Yoga and Christianity: More Than What Meets the Eye
New Book Warns of Possible Dangers
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By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The popularity of yoga and various forms of Eastern philosophies and meditation methods has grown enormously in recent years. Questions remain, however, as to what extent they are compatible with Christianity.
The latest contribution to the debate over this topic is a book just published by an Australian De La Salle brother, Max Sculley, titled "Yoga, Tai Chi, Reiki: A Guide for Christians" (Connor Court Publishing).
These techniques are widely recommended as being good for fitness and relaxation, and few would at first see anything dangerous about them, Bishop Julian Porteous, one of Sydney's auxiliary bishops, commented in his foreword to the book.
However, he warned, "The world into which the practitioner is introduced is inimical to the Christian faith."
While some of the practices they promote may be helpful at a superficial level they are, Bishop Porteous adverted, "a Trojan horse for dangerous spiritual infiltration."
Brother Sculley explained that one of the main problems lies in the promotion of altered states of conscience. This, he noted, is a practice designed to lead people to experience a sense of oneness with the cosmos and the divine and to enable feelings of bliss. It brings with it, however, dangers ranging from mental illness to demonic influence.
Many Christians who practice yoga, tai chi and similar techniques do so without any desire to embrace the underlying philosophy or spiritual beliefs, yet, he commented, the mind-altering techniques in themselves bring with them serious spiritual risks.
In the section on yoga he explained that it is inextricably linked to the religious beliefs of Hinduism, which is in contradiction with Christianity on many fundamental points.
Pantheism, belief in reincarnation, and the idea that this mortal life is not worth living are just some of the non-Christian aspects of yoga, Brother Sculley noted. Karma, he added, is also a very non-Christian concept as it involves the concept of a strict justice based on an impersonal god, with no place for forgiveness or mercy.
"This is in complete contrast to Christianity in which Jesus Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection atones for our sins," he commented.
In addition, the belief in yoga that the only reality is the divine essence in all created things, and that whatever is visible is just a passing mirage, is in stark contrast to the Christian belief of a cosmos being created by God
Brother Sculley quoted one of the best-known promoters of yoga, Deepak Chopra, who said that performing yoga on a regular basis will lead to a change in the mind and emotions.
Passing on to tai chi, the author commented that this too is often considered to be a means to good health and reducing stress. In common with what underlies yoga, however, it also involves altered states of conscience and the belief that one can become divine.
Tai chi teachers, he explained, affirm that it is based on the philosophy of Taoism and not on religion. What this fails to explain, he added, is that Taoist philosophy is itself a system of religious beliefs that are in conflict with the beliefs of Christianity.
Chi is presented as some kind of life-force, but according to the underlying philosophy all created things are divine manifestations of chi and the ultimate purpose of tai chi is to enable the practitioner to become divine, Brother Sculley affirmed.
He also pointed out that Taoism seeks to explain all reality in terms of yin and yang. What this means is that there are no moral absolutes, all is relative and the Christian terms of good and evil have no place.
"Even if one seeks to distance oneself from the chi philosophy, the techniques involved in this meditation in movement are such as to significantly alter the practitioner's state of consciousness," he argued.
Some Christians, he admitted, do not accept the philosophy behind it or any of the mind-altering techniques. "Any tai chi master would deplore such a hollowed out version of the art," which he added, would not be tai chi but just a form of calisthenics.
Reiki is another widespread practice, promoted as a healing technique. It is, he explained, composed of two Japanese words that mean literally universal divine energy.
It involves a pantheistic belief and the affirmation that all humans have the capacity to become divine. Moreover, Reiki promotes reincarnation and the concept of a supreme divinity essentially different from that of the Christian faith.
Christian healing, Brother Sculley explained, takes place in an atmosphere of faith in the healing power of Christ and is accompanied by the confession of sin. In Reiki no faith is required, and sin and evil do not exist.
Not for nothing, he added, in 2009 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement explaining that Reiki healing is not Christian and that it contains elements of a religion.
Brother Sculley's book provides a thoughtful reflection on what lies behind practices that are widely accepted by many Christians, who are unaware of what underlies them.
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On the Net:
Statement on Reiki from the Catholic bishops: