yoga in alabama

Quoting from Newsweek:

The Alabama board of education in 1993 voted to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The ban was pushed by conservative groups, and some schools have reported complaints from parents who say the practice endorses a “non-Christian belief system”.

From The Guardian:

The ancient practice of yoga has its roots in Hinduism though it is now a common form of exercise practiced across the world, including in private gyms in Alabama. 

A bill brought by Representative Jeremy Gray, a Democratic legislator from Opelika, is on the proposed debate agenda Tuesday in the Alabama House of Representatives. If the bill passes with a two-thirds majority, it will then go to the Senate for further debate. 

Gray’s bill seeks to dissociate yoga from its religious roots, and says that local school systems can decide if they want to teach yoga poses and stretches. However, the moves and exercises taught to students must have exclusively English names, according to the legislation. It would also prohibit the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste”.

From CNN:

“Critics of the bill often see yoga as a part of the Hindu religion that can’t be separated”, Gray said. “The exclusions are part of the political compromise”, he said, “and are better than not allowing students access to any of the emotional or physical benefits of the practice.” 

That sounds like cultural appropriation, but I’m not going to concern myself with deciding whether it is.

Yoga is very much a part of Hindu religion. It originated as part of Vedic religion thousands of years ago. In Sanskrit, yoga is derived from yuj meaning ‘union’ – union with the divine after quieting the five senses. It is not just an exercise routine but is used as one outside India.

Like haldi doodh, an Ayurvedic treatment for balancing the three doshas, is now called turmeric latte and sold at Starbucks!

Yoga is good. Haldi doodh is good. Ordinary people don’t have to acknowledge the origin of anything they use. That’s only for academics. So why these disclaimers, distortions and little deceptions?

In a hyper-connected world people from distant countries are exposed to other cultures. That’s unavoidable. Throughout history people have tried to alter or influence other cultures to be more like theirs, never realising the other culture is subtly rubbing off on them too! That’s how yoga has entered the lives of non-Indians.

Christian evangelism by Americans has been going on in India for many decades now. Here are a couple of excerpts reflecting dissatisfaction with it.

  • In India, evangelism has always been a cause for concern as it poses a severe threat to the demographic stability of the country. In this report, we elaborate on the zeal of the missionaries and the extent of their efforts to convert people to the worship of their ‘One True God’. The Joshua Project is a ‘research initiative’ that seeks to ‘highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ’.
  • Joshua Project focuses on catalyzing pioneer evangelism and church planting. 

If you haven’t heard of the project, this is from wikipedia:

  • The Joshua Project is a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, United States, which seeks to coordinate the work of missionary organizations to highlight the ethnic groups of the world with the fewest followers of evangelical Christianity. To do so, it maintains ethnologic data to support Christian missions.
  • The goal of the project is to identify people who “do not have enough worshipers of Jesus Christ” and provide the needs and support to evangelize about Christianity and Jesus.

Not so strange, is it? Everybody has misgivings about ‘the other’ infringing on their territory and trying to alter their way of life.

All human beings want to keep their tribes safe and cohesive. They like who they are and don’t want to change. Not unlike the parents of school children in Alabama, Hindu Indians don’t like the propagation of American religion in India. They have the same worries about Christian missionaries as Mr. Gray and the parents of the kids in Alabama have about yoga being taught in American schools.

Are India and the US both religious democracies rather than secular democracies then? In which case, why are we pretending to be secular?

There is a small point I need to add. Even if American children are taught yoga using English translations they are still exposed to yoga per se. Won’t they explore it further if they benefit from it, as the school and Mr. Gray intend them to? Isn’t it pointless to shield kids from something they will question anyway, given the inbuilt BS meters that all kids are blessed with?

I would think it’s simpler to tell them that this is not a Christian thing but it’s good for them. Hindu children in Indian cities enjoy decorated Christmas trees and gifts and cake at home on X’mas Day, minus the religious underpinnings, knowing that Christmas honours the god of many of our friends.

a pillar in an ancient temple at Hampi with carved figures in yoga asanas



things which make for peace

BENGALURU: Catholic bishops across the country have raised concerns over “…false messages of conversions are being spread on whatsapp and facebook to instigate communal violence.”

One of the bishops says:

“There are growing concerns and anxieties among Christian community members as the country seems to be going one-sided or on the verge of being affiliated to a particular religion.”

This is from today’s edition of The Times of India.

This is not going to happen. Newspapers may report a few incidents, and television anchors may hold highly-charged debates, but if you look around your own city or town, beyond your own little bunch of people, you can see that our country is doing well enough in terms of religious harmony. Nothing like the Goa Inquisition is going to be unleashed on Christians by the Indian government.

Religion is not what it used to be fifty years ago almost everywhere in the world, and if you actually want to go by what is propagated via whatsapp and facebook, no religion can claim the moral high ground. I am sure people from every religious group, including religious heads when they were younger and not-yet-so-wise, are guilty of saying nasty things about some other religion, if not on social media, at least in their own drawing rooms.

When I think or write about religion it is always from the perspective of truly devout people who want to live right in God’s eyes. I’ve shied away from acknowledging that it is more of a political tool, and has always been one, because religion is sacred and empowering for billions of people, and I didn’t want to desecrate that by saying it is anything other than spiritual. In kind and open minds and hearts, religion is blessed, deeply meaningful and unifying. I believe that disparaging someone else’s god already makes you a bigot and your bias disqualifies you from judging other religions and preaching about god.

Religion is a power structure from a different era, like monarchy, and religious heads are loath to let go of power, just like European monarchies are. Apart from this, the need to increase the number of followers is also a practical consideration, so there’s some safety if there’s an internecine conflict involving religion, or even a world war, though the stated purpose is the betterment of the individual who is invited to join a religion.

India is a pluralistic society. Nobody wants to instigate communal violence, though communal violence is often a fallout of a fight over something else. As far as I can see, everyone is freely following his religion in this country for the most part. People have the freedom to propagate their religions too. I’ll give a single example. There exists a US-based project called The Joshua Project whose stated aim is to christianise all of India. The organisation was granted permission by the Indian government to operate in India in 2002. Its members are apparently even given special missionary visas.

Its activities have not been obstructed in any way for the past fifteen years as far as I know. I’ve often wondered how this project benefits India, and why the government permitted it, because I don’t see other countries allowing similar projects to hinduise, islamicise, sikhise, zorosterise, buddhisise or jainise their countries. Also, if India is truly secular it’s government shouldn’t be promoting any religion. It is very likely that there are concerns in the Hindu community regarding this. In this era of fake news how do we know that the messages the bishops say are being spread on whatsapp and facebook are true or not?

To quote from The Washington Times, 15th Dec 2006:

“Officially, Christians comprise 2.3 percent of India’s more than 1 billion population. Unofficially, he insists, the number is closer to 8 percent”, he being a man called Thangiah who preaches in Bangalore. It’s only a ball park figure, but he wouldn’t say this without some idea.

Perhaps the bishops should look at the freedom Christians have in India compared to, say Coptic Christians in some countries, before making vague allegations directed against “a particular religion.” Please? This is as good as it gets. Let’s not destroy this country over religion. We’ve managed for a thousand years, so surely the bishops can address the issues raised by others and get on with it? The people who belong to the “particular religion” may have genuine fears too, fears that could be dispelled by the bishops’ answers. Perhaps a dialogue between the respective religious heads would be more helpful than complaining to the press.

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19). This applies as much to us now as it did to the Gentiles and Jews then, especially in the context of the Indian belief in vasudhaiva kutumbakam, which means ‘the whole world is one familyin Sanskrit.