If I Do Yoga Am I Hindu?

Because let’s face it, yoga is a Hindu tradition.  A fact I’ve been in denial about for, well, an embarrassing amount of time.

Of course, the denial helped with the simple fact that all I really know about Hinduism is that it is, or was, the major religion of India (until forced Muslim conversion), and that it related strongly to the Brahmins.  I also had learned somewhere that the Brahmins are the highest level of hierarchy in the Indian caste system (a commonly known fact here in Boston where we refer to rich old money people as Boston Brahmins).  Since I am absolutely anti-authority and fairly anti-hierarchy not to mention a member of 3 minority groups and completely identified with the underdog and counterculture movements…and since I fell in love with yoga from my first experience of the practice, well, suffice it to say that all human denial has a purpose.  I just didn’t want to examine the roots of yoga too deeply.

Now, of course, I’m in yoga teacher training, so whoooooooossshhhh, there goes the denial.  Not that the training addresses the social inequities in India or the poverty or how religion played a part in social hierarchy.  It doesn’t.  But being me, and having been fully bit by the yogic bug, and therefore wanting to know everything, I’ve started to read outside the training and to really investigate Eastern religions.

That this fits nicely into the self-study of Buddhism I started last year seems bizarrely uncoincidental, but it is, nevertheless, an adventure, because I have no idea where what I’m studying will take me.

I have learned that Indian religions and religious history is a tangle.  People kept revising the religion and inventing new branches.  Because of this, the crossovers between the yogic school of Hinduism and Buddhism are immediately noticeable, not to mention that the Buddha was, after all, raised in a Hindu society with Hindu beliefs.  But get this, from Wikipedia:

Hinduism does not have a “unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed“,[50] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions.

The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism’s openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic.

Apparently there are Vedic, or Brahmanic traditions and anti-Vedic traditions (yoga being one of these), and I just have way too much to learn to say anything else about this.  Except that any religion that can’t define itself can’t be all bad, so studying yoga is okay with me.

Of course, I won’t become a Hindu or a Buddhist.  I mean, I couldn’t even join a Unitarian Church when that was my practice.  Blame my freak of a cultish family.  I am emphatically not a joiner.  I am, for example, an Independent because I don’t like the political parties in this country.  Of course, that’s just sane.

Anyhow, more to come on yoga and being or not-being a Hindu, Buddhist, yogi or whatever.

I am on a mission of understanding.  I always kind of wanted a degree in comparative religions and this is probably as close as I’ll come.  I don’t need the degree.  I just want to learn stuff.  As always.


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