Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

Hindu, Hinduism and Yoga: Connecting the Dots

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram 

Hindu, Hinduism and Yoga: Connecting the Dots

Locked Door by Melina Meza

What is the connection between Hinduism and yoga? And hatha yoga in particular? And Iyengar yoga in particular?
This was the question put forth by one of our blog readers and Nina aptly provided a reasonable perspective in her post Friday Q&A: Modern Yoga and Hinduism. But Nina also asked me to provide additional information to satisfy a broader audience. This reader’s question and Nina’s suggestion that I add my two cents to this topic is akin to opening the Pandora’s box of Hindu philosophy. Nevertheless, to have a better understanding of these concepts, it would help for all of us to be firmly established in our “higher Self”—a place of higher awareness. It is from this pedestal of higher awareness that consciousness expands, illusion of this physical body and materialism disappears and we realize our true nature. So here I go in simple terms.
1. Who or what is a Hindu?
The exact definition of this term has eluded many a scholar. The word “Hindu” is an adjective to the term “Hinduism.” There’s so much controversy to both these terms that even the Supreme Court of India, which has repeatedly been called upon to define “Hindu and Hinduism,” has not been able to satisfy a broader audience with its inconsistent definition to mean different things at different times. The term could refer to the people born in India or it could refer to an individual who practices a certain religion originating from India. However, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Zoroastrians among others who are born in India do not prefer to be referred to or described as “Hindus.”
Furthermore, that definition does not hold when you look to India’s neighboring country Nepal, which is the world's only Hindu kingdom. And what about the Hindus of other Southeast Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc. who are not born in India? The next time you visit a Nepali restaurant or if you happen to meet an Indonesian or Cambodian, ask them if they are Hindus and the reply will be in negative.
“Hindu” could be categorized with words like Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Jew, however, while the latter terms denote a specific religious order, the term “Hindu” does not define a specific religion. A Christian is a person who accepts the gospels as his or her scriptural guide and believes that Jesus is the incarnate God. A Buddhist follows the guiding principles from the Tipitaka and believes in the Buddha. A Muslim accepts the Qur'an as their scriptural guide, and believes that there is no God but Allah. However, “Hindu” neither belongs to the category of words like “Muslim,” “Christian,” or “Buddhist” nor to the category of words like “American,” “British,” “Australian,” or “Chinese.”
Interestingly, in the Sabda Kalpadruma, which is one of the oldest comprehensive Sanskrit dictionaries written in the 18th century, the term “Hindu “is defined as:
Hinam dushyathi Iti Hindu”- A hindu is one who dispels unhealthy thoughts and actions.
Personally, this definition sounds not only appropriate but it is empowering as well. Thus, going by this definition, any individual in this universe who does not harbor unhealthy thoughts and whose actions are not detrimental to self and others is a Hindu. So the staff of this blog, or the readers, or other individuals might well be “Hindus” if they harbor healthy thoughts and perform harmonious actions. How many of us are willing to embrace this definition?

2) If Hinduism is not a religion, what religion do Hindus follow?

Naturally, if Hinduism is a religion, the people following it are Hindus. But if there is no true religion called Hinduism, what about those people born in India who are not Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Zoroastrians, etc? What religious order do they follow? Furthermore, what religion is followed by those “Hindus” who are free from unhealthy thoughts and whose actions are not unfavorable?
In general, what determines whether a person is a follower of any particular religion is whether or not they accept, live by and strictly follow the scriptural authority of that religion. By that definition, a true Hindu who dispels unhealthy thoughts and actions is following the religion of Sanatana Dharma—“The Eternal Natural Law.” Sanatana Dharma is a religion that calls upon all Hindus to live in accordance with the divine laws as revealed in the Vedic scriptures. These ancient scriptures called Vedas expound an absolute set of duties or ordained practices incumbent upon all “Hindus,” regardless of ethnicity, gender, class, social order or sect. There are several Vedic texts that give different lists of the duties, but in general Sanatana Dharma consists of day-to-day living by virtues such as honesty, selfless service, non-violence, purity of thoughts, words, deeds and actions, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, goodwill and respect for every being. A very popular invocation drawn from the Vedic text and corroborating the principles of Sanatana Dharma also demonstrates the concern for universal affiliation:

Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu niraamayaah.

Sarve bhadraani pashyantu. Maa kaschid dukhbhaag bhavet.

May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy.

May all beings experience prosperity. May none in the world suffer.
Thus, the religion followed by true Hindus is Sanatana Dharm, a religious order that promotes coexistence and well defines the concept of pluralism.

3) What is the connection between Hinduism and yoga?

It has been the historically accepted standard that if you accept the Vedic texts as your scriptural authority and lived your life in accordance with the principles of “sanatana dharma” as mentioned in 2), you are a Hindu. For all members who lead the Vedic path, Hinduism promotes not only tolerance and respect for individual differences in all aspects of life, but also acknowledges the existence of more than one path to the “Supreme God Principle” otherwise known as Satyam or Truth. This concept of pluralism is best captured in the ancient Sanskrit hymn:
Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti”—Truth is only one, the wise call it by many names.
How does one see, perceive or achieve truth? Among the hundreds of paths known through history are six classical philosophical paths to achieve or perceive truth collectively called as Shad Darshana (Shad= six, darshana= awareness). These six paths are understood as varied attempts at describing Truth and the path to it. Each path to truth has its own founder or author, and the authors of these six systems of philosophy were individuals of the highest order who not only saw truth but had devoted their lives to the study and propagation of the path to truth. Elements of each path form part of the Hindu fabric of daily existence.
Yoga is one of those six paths whose objective is to achieve, at will, the cessation of all fluctuations of consciousness, and the attainment of Self Realization. Codified by Patanjali, who authored the Yoga Sutras or the aphorisms of yoga, this philosophical path is of great value to the seekers of the state of spiritual absorption. Yoga aims at the final state of spiritual absorption through eight component parts, together called Ashtanga Yoga. Yoga is wholly dedicated to putting the high philosophy of Sanatana Dharma into practice to achieve personal transformation through transcendental experience.
4) What is the connection between Hinduism and hatha yoga in particular? And Iyengar yoga in particular?
If my replies to the above three questions are clear, the answer to this question is fairly easy to follow. Any individual who cultivates pure thoughts and performs harmonious actions is a Hindu. As a seeker of truth, this individual has six principle paths to achieve enlightenment. As described above in 3), yoga is one such path. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali expounds adherence to eight steps to experience truth and achieve enlightenment. Swatmarama, a 15th/16th century yogic sage pulled out specific modules from the complex Yoga Sutras and compiled the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which focused exclusively on asanas, pranayama, chakras, bandhas, nadis and mudras as a means to purify the body and the mind.
Just like any modern texts, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was subjected to numerous revisions, editions and interpretations by a multitude of authors. Through his dual knowledge of Sanskrit and English, BKS Iyengar made it very easy for Westerners by drawing from the Yoga Sutras and the Pradipika and developing his own style of hatha yoga that lays emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). BKS Iyengar systematized nearly 200 classical yoga poses and more than one dozen different types of pranayama to ensure that students progress gradually from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind and body in a step-wise manner. Thus, the yoga predominantly practiced in the West deviated from the classical philosophical aspects since it consists of mostly asanas understood as physical exercises and as a stress-reducing practice.

4. Additional Query: Is chanting necessary in an asana class?

I checked some of the ancient texts and there is no mention of chanting alongside an asana class. To my knowledge, chanting in a class does not in any way enhance the spiritual experience compared to a class where there is no chant. There is no sutra in the Pradipika asserting that asanas be accompanied by a Gayatri chant or an invocation to Patanjali. My advice to any teacher that wishes to have chanting is to use chants, quotes or lines from all traditions and religious background so that the class turns into a purely non-denominational experience. Personally, chanting is secondary; instead I would look to see if the teacher is a “Hindu” who brings in qualities prescribed by the Sanatana Dharma.
Note: Nina and other readers may finally ask, am I a Hindu? I was born and raised in India to Hindu parents. I started my journey on the path of Sanatana Dharma several years ago when I embraced the sciences of yoga and ayurveda. I am trying my best to cultivate healthy thoughts, dispense harmonious actions and provide selfless service to the society. I leave it to all of you to decide if I am a true “Hindu.”

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