loka people

Yoga has become a diverse phenomenon throughout the world from spiritual gurus and meditation methods to physical fitness programs. Yet there is no doubt that Yoga as a term and as a movement overall has its roots in the Hindu and Vedic tradition over the last several thousand years and its prime texts like the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Shastras and Upanishads – including the use of Om, the essence of all Hindu teachings and mantras. Yoga philosophy follows Hindu concepts of karma, rebirth, liberation and Self-realization, and Hindu cosmology of the chakras and lokas.

Some people today say that Yoga is universal and so not limited to Hinduism. Yet the true name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, the “eternal truth or dharma.” Hinduism is also formulated as a universal tradition and yogic concepts of universality reflect those already existing at the core of Hindu teachings, which occur in all Yoga, Vedic and Vedantic texts.

In other words the universal view behind Yoga rests upon the universality of Hinduism and is not an outside or new concept that just recently has come into being. Hinduism is not formulated as one religious belief against another but as a set of dharmic teachings relevant to all creatures and to all worlds. It is not limited to One God, one scripture, one savior, prophet or revelation, but embraces all valid paths to Self-realization, wherever these may occur.

Does this mean one has to formally become a Hindu to practice Yoga? That is not the case, but one need not deny the Hindu roots of Yoga in benefitting from its teachings. One does not say that Zen is not Buddhist or Tai Chi is not Taoist, though these practices have been widely used outside of their original traditions.

Yoga is a great gift of India and Hinduism for all humanity. It has spread beyond India not only today but in many centuries past as well. May that sharing of Yoga continue and flourish!

—Vamadeva Shastri