Yoga has no Religion

My immediate response to the assertion that “Yoga has no religion” is a flat denial. Because I know Yoga, Yoga is a friend of mine and I can truthfully attest to the fact that Yoga does indeed have a religion. He’s a Hindu. Therefore anyone making the claim that Yoga has no religion is either ignorant or is a liar (maybe both) since it is categorically and emphatically false. Do I make myself clear?

Oh, they mean the practice of yoga, the set of physical and mental exercises that originated in India and is widely used across the world for improving physical and spiritual well-being? Well, well, then let me address that “Yoga has no religion” claim. Spoiler alert: it is a stupid, meaningless statement made by the congenitally ignorant demonstrating a mentally disabling but well-deserved inferiority complex.

“Yoga has no religion” belongs to a category of statements that are syntactically sound but semantically empty like the statement “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” (Briefly hold the cursor over the link for a reference. Always a good idea to do so.)

The statement is indeed well-formed and has the usual English subject-predicate structure with ‘Yoga’ as the subject and the predicate ‘has no religion.’ And unless the subject refers to a human being (real or imaginary), the statement is semantic nonsense: it is neither true nor false. Meaningful statements are either true or their converse is true. Consider the statement “Cars have no possessions.” It is meaningless because neither it nor its contradiction is true. People have possessions; inanimate objects don’t.

Cars can be possessions, however. Or a car may be abandoned and therefore have no possessor. Cars can be possessed but cars do not possess. That distinction is important and worth keeping in mind if one is interested in not coming across as an imbecile.

Yoga is a technique (I am not referring to my aforementioned friend who has a PhD in material science, not spiritual science), a way of doing or thinking about things just like modern science, or motorcycle maintenance, or psychoanalysis, or minimalism, or gymnastics, or terrorism. All of those things are not people. Only people have the capacity to understand, believe in, and profess ideologies such as a religion. Thus it is meaningful to say that James has or does not have a religion. If James is a self-identified atheist, one can truthfully assert that “James has no religion.” But saying “Material science has no religion” is revealing asininity.

A related cretinous statement to “Yoga has no religion” is “Terrorism has no religion” — usually made by the same retards. Terrorism is a technique or a strategy, not a person. A terrorist is a person. Therefore a terrorist can be said to have or not have a religion. Thus, for instance, when a terrorist asserts that he is following the commands of Allah as revealed to the prophet of Islam and preserved in the Islamic holy book the Koran, and kills innocents as he blows himself up, it makes sense to say, “the terrorist is a Muslim” but it makes no sense to say “Terrorism has no religion.”

Those statements are just plain abuse of language. One does not have to take a course on general semantics or become an expert on Korzybski’s thesis to stop misuse of language. I argue for the proper use of language, and basic sanity in general.

Anyway, let’s get back to yoga — note the lower-case ‘y’. Yoga is a technique that was developed in India centuries ago, and belongs to Hinduism (and its theological off-springs such as Buddhism and Jainism) in the sense that those who created it self-identified as Hindus (regardless of whether they used the word “Hindu” or “Sanatan dharma”) and is preserved in the sacred scriptures of what is known as Hinduism. All of yoga’s ancient practitioners have been Hindus and only in modern times, have non-Hindus started using the technique. Practicing yoga does not make one a Hindu. But merely because non-Hindus or non-Indians can (and do) practice yoga does not alter the fact that yoga is a Hindu tradition and its provenance is entirely Indian.

Let me use this analogy. I love bhajans. I love Buddhist chants. I love Christian sacred music. Mozart’s “Requiem in D minor” or Bach’s “St Matthews Passion” or Handel’s “Messiah”, move me to tears. That music is absolutely, distinctly Christian. My appreciation of it does not make me a Christian, and the fact that non-Christians can relate to the music does not uproot the music from its Christian ground. Music does not have a religion but different religions have different musical traditions. Meera bhajans are Hindu; Tibetan chants are Buddhist; Gregorian chants are Roman Catholic.

Yoga is Indian and more specifically Hindu in that sense. Hindu sacred texts contain its principles; Hindus were its principal authorities; Hindus, and only Hindus, practiced it for centuries. The yoga asanas such as the Surya Namaskar are Hindu practices. The wikipedia notes, “Its origins lie in India where its large Hindu population worships Surya, the Hindu solar deity. This sequence of movements and asanas can be practised on varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise in various styles, to a complete sadhana which incorporates asana, pranayama, mantra and chakra meditation.”

Here’s a clue that yoga is Hindu. Only Hindus name their children Yoga or Yogananada; Christians, Muslims, Jews don’t.

Indeed, many prominent Muslim and Christian authorities have issued religious edicts prohibiting their coreligionists from doing yoga. These people are quite understandably wary of yoga — it is a Hindu practice and is more than likely to “corrupt” them. Yoga is a gateway, a mechanism, a means, a road to reaching enlightenment. Enlightenment is a uniquely Indian spiritual goal. Unlike in the Abrahamic religions which focus entirely on pleasing a monotheistic god who demands absolute, unconditional obedience, the Indic religions’ goal is liberation or moksha, the removal of the illusion that one is not the supreme being.

Spiritual advancement, not obedience to some super-big-daddy-in-the-sky, is the goal of yoga. Etymologically, yoga is a cognate of “yoke” — to unite, to bind. The idea is to yoke yourself to the ultimate principle behind the universe, the universal consciousness. Yoga is essentially about mind and its control. And if one starts with the physical bits, who knows whether one will gravitate towards the non-physical bits. And that would not be very good for the proselytizing religions.

My position on who should do yoga, who should be prohibited, who should be forced, etc, is very simple. It is in keeping with my fundamental principle: do what you will. I don’t like coercion and I do not coerce. If you want to do yoga, fine. If you don’t want to do yoga, fine. Do whatever you want to do, do it to your heart’s content but don’t coerce — in yoga or anything at all.

(You may ask, what brought on this rant. Well, wonder no more. It was this tweet:

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No sir, yoga is an integral part of Hinduism. Yes, it may be practiced universally but it is and will remain Hindu. Get used to it. I guess it sucks for you but you just have to suck it up.

[Free language lesson thrown in: “Suck it up”: Idiom — to accept whatever calamity, pain, suffering, anguish or whatever unpleasantness is occurring (and stoically endure it).]

I am not familiar with Shahid Siddiqui’s work but I have a hunch that he may have claimed “Terrorism has no religion.” I know that Manohar Parrikar did declare “terror has no religion.” Bombs have no religion too. Nor do planes, and automobiles. Come to think of it, my derrière has no religion, too. So what.

Anyhow, I may have gone ballistic on Parrikar on twitter. I will have to locate those tweets one of these days.)

16 thoughts on “Yoga has no Religion

  1. Atanu. Thanks for a well thought out article. This clarity is absolutely needed in recent times. Yoga has become a big business and it has become important for the businesses to uproot Yoga from Hinduism to increase their market.

    Nonsensical arguments from Javed Akhtar on the subject and modern hindu guru goes with it..

    Who owns yoga documentary from Al jazeera

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  2. This is as senseless as the basic premise that YOGA or GRAVITY can have any religion. At best, this article is Intellectual gobbledegook…confusion confounded.

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  3. Well written piece. .but is it necessary to go into such semantics when some consensus is being built up ? Is the author rendering any service to his religion with such “rants’?

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    1. I think, he does. There is an organized effort by the West to appropriate practices from Hinduism that they are comfortable with (Yoga, Meditation) and delinking them from their Hindu roots and later claim their ownership, e.g., Christian Yoga. Yoga, devoid of spiritual component is a mere set of physical motions, not the intended purpose of Yoga. As you may be well aware, very word Yoga denotes “union”, that is union with the Supreme. Now if one believes in Jesus, he should find oneness with him, or Buddha or Krishna, etc. Short sighted political and religious leaders may feel threatened by Yoga but that is no reason for us Hindus to accept their rational and disown this great heritage of ours. I request that you do read Rajiv Malhotra’s books, “Breaking India” and “Being Different.”

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    2. Yog is one of the six Darshan Shastras or Hindu philosophies to this world with.

      How can Yog not be Hindu?
      It is so by definition !

      The author is certainly doing a service by questioning the relevancy of this question.

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  4. Hi..
    Thank you for sharing this information really very well written Yoga has no religion” belongs to a category of statements that are syntactically sound but semantically empty like the statement and This is as senseless as the basic premise that yoga ..

    thank you

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  5. Mr. Dey, You are absolutely right. It is a stupid statement and there are many in RSS, VHP and BJP who makes such stupid statements. It is like that idiotic statement that ‘Hinduism is not a religion’ and ‘all Indians are Hindus, even Muslims and Christians just because they live in India’. These statements are made by those who we think are protectors of Hindu religion. It is not because they do not know. It is the old appeasement policy where we keep giving in, our religion, our culture and now Yoga.

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  6. ‘Yoga has no religion’ just as
    ‘Terrorism has no religion’ .. llolz.. another lie spread by the #presstitutes.

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  7. To me, ‘yoga has no religion’ means all human being can practice it irrespective of their personal/religious faith.
    Hinduism and its preachings are evolved around betterment of mankind and it is pre-dated all existing religions. Hinduism is never meant to be property of certain groups of people living in certain parts of the planet.
    It’s meant to be practiced and lived by all human beings.

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  8. Yoga and the Dharma traditions which involve all the branches of Dharmic tree- music, dance, languages, art, literature, medicine, architecture, psychology etc. are based on a scientific framework. The scientific framework and lineage got destroyed and disrupted during 1200 years of assault, occupation and colonization of Bharat.

    The Dharma frameworks are ridiculed by modern science.However each time science has reached a blind alley, they take help unknowingly or in some cases with grudgingly given passing reference to Dharma roots. Yoga is a product of the Dharmic scientific framework. Its fruits can be enjoyed universally. But the tree is cultivated and nurtured by Dharma traditions alone.

    A word of caution. In the 700-800 ad period, steel technology invented in Bharat to male swords was appropriated by the Arabs who used it against Bharat. Yoga’s techniques and benefits will be used by non-Dharma adherents to destroy Dharma. This must be understood by all.

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