Yoga: sneaking the evils of eastern mysticism in by the back door?

Benedictine College Administration just announced that campus is no longer offering academic or recreational yoga classes after spring semester 2017.

The decision was made in response to a growing number of concerns from students, alumni and faculty and by the request of Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Abbot James Albers.

“Yoga as created has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church,” said Stephen Minnis, president of the college. “[Archbishop Naumann] has expressed his concerns and the issues surrounding that. We asked ourselves if there was a way to bring those yoga benefits to our students and faculty without the possible effects of eastern mysticism and are currently investigating other alternatives.”



is this a voucher of inherent weakness before the seduction by eastern mysticism or of non-competitiveness of Christian mysticism?


On the other hand, I can imagine that many Bhikkhus or Sadhus were a bit concerned if one would teach the Hesychast meditation focused upon Jesus’ prayer at a Buddhist or Hindu monastery. One can argue that using the name of Jesus, the word ‘buddho’, ot the German words ‘eins-zwei’ as I did during some breathing meditation sessions are mere superficialities, but for many Christians, Buddhists and followers of ther religious traditions superficiliaties are by far the most important thing.

Besides, the Hesychast medition is a Greek Orthodox development, and I have not really heard about any samadhi-ike meditation in the Catholic tradition, so that sounds like tough luck for the Benedectines.

On the other hand, firing one Stéphanie Mercier who used to work at the Liège Catholic University for daring to out loud in one of his classes that he thought abortion is a murder is no less absurd. It looks like if you are too Catholic you are frowned upon as well.

(Disclaimer: it is not about politics, please whoever reads it don’t make it political: it is about the difficulties of the Catholic identity seeking in the modern world :slight_smile:)

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this movie contains another example of how apprehensive Christian establishment may be to introduction of other doctrines within their traditional sphere of influence, a successful Vipassana program in prison was shut down after complaint from the chaplain personnel, although in this case some other than purely religious motives could be at play

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The article states:

“When I was in college, I had a lot of anxiety and still do,” Romano said. “I know the sort of person and mother I am and I know I wouldn’t be able to do that without yoga. I don’t want to be anxious [around my daughter] and I’d like to think I am better because of yoga. The mental benefits is absolutely what separates it from other things like cycling or spin classes.”

This shows the lady, due to her anxiety, is not practising Christianity well or, if she was a Buddhist, not practising Buddhism well. Since Christian or Buddhist practise is supposed to overcome anxiety, why would a Christian or Buddhist be practising hatha yoga to temporarily suppress anxiety by diverting anxiety into the more unconscious parts of the nervous system?

Whilst obviously paranoid, I do discern the justification of these fundamentalist Catholics.

For example, Buddhist samatha-vipassana practitioners should take care with hatha yoga.

I have watched this movie & I agree the motives were political. However, the effectiveness of meditation cannot be compared with the deceptive nature of hatha-yoga, which is generally a method of suppressing emotions & getting high rather than come to terms with them.


i read it, along with the very fact of a yoga course in a Christian institution, as an attestation, to the lack of (proper) instruction on Christian methods of dealing with suffering, Christian psychotherapy as it were and Christian mental discipline, which is rather a failure on the part of the particular institution or even the entire tradition rather than a believer

Oh, absolutely. I met some Catholic nuns near Sydney who meditated using om namo christāya, which I’m sure would have been frowned upon by more stern adherents of the faith! There’s no religious monopoly on either inclusiveness or rigidity.

this appears to be a ridiculous and sad consequence of estrangement from a contemplative tradition of their own religion, as Catholics have their Rosary

Well, that’s pretty judgmental. They were very nice people, who were happy living their spiritual life. The nun we spoke to had practiced for many years in a yogic tradition before becoming a Catholic nun.


of course they could as well just use this type of meditation as an auxiliary method on top of their traditional contemplative techniques, but then the question to be asked is ‘why?’, whether the reason is deficiency of their own tradition or their disconnect with the living tradition itself , especially if om namo christāya meditation was a contributor to their spiritual happiness they couldn’t achieve with traditional methods

and of course whatever their practice is it doesn’t have to define their characters

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Instead of praise be to Christ or sit laus Christi? Of course, they can use in their meditation whatever they want, but I have aesthetic objections to this particular wording :slight_smile: Besides, while definitely well-intended, their choice of language may raise many an eyebrow among followers of both religions. Just imagine a Buddhist monk chanting Beatō, Elevatō, Ipsō Experrectō glōria , or, God forbid, the Classical Arabic rendering of this phrase: Whilst it may be interpreted benevolently, some can perceive it as an attempt to encroach on the ‘turf’ of another religious tradition - and I think, in some sense, however implicitly and / or unwittingly, it is one. In short, while they definitely can do it if they will, my take on this particular practice is that it is not very skilful.

They just happen to be using Sanskrit instead of a vernacular or Latin, I don’t see any problem with this, either form a Buddhist or a Christian viewpoint. There is a tradition of Sanskrit Christianity among some of the Indian and Anglo-Indian intelligentsia (I am thinking specifically of Sanskritized Christian scripture and theological/philosophical literature such as the Kristubhāgavatam). So there is a precedent within these nun’s greater tradition of using Sanskrit as a means to express Christian orthodoxy. Through this, even from a very “strict” Christian viewpoint, the Holy Spirit has sanctified that language as a means through which the Church and the Kingdom of God can propagate. So its not even internally incoherent within a Christian framework to say Om namo Kristāya, because Om, from one Christian viewpoint at least, has become sanctified and conformed to the image and likeness of God through its participation in Sanskritized Christian literature, albeit the literature of a small minority of Christians.

I suppose one could argue that it is cultural appropriation, and therefore ridiculous or harmful, but I am not sure if this is malignant enough to be able to count as truly appropriating culture in the explicitly negative sense of the word, and the individuals doing the “appropriating” would technically be “appropriating” their own culture, which is a bit of a contrived accusation, IMO.

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Me neither, but I can easily see how one can, especially since a huge majority of the Catholics and Hindus have no idea about the cultural context of the Sanskritized Christian literature. For them, such a thing is merely ‘trespassing’ of a traditionally non-Christian culture. To put it bluntly, it smacks a bit of proselytizing, which is not bad, but some people would not like it. Besides, we don’t know whether this particular nun or yoga teachers identified as part of the Indian or Anglo-Indian Sanskritized Christianity or Buddha-ized Christianity, or whatever - which doesn’t really matter for us but can matter for other people.

Appropriating the religious imagery of a different tradition is not a crime per se, and I would be happy to see Buddhist frescoes painted in the Greek Orthodox style, but I know a lot of people on both sides who would be vehemently opposed to it. Of course, accusing anyone of malignant cultural appropriation or covert proseletyzing would be ridiculous, but there are many people who are emotionally extremely invested in cultural trappings of their religious traditions, and they don’t have much interest in discussing the coherence of their arguments. If you translate the Suttas into Classical Arabic and chant them in a traditional Arabic manner, I guarantee you you will have a mess on your hands. So while we both acknowledge that chanting Om Nama Kristaya is okay, we should take into account that there are many other believers who will not be very happy, so why provoke them?

[quote=“Vstakan, post:13, topic:4946”]
So while we both acknowledge that chanting Om Nama Kristaya is okay, we should take into account that there are many other believers who will not be very happy, so why provoke them?
[/quote]If another of the nuns found the practice of the nun in question to be truly disruptive to their own spiritual practice, and that perception was causing the objecting nun to backslide in virtue and discipline, than surely the nun in question would cease public observance of her Om namo kristāya practice, but we can assume that is not the case, as she is presumably still practicing it.

Perhaps it might offend someone far off, who hears about the practice second-hand, but that is really more their own problem at that point, I can’t see how pointing blame at the nun in such an instance would have merit, given that she has no contact with the offended party.

If the theoretical offended party was indeed of such a temperament to be set off by the personal spiritual practice of a nun (s)he doesn’t even know, I would hazard a guess to say that that is more caused by his or her own personal temperament and mindset than caused by inadvertent provocation on the nuns part, as a person of such temperament would likely find something else to be upset about, that is to say, his or her upsetness is unrelated to the specificity of the nun’s idiosyncratic practices, in my opinion, and would be equally offended had (s)he not heard of the practices to begin with by something else, but I suppose that is just a personal conjecture at that last part.

But I am venturing off-topic, my apologies.

I don’t think this tradition is widespread. The Kristubhāgavatam poem appears to be a lone exception - Sanskrit is pretty much the essence of Hinduism, after all. Anglo-Indians speak English, which is their native tongue - I have a few relatives with this ancestry. I was raised as a Christian myself and the language was mostly the local one. But, it’s just strange hearing Sanskrit chants about Jesus…


The Christian Sanskrit enthusiast community is very small, but does indeed exist, and had a slightly stronger presence in the mid to late 1800s.

I don’t know whether it is still practised by any Catholics, but something very similar to Hesychasm is described in the 17th century Catholic contemplation manual Sancta Sophia by the English monk Father Augustine Baker (a Benedictine, curiously enough). It can be found in the chapter entitled Of Prayer without Ceasing.

Sancta Sophia

As an aside, when Edward Conze was leading the meditation class at the London Buddhist Society he attempted, with little success, to make this book required reading for his students. As he remarks, with characteristic acerbity, in the first volume of Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic:

“I have no doubt in my mind that the spread of the practice of meditation in recent years is one of the few beneficial things which have happened in my time, and that in due course it will bring forth incalculable spiritual benefits. On the usefulness of writings on meditation, I am now in two minds. The really valuable instruction must always be oral, since it must be concrete, adjusted to the individual, to his needs and to my relations with him. So a Manual on Meditation is without life, except in the hands of a skilled and disinterested spiritual guide. Moreover, our civilisation is apt to degrade all that it touches. Keen on finding some decent bread we now and then went in America into so-called ‘health shops’. Alas, all that usually met our eyes were rows upon rows of glass jars full of pills made of synthetic chemicals, which were said to enshrine the ‘essence’ of countless vitamins, enzymes and herbal remedies. The sickly complexion of the owners of these shops and of their customers showed how much health they had derived from this muck. The same thing is apt to happen to meditation when it is just added to a life-style which remains unaltered in any way, centred as before on an unfettered pursuit of Hedonistic goals. If meditation is to have any spiritual fruits, it has to be based on a strictly disciplined ascetic life of self-denial. Wherever I have given reluctant advice on it, I have urged people to study Father Baker’s Holy Wisdom in the Burns, Oates and Washbourne Edition of 667 pages. This has rarely been followed up.”


Nice to see you posting here, Bhante. Hope to see more!

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