By: Editorial staff
I would like to talk in this article about an important topic which is the subject of yoga. There is no doubt that India has presented to mankind several philosophies, thoughts and cultures over long times. India is characterized with distinct ideas in many intellectual and philosophical aspects. However, when we examine Hindu faith and worship system or religious aspects, we find many strange and extraordinary issues.
In addition, Yoga system is one of the most famous Hindu philosophies that have been used as an instrument for spiritual enhancement and strength. Yoga has become these days a common physical exercise practiced by many people in the East and West even in the Arab and Islamic world.
This article will talk about yoga basically in the light of what was written by Hindu experts of yoga that will include its definition, its divisions and the purposes for which it was invented, then a comparison would be made between yoga and the five prayers in Islam which are obligatory on every adult Muslims, men and women.The differences between both spiritual systems would be highlighted in an objective manner.
There are a lot of talks about the health benefits of yoga and people are attracted to the practice of Yoga in the Islamic and Arab world.
Openness of Islamic Culture
It should be noted that Islam has never been hostile to any culture or religion in, rather, Islam welcomed and still welcomes every good and beneficial factor regardless of cultural, religious or ethnic affiliations. The Islamic history is a witness for this claim. Islam has embraced Greek philosophy and thoughts and Arabic language extended its arms to receive the philosophical terminology of different disciplines. Also Muslim scholars followed the Arabic proverb that says: “Take what is pure and leave aside what is dirty.”
The Sanskrit Word of Yoga
Furthermore, Yoga literally means “union”, union between subject and object. According to Yoga experts, knowledge takes place through this union. There must always be some point of contact. We cannot know the truth from a distance. We may make a mental picture of it, but it cannot be exact. For precise knowledge there must be contact and this contact is Yoga.(1)
Definition of Yoga
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
BREWER’S DICTIONARY says about Yoga:
“Yoga is a practice of Hindu philosophy seeking to unite the human soul with the Universal Spirit by concentrating the mind on some eternal truth and withdrawing the physical senses from external objects. Experts in yoga are able to hold their breath for protracted periods and do other things in apparent contravention of natural requirements.”(2)
We note here that Yoga is not only a physical exercise for physical health as is propagated and thought by many people interested in Hindu culture; rather, it is a spiritual exercise that intends to transfer a person from this physical world to a spiritual state in order to realize the unseen world.
A Hindu Yoga expert Swami, Paramananda(1884-1940) says in this regard:
“When people out of spiritual yearning want to prove the deeper facts of existence, Yoga offers them certain methods by which the revelation of these facts can be gained.”(3)
What is Hatha Yoga?
The science of Yoga is divided into several branches. Among the best known and leading divisions are (1) Hatha Yoga; (2) Raja Yoga; (3) Karma Yoga; (4)Gnani Yoga.(4)
Hatha Yoga is that branch of the Yoga Philosophy which deals with the physical body—its care—its wellbeing— its health—its strength—and all that tends to keep it in its natural and normal state of health.(5)
However, the yoga widely known in the west is based on Hatha yoga, which forms one aspect of the ancient Hindu system of religious and ascetic observance, the highest form of which is Raja Yoga and the ultimate aim of which is spiritual purification and self-understanding leading to Samadhi or union with the divine.(6)
Practices of Yoga are directed along three distinct lines, physical, mental and spiritual. The first step deals with that which is most immediate to us—our body. This special branch is known in India as Hatha-Yoga. Its chief aim is to establish a healthy balanced condition in the body through physical exercises, postures and by regulating the functions of the breath.(7)
It is a misconception that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.(8)
We imagine that we are born with certain tendencies and that these compel us to act in a certain way; but a Hatha Yogi—one who has attained absolute mastery over his body—claims that this is a mistake, that we have hypnotized ourselves into this negative thought, that there is no reason why we should follow blindly all our physical instincts.(9)
That is why we find many Hindu Yogis undergo many types of tough and abnormal spiritual exercises intending union with unseen world. In fact, the metaphysical world is not limited to Allah and His attributes or angels; rather, there are other unseen entities such as jinn, devil, Satan, and other bad spirits. And Satan is an avowed enemy of man, who always wants to lead him astray and throw him in sinful acts and abnormal worships while the Yogi thinks that he got a union with Ishvar though his union was in fact with the devil and this is a real evil for him and his followers who love him.
Jnana Yoga (ज्ञान योग)
Amongst the various kinds of yoga, there is a yoga called Jnana Yoga that implies the yoga, or method of realizing the divine nature through wisdom (Jnana). Wisdom is not knowledge in its ordinary sense, although it includes it. It is that higher knowledge which is self-illumination. This is equally the goal of every yoga, or method, the difference lying only in the path chosen for reaching that goal.(10)
It should be noted that wisdom is the intended goal for which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was appointed as a messenger and was sent to the people. The Glorious Qur’an has mentioned this subject in more than one place. Allah (Glory be to Him) says:
“Our Lord, and send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them.”(Al-Baqarah2:129)
This verse specifies that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) teaches the sacred Book Glorious Qur’an and Wisdom and purifies them. While we find Hindu yogis are not interested in intellectual and physical purity, rather, they regard the dirtiness a sort of nearness to Ishvar.
Also, the five prayers must be preceded by the purity of whole body and ablution with clean and pure garment and the place of prayer.
(1) Swami, Paramananda, Science and Practice of Yoga, La Crescenta, Calif., Ananda-Ashrama; Boston, Mass., Vedanta Centre1918, p.3.
(2) Brewer’s Dictionaryof Phrase& Fable, New Yorkharper & Brothers Publishers p.974.
(3) Swami, Paramananda, Science and Practice of Yoga, La Crescenta, Calif., Ananda-Ashrama; Boston, Mass., Vedanta Centre1918, p.3.
(4) See: Hatha Yoga OR THE YOGI PHILOSOPHY OF PHYSICAL WELL-BEING WITH NUMEROUS EXERCISES,YOGI RAMACHARAKA, YOGI PUBLICATION SOCIETY, Chicago, 111. 1904, p.8.
(6) See: Elizabeth Knowles, The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,2005, p.779.
(7) Swami, Paramananda, Science and Practice of Yoga, “La Crescenta, Calif., Ananda-Ashrama; Boston, Mass., Vedanta Centre 1918, p.4.
(8) http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/beginnersguide/whatisyoga.asp (Last accessed on 3-2-2015).
(9)Swami, Paramananda, Science and Practice of Yoga, “La Crescenta, Calif., Ananda-Ashrama; Boston, Mass., Vedanta centre1918, p.4-5.
(10) SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY, LECTURES ON JNANA YOGA1899, p.7