Is Yoga a Religion?

Practitioners of Yoga may be very clear about Yoga not conflicting with any religion. However, there are many thousands of denominations and sects within many diverse religions. Some of these groups have religious beliefs that might seem very different to ones own. And so the beliefs arising from these sects give a discourse as to which religion owns YOGA, but can this discourse be accepted and can Yoga be accredited or attributed to any particular religion.

Although the origin of Yoga can be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago and the word YOGA, was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda, yet it traversed the boundaries of civilizations adapting to various cultures and practices. From here it may occur that YOGA belongs to Hinduism or Buddhism, but it is rightly said- “Yoga may be in Religions, but Religion is not in Yoga”. This can be explained as; “The many Yoga practices with body, breath and mind, along with their transcendent goal of direct experience, are generally neither characteristic of Religions, nor typically practiced by the adherents of Religions.”

Another outlook on the subject may be centered around the HAVE’s & HAVE NOT’s of religion and Yoga i.e. what religion has and Yoga lacks.

It has no deity to worship.
It has no worship services to attend.
It has no rituals to perform.
It has no sacred icons.
It has no creed or formal statement of religious belief.
It has no requirement for a confession of faith.
It has no ordained clergy or priests to lead religious services.
It has no institutional structure, leader or group of overseers.
It has no membership procedure.
It has no congregation of members or followers.
It has no system of temples or churches.

Swami Rama presents a rational view over religion and Yoga and at the same time gives the true perspective of YOGA. He states that “The kingdom of God lies within and that the Lord of Life is highest of all. Anyone who has realized this, would like to go to his innermost self. And there is a way for that Hinduism or Buddhism is not to be referred. The moment you realize that the absolute truth which is not subject to change, death, and decay is within you, then you attain a freedom, freedom from fears, all fears. That is called the state of enlightenment and that can be considered to be a state of perfection. Therefore, learn to go to the deeper aspect of your being. Everyone should learn to meditate so that he’s free from diseases.”

The word Yoga means union, and comes from "yuj" which means "to join," to bring together into union the various aspects of yourself that were never divided in the first place. From that comes the direct experience of yourself that is beyond the false identities, what false identities means here is the materialistic choices a human makes, stemming from the seemingly countless colorings of attraction and aversion. Another modern adaptation of this principle is the word holistic, meaning to become whole, or to realize your underlying wholeness which eventually connects you to the ‘ultimate truth’.

Patanjali describes this in the Yoga Sutras where he defines “Yoga as the mastery (nirodha) of the mind, allowing the true Self to then come shining through”. Patanjali explains, “the purpose of Yoga is discrimination (Viveka) among the inner processes”. The process of mastering and integrating the mind may be a part of religion, but that does not mean that regulating your mind in this way is, itself, a religion.

Thus, it can be concluded that Yoga cannot and should not be affiliated with any particular religion and calling Yoga a religion in itself is also not justified. The further prospects Yoga offers are as below-

Keeping the context of your own religion: Yoga systematically deals with all levels of your being, leading you to a place of deep stillness and silence. From within this stillness and silence, you can more fully experience spirituality in the context of your own religion and beliefs.

World > Senses > Body > Breath > Mind > Silence

Removing obstacles: When we are not experiencing such a deep stillness and silence, it is because our world, senses, body, breath and mind have become obstacles to inner peace and spiritual awareness.
“vritti sarupyam itaratra”

Spiritual insight: It is in the spirit of observing, accepting, understanding, and training ourselves in Yoga Meditation that these obstacles are gently, systematically removed. It is somewhat like gradually thinning out a cloud bank that is veiling the spiritual serenity that is naturally there.

Feeling closer to your own religion: Through this spiritual focus of Yoga, one may come closer to their own religious roots.

Shreyashi Tiwari

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