My Yoga is Easy: Hinduization of Christianity

For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east, and they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike bargains with the children of foreigners. Their land has also been filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasures; their land has also been filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots.

As I read these words from Isaiah 2:6-7 a week or so ago I was struck by the similarities between Israel of Isaiah’s day and the church of today. Both were prosperous in material things and both turned to “influences from the east.” Is there a link between material abundance and toying with idolatrous practice? Perhaps.

Isaiah’s warnings didn’t fall on deaf ears. He was well heard but those who heard him didn’t much like what he had to say. Tradition tells us that he was put inside of a hollow log and sawn in half during the reign of Manasseh (696-642). This is probably what Hebrews 11:37 is pointing to.

Discernment ministries in the United States today are not in harm’s way but do seem to be regarded as troublemakers by much of the church who seem preoccupied with amassing more material stuff while adopting Eastern religious practices. I was reminded of that last week when I received an email about Southwest Baptist University which said:

The October 2nd issue of the “Missouri Baptist Pathway” is reporting that Southwest Baptist University is offering a fitness class called “Yoga with Sarah” on campus. SBU has traditionally been a very solid school. I came to know Christ while attending this school. If others would join me in writing letters and sending material to President C. Pat Taylor, it would be appreciated.

(I have been told that this week they decided to remove the word “Yoga” from the title of the class. I wonder if they also decided to remove the practice of Yoga as well?)

We are aware that the Emerging Church, birthed in within a church that has great material resources, does not find any difficulty in merging Hinduism and Christianity together for a spiritual experience. Doug Pagitt, pastor and author in the Emerging Church movement in a CNN interview said:

The Jesus agenda is a whole life, is a complete life, is a healed life. So when people use it to relieve stress, to be healthy in their relationships, to feel good in their body, that’s a really good thing.

In fact, there’s a great little verse in the New Testament where it says, “Whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is noble, whatever is praiseworthy, think upon such things.” And for so many of us, yoga has been one of those ‘whatevers’ that’s such a positive thing in our life.

As I did a little more research on Yoga in the church I came across and article about Parkwood Baptist Church. The opening paragraphs pretty much tell the story:

Marylyn Mandeville sits crossed-legged on a mat in front of 11 of her students. Her hands are folded as if in prayer, framed by the slogan on her T-shirt: “Know Yoga, Know Peace.” A gold cross rests on the Om symbol emblazoned on her shirt. “Namaste,” she says to the class, bowing deeply while offering the Sanskrit salutation “I bow to the God within you.”

No one in the Parkwood Baptist Church, not even the pastor, reacts to Mandeville’s T-shirt, gesture, or the New Age flute music playing in the background. They’re lying flat on their backs in Savasana, the Corpse pose, having endured two hours of vigorous stretching.

Former Hindu and now a leading Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, is credited with having said, “There is no Hinduism without Yoga and there is no Yoga without Hinduism.” He is certainly someone who would know. Many Evangelicals who are practicing Yoga claim they are merely doing exercises and this is not a spiritual practice and then insert biblical passages or the name of Jesus in place of the mantras. But if it is not spiritual why replace the mantras?
The various postures are called “asanas.” Our friend and former New Ager Marcia Montenegro sent out several links including the Jivamukti Yoga School which gives us the definition of Asana :

The Sanskrit word, asana means “seat”. A seat is a connection to the earth. Earth means all beings and things. The perfection of asana means the perfection of our relationship to all beings and things.

Performing the asanas connects us to all things. That makes sense from within Eastern mysticism because everything is god. By assuming the various positions the practitioner is reconnecting with all that is divine in recognition that everything is one. Carole Del Mul writes in “Warrior One”:

Some asanas mimic the shape of animals, while others honor the memory of great beings, saints or gods. When we assume these shapes, we not only consider the mechanics of the asana, we take on the energy and spirit of those beings.

This sounds eerily like Romans 1:20-23:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

The Satyananda Yoga Glossary defines the “salute to the Sun” (surya namaskara) as:

a series of twelve asanas to acknowledge the sun and the inner flame of evolving consciousness

A good article on this is on apologeticsindex.org by Dr. John Weldon in his paper Yogasanas: physical postures, spiritual method or both? that is worth consideration.

Charles Ryrie points out that some of the Corinthians were arguing that “just as food and the belly necessarily go together, so the body and sexual indulgence go together.” Paul’s response is clear and unrestrained in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20. Working out with the temple prostitutes was not to be done!

Israel of Isaiah’s day, the Corinthian church of the first century and the church of today share something in common. They had material stuff and allowed their heads and attention to be diverted through running after spiritual distractions into false worship. The One who said, “My yoke is easy” is also the one Whom Isaiah wrote about saying:

For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east, and they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike bargains with the children of foreigners. Their land has also been filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasures; their land has also been filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots.

If He abandoned the house of Jacob couldn’t He abandon those churches and evangelical leaders who “are filled with influences from the east”? Is it possible this, at least in part, explains why so much of the church seems powerless? A call for repentance, a return to sound teaching and holy living disconnected from the love affair with Eastern mysticism is in order. And I am hoping no one has a hollow log that is just my size.


Comments

My Yoga is Easy: Hinduization of Christianity — 11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder of what yoga entails as far as spiritual input goes. We tend to forget.

    I think that there are many Christians, who are so embarrassed by the caricature (whether true or not) of wild-eyed fire-breathing Bible-thumping fundamentalist Christians, they tend to go too out of their way to give the appearance of being “normal” and also intellectual in order to project a positive image. That would include being “broadminded” about yoga, even where it is blatently idolatrous.

    There are also Christians who perhaps shun legalism so much that they fail to be discerning about anything but legalism encountered in Christian churches, and therefore don’t have a problem participating in this. After all, it’s not legalism from Christianity; it’s some other false teaching, but that doesn’t matter, because *all* they may be concerned about is being stifled by legalism they’ve encountered in Christian circles. We need to be concerned about truth value wherever we are, though.

    I’m wondering if there are discerning Christians out there who recognize the value of the exercises for flexibility, relaxation and stress-relief, and so eliminate that aspect of yoga and substitute good Christian meditations in it. My opinion on this is to the extent the teaching does not contradict Biblical truth, it is simply physical exercise and relaxation. We do live in a very fast-paced society and physically deleterious stress is rampant in our culture. De-stressing is not a bad thing in and of itself, and in some cases it is something a person has to do in order to improve health (especially cardio-vascular health).

  2. Here are some interesting links, all the way from “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” to saying that yoga can be altered with Christian teaching to be something suitible for Christians, to eliminating the word “yoga” altogether, and creating totally different moves and postures, just the exact same kind of exercise and relaxation techniques, only from a Christian perspective (Praisemoves):

    http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-yoga.html

    http://www.christianyoga.us/home.htm

    http://www.praisemoves.com/ChristianAlternative.htm

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1098937,00.html

  3. This is an excellent article highlighting the major points of conflict between Christianity and yoga. Yoga was never designed as an excercise or as a way to de-stress people. Yoga arose as a natural part of a religion that teaches that there are no distinctions between the Absolute and the “true self,” the Atman, in every person. This “truth” is a matter of realization, and yoga is designed to help bring about that realization.

    Christian yoga is an oxymoron – if one removes all the Eastern components, including the breathing techniques, it is not yoga. However, most of the Christian yoga I have seen still incorporates these breathing techniques and also the asanas. The asanas were designed to induce meditative states – the purpose of Eastern meditation is not to de-stress and it has nothing to do with Biblical meditation, which involves using the mind and thinking on God’s word.

    Hatha yoga, the kind we see most of in the U.S., is a discipline of the body to prepare one for the more advanced levels of mental yoga, and to prepare the chakras for the flow of kundalini, an energy supposedly coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine. Yoga is a spiritual discipline whose goals are completely incompatible with Christianity.

    I have 2 articles on yoga on my website.

    Thanks for the great article, Don, and for speaking out on this important topic!

  4. To me, it all has to do with intent. If someone’s intent in going through the poses is only to develop strength, flexibility, and balance, and they do not participate in the spiritual aspect of it, I don’t see a problem with it. Then it simply is a physical exercise. The poses in and of themselves have no inherent power over us. God created the body. God created our bodies to move, stretch, etc., and there is nothing inherently evil or ungodly about sitting with one’s legs crossed in front of them, or standing in a triangle pose. If, however, one participates in yoga with the intent to make it a spiritual discipline, then yes, it is incompatible with Christianity.

  5. Light, one of the deacons (read – elders) at our church and his wife were born and raised in India, and their ancestry is Indian. English is their second language. This man is in our SS, and I asked him about yoga.

    He told me the same thing you said — that it can be compartmentalized to exercise, relaxation and breathing, and that part isn’t evil, but if you add the “second part” (as he put it), which would include the emptying of the mind and the transendental meditation, etc., then it is incompatible with Christianity.

    What you said reminds me of the book of Daniel. The four men learned many things from the Babylonians, but they stopped at anything that would cause them to participate in idolatry. Probably a lot of their captive relatives did not stop where they did.

    It is *all* about intent. You are right. But it is good for people to be aware that there is a part of yoga that is not compatible with Christian thinking, and that whatever kind of exercises they may do, as Christians they ought to purpose, as Daniel purposed, to not participate in whatever would lead them astray.

    And there are probably many people who were so “into” the unchristian side of yoga that everything about it is bad to them, and they can’t participate even in the postures, because of what they signify to them. Unlike you and me, who wouldn’t have a problem with the exercise side of it.

  6. I agree with everything you said, Lynn. To an undiscerning new baby Christian, it could be a problem. Great analogy about the story from the book of Daniel.

  7. From what I have seen, yoga is pretty much always accompanied by ideas. Classes in yoga and the accompanying moves suggest certain things about the body and are meant to alter our thinking about our bodies, our breathing, our universe etc.

    The thing is, that a Christian yoga class is still a class that has as its basis the idea that Hindu ideology came up with something very good that Christians would to well to emulate. Every move in yoga is used to promote certain thinking about the body and its place in the universe. It includes instructions for the body and what the mind is supposed to think about the body, and how the breathing is supposed to be considered and practiced in relation to both.

    I think it wiser to go a little unhealthy and a little overstressed (and I’m not worried) than to assume that hundreds of years of dark evil Hindu religion just happened to have stumbled upon, through their idolatry, what just happens to be the very best method of getting fit and reducing stress ever, and that I as a Christian am lacking something because I don’t get involved in the same.

  8. I wonder, if you truly have Christ, why are you so afraid?

    This has always been the problem with religion, hasn’t it? Fear and division; not spirituality but security. When will Christians (or other religious people for that matter) be secure enough in their own personal faith?

    What becomes of you when you’re afraid of ideas? And worse, how does that effect your relationship with the world?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_violence

  9. That is a good question and there is a two fold response. First, biblically we are commended by none other than Jesus Christ Himself to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing…” (Matthew 7:15). There are other passages as well which teach us to expose false teachers and false teachings. Second, since spiritual teaching is equated to being spiritual food, what you are saying is to eat anything which comes in to your path. Being concerned about or even warning others about foods which are poisonous and deadly. To warn others or try to protect your children just shows fear. Would you realy give your children toxic waste for dinner and tell them to expand their view of the world?

  10. An interesting and thoughtful response to my, admittedly, slightly caustic probe. I wasn’t being malicious though, I am surprised sometimes by some religious folks’ tunnel vision and am frightened by what it can lead to (there, that’s my fear).

    Your original post is perhaps not as alarming in mood as some of the subsequent commenters posts but there lies the problem. One person describes the “dark evil” Hindu religion. Certainly that is not a prevailing feeling amongst most Christians any more than should be a hatred of Islam. The Catholic Popes, for example, have worked to unite the faiths of the world on common ground. I see many positive similarities between the world’s religions both past and present.

    There are even some that make a more succinct case for the intersection of faiths. Paramahansa Yogananda (and I think others of the era around the turn of the 19th century) goes on at length about the similarities between Jesus and Buddha, casting them as similarly enlightened beings, come to Earth. I think one has to take a fairly allegorical, non-literal view of the Bible to make it work but it is interesting.

    Let me try to focus this into a few questions on which I’d be very interested to read your thoughts.

    On the topic of yoga. We’re not talking about a deadly substance and most probably, not a harmful one to anyone’s particular faith, especially those that are well grounded. From my six year experience with yoga, I’ve found that it does do all of the things that you’ve written. It improves spinal alignment, lung function, blood circulation, muscle tone, organ function and most probably nervous system improvements. Its goal is mental discipline through physical mastery. When this is achieved, your spiritual thoughts can be much more clear. I would argue that holds true if your thoughts are about your relationship with God or your relationship to the Universe (can you really separate the two?) The prevailing instruction is to free your mind of your worldy concerns and focus on just being. Perhaps similar to saying the rosaries.

    Furthermore, I might make the assumption that the most enlightened men of God didn’t necessarily walk straight down a short, narrow path to their present faith. I would speculate that the most sound and faithful are interested in spirituality in general. Therefore, a very devout religious person might have studied all of the religions and then come to the conclusion or the affirmation that his faith lies where it does. By that relatively conservative logic, isn’t it good to experience yoga as much as it is to read the Koran or study Jainism?

    On the topic of intolerance. If you take the view that there is “one truth” to which all people must be introduced at the peril of your mutual souls, how do you prevent that intention from turning into hatred, fear and violence as we’ve seen throughout history with every religion? (Actually, we see it every day on the news, don’t we?)

    Going back to an earlier comment of mine, is there anyone these days that takes a non-literal interpretation of the Bible? If not, where is the line between spirituality and dogma?

  11. I’d like, if I may, to add a few thoughts to add to the discussion against the notion that hatha yoga is somehow equivalent to the negative influences of the East described in Isaiah; certainly material excess doesn’t invite yoga.

    I practice Bikram yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder, has completely separated this practice from any semblance of the spiritual. So I counter the opinions of Ravi Zacharias with my own Indian “expert” on the topic. He does on occasion talk about “self-realization,” which is the idea that by challenging your fears and confronting the psychological barriers that hold you back, you will more readily be “the real you.” This is more a psychological topic than a religious one although the brother of the teacher of Bikram has written extensive spiritual tomes. At any rate, even this topic is rare with Bikram and only comes up if you go see him speak in person or perhaps in a few pages of his book.

    You see, in yoga class, in Bikram yoga class, you push yourself to your limits and all of the psychological barriers you’ve created for yourself come forward. Often, if you can overcome your limitations in the yoga room, you approach similar analogous struggles in the real world with renewed energy and confidence. I this voodoo or “idolotry?” I say, hardly. If you indict this, you might as well also confront the entire field of psychotherapy as inappropriately meddling with the spirit. Or perhaps you would assault Tony Robbins for being a cult leader, though that may be closer to the truth for some people.

    I am sympathetic to Eastern philosophy and spirituality but, there’s no way I’d be comfortable in a yoga class where some teacher tries to tie some perverted form of Eastern thought into it. I could call many of these folks “false prophets” because they use their own interpretation of this and that and present it as some kind of answer. Just because you’ve been to India, have read a few Richard Bach books and teach yoga doesn’t mean you’re a spiritual guide.

    Hatha yoga can be used to channel your spiritual thoughts, whatever they might be, just like the euphoria from running might create profound experiences for some. Yoga is very powerful but to say that it’s some kind of corrupting force is taking it too far. I don’t see myself kneeling before a statue of Vishnu anytime soon, regardless of the amazing, psychological, physical or emotional breakthroughs I have in yoga class.

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