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Religion and Yoga

By Manjari Bhatt

The word 'Yoga' is way differently understood or rather misunderstood by many around the globe. For some, Yoga is a cult, for some it's a Hindu religion and for some its mystical practices! For some its complicated poses, breathing and meditation. For many, it is a union of body, mind and soul, but how they are related or connected, can't be explained or is not known! So is the case of Sanskrit word 'Dharma'. This word is translated as 'religion, custom, behavior etc' in English. Sanatan Dharma is now addressed or called 'Hindu religion'.

First, I believe and so I would like to explain that Hindu is an identity and not a religion. In ancient time the land was known as Aryavarta the area or region of Aryans and later known as 'Bharatvarsha' due to the king Bharata, who established the first democratic nation on earth in human history! People living in this region believed and followed Sanatan Dharma. Outsiders, who visited the land of 'River Sindhu or Indus,' identified people living in this region as Hindus and so their religion as 'Hindu religion!' The name given was Hindustan as the land of Hindus. As time passed the original 'Sanatan Dharma' became a Hindu Dharma or religion! Later the word India was given from Indus River and people were called Indians. Thus all outsiders, visitors, attackers, robbers or rulers used various names of the same land; but the fact is that the Aryan civilization was established on the banks of 'Sindhu River.' Even today descendents are called and addressed as Sindhis, one of the Indian communities!

We have to understand the word Sanatan Dharma in order to understand Religion. Sanatan means Eternal, the one, which does not have beginning or end and Dharma means 'duty and discipline.' Very clearly Lord Krishna has explained this in Bhagavad Gita as "Manav Dharma" - how to live a disciplined life by performing one's duties as human by following various paths of Yoga. Sanatan Dharma is not established by any one God or prophet but completely based on the laws of Mother Nature: the five natural elements: air, fire, water, earth, ether. On earth it covers all creatures and nature in all forms. Indian philosophies or schools of thoughts are completely based on it. Yoga is one of these schools, so naturally it is based on the laws of Mother Nature. It has nothing to do with any particular 'faith or religion' as per the modern meaning or term. Yoga, practically, is a way of life and a healthy life style!

Yoga teaches us how to use these natural elements to keep us healthy and happy -  mentally and physically - and develop and uplift our spiritual growth. Spirituality is an inherent quality in all humans! Yoga teaches us to find out that quality in ourselves; it shows various paths to follow as per our interest, physical and mental capacity and capability to reach the highest goal of self-realization, knowing the self!

The laws of the Mother Nature are for everyone! They are also applicable to each and every person on this earth! We don't know about other planets! None on earth can say that "I don't believe in Nature" or "I don't use any of the natural elements!" - no matter which faith or religion the person believes in. There were 16 religions or faiths on earth at one point. Out of which 12 survived namely: (1) Hindu (Sanatan Dharma), (2) Jainism, (3) Buddhism,(4) Sikhism, (5) Zoroastrian,  (6) Christianity,  (7) Judaism, (8) Islam, (9) Confucius, (10) Tao, (11) Shinto and (12) Bahai. What do the founders or spiritual leaders of these faiths and religions ultimately teach or tell us to follow? How to perform our duties and live a disciplined life as a human by following described rules and regulations from their authentic text!  That's what Yoga's core teachings are. Not only that, Yoga also warns us about the impediments and obstacles on our path, shows us the reasons of that and how to overcome those obstacles in order to reach our short term or long term goal step by step and ultimately the final goal.

We can compare the core teachings of all these faiths or religions and we will find one thing common is that they all have code of conducts, moral and ethical values. The Yama (Dos) and Niyama (Don'ts) the first two steps on the path of Yoga are also in the form of restrains and observances. Explaining what one should not do as five restrains and what one should do as five observances. They are ten in total. The universal code of conduct is marked in the Yoga text, the Patanjali Yoga sutra - the oldest documents on earth where some of the religions did not even exist! The purpose of Yogic Practices is to destroy the impurities of the mind and acquire physical practices for ultimately attaining Self Realization. "Meditation" means to "Reflect Upon". This happens when the mind is concentrated on a particular activity or object, internal or external, gross or subtle over an elongated period of time. In short, Yoga practices are universal and not limited to any particular group of people. No matter which faith or religion you observe or follow, Yoga can be practiced by everyone who want to live a healthy life: physically, mentally and spiritually.

This little piece of land on earth known as 'India' today, has given four faiths or religions to the world namely:(1) Hindu, (2) Jainism, (3) Buddhism, and  (4) Sikhism. Six schools of thoughts:(1) Nyaya, (2) Vaisheshika, (3) Samkhya, (4) Yoga, (5) Mimansa and (6) Vedanta. Hundreds and thousands of spiritual leaders in its history from time immemorial were born on this land.  None of them have ever tried to prove their own supremacy on the other because they all originate from Sanatan Dharma and the followers were living a yogic life style no matter which path they believed in, followed and preached!

Manjari Bhatt is a Yoga Teacher & Therapist and Founder of Yoga Education Centre Ontario  ... More

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