Guess who can beat Deepak Chopra’s record? Only Deepak Chopra. He’s truly nulli secundus. Despite calling his bluff on not one, but two occasions, despite the fact that he hasn’t answered any of my questions, I’m compelled to write again simply because given his reach and influence, his misleading assertions will get even wider currency.
His latest post on Huffington Post is pompously titled Who Owns Yoga where he repeats the same untruths as earlier in his Newsweek post. The crux–rather, the only point he makes is this: Yoga doesn’t “belong” to Hinduism.
Note: For a detailed exposition on how Yoga and Hinduism can’t be delinked, read my Hindu Roots of Yoga.
At the outset, Chopra claims that “The text usually cited as the definitive source for Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but the familiar poses that are part of Hatha Yoga are generally traced to Shiva cults, the god Shiva being its founder. The problem that is being swept aside is that exact dates cannot be assigned to any of these texts.” (Italics mine) If by “exact dates,” Chopra means right up to the last Millisecond, he’s right but that doesn’t save his claim from sounding both ridiculous and false. Perhaps Deepak Chopra might want to refer to Page 453 of S. Radhakrishnan (former President of India) and Moore’s, A Source Book in Indian Philosophy which sets the date at 2 BCE. Other scholars, for example, Gavin Flood, puts the date between 100 BCE and 500 CE. Hatha Yoga is derived primarily from Swami Swaratma’s definitive Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other major works like the Gheranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita. There’s no dispute to the dating of these three works–Hatha Yoga Pradipika, was composed sometime in the 15th Century CE, the Gheranda Samhita in the 17th Century CE, and Shiva Samhita is dated variously between 15th, 17th, or 18th Century CE. We need to ask Deepak Chopra where he detects a sweeping aside of the “date problem.”
Deepak Chopra is not alone when he asserts that Hinduism “sprang from the Vedic religion.” This is a very mischievous claim to make because even a cursory reading of the history of Hinduism reveals that the two are synonymous and inseparable. There is nothing in Hinduism that can’t be traced back to the Vedas. Equally, every verse in the Vedas have “raw material,” so to say, to spawn anything that we find in what’s called Hinduism today. For instance, the Vedic Durga Suktam chanted in the worship of Goddess Durga (or Parvati) is actually a Vedic chant dedicated to Agni, or the God of Fire. We can cite thousands of similar examples but this is enough in view of space constraints.
Realistically, the word “Hindu” or “Hinduism” was not an indigenous or native construct. It was given to us by the Arabs, who called India as the “Land bounded by the river Sindhu (today’s Indus).” “Hindu” is the corruption of the word “Sindhu,” and the land of the Hindus was “Hindustan,” or India. From this, it follows that “Hinduism,” is really not a religion in the strict sense of the word but merely a word used by foreign invaders to describe the landmass/country of India. The correct term to describe the predominant faith/religion of today’s India is the “Vedic religion” or “Vaidika Dharma” or “Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Dharma).” In the 5000 years of its antiquity, not one Indic text refers to the native religion as “Hinduism”— we’re talking of a corpus of the 4 Vedas, 6 Vedangas, 18 Puranas, the 4 Upavedas, the various smritis, the numerous Aagamas, the Ramayana and Mahabharata–in all over 3000000 verses. One wonders how Deepak Chopra confidently states that “Hinduism” is a “later” religion that “sprang” from “Vedic culture” when indeed the same Vedic culture doesn’t mention the word “Hinduism” even once.
Everything in what we call today as Hinduism–from its philosophy, art, music, sculpture, architecture, dance, Yoga, temples, Gods, Goddesses, rituals, worship, traditions, and practices–was derived from and belongs to what Chopra calls “Vedic culture.” What explains the fact that Vedic rituals and mantras are still used in Hindu temples in India and abroad? What explains the fact that a Carnatic classical concert opens with a Varnam (on a Hindu God) followed by the Vedic God, Ganesha? What explains the fact that a Hindustani classical concert opens with “Om Sri Anantha Hari Naryana,” Naryana, a synonymn of the Vedic God, Vishnu? The same applies to any classical dance form.
It’s true that temple culture was absent in the ancient Vedic times. But the temple culture if anything, is a glorious tribute to the conception of philosophy and “God” in the Vedas. The highest conception of what’s called “God” in the Vedas is the Nirguna Nirakara Brahman, or the Formless Universal Reality, which is called Brahman. To a lay person, this conception is almost incomprehensible because the human mind requires a Form and Name (or definition) to conceptualize anything. In other words, you can’t address somebody as “Good morning, Male” or “Good night, Female.” You need to call him/her as “John/Jane” to put him/her in a specific place-time reference. When you apply this principle to the Formless Universal Reality, you get names for Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Parvati, Lakshmi, Indra, Agni, and so on. You assign them specific attributes but what you’re really doing is humanizing that Formless Universal Reality so that it’s easy to identify and define a highly abstract philosophical conception. In other words, you’re making them accessible to your mind. When the highest philosophical conception is a Formless “God,” it can be both male and female, which is why Hinduism has both Gods and Goddesses. In a way, the gradual development of what was derided as “idol worship” actually made the “Vedic religion” more accessible to more and more people–an organic growth so to say. If it had been confined to just a group of people who knew how to conduct rituals, there’s little chance that it’d have survived as an unbroken tradition for so long. It is therefore unsurprising that the Vedic culture that gave birth to this kind of conception of a Formless “God” also developed the methods to realize that God. Yoga is one such method. Trying to delink it from Hinduism or the Vedic religion is bound to backfire on the credibillity of the person attempting the feat.
I don’t have a position on the Hindu American Foundation but I’ve read enough news and other material that proves beyond doubt how the original aims and goals of Yoga have been hijacked by self-seeking “New Age” Gurus whose lifestyles and behavior show a yawning gap between what they preach and practice. A true Yoga Guru will not solicit disciples or advertise his shows, writings, and books the way Deepak Chopra does. It’s similar to a person without a degree in medicine opening a clinic. Chopra’s ill-advised pronouncements about “the spiritual path” and “englightenment” reek of hypocrisy because Yoga texts state that a seeker of Yoga must first purify himself by strict ethical observances–non-violence, non-stealing, hygiene, non-covetousness, celibacy and the rest–before he is qualified to learn Yoga Asanas. How does Deepak Chopra rate on these parameters? We must remember that he professes himself to be a Yoga teacher and healer–a status higher than an aspirant of Yoga–so it’s natural that we must hold him to a higher standard. This by itself denies Chopra the moral authority to speak about Yoga much less teach it to people. It’s also hard therefore to take his claim about “equal-opportunity offender” seriously. Offense for the sake of offense is not only childish but if left to itself, dangerous.
Equally, it is not in good taste on Deepak Chopra’s part to mischaracterize the HAF’s position on Yoga as “an innocent attempt by the Indian diaspora to get some respect” and “to lighten up.” Indeed, the NYT piece that Chopra refers to says that the HAF’s campaign “does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism…[but] suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.” It is similar to honouring say Einstein for giving us the theory of relativity or acknolwedging our debt to Pythagoras. One wonders why Chopra is so upset about a similar effort to give honour where it’s due.
Further, Deepak Chopra claims that he’d “like to point out that the whole point of Yoga is to achieve enlightenment, and that the most revered practitioners, whether known as yogis, swamis or mahatmas, transcend religion. In fact, even if Yoga were granted a patent or copyright…there is no denying that enlightenment has always been outside the bounds of religion.” One would like to ask him about the ethics of taking something from somebody and not crediting the original source. If this had happened in the intellectual/academic arena, professors would be sued for infringement, or in plain words, punished for committing intellectual theft. As Chopra would know, one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras talks about asteya or non-stealing.
We also need to spend some time on Chopra’s leaps of logic, his contradictions, and the authenticity of his knowledge. He says that Yoga is a spiritual path that leads to englightenment and not “into the arms of priests or Yoga instructors.” If this was the case, why would the world need Yoga instructors? You know, you can just think up one of these asanas, get on the spiritual path and get enlightened on your own. Chopra doesn’t seem to realize that the moment large numbers of people begin to do this, begin to explore true spirituality on their own, he’d be out of business first. He also issues a caution of sorts that before Hindu Americans “complain about Hatha Yoga being deracinated, they might want to promote the ideas that are the very essence of Indian spirituality, which preceded Shiva, Krishna, cows and castes.” Perhaps Deepak Chopra might want to recall that both Shiva and Krishna were called the perfect Yogis, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a treatise, which Shiva imparts to his consort, Parvati and that the Bhagavad Gita is also known as one of the finest expositions of Yoga. Earlier in his piece, he talks about how Hatha Yoga is “generally traced to Shiva cults, the god Shiva being its founder.” One needs to ask Chopra the name of the religion, which regards Shiva as a God. Just an example of the nature of contradictions his piece exudes. Given his anxiety to delink Yoga from Hinduism or the Vedic religion, why does he continue to teach Yoga?
Chopra’s piece–like his attack on Aseem Shukla in Newsweek earlier this year–is singularly noteworthy for one point: it cites no references, doesn’t backup extraordinary claims with research, indulges in ad hominem attacks, argues from ignorance–in short, violates most principles of logical reasoning. In other words, he doesn’t have an argument other than his brand name and a self-professed claim that he has been writing ” about spirituality for many years.”
Nobody owns Yoga, Mr. Chopra, indeed the concept of ownership is abhorred by Yoga, which says that God pervades the entire creation (Ishavasyam Idam Sarvam). However, it also asks us to repay the debts we owe our ancestors. Or at the least, acknowledge that we owe those debts.
Tags: Commentary, Deepak Chopra, False Yoga Gurus, Hindu, Hindu Philosophy, Hinduism, India, Indian Philosophy, Meditation, Patanjali Yoga, Patenting Yoga, Pranayama, Yoga, Yoga in the US, Sanatana Dharma, Hindu, Huffington Post, Response to Deepak Chopra