Are religions, not churches or temples, spiritual paths? By pointing out similarities between different religions we will find out whether they can lead to spirituality. We will also see if the same qualities exist in Hatha Yoga.
So, what are the common features?
- Surrender to something bigger or higher then yourself. All religions speak of surrender. If there is a religion that doesn’t have it, it is Buddhism. From the East to the West, all religions believe in a higher spirit, they just have a different name.
- Prayer – one of the things coming from surrender is prayer.
- Trust and faith – faith is a concept, while trust is an experience. In order for faith to happen, belief has to be there. Belief is part of the spiritual path. Unless you have faith you will not have trust. Trust in an experiental thing. We have to surrender to have faith.
- The attainment of a higher state as a goal. It is based on freedom from suffering, mysery and unhappiness.
- Love is an element of religion if it means compassion. It is more a product, a result of religion.
- Dedication is part of practice.
- The founder and the scriptures.
A moral ethics, a code of conduct.
These are the common features of religions as they should be, as spiritual paths.
Is Hatha Yoga a religion, a spiritual path?
Surrender is part of Yoga. Patanjali, who brought it out, says there are two paths:
surrender, which is the fastest path, and Abhyasa and Viradhya, intense practice done regularly and non-attachment. All practice of Yoga is threefold: tapas (dedcation),
svadhyaya (self study) and Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to God). So, Yoga contains the elements of religion.
When it comes to the scriptures, according to me svadhyaya is meditation – looking into yourself, understanding of the nature of the Self.
Patanjali says that one of the biggest obstacles on the path of Yoga is having no faith. No faith means no dedicated practice, it means no surrender. As a result nothing is possible.
The 4th chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is entitled Kaivalya Pada – the chapter on final liberation. It deals with the goal, which is samadhi – one place. Kaivalya samadhi is ultimate freedom. It is merging the personal Self with the universe. Then there is no coming back, it happens forever. Most enlightened masters teach till their bodies allow them to. Bringing light in darkness is a great virtue. Once you have that light, you have to give it. It sort of expands, you cannot hold on to it.
Yama and niyama are the code of conduct, the code of discipline: yama is the code of behaviour and niyama are those things that one does as a practice. And they are the same as in other religions: ahimsa – non-violence, saying the truth, not stealing, not being attached and being clear about the path to follow (being one pointed).
Yoga is more than spiritual, it is a religion. The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin: religare – ‘to bind, to unite’. The word ‘Yoga’ comes from ‘yuke’ and means ‘to unite, to connect’ the horse with the car, the horse with the plough. So Yoga and religion mean and come from the same thing.
Doing asana and pranayama without that background is not religious. You will get some benefits but not all. We have to see into asana and pranayama how they can be spiritual.
Every Yoga text starts with saluting Shiva who gave Yoga to mankind. One text says that Shiva, the supreme spirit, taught it through his wife Parvati. The earth – the female, is the nourisher of the creator. Shiva, which is the male principle, is the free spirit. But when it comes into contact with Prakruti, then something starts to happen. So Shiva is explaining to Parvati the technique of Hatha Yoga so that mankind can be free. And this is how one can get free. It is obvious that it is a spiritual path – if practiced correctly.
All the universe is made of energies and gods represent these energies. When you want to come in contact with certain energies in yourself, every mystical path will provide a way to do so. Names are not important. Patanjali says one is merging with god through complete surrender or through practice and detachment.
There are three qualities of God according to Patanjali: omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. All knowing, all powerful and being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. All these three powers are Ishwar (God). If you want to stick this label to Christ, do it, if you want to say Buddha is God, do it, if you want to do it with Allah, do it. For people it is usually too much to grasp and therefore it is easier to have a personalised god.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2000