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YOGA: AN OVERVIEW
What is yoga?
It's a practice by the means of which a spiritual seeker strives 1) to
control prakriti (nature) to make the jiva (the soul) fit for union
with purusha (the Oversoul), and 2) to attain nirvikalpa samadhi
(union with God) and thus jivanmukta (the liberation of the soul
from the rounds of birth and death).
Afterwards, the yogi is said to be a jivanmukti or atmajnani
(a possessor of Self-knowledge). Western yogis prefer to call the
goal "God-consciousness" or "Self-realization." Some call it "Christ-consciousness."
When did the practice begin?
Evidence of the practice, say Hindu scholars, appears in the Upanishads
(ca. 1000 B.C.), which declare that atmajnana is the goal of life.
Further evidence appears in the Bhagavad Gita (ca. 500-400 B.C.),
which advises serious seekers of God to practice "control of the self by
the Self." But yoga was officially systematized by Patanjali, a student
of the Samkhya philosophy, in his Yoga Sutras (ca. A.D. 150).
Is yoga a religious or spiritual practice?
Unquestionably, yes, as its history, methods, and goal prove. Four
main yogas now exist. Depending on temperament and attainments, the
yogi may choose one or more of "paths" to liberation: karma (work),
bhakti (devotion), raja (meditation), jnana (atmajnana,
Self-knowledge: Atman = Brahman).
Hatha yoga, as modern teachers of yoga would have it, sprang from the
third of the eight limbs (ashtangas) that comprise Patanjali's system.
Ironically, in light of today's moral laxness, yoga teachers who speak
of hatha as a part of the third limb of yoga don't insist that their
students simultaneously practice the first two limbs: scriptural study,
moral purity, etc. To practice hatha yoga, as it's taught today, is
also to accept the doctrines of raja yoga, including the coiled serpent-power at the base of the spine (kundalini),
seven chakras, postures (asana), breath control (pranayama),
and meditation (dharana and dhyana).
Is yoga compatible with Christianity?
Decide for yourself after comparing the beliefs of yoga and Christianity
on the following critical subjects:
God: For yogis, God in the end is impersonal, a "one without
a second" beyond all dualities (e.g., love-hate, good-evil); for Christians,
God is triune and personal, the Father, who possesses perfect attributes:
love, holiness, righteousness, etc. Although both claim that God
is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, they use these terms in different
Humanity: For yogis, humanity is locked in prakriti, imprisoned
in a body that must be mastered and transcended by self-exertion; for Christians,
humanity, who possesses a body and soul that are bound and condemned by
sin, can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, never by
works (or laws).
Nature: For yogis, the inexorable law of karma (impersonal
cause and effect) orders every detail in life, with no room for grace,
everything being earned; for Christians, the justice and mercy of God determine
everything in a nature that is now fallen but at any moment will be redeemed.
The Way: For yogis, many paths lead to God, and only those
who perceive such unity in diversity truly attain to God; for Christians,
there is only one way, not because they say so but because Christ says
so: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father
except through me" (Jn. 14:6).
The Goal: For yogis, it's identification with or absorption in
God, the One ("I am Brahman"); for Christians, it's eternal life-as joint
heirs with the resurrected Christ, the Son of God-in heaven.
If not, then why do so many think it is?
Yoga seems to fill a spiritual void for many as long as its advocates use
the following means to persuade them:
Emphasizing the physical posturing of yoga as an exercise program
while downplaying the spiritual and religious foundation of yoga, often
to those ignorant of Christian doctrine
Exploiting people's ignorance of and prejudices toward organized
Christianity and the Bible, then lamenting the "divisiveness" and "disharmony"
Presenting yoga as ancient esoteric truth, a unifying path, casting
an exotic aura around it with incense, turbans, etc.
Disparaging the universal claims of reason by speaking condescendingly
of "Western" traditions and laws of logic (e.g., non-contradiction)
while resorting to logical fallacies
Using vague, ambiguous, imprecise language: overgeneral-izations
without credible support, poetic devices without rational bases (similes,
metaphors, especially paradoxes)
Elevating subjectivity over objectivity: appealing, when challenged,
to "experience" as the final authority in spiritual matters-or to the words
of their "God-realized" gurus
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