Vol. 18, No. 2, 2001

Articles on the New Age

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What is yoga?

It's a practice by the means of which a spiritual seeker strives 1) to control prakriti (nature) to make the jiva (the soul) fit for union with purusha (the Oversoul), and 2) to attain nirvikalpa samadhi (union with God) and thus jivanmukta (the liberation of the soul from the rounds of birth and death).
Afterwards, the yogi is said to be a jivanmukti or atmajnani (a possessor of Self-knowledge).  Western yogis prefer to call the goal "God-consciousness" or "Self-realization."  Some call it "Christ-consciousness."

When did the practice begin?

Evidence of the practice, say Hindu scholars, appears in the Upanishads (ca. 1000 B.C.), which declare that atmajnana is the goal of life.  Further evidence appears in the Bhagavad Gita (ca. 500-400 B.C.), which advises serious seekers of God to practice "control of the self by the Self."  But yoga was officially systematized by Patanjali, a student of the Samkhya philosophy, in his Yoga Sutras (ca. A.D. 150).

Is yoga a religious or spiritual practice?

Unquestionably, yes, as its history, methods, and goal prove.  Four main yogas now exist.  Depending on temperament and attainments, the yogi may choose one or more of "paths" to liberation: karma (work), bhakti (devotion), raja (meditation), jnana (atmajnana, Self-knowledge: Atman = Brahman).

Ironically, hatha yoga is the third of eight limbs in Patanjali's system of raja yoga, the adoption of which presupposes the completion of the first two: scriptural study, moral purity, non-violence, etc.  To practice hatha yoga is to accept the doctrines of raja yoga, involving the coiled serpent-power at the base of the spine (kundalini), seven chakras, postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dharana and dhyana).

Is yoga compatible with Christianity?

Decide for yourself after comparing the beliefs of yoga and Christianity on the following critical subjects:

God: For yogis, God in the end is impersonal, a "one without a second" beyond all dualities (e.g., love-hate, good-evil); for Christians, God is triune and personal, the Father, who possesses perfect attributes: love, holiness, righteousness, etc.  Although both claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, they use these terms in different senses.

Humanity: For yogis, humanity is locked in prakriti, imprisoned in a body that must be mastered and transcended by self-exertion; for Christians, humanity, who possesses a body and soul that are bound and condemned by sin, can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, never by works (or laws).

Nature: For yogis, the inexorable law of karma (impersonal cause and effect) orders every detail in life, with no room for  grace, everything being earned; for Christians, the justice and mercy of God determine everything in a nature that is now fallen but at any moment will be redeemed.

The Way: For yogis, many paths lead to God, and only those who perceive such unity in diversity truly attain to God; for Christians, there is only one way, not because they say so but because Christ says so: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn. 14:6).

The Goal: For yogis, it's identification with or absorption in God, the One ("I am Brahman"); for Christians, it's eternal life—as joint heirs with the resurrected Christ, the Son of God—in heaven.

If not, then why do so many think it is?

Yoga seems to fill a spiritual void for many as long as its advocates use the following means to persuade them:
  •  Emphasizing the physical posturing of yoga as an exercise program while downplaying the spiritual and religious foundation of yoga, often to those ignorant of Christian doctrine
  •  Exploiting people's ignorance of and prejudices toward organized Christianity and the Bible, then lamenting the "divisiveness" and "disharmony" these foster
  •  Presenting yoga as ancient esoteric truth, a unifying path, casting an exotic aura around it with incense, turbans, etc.
  •  Disparaging the universal claims of reason by speaking condescendingly of  "Western" traditions and laws of logic (e.g., non-contradiction) while resorting to logical fallacies
  •  Using vague, ambiguous, imprecise language: overgeneral-izations without credible support, poetic devices without rational bases (similes, metaphors, especially paradoxes)
  •  Elevating subjectivity over objectivity: appealing, when challenged, to "experience" as the final authority in spiritual matters—or to the words of their "God-realized" gurus
Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs
John Ankerberg and John Weldon

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