Why am I taking a class in world religions, you ask? Good question, to which I have many answers. I've wanted to do this for awhile, and a family decision to send 6 year old to a Christian school made me follow through. As a product of a mixed Catholic and Hindu household, a Jesuit University, many years of yoga, and 40 years of formulating my own thoughts on the topic of religion, I've felt the need to delve a little deeper. Mostly, I want to be able to answer my daughter's questions with integrity, respect for all faiths, and a strong sense of what I myself believe in. The other night when I was doing some reading for the class, she asked me why there are different religions. My answer: They are all different ways to love God. If I get nothing else out of the class than that, I will be quite pleased.
We've just finished our module on Hinduism. I'll admit to finding its concepts overwhelming and a bit difficult to understand, despite more than a decade of exposure to them through yoga. I acknowledge that practicing yoga in the West isn't necessarily exposure to or study of Hinduism. Furthermore, I have mixed feelings about the sometimes blatant commercialism of a religion via yoga (think OM and Hindu goddess t-shirts, Shiva Shakti pants, all the great stuff you find in yoga studio shops. And yes of course I've bought them). These two things came up for me during this module. While there are undoubtedly some yogis that go through the motions simply because it is the thing to do, there are also people that are sincerely drawn to yoga on account of its Hindu roots. And probably a lot of people somewhere in the middle. A great quote from Suzanne Morrison's book Yoga Bitch:
The last time I was in New York...I overheard two women chatting outside the yoga studio next door. They were gossiping, actually, but in a yogic sort of way. It was clear that they meant their cooing to suggest that they were more concerned than angry. They were talking about another girl in their yoga teacher training program. They both spoke in soothing tones, their vowels as round as the breasts of a Hindu goddess. Clearly this classmate of theirs had done something appalling, because their conversation went like this:
'Feather just doesn't get it.'
'Mmm-hmmm. She doesn't get it. Poor Feather.'
'She doesn't even know how unyogic she's being.'
'I mean, I feel sorry for her, honestly. She just doesn't get it.'
'I know, and I can't believe she thinks she gets it. Mmmmm. She totally doesn't get it.'
'She doesn't get it at all!'
'I mean, maybe she's a young soul, you know? Right? But what troubles me is that she thinks she gets it.'
'Right? And now we're upset and she's polluting the whole environment. It's like what guruji said. She's got, like, no samtosha.'
'I had total bliss before she came in.'
'I know, total bliss, right?'
What I am trying to address here is respect. As a non-Hindu, can I claim to have a guru? When we westerners refer to our chakras, do we really have any idea what the hell we are talking about? Is it disrespectful to wear a tee with Ganesh on it, or to dig MC Yogi's 'Ganesh is fresh'? What does it mean if I was raised a Christian, but find deep meaning and peace in Sanskrit chants? Do you have to be a Hindu to chant OM and mean it? To understand what it means...? Does it matter? I have always loved the meaning of Namaste: the divine in me recognizes the divine in you. No matter what your faith, how can you argue with that? So if that's all I get from Hinduism...I will be very pleased indeed.
Next up: Buddhism. So I will have to come to terms with the Buddha statues we have in our house.