Many Hindu immigrants in the West have faced major discrimination and persecution on account of their faith. It is not possible in most US cities for openly practicing Hindus, who wear the traditional bindu, tilakams or other religious insignia, to easily find employment. There are many documented cases of Hindus being teased, mocked, or attacked for their cultural and religious differences from the Christian majority. In many locales in America, it is not possible for Hindu organizations to get permits for Temples or Cultural Centers, despite laws that prohibit Cities and Counties from discrimination based upon faith. As a result, many Hindus in the West have stopped the practices which in India kept them connected to their culture and their faith. Even if these practice have not been abandoned altogether, they have been quieted and concealed by most for the sake of a safe and successful life in which they can support their families.
Yet some of the same practices, which earn Hindus scorn when practiced as a part of their religious customs, have been seen to increase the popularity and marketability of Hollywood stars and musicians. Westerners wearing a bindu on the forehead is one example, and practicing Yoga is another. For Westerners to lightheartedly adopt the same practices, which in their original spiritual context are prohibited by society at large for Hindus, adds insult to injury. It leaves Hindu immigrants with a bad experience of practicing their cultural and religious heritage while simultaneously devaluing it and transforming it into something much more vapid and mundane.
Even in India, Hindus have faced similar oppression and persecution for centuries by Buddhist, Christian and Muslim invaders. The Christian Rajas outlawed many Hindu practices and they even translated the Hindu scriptures into modern Indian languages with the intent of exposing the inferiority of Hindus customs and promoting their own Christian dogma. The harm of such efforts can not be underestimated as the history and the traditional beliefs and practices of Hinduism are not well understood, even in India, because people are still influenced by the translations of the Christian missionaries. Violent and deceptive means to convert Hindus to other faiths have been used for centuries and continue in India today. I have heard stories of Christian missionaries in India tricking school children into conversion by rigging a school bus engine to fail when triggered. When the bus failed, the children were urged to pray to their Hindu Gods to fix the bus. After these prayers went unanswered, the children were urged to pray to Jesus. Then the driver triggered the engine to start and the children were impressed by the apparent superiority of Jesus and asked to convert. In other cases, Christian organizations have gone to underdeveloped areas lacking modern medical facilities. Using major resources from the West, they build state of the art hospitals and offer affordable health care. When the local medical providers have been driven out of business, these hospitals begin refusing care to all non-Christians and in cases have forced patients to get tattoos of crosses to prove their Christian faith before administering treatments. These acts are nothing short of an atrocity. If people can convince others to convert to their religion by the merits of the religion itself, this is acceptable, but these deceptive and forceful tactics are unconscionable. Yet these practices are allowed by Hindus and the Indian Government in a perhaps misguided effort to practice non-violence and tolerance.
Ahimsa, or non-violence is extolled as supreme among virtues by Hinduism. This belief inspired a completely non-violent revolution as brave Hindus cast off the oppressive hand of British imperialism through non-violent protest. But it has also lead to Hindus accepting tyranny and oppression in certain cases. Hindus believe that all things are good, because the Lord dwells in all things. They strive to maintain peace and joy in adversity due to the faith that what befalls them is their karma which they must face. But Hindu people must make a conscious effort to stand strong for their faith and culture in positive and non-violent ways or the fate of the Sanatana (Hindu) Dharma, the oldest continuously practiced religion in the world, is uncertain. Western thought and modern science encourages Hindus to view their spiritual tradition as superstitious and silly, and many Hindus are losing faith. This is the modern climate for Hinduism throughout the world. Even if Western Yoga practitioners do not intend to cause harm or to diminish the beautiful spiritual customs of Hindus, when they extract what suits them from the Hindu spiritual tradition while leaving behind the spiritual essence, they are unknowingly reinforcing the efforts of the many Western missionaries, scholars, and rulers who have aimed to causes Hindus to disparage their own culture and religion.
To put this situation in perspective for Westerners, one has only to imagine an analogous possibility involving the Christian faith. If Christians were persecuted and their religious practices prohibited by society, but then a practice like Christian Communion was taken out of context and marketed by non-Christians as an exercise routine, this would obviously not be acceptable. I can imagine instructors saying “Stand, sit, kneel. Join the palms together. And repeat.” This may sound ridiculous, but this is exactly what Westerners have done with the Hindu spiritual practice of Yoga. To me, Yoga is an integral and sacred part of my Hindu religion. I have capitalized the word “Yoga” in every usage throughout this article, in the same way a Christian would Capitalize the name “Christ.” Yoga is not a mere exercise to help people lose weight or to feel better about their bodies. Nor is it a trend to be marketed for profit. Yoga is a spiritual practice revealed by the Holy Sages of my Hindu religion, and it is a tried and tested technique for direct communion with the Divine.
I am not at all opposed to Westerners practicing Yoga. The mystical science of Yoga was revealed by the Sages in India for the benefit of humanity. But people who practice Yoga should be aware of its origins, its purpose, and the depth of the practice. If a person uses the practices of Yoga to deepen their spiritual experience, this honors the tradition. But Yoga is not an exercise and the benefits of Yoga are much different than those of physical exercise. If a person is using the practices of Yoga for other purposes, they should not call it Yoga, in respect of the tradition that is held sacred by over a billion Hindus worldwide. Call it exercise. Call it aerobics. Call it Pilates. I would think this would not offend anyone. Most of the poses done in Yoga studios in the West were not even a part of traditional Yoga practice until the 20th century, and most of the poses and practices talked about in the Yoga scriptures are never practiced in Yoga studios. However, if practitioners of this modern exercise, which has drawn influences from traditional Yoga, want to continue using the borrowed Sanskrit name “Yoga,” they should delve deeper into the mystical and spiritual science of Yoga in the traditional ways. The world would be a better place for their sincere efforts.
20 Western Yoga Practices that are Disrespectful to the Ancient Spiritual Tradition of Yoga
1) Stripping Spirituality from the Practice of Yoga
2. Claiming Yoga is Not a Spiritual Practice
3. Focusing Practice Mainly on the Physical Postures
4. Practicing Yoga without Yama and Niyama
1. Ahimsa - Non-violence in thought, word, and deed. This principle restraint of Yoga is the reason that Yogis traditionally observe a strict vegetarian diet.
2. Satya - Truthfulness
3. Asteya - Not stealing or taking credit for the works of others
4. Brahmacharya - Celibacy for the unwed and marital fidelity for the married
5. Aparigraha - Non-possessiveness / Renunciation of property
6. Kshama - Forgiveness
7. Dhriti - Fortitude and Steadfastness
8. Dhaya - Compassion
9. Arjava - Sincerity and Straightforwardness
10. Mitahara - Moderate appetite
1. Tapas - Practicing austerities like fasting, wearing robes (or plain, unfashionable clothes), sleeping on a hard floor, remaining awake for extended periods, practicing silence, etc.
2. Santosha - Contentment
3. Astikya - Maintaining faith in God, Guru and Scriptures
4. Dana - Charity, Donation
5. Ishvarapujana - Worship of Lord Shiva through the 16 traditional daily offerings
6. Siddhanta Shravana - Listening to recitation of sacred Hymns
7. Hri - Remorse
8. Mati - Mindfulness
9. Japa - Repetition of Mantras
10. Vrata - Observing Holy days, pilgrimages and sacred vows.
5. Practicing Yoga without a Guru