I didn’t really start this project to rant, but I saw an article today that made me inclined to do so. Essentially, it lamented the disrespect the West has for yoga. From my perspective though, the West has not much respect for anything.
Now at this point, I feel compelled to define “West”, because clearly I cannot speak for an entire hemisphere. Nonetheless, when we converse regarding large groups, it is not uncommon to speak in all-encompassing terms. My cultural perceptions, having been formed by this venue of the United States, will reflect my region’s particulars. I use the term Dharma in reference to my spiritual community which is an Eastern derivative.
The story in question deals with disrespect for yoga, and somewhat by default, Hinduism in general. The writer claims to have come to the conclusion while doing “yoga” that Lord Shiva is a “weird one with a bad attitude.” He goes on to further describe Goddess Lakshmi as having “great curves”, and Lord Vishnu as a “bad ass”. The premise of the entire piece seems to be that he (the writer) would rather be a householder than a warrior, because householders actually maintain society, leaving people like Lord Shiva to behave like “adolescents.”
The author of the above article may have the best of intentions for promoting yoga, and actually admire the deities of whom he speaks so impiously. Yet without any deference to them, his entire approach seems nothing more than misdirected sneering. I inferred from his flippant descriptions that he feels completely on par with the cosmic forces of the world. Perhaps he does feel such, and has no problem with equating his house-hold
duties with Lord Vishnu’s in maintaining the world. Certainly, there are many Hindus who don’t take the stories of the cosmic trinity literally. However considering that yoga is a spiritual practice, and that one of the deities he derides is considered by some to have invented the science, a bit of deference might be in order.
Attitudes like this are what help reduce tradition to comedy. It is easier to make light of someone else’ beliefs, but would he refer to Lord Jesus as a bad ass and Mother Mary with curves? Probably so, since in the West it is completely acceptable to make light of tradition, especially spiritual tradition. Considering that we don’t honor our own, either secular or spiritual, it is improbable that those who shape pop culture, (which usually becomes tradition in its own right), can see the value in honoring another’s.
Many Westerners do not realize that yoga is actually a multi layered spiritual practice. To them, the deities have no meaning at all and the story above would not be offensive in the least. That is what happens when a society that does not hold anything sacred within its own confines migrates to other grounds. The lack of homage comes with them.
The science of yoga has many aspects, of which aside from religious environs is hardly even mentioned much less studied. That makes it all the more ripe for ridicule and distortion. Western culture is all about fun. Yoga to us is fun, discipline is not. So we have removed the concept of discipline, enhanced the fun aspect and placed religious connotations adjacent to any other number of other frivolous pop cultural absurdities, ripe for satire. Meanwhile, the money purveyors cash in on the mania and invent “must haves” for the privileged who adorn themselves in the latest chick paraphernalia for the fun. The “science” then takes on its own life, morphing into strange variations so far remote from the original prototype as to be completely unrecognizable.
Christopher Jackson, in a blog for The Huffington Post contends that “Religion may have been undermined in the Western world in recent decades, particularly in Western Europe, but it’s still viewed with far too much respect, largely because it’s still viewed as something it’s not.
Religion is not the same as race, gender or sexual orientation; it’s a choice, something people choose to be. Criticizing religion or being against is not, in any way, tantamount or equivalent to being racist, sexist or homophobic” <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/christopher-jackson/charliehebdo_b_6452128.html>
Religion, one could argue, is more than race or gender. For many, it is the very essence of who they are. To them it transcends these external identifiers because their spiritual beliefs define why not only they, but this entire universe exist. Saying that it is okay to disrespect sacred ideals, particularly those honoring tradition, or revered beliefs, shows a mean-spirited inability to respect those who believe differently than you. One can also argue that Jews and Hindus are an ethnic group. An ethnic Jew or Hindu could correctly proclaim that by insulting their Gods, you insult their ethnicity. Many spiritual and religious people (fundamental extremists not withstanding) are of the turn-the-other-cheek variety, and because of this, bullies like Jackson feel free to strike without retaliatory fear.
Since Jackson has ruled out race, gender and orientation as fair game for aggressive humor, there are not many categories left. One may assume he and his ilk live their lives in search of victims to heckle or satirize. Needless to say, in light of the current anti-religious climate, I feel that such behavior will worsen before it improves. In the West it seems that there is absolutely nothing sacred. Nothing escapes the long reach of satire. Even those with physical disabilities are not unscathed. When the candidate for the highest office in the United States horribly mocked such a reporter, it did not seemingly impact his ratings at all. Any topic is fodder for ridicule, and any religion is fodder for disdain.
Extreme zealots of Christian and Islamic extraction are in large part at fault, as is any group who takes away the rights of others to glorify their own concept of God. They are as culpable as those whose mockery hurts people who just want their deities respected.
Hinduism is especially known as a peaceful and non-violent religion. The very essence of yoga is about such. The Hindu mantra is basically live and let live. The Huffington Post is one of the gurus, so to speak, of pop culture, and that they would sanction attitudes like those expressed by Jackson is a sure indicator that this is the accepted wave of socially accepted journalistic behavior..
If the extremist would keep their rigidity from my law books, and the comics would stop offending my deity sensitivities, we could live in a better place. Religious people have as much right to live free from harassment and as do LGBT, gender and racial groups. No one should relegate my divine beings to buffoonery solely because a few extremist annoyed them.
Yoga is a serious part of Hinduism, and perhaps when the first messengers came here from India and shared the asanas they should have been more adamant as to how sublime it is. Perhaps then this kind of disrespect would have been avoided, but we will never know. What we have is now, and it is now that we must defend our dharma.
Shiva Photo – mclebon Manuel Lebon Anzola Instagram
Lord Vishnu http://www.indianetzone.com/49/attributes_lord_vishnu.htm