Saturday, January 16, 2010

Yoga: Five Ways of Salvation in Hinduism

I found Vishal Mangalwadi's article here fascinating and enlightening. I have the feeling that most of us in the West have no idea what this trendy new phenomenon is all about. The yoga crowd seems to be beautiful, sophisticated or just really cool. Buzz words like "holistic" and "spiritual" fly around. Christians are divided about whether they should or shouldn't do it. And from what I've heard, most people think yoga's purpose is physical flexibility and stress release.

I appreciated Mangalwadi's perspective on yoga. Although now approaching from a Christian worldview, he has first hand knowledge of the topic. A native of India, he was at one time initiated into Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's brand of Japa yoga (known as TM) in Maharishi's own living room.

Mangalwadi expounds on the global appeal and the religious worldview of yoga, and even the techniques used to alter conscience. (He even explains how to see the 'divine light' through the 'third eye' by gentle manipulation of the case you care to try.)

The problem with yoga according to Mangalwadi is not the exercises themselves, but the philosophy behind them:
Someone may ask, ‘What is wrong with artificially altering consciousness?’ By itself there is nothing wrong with an altered state of consciousness. Sleepwalking, hypnosis, hallucination, even madness are all ‘altered’ states of consciousness. There is nothing wrong with them in a moral sense, even if some of them are deemed undesirable states of consciousness. The problem is philosophical. Is your altered state of consciousness God? If it is not, then does it matter if you consider your own altered state of consciousness God? Is it harmless to call yourself the President of your nation if in fact you are not the President? If your inner self is not God then when you look within could you be looking for God in the wrong place? Is it right to call something spiritual which is in fact physical or psychological? Does it matter if you are mistaken in your beliefs? Well, does it matter if you go on the longest and the most important journey of your life with a map drawn by a person who mistook East for West or North for South?
I was very interested to read his thoughts and observations about the effects of monism. Especially because of his firsthand view of it's effects in India. I sometimes feel that we romanticize things that are foreign and slightly mysterious to us. And yet, this does not help us assess the worth of a worldview. Mangalwadi explains:
The monistic idea that the human self is the same as the divine self and that everything is one, makes our individuality illusory, thereby destroying the very foundation for affirming the unique value of every individual. It should not surprise us that the Indian philosophical tradition, in spite of all its brilliance, could not produce a culture that recognized human rights and the intrinsic worth of the individual. Nor could yogic monism give to Indian society a framework for moral absolutes, a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. Yogic exercises indeed gave flexibility to our bodies but unfortunately the yogic philosophy gave too much flexibility to our morals – making us one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

Mangalwadi's answer for these problems is biblical. He believes that our problem is moral, not physical or metaphysical.

God is holy – morally pure. We are sinful, not merely ignorant. We have done what we know to be wrong and failed to do what we know to be right. A holy God must judge and punish our sin. God and sin cannot co-exist anymore than light and darkness. Our need is not altered consciousness, but transformed hearts, for the heart is the real core of our being and our character...Our central problem, according to the Bible is that we are sinners. We need a divine Savior who will forgive our sins and transform our hearts – the core of our being.

I found this article informative and sort of a fun read. It also made me appreciate the worldview that has shaped our country and the benefits we enjoy because of it.

NOTE: In case you're interested to hear more from this fascinating man, he is coming to Calgary to speak at our conference Jan. 29 and 30. You can find more info here and here.

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