(I learned only recently who is appropriately called a “yogini”; a “yoga practitioner” is a more apt term for me but too late to change my “blog brand” now.)
Last month, when I celebrated my second year of practicing yoga, I was asked how it has changed me. “It made my life a bit more complicated,” I wanted to answer. Since I started with my journey, I have constantly been on the lookout for the practice shirt that won’t run up while I do the downward dog, the mat that would last my lifetime, and the explanation to people whenever I get that “that’s very un-Catholic” look on their faces. These people, who have never tried yoga in their lives, warn me against conversion to another religion, which they do not even know how it is called. Had I listened to them and used my first-class intelligence (i.e. one does not have to experience something to know what it is), I would have never found my way here. Sometimes, using second-class intelligence (i.e. experiencing something to find knowledge) has its wisdom—and that’s what I also learned in this journey.
So, what’s the issue about Catholics practicing yoga?
I have always believed that no religion has the monopoly of grace, goodness, and God. I believe that God is too big to be boxed in a set of doctrines and dogmas, rites and rituals. Everyone claims his is the right way. Fine, I cannot argue with that in the same way that I cannot argue with a traveler which road he should take going to his destination (especially if I don’t know where he is going!). But nobody could claim that his is the only right way.
I am Catholic and if I were to pass judgment on non-Catholics simply on the basis of religion, my father would have been the first on my list. (Besides, passing judgment is God’s job, only His.) My father was baptized Catholic and had a Catholic burial but at some point in his life he joined an organization that had been ostracized by the Church. I also do not know what it means to be part of the group but among other things, my father believed that one’s excess is the need of another. Thus, when he was still working, a large portion of his salary went to charities. Sometimes I’d wonder if he didn’t give away his money just like that, would I have to work this hard right now? But I cannot complain. I know I am now reaping the fruits of his good deeds. I am enjoying his karma, so to speak. More so I cannot complain about how he raised us, provided for us, and loved us.
Despite his issues with the Catholic Church—whatever they may be—my father still decided to raise us his children as Catholics when he could have chosen otherwise. I see this as his way of letting us find the truth ourselves and telling us that his issues need not become ours.
Combined with the influence of my father’s liberal thinking is the entire collection of works of Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest who embraced a universal spirituality, finding the common ground among Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Among his teachings are the following:
· A religious belief is a signpost pointing the way to truth. When you cling to the signpost you are prevented from moving toward the truth because you think you have it already.
· Faith is the fearless search for truth. So it is not lost when one questions one’s belief.
· (Paraphrased version) A guru visited a city and taught the people how to live. People in turn gave the guru honor even after he died although they failed to remember any of his teachings. Another guru visited another city and also taught the people how to live. Through generations people lived out his teachings faithfully but they did not notice when the guru disappeared. Eventually they forgot all about him but his teachings lived on. Which is the true religion?
Another influence in my life is Fr. Guido, also a Jesuit and a modern-day champion of the poor. Once he instructed the community to stop listening to scholars and philosophers who love to engage in debates endlessly. They would make a big fuss, for example, over exactly what time Jesus died. He challenged us, however, how knowing the answer would alter our faith. From then on, I have learned to filter the things I would listen to and believe in by asking the question “will knowing the answer to that question change my relationship with God?” If my answer is no, then the issue is not worth pursuing.
Yet another Jesuit priest taught me a lesson—Fr. Louie. (No, I never went to a Jesuit-run school but undeniably the Society has affected me a great deal.) He said that where there is oppression, there is no God. God cannot and will not oppress His people. So he advised us that if we find ourselves in an oppressive situation, we ought to get out of it. “If you find your workplace oppressive, leave your work. If you find a relationship oppressive, leave that relationship. If you find this Church oppressive, by all means, leave this Church.” So IF one day I change religion, you know it’s not because of yoga.
I have friends and family members who have left the Catholic Church for another Church—and they do not practice yoga—but seeing how their lives have transformed for the better makes me not question their decisions anymore. It doesn’t matter; it shouldn’t matter. If that’s where they have grown closer to God, then I could not be happier for them. Same thing with yoga, or any ritual, or any habit, or any pursuit—if it makes people closer to God, or at least makes them better persons, what’s the issue? Shouldn’t we all be doing something to enrich and nurture our relationship with God? After all, if our relationship with Him is not getting any deeper, then we must be drifting apart. There is no such a thing as steady or stagnant relationship.
In the history of the Catholic Church, many people have left it for various reasons. I am not sure what percentage of this population did so because of yoga (and so far, I haven’t read any yoga-related literature prescribing what religion to embrace). Yoga has done me good way beyond the physical dimension. The impact of my 90-minute practice is greater than that of watching a 120-minute movie or teleserye or youtube videos or social networking via the internet and the mobile technology….
Having said that…er, what’s the issue again?