"Like many scholars of yoga and religion, Christopher Chapple, professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, says that yoga is a non-sectarian practice. The Yoga Sutras, the most commonly cited classical text that forms the basis for both traditional and contemporary yoga philosophy, make no specific theological claims, according to Chapple. It is the non-sectarian nature of this text that has allowed it to resonate for more than 1,500 years, he says...
Mark Singleton, a yoga scholar who teaches at St. John's College in Santa Fe, notes that many of the influential pioneers of modern hatha yoga insisted on its non-sectarian, democratic and secular nature, and sometimes had an aversion to the association of yoga with religion. This, says Singleton, is in keeping with the anti-sectarian spirit of early Indian hatha yoga."
If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I have written a few posts expressing my personal views about this ongoing legal case and the issues of spirituality vs. religion that it brings up, so I won't repeat myself here. But I just want to point out that it is significant that a mainstream national newspaper like USA Today has published an article which reinforces the view that yoga is not a religion. Hopefully, this will have a positive impact in shaping public perception and the direction of conversations around the country on this matter.
Well, I said I wasn't going to repeat myself by saying too much more in this post. But after thinking about this matter a little more, it turns out that I do have more to say anyway. So here goes.
In the USA Today article above, Mark Singleton notes that in keeping with the anti-sectarian spirit of early hatha yoga, many influential pioneers of modern hatha yoga insisted on its non-sectarian and secular nature. I am no yoga scholar, but I can't help speculating that a big part of this insistence on the non-sectarian secularism of yoga is also driven by what I would call "spiritual pragmatism". The idea is that it doesn't matter where a particular spiritual practice comes from or what its specific doctrinal origin is: If it benefits you and helps you to function more effectively as a person in the world, why not adopt it?
I have noticed that this spirit of pragmatism informs much of eastern thinking, and not just in spiritual matters. For instance, it famously finds expression in Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's maxim, "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice." It was this spirit of pragmatism that allowed Deng to incorporate extensive economic reforms in a China that was reeling from the effects of the cultural revolution, and reform the Chinese economy without ostensibly deviating from Marxist/Maoist doctrine.
Applied to spiritual matters, this means that so long as a particular physical or spiritual practice helps you to function more effectively as a person in the world, the fact that it originated in a spiritual system that is alien to your own is secondary. If it benefits you, you would do well to adopt it (and maybe find a way to fit it within your spiritual system further down the road).
I also can't help observing that this spirit of pragmatism is rather lacking in much of Judeo-Christian thought. I have noticed that there is a tendency for much of Judeo-Christian thinking to be rather binary in nature. I'm actually not sure if this is because Judeo-Christian thought is itself inherently binary in nature, or if it is because westerners who grew up in this tradition tend to be binary in their thinking (I suspect it's a combination of both.). In any case, such a way of thinking goes like this: Something either fits into my system, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then it probably goes against some basic belief of my system. Therefore, I should reject it, no matter how beneficial it might otherwise be to me. To use a very specific example, I believe that it is this lack of a pragmatic spirit that led my Christian friend to hesitate about starting a yoga practice for fear that it might involve yoking with the devil.
Well, I think I have rambled enough for today. All of my views here about spiritual pragmatism are strictly my own subjective musings; I have not conducted any systematic research to back these claims up. But since this is my blog/personal soapbox, I've decided to air them here anyway: What else are blogs for? As always, if you have anything to say, I'll love to hear from you.