After this very intimate-feeling little homage, we moved into a seated circle within the familiar confines of the large studio in Irvine. C.B. invited those in attendance -- specifically the new students, for we were also joined by past students who will help us and mentor us during the next three months and beyond, in our practice -- to ask questions. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, a discussion of religion and spirituality ensued during which C.B. spoke at length about how yoga is not religion. Yoga is, according to C.B., in this class and for this audience at this point in their yoga journey, to be considered merely a joining of one's self with the truth. (Merely... )
Something of an unstructured debate ensued between C.B. and one of the students who was having trouble with this... or perhaps more with the seeming incongruity between the ceremony we'd just witnessed/participated in, the setting of the studio (a beautiful mural of Ganesha on the wall -- prettier than the Wikipedia ones -- the mantras that open and close each practice), and C.B.'s statement that yoga is not religion.
I accept that yoga is not religion in the same way that I accept that Freemasonry is not religion and running marathons is not religion and database administration is not religion. People have associated yoga with religion and certainly there are some cultural icons that are often associated with it -- Ganesha for example, or the Aum/Ohm symbol, etc. -- and because it came from India and Hinduism is from India there are some definite associations. Be that as it may, B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga states:
Yoga is "...the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that Yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly."So, whereas some people use Yoga to seek a closer relationship with God/Spirit/Universe/self, yoga is in fact non-denominational and can even be secular. It is merely (merely, again) a path. A Christian can use yoga to look at his/her life in all its aspects evenly and (also from Iyengar) seek to "yoke [...] all the powers of the body, mind and soul to God." Equally, a Hindu could use the same yoga to yoke their powers with the aspect of god on which they call. A humanist can do the same and simply seek to yoke all the powers of the body, mind and soul to a greater aspect of self (which many religio-spiritual folk would call god). Each of these things could work to varying degrees depending on how well-attuned the practitioner is with truth.
It was difficult to watch some of the people in the room who have clear aversions to organized religion grapple with the idea of there being inward spirituality in the practice (whether C.B. called it spirituality, introspection, veritas or what-have-you) and reconciling that with a practice that deepens their look inward. I think that some people are so averse to the concept of religion and the perversions thereof, that they cringe at the very thought of spirituality in any form as potentially tainted by "religion." However, I think that some of the students in this program are not ready to deal with their own demons and look inward to the degree that yoga will make them. Some people aren't ready to accept that there is truth outside of what they perceive. Those people will face challenges.
But I am excited. I enjoy discussions like the one we had last night and though I didn't speak up much (I posed several questions to C.B. and we had a little dialog, but I didn't feel that his words were for me) I watched and listened and felt included.
I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks and months, no doubt. Overall, I was pleased with the evening. It felt like some of my philosophy classes back in college. I look forward to this program and establishing a rapport with some of my classmates. I think that will be fun.