INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY: CONCEPT AND CONTROVERSY

This article is an attempt by me to demystify the ancient concept of yoga, its recent ‘formal’ acknowledgement by the international community by observance of ‘International Yoga Day’ and some of the controversies that surround this day.

INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY:

The United Nations has, by a resolution on 11th December 2014, accepted the observance of 21st June each year thence as International Yoga Day. It was accepted after the Indian PM Narendra Modi put forward an appeal thereof during his visit to the UN.

21st June is also the longest day of the year and marks the transition of the Summer Solstice of Northern hemisphere to Dakshinayana. In layman’s language, this marks the beginning of the most appropriate period for the pursuit of spiritual aims.

The historical significance of this day has been marked by the celebration of this period not only by Indians, but, around the globe by various cultural traditions:

  • Guru Poornima in India,
  • Jani in Latvia,
  • Jaanipaev in Estonia,
  • Juhannus in Finland,
  • Kupala Night in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine,
  • Tiregan in Iran,
  • Wianki in Poland.

WHAT IS YOGA?

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj which means ‘union’ or to join. This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.

On a more practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. This is done through the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma and meditation. (It is not possible for me to elaborate each term taking notice of the limitations of this article.)

Yoga is a very vast subject and ‘yogic sciences’ (mind the plural expression) despite being ancient are very complex and require a very deep philosophical and structural understanding. For the sake of brevity, I will deal with some essential elaborations while dealing with the controversies.

HISTORY OF YOGA:

The present yogic system developed thousands of years ago as a division of the tantric system (one must exercise caution while understanding this word as it has been used in a negative sense since long).

Remains of the Harappan civilization are a perfect proof of the historic presence of yogic culture. Statutes and other artifacts have been found depicting deities resembling Bhagwaan Shiva and Parvati performing various asanas. One must not forget the fact that Bhagwaan Shiva is considered to be the founder of Yoga and Parvati, his first disciple.

Ancient yogic knowledge was kept secret from ordinary people as it was believed to awaken the hidden powers of the body. (This has been proved by the recent scientific discoveries which I shall name later in this article.) Therefore, yogic knowledge was passed on by verbal teaching to the disciples by the gurus. Sage Patanjali in his work Yoga Sutras, was the first one to codify the system of Karma Yoga.

CONTROVERSIES IN INDIA:

I will not bring my personal feelings into the issues and will also request the reader to kindly keep his personal views aside while reading this as they will hinder a logical understanding of the issues.

  1. SURYA NAMASKARA IS AGAINST ISLAM:One of the first controversies arose with assertion of the fact byt All India Muslim Personal Law Board that Yoga includes Surya Namaskara (commonly misunderstood as salutations to the Sun god). It is opposed to Islam as it believes in the existence of only one god, Allah.The sanskrit word namaskara refers to acknowledgement of the spiritual being of the person so greeted, which is entirely different from accepting it as your ‘deity’. And on the more practical aspect, the 12 practices of Surya Namaskara are aimed at harnessing the energy of sun (a.k.a pinga­­la), the most important source of energy (Each human, irrespective of religion, is dependent on this energy).These practices are merely a scientific process of using this energy to vitalize the bodily functions. Another parallel exercise is Chandra Namaskara, which is aimed at harnessing the energy of the moon (a.k.a ida).When I say scientific processes, it requires corroboration. The following researches have been successfully done, not only on surya namskara, but, on relevancy of yoga itself: (I’ll name only a few, but pertinent ones)
  • Possibility of Improbable (Another Russian Research- may not be readily found even on the Internet)
  • Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain – Sheila Ostrander (Russian Research)
  • Mind Power- The Secret, Clairvoyance and Occult Powers- by Prof William Walker Atkinson (American research, pioneer of the New Thought movement)

    2.  CHANTING OF ‘OM’ IS AGAINST ISLAM:Another controversy arose with the chanting of                   ‘Om’ during the practice of yogic postures (asanas). It is also being projected as anti-Islam as it is                again misunderstood as the common chant for Bhagwaan Shiva.It is rightly said that there is no                  greater sin than being ignorant. I am therefore obliged to delineate the meaning of OM. For better            understanding, I shall use the symbol itself:

356px-Om.svg

  • The large lower curve symbolizes the material world of the ‘waking state’.
  • The upper curve symbolizes the ‘deep sleep state’.
  • The ‘dream state’, lying between the two curves (extended to the right), emanates from the confluence of the two.
  • The point (topmost) represents the ‘turiya state’ (again a very vast philosophical topic- for details read Ashtavakra Samhita).
  • The open semicircle represent the ‘infinite’ and the fact that the meaning of the point can’t be grasped if one limits oneself to finite thinking.Talking scientifically again, International Journal Of Computer Science And Network Security has published a research paper titled ‘Time-Frequency Analysis Of Chanting Sanskrit Divine Sound “OM” ’, and I put forward the following excerpt:“Om is a spiritual mantra, outstanding to fetch peace and calm. The entire psychological pressure and worldly thoughts are taken away by the chanting of Om mantra. By application of a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting “Om”. Even people with no mathematical background can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on-white graphs included in the monograph. This graph depicts the chanting of ‘Om’ by a normal person after some days of chanting. We could conclude steadiness in the mind is achieved by chanting Om, hence proves the mind is calm and peace to the human subject.”

YOGA IS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH ANY RELIGION:

I would corroborate my point by quoting the founders and the greatest proponents of Yoga itself, without going into the philosophical aspect thereof. These definitions of Yoga do not talk about its association with any religion:

          “Yoga is an integration and harmony between thought, feeling and deed, or integration between head, heart and hand.”

                                                          – Swami Sivananda Saraswati,

 Founder of Bihar School Of Yoga

        “The science of Yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body. Yoga aims at bringing the different bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for the good of the whole body. From the physical body, yoga moves on to the mental and emotional levels.”

-Swami Satyanand Saraswati

Founder of Satyananda Yoga, Rikhia Peeth

And, finally I would quote the most authoritative text in the simplest of forms:

          “Man’s present state is a degeneration; that there is no one religion on the face of the earth which says that man is an improvement. The idea is that his beginning is pure and perfect, that he degenerates until he can not degenerate further, and that there must come a time when he shoots upwards again to complete the circle; the circle must be there (creation is cyclic, not linear-scientifically). However low he goes, he must ultimately take the upward bend again and go back to the original source- this is the essence of yoga.”

-Swami Vivekananda on Patanjali Yoga Sutras

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