Yes, you read that title correctly: the Monday following my in-depth weekend with the Gita, I came across a link to a YouTube video posted by a yoga friend.
The YouTube video was posted by a user calling himself The Vigilant Christian, and as soon as I saw the title of the video (Yoga Is a Satanic Practice), I felt deflated at the idea of yet another Christian giving Christianity a bad rap.
Take a few minutes to watch this video for yourself, and then see what I have to say about it:
Here's the thing: Most of the organized hierarchical religions (cults) will tell you that THIS way is the ONLY way, and that everyone else is lying to you. (Fox News, anyone?) It seems to me that there are lots of Christians out there who don't know anything about Christianity, including how the current version of the Bible was written, and the history of the Christian belief system. (Yes, these things all have roots in socio-political history, they're not just handed down by that God they talk about in the Bible.)
Back in the day (the Medieval Day, mostly), the dogma of the Christian church was developed in order to give power to the priests. The ordained clergy were the ones through which the ordinary person could get to God - and that was important. Since life on Earth was so damn hard for humans, people wanted some kind of assurance that when they died, things would be better. The priests conveniently positioned themselves as that gateway to the Divine - God was portrayed as being separate from humans, and the only way to get God to listen to you was through the priests.
The priests were sort of like insurance brokers. They were the "middle man" that you needed to ensure that you got to Heaven in the afterlife. But Hinduism and many other ancient religions teach that in fact, we are ALL incarnations of the Divine, and it exists right within each of us. We are, in fact, all divine! (Not to mention the fact that the King James Bible, the current book used by Christians to outline their beliefs, was actually written between 1604 and 1611 for political reasons, to allow the Church to hold on to power through their ordained clergy, the same clergy that worked closely with the King and other political leaders of the day.)
There were big bucks involved with the church hierarchy back then, just like today, and no doubt the priests and the political leaders of the day wanted to hang on to all that money. Sadly, that's how most organized religions work: there's just no room for questions that might disprove any of the dogma. In addition to that, practicing yoga doesn't mean that you are now a Hindu, any more than going to church makes you a Christian, or parking yourself in a garage makes you a car.
In case you're now terrified that your asana practice has cunningly turned you into a devout Hindu, never fear: yes, asana practice can be a form of Bhakti - the yoga of devotion to the divine - but the yoga asanas are meant to help someone go inwards, and seek the Divine that exists within themselves. The asanas aren't meant to worship any one particular deity like Lakshmi or Tara or Ganesha - they are meant to strengthen the body and mind to allow one to go deeper within themselves and gently reveal that divine spark that exists within us.
Oh, and in case you were worried that the whole Kundalini serpent was going to allow those demons to sneak into your soul and torture you, you should know that in pretty much every other culture, snakes are regarded as important spiritual symbols, representing transformation, the cycle of death and rebirth, and freedom. Those Kundalini texts that he so conveniently leaves out that talk about Kundalini yoga being a path to compassion, service, and awareness of the Divine were also written at about the same time as the King James version of the Bible he's probably using. But if he can't be bothered to learn the origins of his own belief system, then why should we expect him to do any research at all into other "false religions"?
Then, I just started to get sad. When this guy started talking about how we can't trust our heart, can't trust our feelings of great love, even and especially when they occur in a spiritual setting, I just felt really bad for the guy. Why would anyone want to subscribe to a belief system that denies any pleasure at all in this life? Why would you want to believe in a system where God wants you to feel bad? Doesn't Jesus spend, oh, like the entire New Testament talking about how important it is to love? Why would you want to subscribe to a belief system that makes you fearful of love and compassion? Again, it all goes back to the beliefs that were prescribed by the Church hierarchy - you're simply not allowed to feel God's love without the help of a priest, because you, as a human being, are not worthy.
Now, this guy isn't bashing all forms of stretching and strengthening exercise. Apparently, pilates is perfectly okay to do, even though it's all developed from yoga asanas. So, maybe that extra level of dilution makes pilates okay? The illustration at 11:31 in the video is clearly a side plank pose - but because he's got the word "pilates" splashed across it, that makes it compatible with Christianity.
Did I miss something? Pilates has its roots in yoga - and yoga has its roots in the tradition of seeking the Divine in yourself. He says that the word "yoga" means "to yoke to the Hindu gods". So he's getting hung up on a WORD. Four little letters - that actually don't refer to the yoking of oneself to the Hindu gods. It's a yoking of the physical and the spiritual through the practice of meditation. But if this guy can't be bothered to understand his own Christian faith, I guess he can't be bothered to really understand another belief system that differs from his own.
Thinking about the human experience through something like the Bhagavad Gita tells us that while our views and perceptions of the Divine may be skewed because they are limited by our human senses (and the Divine is something much greater that our human brains may have a problem processing in its true form), they are still a part of the greatness. It just reinforces that idea that human beings are not worthy of experiencing spiritual love - and that just makes me sad.
What he apparently missed throughout his own yoga teacher training is that even the Hindus recognize just one God. The Hindu deities and incarnations are similar to the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, or as Muhammad or the Buddha. The difference is that these ancient texts recognize that our human nature is a part of nature - and nature, as we know, is part of the Divine, not set apart from it.
Even the name - "The Vigilant Christian" - is enough to make me feel exhausted. The idea that the whole world is filled with "bad guys" that are out to getcha is full of fear and paranoia. At the beginning of the video, he talks about how he developed depression and anxiety - well, yeah! If I walked around all the time thinking that Satan was lurking around every corner, just waiting to lead me into the destruction of my spirit, I'd probably be pretty damned depressed and anxious, too.
And here's my big thing: when we finally reach that state of enlightenment, that union with the Divine, it is not going to be in a manner that we can perceive with our human senses. Even the Christian belief system understands this. God, Goddess, the Divine - they are all simply manifestations and incarnations of a bigger power that human beings are ill-equipped to comprehend. But we have to start somewhere, right? So Christians have the incarnation of Jesus. Muslims have Muhammad. The Buddha was an incarnation of the Divine, as well. These incarnations give us a starting point, something that we can recognize and that we can use to develop our own spiritual nature.
Human beings are indeed dual in nature - we are both spiritual and physical. We should be embracing the idea that we, as human beings, as spiritual beings, are all really part of the same great universe. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, we are all the same.