The short answer is that it seems like no one knows anymore.
I went into this week intending to talk about this article, in which Lawson discusses various movements against the “Americanization” of Yoga, including the efforts of the “Take Back Yoga” movement of the Hindu American Foundation, which sparked as a reaction to the perception of yoga in America as something purely secular, not to mention a lucrative market to exploit, turning it into a multi-million dollar industry in a truly American fashion. Lawson is insistent that the whole situation “is about blanching the culture out of something to make it fit our needs.” But is this the whole story? An article I found shortly thereafter states that issue may not be so wonderfully clear cut anymore. The article details the many differing viewpoints on the issue within India itself- meaning its not the clear cut co-opting of a tradition that Lawson makes it out to be. No, it appears to go much deeper than that. Would would assume that, within India yoga would be more wholly understood, with a cohesive public opinion. This would be incorrect, however. Many push for it as an important part of spirituality and want it to be installed as part of school curriculum. Others argue that its inherent use of religiously significant chanting and terminology (such as the use of the ‘Om’, an important symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism alike) means that due to India’s nature as a secular democracy, yoga cannot be implemented in public schools. Still others find it to be purely physical, and others deem it a tool for cultural nationalism in India, thanks to the actions of prominent guru Baba Ramev.
And maybe that’s the basic, extremely simplified answer. Maybe yoga has become a tool, be it for spiritual enlightenment, for peace, for money, for cultural nationalism, or for physical fitness. Maybe no one knows what yoga really is anymore because it is in such a constant state of flux, meaning different things to different people, but useful to all of them. Whether or not that cheapens yoga’s rich spiritual history or ensures that it will continue to persist in a constantly changing world remains yet to be decided.
One of the premier critiques of religion is this oft stated question. This article by a young stroke survivor relates a tale that asks this question. She has a positive outlook on life after her suffering, but she has doubts about one of the key tenants of her religion. The ugly truth, according to the author, is that Karma is not real. I am not one to judge the truth or falsity of her claim, but I can acknowledge the problem she posits is almost universal for other religions. It is interesting that if you read the comments section, several people have given her answers that will accommodate her new found view of Karma, that it doesn’t exist, while keeping her religious identity intact.
Our class is finishing our discussion of “Transcendent in America” by Lola Williamson. The author gives a detailed look into HIMMs or Hindu-Inspired Mediation Movements. In part two of her book she discusses three specific movements that include Transcendental Mediation, Self-Realization Fellowship, and Siddha Yoga. I enjoyed reading and learning about these movements. Williamson is unbiased in explaining these HIMMs. Usually I find informational books such as this to be boring and unbearable. I found this book less painful than expected. I feel that the author tried her best to convey her experiences as well as others’ experiences. I believe some things were lost in translation, based on the fact that I have not had a personal HIMM experience.
We are currently going over “Transcendent in America” in class. This book goes into detail concerning Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs). I thought that the first section of this book was good and that the second section was informative, and I found the third section enlightening. Overall I think that this book was very informative and a good read. I really had no idea what went on in these religious movements, and this book really helped to explain it. The author does a good job at remaining impartial in her explanations despite her background of being in a HIMM, and she does not leave out information that show the HIMMs in a less than positive light. The author does her best to make some of the stranger practices seem relatable, but some of the things that go on in Hindu-inspired meditation movements seem a bit cultish. The absolute faith that one is expected to place in one’s guru seems to me to be dangerous, especially since this relationship is abused on occasion, and the cover-ups that happen to hide negative information do not sit well with me either. I think that the biggest problem that the author has is that there is an innate inability to explicate the experiences had by those who participate in HIMMs. The book relates some of them to Pentecostal church happenings, which are equally mysterious to me, and sometimes attempts physiological explanations (i.e. tingling spine), but ultimately I do not know what their spiritual experiences are like. If you have a spiritual experience by looking at the image of Gurumayi on this blog, please let me know.
I found this article about a married couple, consisting of a Baptist minister and a Hindu monk, who wrote a book called Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk. According to this article 27 percent of Americans are married to or live with a partner of a different religious faith.
Amazon describes the book as a story of a “East-meets-West partnership.” While the couple’s individual identities seem to be wrapped up in their religious identity I do not see this as the East meeting the West but as two Americans and the success of eHarmony. Hindu does not equal East as Baptist does not equal West. (People are Baptist and Hindu in many places all over the world). I will go further and say there is no East or West. There are just two parts of the ‘American’ imagination of itself and of the other.
While I was searching what to write about this week I came across this site. The creators define Hindupedia as “the Hindu Encyclopedia”. This site is meant to educate the public about all aspects of Hinduism. The main page notes that this site is the only online Hindu encyclopedia that provides the public with a traditional perspective on the Hindu way of life. There are 14 categories ranging from General information to Philosophy and art. Personally, I enjoyed reading about the preparation and celebration of Hindu Festivals. There are many different kinds of festivals. During one festival colored water or powder is thrown on people. This is the festival of colors, Holi. This festival reflects the changing color of nature.
This article from all the way back in 2012 discusses the changing landscape around the Ashtanga branch of yoga within America. It discusses how the practice evolved from a small number of guruji from India to, gradually, bigger and bigger venues, more and more students, and with that, an undeniable change. This change trended towards the accessorizing of yoga, taken on by – according to the article- a number of trophy wives and other typical “yuppie” advocates looking for a quick and easy spiritual fix to go with their daily exercise. It discusses the tensions and changes within the community as students of the original guruji slowly begin to branch off- some borrowing select poses to write books detailing ‘fitness’ types of yoga, and others even launching smart phone apps that promise to teach yoga as well. I thought it raised quite a few interesting points that have been addressed here before in one form or another- how religious is yoga? Can middle aged women who are only after strengthening their core and limbering up really be understanding the full ideas behind what they’re practicing ? As the title asks- who is yoga for anyway? In the final paragraphs of the article it states that some of the current teachers and practitioners believe that the changes in this branch of yoga should occur to accommodate the students and what is best for them- but will that leave them with a form of yoga that exists mostly to show other people how spiritual and flexible one is, whilst showing off formfitting exercise wear and monogrammed yoga mats?