There have been many spirited debates in the blogosphere lately over whether Western practitioners of yoga should do more to acknowledge yoga’s Hindu roots. It all began when the Hindu American Foundation’s Aseem Shukla and America’s favorite guru Deepak Chopra got into a spat about the history of yoga on the Washington Post’s On Faith website.
Newsweek’s Religion editor, Lisa Miller, weighed in on the debate yesterday. Unfortunately, her opening paragraph was so muddled and bewildering that I stopped reading after the following:
I don’t care much for bland spirituality, so at yoga class I generally tune out the prelude, when the teacher reads aloud—as is the custom—an inspirational passage on which to meditate. Recently, though, I was startled to attention when the teacher chose a paragraph on compassion from the Dalai Lama’s bestseller The Art of Happiness. Hold on a minute, I thought. Isn’t the Dalai Lama a Tibetan Buddhist? And isn’t yoga a Hindu practice? And haven’t Buddhists and Hindus been at war over land and gods for thousands of years? The Dalai Lama may be regarded throughout the world as a holy man, but downward dog is not his expertise.
That Buddhist-Hindu war line literally made me gasp. What on earth is she talking about? Miller’s use of the present tense alarmingly leads readers to believe that somewhere out there this vicious conflict is still going strong. No one can deny that religious skirmishes are scattered throughout South Asian history. That said, I can’t think of any conflict that can accurately be described as a millennia-spanning, land grabbing, deity destroying, Hindu-Buddhist war that continues to this day.
It should also be noted that the Dalai Lama has lived in India since his exile from Tibet in 1959. His Holiness probably knows a thing or two about Hinduism; he likely also has a few reasons to think kindly of the country that is home to the world’s largest Hindu population. All in all, it’s unlikely that Miller’s mysterious war is between Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus.
Also surprising is Miller’s complete dismissal of the possibility that Tibetan Buddhists practices yoga. As an experiment, I entered “Tibetan Buddhism yoga” into Google. Turns out the phrase yields 240,000 hits and the first site that pops up is the Indo-Tibetan Buddhism entry on Wikipedia. The opening sentence? “Yoga is central to Tibetan Buddhism.”
It’s looking more and more like the Dalai Lama may indeed be an expert in the “downward facing dog.” (Or Adho Mukha Svanasana for those of you wondering what the corresponding Sanskrit term is.)
Did anyone make it through the whole Newsweek piece? Does it eventually get better? Will incorrect representations of South Asian history in the media ever cease to surprise me? Most importantly, where is this Hindu-Buddhist war?! Let’s discuss in the comments!