Continued from October Newsletter
So proper diet, which in yoga is a vegetarian diet, definitely is not harmful for any religious practitioner, nor for atheists. It's very healthy. It's good for the body and good for the mind. So I've covered four principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet. They are not in conflict.
Then there is Positive Thinking and Meditation. To think positively and to generate positive emotions and to follow with positive action definitely is not in conflict with any religion, but follows the principles of many, many religions because, as Swami Sivananda says, if you try to summarize the teachings of many religions, you can do so in the following words: Be good, and do good. This is the summary. Be good, and also do good. This is the teaching. So positive thinking, in addition to being very healthy for us, for the body and for the mind, is not in conflict with any religion.
Now let's look at Meditation. Is meditation in conflict with any religion? Definitely not. All religions in the world have some form or some methods of meditation; we know this very well. It doesn't matter which religion you follow; there are methods of meditation in that particular religion. I'm coming here from the Bahamas, from the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, and next year we are going to have a conference, a symposium, and the topic of the symposium is meditation in the different spiritual traditions or different religions of the world. One of our special guests will be a Catholic priest who will teach about meditation and Christianity. Another teacher will be a Sufi sheik who will teach about meditation in Islam. We will also have a great Jewish scholar who will teach about meditation in the Kabala. We will teach about meditation in Judaism, about meditation in the Jain religion, in the Sikh religion, and so on. And at Christmas we have a program called Unity in Diversity, as we did last year, but this time the idea came to have a topic, and to approach this topic from the point of view of different religions. And I also would like to bring an abbot of the Buddhist monastery, and so on. So all religions are represented, and the reason they can talk together is because meditation is common in all religions. There is no conflict.
Swami Vishnudevananda summarized the yogic teachings in these five principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, positive thinking and meditation. And when we look carefully we see that there is no conflict between the yogic teachings on these subjects and the different religions of the world. Every year I discuss these topics with senior representatives of different religions who come to the Bahamas. More and more I find that there is no conflict, but there is diversity and variety. In other words, there are people of different temperaments, different inclinations, different backgrounds, and so on. So it's very important that there are different teachings about the same universal principles. Therefore there are many religions. It's very important that there are many religions.
Therefore, according to the karma of each person, according to the tendency, according to the inclination, according to the temperament, each person can find a path into higher consciousness. And I consider atheism to be a religion -- this is my view -- because I can see especially nowadays that there is a movement of atheists who are very, very strong in their disbelief in God. They write books, and they have arguments, and they are very passionate about it, so to a great degree, they are like another type of religion. We have no qualms with atheists. There is no problem from a yogic point of view if you are an atheist, as long as you are ready to practice. Atheists, by definition, also claim to be skeptics. Yoga has no problem with skeptics, as long as the skeptics are open to prove or to disprove. In fact, in yoga we say, "Don't believe anything. Practice and see through your own practice and through your own direct experience whether the teachings are true or not." Therefore, millions and millions of people around the world are practicing yoga, and they come from many backgrounds. There are many atheists.
There are also people who come from the former Eastern Bloc, from Communist countries, and from countries that were Communist in the past. Yoga is very popular in China nowadays, extraordinarily popular. We also find yoga in Arab countries. We have lots of students in Egypt, many teachers and students in Iran, and we have a yoga center in Beirut. We have a very developed yogic community in Israel, and so on and so on. Yoga is just everywhere. About 500 million people around the world, from all walks of life, are practicing yoga. So you can understand that if there really was a conflict, how is it possible that people from so many backgrounds, so many walks of life, so many religions and so on, are devoted practitioners of yoga? This would not be possible. So evidently there is something about yoga that is universal and appeals to people from different walks of life.
In yoga we have a principle called "unity in diversity." For example, we will put a picture of Lord Jesus on the altar, and we will also put on the altar something which is very meaningful to a Jewish person. And we will put on the altar something which will be meaningful for everyone. We cannot be exclusive. It's very good training to see the one in the many. You see? It's impossible to think that the infinite God manifests only in one way. That's impossible. We cannot accept this.
What is yoga? Yoga means "union with God," or "union with the Supreme Self," or "union with Ultimate Reality" -- whatever you want to call it. I've found this phenomenon through the years when I've met great religious and spiritual leaders. They were able to bridge superficial differences, because they were able to go to the core of things.
"Unity in Diversity" Programs
This year we are offering several programs that celebrate the commonality of all spiritual paths:
Christmas and New Year Symposium and Celebration -- Unity in Diversity: The Paths are Many, the Truth is One December 22-January 1, 2011
On the Wings of Ecstasy: Interfaith Devotional Singing and Sacred Dance Festival January 13-19, 2011
Meditation as a Path to Enlightenment: An Interfaith Symposium March 20-25, 2011
Return to October 2010 Newsletter