Saturday, 21 July 2012

Yoga as a form of ibaadat (prayer)

How blinkered interpretation of what’s permitted and forbidden in Islam is making the Muslim world hesitant to take advantage of universal healers like yoga and meditation.

Even as I was persuading a group of Muslim elders in Itanagar — the capital city of eastern-most Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh — to give yoga, pranayama and similar ancient Indian techniques a try for a healthy and happy living, the group went serene with the azan for the Jumah (Friday congregational prayer ) from the neighbourhood mosque. As I followed them to the mosque, I noticed the gentleman who was the most vocal and orthodox during the discussion was heading in the opposite direction. When I queried why he wasn’t coming to the prayer, I was flabbergasted by his innocent but distorted logic. “I can’t go to the mosque as I have to pass through shops that slaughter and sell meat of swine to reach there. You know, Islam strictly prohibits swine meat. I would rather miss the prayer than commit haram by going near swine meat,” he reasoned.

Though I knew Islam prohibits eating swine meat, I never imagined somebody would ever interpret that prohibition in such a myopic way. When I pondered over it, I realised this type of blinkered interpretation of what’s permitted and forbidden in Islam is what is making the Muslim world hesitant to take advantage of universal healers like yoga and meditation.

Like the old man, orthodox Muslims fear the practice of yoga will erode their faith in Allah and Islam. As the Quran and Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s teachings) have nothing specific that will make practise of yoga haram (forbidden), they based their judgement on their own concocted fear that supposedly ‘Hindu’ elements of yoga would destroy the faith of a Muslim.

As a Muslim who has been practising yoga for over a decade and has experienced the depth of yoga at the physical and spiritual levels, I felt the best way to allay the fear is to look at the Hindu philosophy on yoga and see how and where it contradicts the tenets of Islam. For this, I wouldn’t settle for anything less authentic than Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Yoga simply means uniting with the Self. The Yoga Sutras starts by calling itself an enunciation in union. And a self-imposed discipline to attain that union is yoga. Is striving for such a union with the Self against Islam? Definitely not, for Prophet Mohammed has said, “He who knows his own Self knows his Lord.” So anything done in pursuit of knowing the Lord cannot be termed as forbidden in Islam. Instead, it will count as a meritorious act of honouring and following the Prophet. So yoga as a spiritual pursuit is very much permissible in Islam.

The best explanation of why yoga is not just a permissible, but also a desirable act for Muslims is to be found in the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras. “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” It means yoga is stopping all the modulations of the mind. Ceasing all the outward activities of the mind and reposing in Allah is the ultimate goal of Islam. So any act done to reach such a state cannot be un-Islamic.

In fact, it represents the highest form of ibaadat (prayer). Prophet Mohammed said, “I have a time with God to which even Gabriel, who is pure spirit, is not admitted.” Hence, the soul of prayer is a complete absorption, a state without room for any outward thoughts which is also the ultimate purpose of yoga. So doing yoga asanas with the sole intention of attaining a thoughtless state so that one can connect with Allah wouldn’t make one a bad Muslim.
This leaves only one ground for orthodox mullahs to frown at yoga: that yoga stems from polytheist beliefs of Hinduism. But when yoga means union, how can it be linked to polytheist beliefs? In fact, yoga takes one away from polytheism and leads to Advaita, which is in perfect agreement with the Islamic doctrine of tauhid (oneness of God).

Just because something has its roots in Hinduism, it doesn’t become forbidden for Muslims. If it were so, many arts, languages, foods and cultural practices with roots in other religions, would also be forbidden to Muslims. So, when we can accept foods and music from other cultures, why not the wisdom to unite with the Self?
Reblogged from http://artoflivingsblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/yoga-the-highest-form-of-ibaadat-prayer-2/

Monday, 2 July 2012

Till we found the Him...

On the auspicious of Guru Purnima, a devotee talks about the tatva that lights up his life for real

By Awakened
A large majority of us roll out our lives like a programmed machine. No or little awareness… No or little self-control… No wonder, all our priorities about things that really matter are all misplaced! We can’t live without the breath for more than a few minutes, yet we care a damn about it. It’s not just a case of taking it for granted. It’s more about lack of awareness. At least Art of Living fans wouldn’t disagree on this. We all have experienced how the quality of our lives has positively transformed after we realigned our breathing through the Sudarshan Kriya.

Until we were made aware of it, we too took it for granted. In fact, it sounded absurd and nonsensical when the senior members of our would-be clan tried to convince us to take a course in breathing. And when they talked about the Guru who is transforming millions of lives by setting right the rhythm of their breath, we took them from hippie and even worse brainwashed members of a cult. But it was only up to that! Once we experienced it, our awareness was awakened. We were bowled over! In a few paces of breath, we were taken to a new world of serenity, bliss and liveliness! Until we became aware, we were totally ignorant about and oblivious to the very existence of a world like that! We were caught up in an imaginary world drawn up by our limited imagination! Rather than realising our limitations, we just blamed the world and its people for the pain we go through.

No longer! Suddenly, life became beautiful. We felt light, we began to smile effortlessly. We saw a vision! We became one with our own life. Suddenly our anger dropped, negative feelings gave way to more refined and positive patterns! Was it a magic? Or did something logical really happen?

For one, we took a course in breathing! But was it just breathing that changed us forever? And if so, why didn’t it happen to us before even though we have been breathing ever since we were born! Breath was the medium, but the root of the transformation was the awareness that dawn on us! The awareness that made us pay deeper attention on all things we do -- big and small.

Where did we get that awareness from? It came from embracing a Master who can teach us about life. Knowingly or unknowingly and willingly or unwillingly, we got a Guru who is teaching us lessons about life. We have always needed a teacher to learn English, Mathematics, Geography and the like. But somehow we have come to believe that we don’t need a teacher to learn about life. How can that be possible? Life surely is more complicated than any of these complex subjects! The pure rhythm of the breath of the Sudarshan Kriya lifted that veil of ignorance and connected us to the Guru tatva that is omnipresent and all pervasive! We are no more orphans. We have found our lineage. We have found the Guru. Unlike, the teachers who gave shiksha (knowledge), the Master gave us diksha (heightened awareness). He kindled the life force in us. He awakened the pinnacle of intellect in us. He lifted the burdens of the world that we were struggling to carry. He showed us a beacon of light for the world that is mired in the darkness of material success, illusory comforts and worthless fame!

Like a wave rising in the ocean, everything blossomed. And there is no looking back.... Life has become effortless and rea1.