Recently, Pulitzer Award winning science writer William J Broad has written an article in New York Times. In the writer he writes, “Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.” He further writes that yoga actually began in “medieval India.”
It is surprising that New York Times chose to publish the article without verification of the facts. It appears that due to its increasing popularity yoga has become a victim of ‘anti yoga hysteria’ and some people and forums have hijacked yoga to increase their own popularity even it means putting up wrong facts.
The article has been written in the context of the sex scandal of the yoga teacher John Friend. John Friend taught ‘Anusara Yoga’ and his empire included 2,00,000 followers in 70 countries, 1200 yoga teachers and ancillary businesses like yoga school chains and many yoga shopping items. It has been recently revealed that John Friend was serial adulterer, sex maniac and a marijuana dealer. Such instances have also come in India where Yoga teachers like Swami Muktananda and Swami Sachchidananda have been arrested for adultery in the garb of yoga.
Broad seems to say two things. First, that yoga practices stimulate sex and John Friend was sexually stimulated to have sex with his employees and followers as a result of yogic practices. Secondly, yogic postures began in the medieval age and descended from tantra, which he feels, is a sexual cult.
Any person with a little commonsense and some knowledge about yoga can say that Broad’s arguments are totally absurd and false. They more seem to be an attempt to malign tantra and yoga. First, tantra is not a ‘sex cult’. It is a way of life told by Lord Shiva to his wife Mother Parvati for the benefit of humanity. Tantra is a complete philosophy which teaches to live a wholesome life and has not only given birth to yoga but also to idol worship and Ayurveda. Tantra developed as a reaction to the theory of Mayavaad of the Vedic philosophy. It believes that all the sense organs and even the sexual energy can be used for the spiritual evolution. However, it is only one small aspect of tantra but the west has adopted only this aspect of tantra because this suits their lifestyle. Most of them are used to look everything in tantra with the angle of sex only.
The asanas or postures that are generally practiced today in the name of Yoga correspond to only one limb of the Ashtaang Yoga. The eight limbs of Ashtaang Yoga are:
- Yama – the five restraints or the “don’ts”
- Niyama – the five observances or the “do’s”
- Saucha – Purity, cleanliness
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Austerity
- Swadhyaya – Self-study, study of scriptures
- Ishwara Pranidhana – Surrender to God’s will
- Asana – Steady posture
- Pranayama – Control of prana or life force
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana - Meditation
- Samadhi – Super-conscious state
From the above it is clear that those who do not practice the first two limbs of Ashtaang Yoga i.e. yama and niyama are simply doing physical exercises for fitness of their body and not yoga. Therefore tantra and yoga (which flourished during tantric age) are not responsible for the malice that has cropped in the present day 5 star yoga. The yoga is not the same today as it was intended to be. Today it has become a hot 5 star business. Today the religious leaders and yoga gurus have established their own empires where they enjoy absolute power like many politicians, corporate and CEOs. It is not the yoga or the tantra philosophy that corrupts them but the power they command. Power can corrupt anyone and “absolute power can corrupt absolutely.” Power can change your thought process and makes you believe that you can get away by doing things that others cannot. Power acts as an aphrodisiac not only for the power holder but for all those who are close to him. Broad should understand that sex, the desire for sex and the notion that sex will make us happy is the single most widely pursued desire on the earth and people who have never heard of tantra and yoga are often found indulging in sex related crimes. Then, why to pin point yoga and tantra alone?
Broad is not telling the truth when he tells that yoga began in medieval India. A person with even the basic knowledge about the Indian civilization will tell that yoga was practiced in India since ancient times of Lord Shiva. Even the Patanjali Yoga Sutras have been written around 200 BCE about 1200 years earlier than Broad’s time of the beginning of yoga in India.
Further, any person who has studied tantra in totality can conclude that tantra was not meant to be a sex stimulating practice but sex overcoming practice. Still, even a biased person will tell that his conclusion that “Yoga evolved from tantric sex practices in medieval India, therefore yoga is a sex cult” is absolutely wrong. It is like saying that since chemistry evolved from alchemy, therefore chemistry is a “let’s transmute iron into gold practice” of the greedy persons.
Some persons create useless controversies for their own selfish ends. Broad’s article to malign yoga and tantra also looks as an effort to sell his books more.
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