Judaism and Yoga Part III

Rajiv Malhotra is a Hindu who agrees somewhat with the Evangelical position. Here is his article. This discussion is continued from part II here.

Malhotra emphasizes that there is a distinct metaphysics that runs counter to Christianity. The point of Yoga is liberation from this world. That is unlike the Christian scheme of salvation. But does Judaism have anything against liberation from the material world? Does Judaism just run an alternate track and this is ancillary like other forms of metaphysics? Does the fact that prophecy has ended in Judaism and that God is transcendent contradict also affirming God is everywhere as taught in Hasidut? Do we have a problem with dissolving the ego? If it is done in a Hasidic way? Are we bother by being embodied or are we anti-body in a monastic way?

While yoga is not a “religion” in the sense that the Abrahamic religions are, it is a well-established spiritual path. Its physical postures are only the tip of an iceberg, beneath which is a distinct metaphysics with profound depth and breadth. Its spiritual benefits are undoubtedly available to anyone regardless of religion. However, the assumptions and consequences of yoga do run counter to much of Christianity as understood today. This is why, as a Hindu yoga practitioner and scholar, I agree with the Southern Baptist Seminary President, Albert Mohler, when he speaks of the incompatibility between Christianity and yoga, arguing that “the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine” is fundamentally at odds with Christian teaching. This incompatibility runs much deeper.

Yoga’s metaphysics center around the quest to attain liberation from one’s conditioning caused by past karma. Karma includes the baggage from prior lives, underscoring the importance of reincarnation. While it is fashionable for many Westerners to say they believe in karma and reincarnation, they have seldom worked out the contradictions with core Biblical doctrines. For instance, according to karma theory,…All humans come equipped to recover their own innate divinity without recourse to any historical person’s suffering on their behalf.

The Abrahamic religions posit an infinite gap between God and the cosmos, bridged only in the distant past through unique prophetic revelations, making the exclusive lineage of prophets indispensable. …Yoga, by contrast, has a non-dual cosmology, in which God is everything and permeates everything, and is at the same time also transcendent.

The yogic path of embodied-knowing seeks to dissolve the historical ego, both individual and collective, as false….Yoga is a do-it-yourself path that eliminates the need for intermediaries such as a priesthood or other institutional authority. Its emphasis on the body runs contrary to Christian beliefs that the body will lead humans astray.

Some have responded by distorting yogic principles in order to domesticate it into a Christian framework, i.e. the oxymoron, ‘Christian Yoga.’ Others simply avoid the issues or deny the differences. This is reductionist and unhelpful both to yoga and Christianity.

One response to “Judaism and Yoga Part III

  1. I cannot offer any halakhic opinons here, but based on the above …

    What he says surely seems compatible with the deveikus of the Besht’s brother in law, R’ Gerhson of Kotok, for example. He believed in being so extremely immersed in meditation that one couldn’t really control his body any more. And the idea of a form of minor revelation during kabbalistic meditative trances is also found in some sources. The Chassidei Ashkenaz spoke of their knowledge of the Retzon haShem, revealed to them. Since R’ Gershon’s ideas come from the more extreme deveikus texts found throughout centuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two ideas meet in some text some time between the 13th century Chassidei Ashkenaz and R’ Gershon’s 18th century.

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