Anyway, I have to say that I find Carol's incisive post to be a breath of fresh air in the blogosphere's treatment of this case thus far. Thus far, almost all of the coverage I have read about this case in the blogosphere mainly consist in people talking past each other: Conservatives charge that yoga as taught by the Jois Yoga Foundation is religious and violates the separation of church and state. Yoga nuts (which include yours truly) respond, in turn, by stressing the health and stress-reduction benefits of yoga, giving the rest of the world the impression that we either do not understand the conservatives' concerns (in which case, we really might be nuts) or simply refuse to listen to them. Sigh.... is it really any wonder that popular media often projects this stereotype of yogis as blissed out, ommed-out zombies who are either too brainwashed or too oblivious (maybe they amount to the same thing, in the final analysis) to listen to what others have to say about what they do? Actually, sometimes I also wonder if this is why I seem to be losing interest in blogging lately. I mean, if blogging is simply about reinforcing the tape that is playing in our heads (and thus reinforcing and enabling this zombic state), what is the point?
Seen these people at yoga lately?
[Image taken from here]
'Although “religion” has been defined in many ways . . . there is agreement among many of today’s scholars that religion should be defined broadly enough to account for the diversity of human experience and the variety of ways people set apart that which seems sacred from that which seems profane . . . 'religion' by definition includes not only theistic beliefs - like those found in Christianity - but also bodily practices perceived as connecting individuals with suprahuman energies, beings, or transcendent realities, or as inducing heightened spiritual awareness or virtues. I include “spirituality” within my definition of religion - rather than distinguishing the two - because both religion and spirituality (derived from the Latin “spiritus”) make metaphysical - that is, more than physical (including suprahuman or supernatural) - assumptions about the nature of reality.' (excerpted from Brown's Expert Witness Brief supporting her claim that Ashtanga yoga is a religion.)
Long story short: If Brown is right, then there is no such thing as "spiritual but not religious". If she is right, then everything that is spiritual is also religious.
Well, is she right? Although I know shit about religious studies, I would like to boldly disagree with her here. In other words, I believe that it is possible to have a spiritual experience that is not religious in nature. And I think this is true, even if we accept her broad definition as religion as involving anything that makes metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality. Here's one everyday example: Making and listening to music. Many people who have spent serious time making music or making serious efforts to appreciate any kind of music will tell you that the experience is spiritual: It puts them in touch with a part of themselves that lies beyond the intellect, beyond the merely emotional. And yet many of these people will also tell you that having such an experience does not involve making any metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality: You do not need to believe that there is a higher being or power that has given you this wonderful experience, or that you are somehow able to make music because some higher power or agency has given you this power to make such music. To be sure, perhaps some people conceive of their musical experiences in this way. But not all do.
Anyway, what I'm getting at is this: If we can make music without making metaphysical assumptions, why can't we "make yoga" without making similar metaphysical assumptions? In other words, why can't music (and yoga) be spiritual without being religious? I can't speak for anybody else, but I really feel that this has been my experience with my own yoga practice thus far. In my best moments on (and off) the mat, I feel that the practice brings me to a place that is beyond my intellect or my emotions. And yet I do not need to believe in any being or power greater than myself in order to get to this place. I do both the opening and closing invocations in Ashtanga, but I'm not doing those because I'm worshiping Patanjali or anybody else that has a thousand white heads: I mainly do the chants out of reverence and respect for whoever it is that came before me that made it possible for me to do this wonderful practice. And I certainly don't see myself worshiping Ganesh or Krishna anytime soon (well, maybe you can check back with me ten years from now on this :-)).
Anyway... I'm not sure what else I can say here. I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything here. But I do think that if the conservatives have their way, and yoga either gets banned from schools or gets relegated to this soul-less routine of "just stretching", many many children that would otherwise take benefit from this wonderful practice would miss out on this wonderful product of a great ancient civilization, and be so much the poorer for it.