Yoga is a deep spiritual system of attaining ultimate union with the Divine, a timeless journey into the history of ancient Bharat. Although yoga has become a global symbol of physical exercise and perfect body in mainstream discourse today, it is far greater than just asanas (postures). In today’s body-centric world, yoga has lost its original form of deep spiritual significance.
Yoga is the union of the finite with the Infinite; connection of the manifest with the Unmanifest; integration and harmony of thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds; and equipose of mind, body, and spirit; uniting the individual soul (atman) with the Divine soul (Paramatman) to achieve complete harmony and state of enlightenment through physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual awakening. Yoga is pure science and a sophisticated and comprehensive Eastern system of philosophy that centers on developing a person’s chetana (consciousness).
But how was yoga launched in the West? On this International Yoga Day, we will establish the interrelatedness of Hindu dharma with yoga and how Hindu dharma is the core of yoga. We will also look at some examples of how the West refuses to acknowledge and accept the Hindu dharma origin of Yoga and either ignores, dismisses or refutes it, and worse, imposes negative connotations of Hindu dharma affiliations and association with Bharat.
Yoga and Hindu dharma: A sacred connection
‘Yoga’ comes from a Sanskrit word – ‘yuj’, meaning ‘to join’, ‘to yoke’, ‘to connect’, or ‘to unite’. To understand the origin of yoga, we must dig into the history of Hindu dharma. Hindu dharma comes from the Vedic tradition of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Truth. The concept of ‘eternal existence’ derives from the soul. Our soul might leave our body at a certain point in our lifetime (the event is called death), however, the soul lives on – an extremely important ideology to note here.
Hindu dharmic belief system revolves around karma (action). The idea of morality that drives our deeds becomes even more critical for the Hindu dharmic belief system. This implies that our karma accumulates ‘memories’ and transfers from birth, to rebirth and reincarnation. An individual soul’s optimum goal is to attain moksha (mukti, liberation, salvation, release, emancipation, enlightenment) from the pain and sufferings caused by the endless cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Our body is the only vehicle for attaining moksha. Hence, our thoughts, words, deeds, and actions must all be aligned. In this context, yoga is thus the technique, science and art of achieving the pinnacle of alignment of mind, body, and spirit.
Origin of yoga
It is said that Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, is the supreme yogic guru, known as the Adiyogi, the source of yoga. Hindu Dharma is timeless. We certainly can connect yoga to the 5000-year-old Saraswati-Sindhu (aka Indus Valley) civilizational evidence. A famous clay seal excavated where a yogi is seated in the lotus meditative posture (3500 – 1700 BCE Mahenjo-Daro and Harappan sites of Indus Valley civilization). I have talked about the connection between Hindu dharma, its followers and the Hindu Indus civilization in a previous article.
It is believed that the Vedas were compiled by Rishi Vyasa – Rig Veda, the oldest sacred text of the world containing written mantras, hymns and meditations mentions about yoga. Our ancestors preserved ancient wisdom of the Vedic hymns (a group of poems from the Rig Veda), literature, and learnings orally and passed it on through many generations.
Therefore, it is safe to say that yogic practices were prevalent even before the Rig Veda was written. The Upanishad also mentions yoga. Rishi Patanjali is synonymous with yoga. Although he is not the sole inventor of yogic practices, he certainly codified and gathered all the knowledge under the authoritative text on yoga philosophy and practice known as the Yoga Sutras (500 – 200 BCE). Srimad Bhagavad Geeta mentions three types of yoga: Karma – Deeds, Jnana – Knowledge, and Bhakti – Devotional.
In 2017, NASA satellite imagery and archaeological/geological/oceanographic evidence proved existence of a man-made bridge between Bharat and Sri Lanka with 7000-year-old rocks placed on a 4000-year-old sandbar. This ancient 30-mile long architectural marvel, also known as Ram Sethu proves that the Hindu epic Ramayana is not mere ‘mythology’ or imagination. Archaeological evidence of the sunken ancient city of Dwaraka (founded by Sri Krishna, as mentioned in the longest epic of Mahabharata, 3182 – 3138 BCE) off Gujarat’s coast, is today the most-studied underwater site in Bharat and proves the historicity of Mahabharata.
Why does the West deny the Hindu dharma origin of Yoga?
Sadly though, I have seen many degrading comments lately, which downplay and whitewash the direct interconnectedness of Yoga to Hindu dharma, Hindu tradition, and Bharat. Yoga and meditation are also practiced in other religions that originated in Bharat such as Buddhism. Yoga is not merely a random collection of poses, it has a deeper spiritual meaning associated with it
Note the above screenshot of a response to a question posted on quora.com: “Why do people reject the fact that the origin of Yoga is linked to Hindu dharma?” We can clearly observe that Mr. Faisal Shafi had conveniently dismissed any relation of Yoga with Hindu dharma or even to Bharat. He raised several shocking claims about yoga’s affinity with Pakistan and bonds with Islam! He further attests that yoga is simply a ‘sport’, and forcibly emphasises some kind of relationship to meditation with Islam, which practically is a nonexistent, alien concept in Islam. He continues to insult Hindu dharma blatantly and insists that Hindu dharma was originally Islam, and scriptures of Hindu dharma share commonalities with Islam. Many such disturbing trends and allegations pop up in every corner these days.
Let’s look at another example. A Western yoga teacher belittles and discredits its association with Hindu dharma traditions. Additionally, she extends her assertions that link yoga with Christianity. Yoga originated in Bharat and dates back to pre-Vedic Hindu dharma traditions, I find it extremely disrespectful and humiliating that one chooses to malign and brutally defame the devas, devatas and devis of Hindu dharma and traditions and pass such derogatory statements.
According to Hindu dharma tradition, a guru ( teacher) is a dispeller of darkness. He or she is someone with substance, knowledge, and deep wisdom to guide their disciples. Currently, however, we witness a disturbing trend where Western scholars and entrepreneurs appropriate ancient culture, practices and traditions of Bharat, patent it in the West and earn enormous money from certain ideas that are not theirs! For instance, turmeric. Lack of respect, honesty, and ethics are troublesome and problematic.
Hindu Dharma is the only continuous living civilization that has survived, unlike that of the Aztecs or the Mayans. Despite the merciless and harsh history of invasions and atrocities caused by foreign invaders, and centuries of foreign rule, Bharat remains the lone country that was not converted into a foreign religion, like Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia and other countries.
How Yoga came to the West?
Modern-day Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to the western world, especially to America in 1893. His famous speech at Chicago in the parliament of world religions captured the world’s eye and created a stir in the west. Magnanimous portrayal and powerful oration of the spiritual wealth of Bharat’s religious traditions won many hearts. He spoke about the world’s religion of various paths as phases of one eternal religion.
Although the spiritual essence of yoga is diluted today, and it is heavily commercialized in the west as mere physical practice and postures, the benefits of yoga are still boundless. Stress reduction, blood pressure control, focus and concentration, reduced rate of aging, centeredness and gentleness, patience, sharp intuition, and improved creativity, are just a few positive health benefits of yoga. It is practiced by millions of westerners currently.
5 common types of yoga are Karma (deeds/actions), Jnana (wisdom/knowledge), Bhakti (devotional), Hatha (physical), and Raja (Royal). 8 limbs of yoga are Yama (restraints), Niyama (self-observances), Asanas (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (Self-realization).
Balancing 7 chakras namely, Muladhara (Root chakra), Syadhisthana (Sacral chakra), Manipura (Solar Plexus Chakra), Anahata (Heart chakra), Vishuddha (Throat chakra), Ajna (Third eye chakra), and Sahasrara (Crown chakra) through meditation is supremely beneficial for aligning mind and body.
On the 69th session of UN General assembly address on Sept 9th, 2014, Bharat’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested the date of 21 June for International Yoga Day, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and shares a special significance in many parts of the world. June 21st, 2015 was celebrated as the first International Yoga Day in the entire world.
Yoga is the process of complete constancy of the mind. Yoga’s benefits are immeasurable, extensive, and truly undeniable. The best part is anyone can attain these benefits. On this International Yoga Day, we must also revive its root, especially the spiritual purpose of yoga to the union of mind, body and soul, and its deep relationship and profound ties to Hindu Dharma, Hindu traditions, Vedic scriptures and Bharat (India / Hindustan). A clear timeline of historic events established the factual evidence behind all arguments. There should be no doubt about its origin, its connections, and its purpose. Furthermore, deliberate attempts and constant efforts of diluting its connection to Hindu Dharma or Bharat only exposes fruitless propaganda.
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