Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Faith Panelists Blog: The theft of yoga - Aseem Shukla

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    Aseem Shukla
    • co-founder, Hindu American Foundation

      Aseem Shukla

      Associate Professor in urologic surgery at the University of Minnesota medical school.

    • The theft of yoga
    • Why is yoga severed in America's collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization--they are today's syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism--the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored. The severance of yoga from Hinduism disenfranchises millions of Hindu Americans from their spiritual heritage and a legacy in which they can take pride.

      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. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage the Beatles steadied their mind and made sense of their insane fame, packaged the wonders of meditation as Transcendental Meditation (TM) just as an entrepreneur from here in Minneapolis applied the principles of Ayurveda to drive a commercial enterprise he coined as Aveda. TM and Aveda are trademarked brands--a protection not available to the originator of their brand--Hinduism itself. And certainly these masters benefited millions with their contributions, but in agreeing to ditch Hinduism as the source, they left these gifts orphaned and unanchored.

      The Los Angeles Times last week chronicled this steady disembodying of yoga from Hinduism. "Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting [and] no one religion can claim ownership," says a vocal proponent of "Christian themed" yoga practices. Some Jews practice Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, and even some Muslims are joining the act. They are appropriating the collective wisdom of millenia of yogis without a whisper of acknowledgment of yoga's spiritual roots.

      Not surprisingly, the most popular yoga journals and magazines are also in the act. Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as "ancient Indian," "Eastern" or "Sanskritic," but seem to assiduously avoid the term "Hindu" out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise. The American Yoga Association, on its Web site, completes this delinking of yoga from Hinduism thusly:

      "The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries...The techniques of Yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions."

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