Yoga Belongs to All of Us
Although Prof. Aseem Shukla has got the bit between his teeth, I doubt that there’s much enthusiasm for his ideas. If there is a movement to return yoga to its Hindu roots, it speaks in a whisper. I’ve never encountered it in India. Having loaded his quiver, what target is Shukla firing at? Nobody is stopping Hindus from claiming yoga as their own. Christians can claim prayer as their invention if they want to. It wouldn’t make the claim less false — sensible people accept that prayer is universal.
Shukla didn’t refute my basic argument, which is that yoga is a practice rooted in consciousness, not proprietary religion. The great seers of India didn’t simply precede the term “Hindu,” as Shukla likes to imagine. They preceded dogmatic religion itself, which is why the ideal of yoga is to leave dogma and ritual behind. In the state of liberation (Moksha), why would anyone feel more tied to Hinduism? That’s like feeling tied to catechism when you’ve reached Heaven. Shukla wants Hinduism to be self-serving, which is why he is so intent on keeping the membership roster strong. Thank goodness Hinduism’s real interest is to open the way to a higher reality. The true success of Hinduism is measured by how many members transcend it, not by how many slavishly follow it.
Of course, being an organization of sorts, and a highly fallible one, Hinduism falls short of its ideal of Sanatana Dharma. It becomes tribal, self-enclosed, and one-eyed about being the only way to God. Shukla is proud of promoting those parochial ends when he shouldn’t be. The fact that yoga belongs to the whole world represents a great gift from Hinduism, not a loss.
I must repeat, that yoga did not originate in Hinduism. This isn’t a debating point, since no one to my knowledge has ever claimed that Hinduism came before yoga. Shukla’s notion that the Vedas are a Hindu product also comes out of left field. Editions of the Vedic texts have authors that have given rise to Hindu lineages, but that doesn’t make those rishis Hindu as such. Just as it doesn’t make sense to call Jesus and the writers of the Christian Gospels, followers of the Southern Baptist or Lutheran faith.
I’m sure that our readers have zero interest in the scholarly niceties of this subject, but even a cursory knowledge of ancient India reveals that before what we call Hinduism, there was a Vedic civilization that upheld the principles of Sanatana Dharma through the knowledge of yoga and self-realization, yet did not have the orthodox trappings of Hinduism.
I’m happy that Prof. Shukla isn’t the most strident of fundamentalists. He seems rather bemused where most of his kind are zealous. I forgive the potshots taken at me. Other than bandying about a few rumors, half-truths, and nonsense related to my career, he seems unaware of my deep involvement in reawakening of Vedanta, Ayurveda, and many other aspects of India’s spiritual tradition, or the recognition this has earned me in my homeland.
In the spirit of friendliness, I would like to find common ground with Prof. Shukla in the term Sanatana Dharma-the eternal wisdom of life. Whether he calls it Hinduism or I call it Vedic knowledge, I believe ultimately we are both referencing the same body of universal knowledge that has always stood for benefiting the whole human family. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam –the world is one single family.
Published at Washington Post On Faith