Question: Somebody asked me yesterday, “Is Yoga a Religion?”
The answer, straight and simple is No. It is a spiritual path. A spiritual path has key characteristics that make it somewhat different from a religion. First, spirituality is an inner journey of self-reflection and realization of truth, whereas religion is about following someone’s idea of what a perfect spiritual path would look like. Yoga is connected to Hindu religion, in so far it was given by the god, Shiva to make human beings find enlightenment and relief from samskara (repeated patterns of suffering). But, calling Hinduism a religion is a bit of a stretch, especially if we use the same term to talk about Abrahamic religions.
Hindu religion is ancient and it is a wide range practices and stories that were originally about revering nature, and creating art. Various symbols were used to connect to a sense of nature. It was similar to many other pagan interpretations and religions.
What is commonly called religion in our day and age, is a set of male centric ideologies that helps increase the population of people that belong to that belief system. It also helped people work hard, till the land and increase the food to feed all the children that resulted from the increase in sexual relations. Even the path of purportedly no religion, i.e., industrialization or science as we know is centric to the man–since we didn’t re-interpret god so far. It works the way money or currency does. We believe it has value so we keep using it.
A spiritualist does not practice either belief or non-belief, instead he or she practices impartial observation of the self. He or she studies the self. The new age interpretations are spiritual in nature, and groups that come together are primarily journeying/meditating or singing together to experience transcendent states and greater self-awareness.
Religion, frankly is about people, power and politics. The idea of god is not the problem, but the definition, and appropriation of god that causes a problem in these interpretations.
God is invisible. As humans we can only really experience god at a personal/individual level in deep states of hypnosis or meditation. These are solitary practices. Religion, on the other hand is about getting along, co-operating and working with people. They have co-existed in history, but they don’t have to co-exist, because containing spirituality so that it fits in with a religion is putting an unnecessary limit. It is like saying, you can have the mango, but only if you call it abc mango.
Yoga, which is a practice of unifying your awareness (a form of meditation using the body, as my book ‘100 Secrets of Meditation’ describes), is a path of self-awareness and what shape that self-awareness takes, entirely depends on the individual. Without a practice of self-awareness, going through life, is like keeping your eyes closed on a train journey and missing out on the view!. You get from point a to b, but you miss out on everything that came in between.
Self-awareness is the path of health–at a mental, emotional and physical level. There is no way out of our misery, unless we are willing to go within and study what is going on inside. The external reality comes from what the internal reality. In modern societies, our source of knowledge is other people i.e., through books, but unless we study the book that lies within us (or several), we are missing the point of being born.