinduism; he is actually proffering to delink the Vedas from Hinduism!
He writes books on Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed and then specifies to Larry King that he is not a Hindu but an Advaita Vedantin (Advaita Vedanta is one of the most influential schools of Hindu philosophy). See a pattern of denial here?