is yoga Hindu?

There’s a debate on about yoga’s origins, and it’s gone viral “—or as viral as things can get in a narrow Web corridor frequented by yoga enthusiasts, Hindu Americans and religion scholars.” This is the buzz covered in the November 27, 2010 article, “Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul,” by Paul Vitello. What I found most fascinating about the article is that it interested enough readers to be near the top of the NYT top emailed list. I think it was #2 last night.

The gist is that Hindu-Americans want Hinduism to be credited with yoga. To be asked, “Oh! Do you do yoga?” instead of, “Oh, do you worship cows?” when a non-Hindu American learns of their religion. And because they want credit where they feel credit is due. Understandable. But the argument about yoga as religion is not new. It depends how you define Hinduism, which is a touchy subject. Do you ask scholars? Do you ask believers? Would you ask a Christian-American if you wanted to learn the facts about history? Would you ask a scholar, well, anything? (Relax, I’m teasing.) Do you ask Deepak Chopra? I, personally, would ask everyone and believe no one. I love that Hindu scholar, Diana Eck, is quoted in this article, but she doesn’t say what her opinion about the matter is. I’ve snuck in her book as the image, because I’m probably not going to mention her again and that is a fantastic book. One of my undergrad religion professors gave it to me before I went off to India way back when (1998).

Yoga is one of the six astikas, or orthodox schools of Indian philosophy, though hatha yoga likely existed long before it was adopted as an astika. Orthodoxy here means that they accept the authority of the sacred Vedas. Does that mean yoga is Hindu? Not necessarily. The yoga practiced in the West is arguably related to the Yoga astika only as a cognate. Again, It depends how you define Hinduism, and it depends who you ask. Because the answer isn’t that important to me, I’m not going to go further into this topic because I think the only answer is subjective. Those who say yoga is Hindu are coming from a very different place than those who say that it is not. As I find myself between those places, there is no convenient answer.

Paul Vitello

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