This blog was inspired by an online post on social media by a western yoga teacher who was postulating how yoga was not religious and could be practiced by anyone from any other faith whilst adhering to their own religion without fear of conversion, a sort of free for all to adopt and adapt.
Does practicing yoga make one a Hindu? As a yog teacher who teaches westerners I come across this oft asked query to which I have a counter question. Do they think of Hinduism as a religion and Hindus as a class of people practicing a set discipline? My reply is based upon their response to this question.
If Hindusim is a religion, yog cannot be divested from it just because people from ‘other’ religions want to practice and reap the benefits of this time tested ancient technique without getting out of the comfort zone of their belief sysytem. They have to understand that yog is part of a great spiritual philosophy now known as Hinduism. It is a culmination of rigourous self-study, self-imposed austerities, deep reflection on the nature of the self and is based on a solid foundation of sustained practice of thousands of years.
Many who are called Hindus today believe the ‘ism’ and the term Hindu was imposed upon them by the Greeks, Mughal and Colonial marauders to put them in a box they could comprehend, as comprehending the diversity of this land they overcame with brute force was impossible for their small limited minds. The present day hindus themselves believe their roots are deep in the Sanatana Dharma philosophy, an eternal way of life that evolved/is evolving, is alive and is the result of extensive study, introspection and realisation into the nature of humankind and their relation to the divine, with many paths and movements branching out from this study, of which Yoga is one. There was never a need to give this a limiting lable of an ism. This system accepts even atheism as a philosophy and they are free to adopt, refute and challenge belief systems of scholars.
The system of Yog is a branch of an enlightened spiritual tradition. It is not an excuse for marketing Yoga as not a religion by giving examples of those adhering to and being faithful to other religions practicing it, to draw in students and incomes.
Therefore to understand that yog is not a religion you have to yourself be realised to that extent. To frivolously mouth yoga is not a religion and that one can continue being a christian or muslim or jew while practicing yog is insulting the universality of yoga and in extension the religion now called hinduism of which its a part.
So yes if you think Hinduism is a religion, then Yoga and its practitioner is Hindu. But if you have broken the shackles of religion in all its limitations then not only yoga but all the paths that have come out of this deep reflective philosophy is not religion but an invitation to explore and realise the Self within.