Is Yoga a Religion?
Is Yoga a religion? The simple answer is no. Yoga is contained within religions. Religion is not contained within Yoga.
Yoga mean union. It’s the joining together those aspects of ourselves which were never divided in the first place. To say that the word Yoga itself is a religion makes as much sense as saying that the words Union or Holistic are themselves a religion.
There is not a universal agreement on these points, nor the definition of Yoga. Many feel that Yoga is not a religion, and may feel that Yoga is a religion.
“Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga. While Yoga may be in Religions, the many Yoga practices with body, breath and mind, along with their transcendent goal of direct experience, are generally neither characteristics of Religions, nor typically practiced by the adherents of Religions.”
- Swami Jnaneshvara, Bharati
“To answer this question, I look to the roots of yoga. Traditionally, yoga is the science of the Self. Yoga seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include meditation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct. If by religion we mean the religious experience of transcendence, the loss of fear of death, and the emergence of platonic qualities such as truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, and evolution, then yes, yoga can give us a religious experience. It is not religion in the form of ideology, dogma, belief systems, or compliance; it’s a spiritual experience that gives us access to a universal domain of reality.”
-Deepak Chopra, MD, Founder of The Chopra Foundation, author, public speaker, physician, LaJolla, California.
“Yoga, though not a religion in the traditional sense, was adopted and utilized by every religious tradition that emerged from Vedic India, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Yoga lays out the means to overcome suffering and achieve self-realization. For those with a theological orientation, that could be rephrased as, ‘To overcome suffering and achieve God-realization.’ “
- Gary krafsow, Founder and Director of the American Viniyoga Institute in Oakland, California
“My practice doesn’t frame yoga as a religion, as I think that invites a bias that belies the great possibilities of yoga: liberation from dogma and from entrenched ideas about the Self and the world. But is the practice of yoga spiritual? For me, absolutely- it’s the ground from which I cultivate wonder and generosity. And the ritualistic aspect can guide us into intimacy with ourselves and others that we might not otherwise find.”
- Sarah Trelease, Co-director of Practice and Presence: Integrated Yoga Teacher Trainings in Portland, Oregon
What Is Missing With Yoga to Make it a Religion?
Here are a few things that are typically part of religions, but are missing with Yoga:
- Yoga has no deity to worship
- Yoga has no worship services to attend
- Yoga has no rituals to perform
- Yoga has no sacred icon
- Yoga has no creed or formal statement of religious belief
- Yoga has no requirement for a confession of faith
- Yoga has no ordained clergy or priests to lead religious services
- Yoga has no institutional structure, leader, or group of overseers
- Yoga has no membership procedure.
- Yoga has no congregation of members or followers
- Yoga has no system of temples or churches
Virtues in Yoga and Religion
Yoga recommends meditation on, and cultivation of lovingness, compassion, goodwill and acceptance, as well as non-violence, truthfulness, training the senses, non-possessiveness, and other virtues (Yoga Sutras).
Religions also recommend cultivating such virtues. However, it is self-evident that cultivating these ways of being or living are not themselves religion.
When these are practiced in yoga, the fine, subtler, truer aspects of our being are revealed, and this may or may not be seen in the context of religion. The choice rests with each individual person.
Yoga and Silence
Keeping the context of your own religion. Yoga systematically deals with all levels of your being, leading one to a place of deep stillness and silence. From within the stillness and silence, you can more fully experience spirituality in the context of your own religion and personal beliefs.
It’s about removing obstacles. When we are not experiencing such a deep stillness and silence, it’s because our world, senses, body, breath, and mind have become obstacles to inner peace and spiritual awareness.
Then comes spiritual insight. It’s in the spirit of observing, accepting, understanding, and training ourselves in Yoga Meditation that these obstacles are gently, systematically removed. It’s somewhat like gradually thinning out a cloud bank that’s veiling the spiritual serenity that is naturally there. In this way, our world and the aspects of our own being can becomes ‘tools’ rather than obstacles. The spiritual focus is the entire purpose of Yoga.
Feeling closer to your own religion. Through the spiritual focus of Yoga, one may come closer to their own religious roots, although the practices themselves are not necessarily religious.
So the big question and debate surrounding ‘is yoga a religion’, comes down to an individual perspective. For yoga practitioners it is viewed as a spiritual experience through which one can find a deeper connection to Self and Spirit. What are your thoughts on this?