There are ignorant people who speak flowery words and take delight in the letter of the law, saying that there is nothing else. Their hearts are full of selfish desires, Arjuna. Their idea of heaven is their own enjoyment, and the aim of all their activities is pleasure and power. (BG 2:42-43).
These two verses. Right? It’s what we see in so much of what passes for “religion.”
I reject popular terminology that sees “religion” as a negative word, and “spirituality” as a positive one. Saying “I’m spiritual but not religious” is like saying, “I’m an athlete, but I don’t train.” In Hindu terms, it would be like saying, “I’m seeking enlightenment, but I don’t do yoga.”
ALL the great religious traditions recognize the existence of false prophets, of spiritual charlatans, of soul-crushing dogma, empty rituals, and religious bureaucracy. They ALL agree that relationship with God or the eternal is more important than the social approval of religious elites. When he rants against the religious leaders of his day, Jesus says,
…you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:3-4)
(This, of course, is in contrast to Jesus’s own light burden and easy yoke, which we talked about yesterday.)
Jesus’s term for them was “actors” (hypocrites). He spends the rest of chapter 23 railing against them, and you should read the whole thing just to get a biblical perspective on American Christianity today, the focus of which often seems to be about domination (verse 8), exclusion (13), increasing market share (15), and making money while avoiding social justice (23).
Krishna delves into their motivations: the reason they are so keen on the letter of the law is because they think of heaven as a realm of their personal enjoyment, a reward for following the rules. Hierarchies make them feel important. And I would agree: this is why the white evangelical church is infested with patriarchy and white supremacy.
So I totally understand why people feel it is safer to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” But religious practice—yoga—is a tool, not a goal. If we use it well, it aids us in growing closer to God. And like any other tool, those who wield it poorly do damage to themselves and to others.
God, thank you for the gift of yoga, of religious practices refined through centuries that help us on our journey. Thank you for wise ancestors who passed them on to us. Help us use these tools well, and protect us from their misuse.