Did America Steal Yoga from the Hindus?

To answer the title of this post, yes it did, at least according to this thought-provoking assessment of the apparently rocky relationship between Hinduism and the practice of yoga in the West.  Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, writes, in essence, that the early Indian transmitters of yoga to the West sold out.  They all just sort of said, “To heck with Hinduism, let’s see the money!”

Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.

“Facile complicity” sounds very bad.  A bold assertion that goes a bit far, I believe, in questioning the intent of the early pioneers and yogis who helped establish a uniquely American yoga tradition, which was certainly influenced just as much by early adopters in America as those few Indians who left home to share an ancient, yet new philosophy and way of life.  Nonetheless, questions remain about the “ownership” of the true origins of yoga.

Of course, no one stands to argue that yoga hasn’t commercialized itself in true capitalistic fashion and sold itself to the masses; however, I’m curious to know how Daily Cup of Yoga’s faithful readers feel about the melting pot of American yoga, the blending of Western thought/religion/heritage with an Eastern (oops…dare I say Hindu…) philosophical tradition.  In the age of the hybrid vehicle, it seems as if yoga easily lends itself to those open to hybrid religion.

Finally, despite his annoyance with what he believes to be intellectual and historical blindness, Mr. Shukla appears to soften, and perhaps weaken, his argument when he acknowledges the universal benefits yoga has for those from any religious background.

All of this is not to contend, of course, that yoga is only for Hindus. Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience. No one can ever be asked to leave their own religion or reject their own theologies or to convert to a pluralistic tradition such as Hinduism. Yoga asks only that one follow the path of yoga for it will necessarily lead one to become a better Hindu, Christian, Jew or Muslim. Yoga, like its Hindu origins, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offers ways to know God.

As for myself, I don’t really know who owns yoga or whether the little yogi stick figures carved into the Mohenjo-Daro stones were Hindus or not, but I’m definitely a hybrid guy who’s happy to have discovered the beautiful and unique, perhaps one-of-a-kind unifying gem, called yoga.

A Guide to Cultivating Compassion @ Zen Habits

Dalai Lama

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama

“My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. These things are very useful in our daily life, and also for the whole of human society these practices can be very important.” - Dalai Lama

I just ran across a great article at Zen Habits with some excellent reminders for how we can live more kind and compassionate lives. I don’t really think I could say it much better than the guide does so I highly recommend heading over there for a bit of reading and pondering.

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