Yoga: Who owns spirituality?

I came across an article written by the Christian Fellowship of America.  Amongst articles entitled, Assemblies of God opposes Obama’s same sex marriage stance, I found Spirituality as Parody written by Eric Metaxas. He had this to say.

According to New York magazine, yoga studios in the city “have become as common and competitive as yellow cabs.”

What’s true of New York is true of large cities all around the country. The number of Americans practicing yoga quintupled between 2001 and 2011: from four to twenty million.

Yoga has become so commonplace that the “U.K. Telegraph” recently ran a story that, only a few years ago, would have only run in the satirical publication “The Onion.” The link to the story read “How yoga with snakes cured my phobia.” In it, a woman told readers about a “Kumara Serpent Healing Class,” which she summed up as being “a bit like traditional yoga but . . . you get to handle real snakes at the end of the class.”

As the “Weekly Standard” likes to say: “not a parody.”

Between stories like this one and a recent “New York Times” article about the rising number of yoga-related emergency room visits, there’s plenty of comic fodder in the West’s love affair with Yoga.

But you know who isn’t smiling: the Hindu American Foundation. A year or so ago, the group launched a “Take Yoga Back” campaign. Its leaders got tired of seeing advertisers and business use words like “yoga,” “Vedic,” and other Hindu words in yoga publications without any acknowledgement that they were, well, Hindu.

One of the publications justified the omission by saying that the word “Hindu” has “a lot of baggage.” The understandable reply was “Excuse me?”

It is isn’t only Hindus: Many Buddhists are also fed up with the way their religion is being “dumbed down” and marketed as a lifestyle. They are especially annoyed at the way the word “Zen” has been transformed into an interior decorating concept.

While I sympathize with their complaints, it’s not hard to understand why this is happening. First of all, contrary to what some noisy atheists would have you believe, America is not becoming a more “disbelieving” society, at least not as many define “disbelieving.”

On the contrary, Americans are every bit the believers they’ve always been. What has changed, at least in some parts of the country, is that we are less willing to identify with established faiths, especially Christianity. Hence, the “spiritual but not religious” identification.

As Chuck often noted, people identifying themselves as “spiritual” would build “god kits” for themselves, borrowing bits and pieces from various religions. This “borrowing” rarely, if ever, gave any consideration to what the ideas and concepts meant in their original context.

Thus, we got a “Jesus” who bears little resemblance to the one of Scripture and the Creeds. People like the author Elizabeth Gilbert “prayed,” in effect, to themselves, who, not surprisingly, told them to do what they wanted.

Globalization means that “spiritual” people have an even wider selection from which to pick and choose. You can mimic an Indian holy man, a Sadhu, without worrying about being reborn as a vole. Your expensive arm chair can be more than something to sit in – it can be and expression of your chic Zen minimalism.

In the end, these “god kits” are parodies of the real thing, except that the participants aren’t in on the joke. Only the snake is, and he isn’t talking.

My response to this…

I’m not exactly sure what gives one person the right over another to decide what is spiritual or right as you do here. Your article suggests you are a long way from enlightenment yourself as are many of the doctrine weavers who ‘tell’ us what we MUST do in order to be allowed access into heaven. Heaven is within our own being and ironically, many religious teachings suggest that we must look outside; behave in certain ways in order to be considered good disciples. As Patanjali, the Buddha, Jesus and other such luminaries explain, we can only reach enlightenment and by default, heaven, through non-violence and a kindness to ourselves. From there we can extend kindness to others, our neighbours who are inextricably tied to us.

Through your rhetoric we are left with a division which you clearly emphasise here between those who supposedly are good religious people and those who are not, creating separation between humans, emphasising egos and ultimately, justifying war. Yoga is beautiful and sadly there are many who have taken advantage of one aspect of it – asana practice to capitalist gains however, I don’t feel that any true buddhists or hindus would be disgruntled about the fact that as more people take part, for whatever their initial reason whether it be to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’, the greater the positive impact on the planet. There are many aspects of yoga which are common to all religions but the sad thing is that many religions are now far from spiritual and rest in patriarchal traditions. I suggest anyone who is concerned about the issues raised in this article go read Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”. Celebrating our inner beauty, the god within and mother earth are the way forward, not building huge constructions in which to worship god in a vain hope that we’ll reach paradise.

What are your thoughts?