by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
Preface by Reb Akiva...
There's a complete masechta of Shas on Avoda Zara (the prohibition of idol worship). The penalty for avoda zara is kares from Shamayim, and skila (stoning to death) by the Sanhedrin in this world. Avoda Zara is one of the 3 mitzvot for which one must give their lives rather than be forced to commit.
It is not a minor matter and not to be taken lightly. It is not batul b'shishim (nullified by only being a little bit, literally 1 in 60 parts).
Jews who live in the West are no longer familiar with the various intricacies of avoda zarah, as the majority religion(s) of the Western world and Arab world do not include most of the numerous avoda zarah practices of the past.
This is NOT true of those who spend time in Asia and much of Africa, the East. The many idol worshiping practices described in the Gemora are alive and well. And some of them are embedded within yoga.
As religious Jews who eat glatt kosher and protect themselves from the slightest injury to the cow, who drink mehadrin wine protected from the merest inappropriate touch or even view, who wouldn't accept the slightest bit of red dye number 40 - not even a single drop in a vat of 10,000 gallons - as it's derived from an insect and batul b'shishim doesn't apply to intentional ingredients, who hold by the stringencies of chalav yisroel, pas yisroel, bishul yisroel, and even yoshon!
If the knife in shechita has the slightest knick, the SLIGHTEST, it's treif. If the meat is transferred without a seal, it's treif. If the wine is open and accessible with others around, it's treif. If it's (not mevushal and) even picked up by someone not Shomer Shabbat, it's treif.
Yet religious Jews and rabbis would argue it's zealotry to be concerned that there's touches of idolatry in "kosher" yoga programs (and definitely idolatry in regular yoga programs)?
"Hey, it's just exercises." It's just a knife. It's just a bottle of wine. It's just a yogurt. It's just a bug on the leaf. It's just a little linen in the wool suite... (end of preface)
Idolatry is not merely a social or cultural corruption. The idolater’s physical and spiritual realities become defiled when he practices those distortions. Although there are no false gods, there is idolatry. And although idols have no power, unclean powers do exist, and there is magic, and even worse.
Some say that these things have no real power, but many more say that, indeed, these powers do exist. If you read Coming Back To Earth[i], you will see how I know that these powers are real and that they still exist today.
One example; (and I am writing this only so you will take the rest of this article to heart). In the summer of 1972, I sat on a park bench at the corner of 86th street and Central Park West in New York City. I did not speak. I just sat there. After a few days, I looked up and saw some 125 people whom I did not know sitting silently on the sidewalk in front of me. Alan Ginsberg, the well known poet, was lying there, spread out on his face, worshiping me. Ram Das (Richard Alpert), the famous 1960’s guru, was washing my feet, and Peter Max was painting my picture. There were a number of television crews trying to record me while I just sat there, not talking. The reporters and camera crews were climbing over the crowd, struggling to get close enough to ask me a question.
This is what they asked: “What is this power that we feel coming from you?”
I had been in India for a couple of years, meditating and learning the ways of the East. I picked up one of their “mystical” (unclean) powers.[ii]
When you do those Eastern practices intensely, one of the many strange experiences that you might have is that you feel energy, which they call “life-force”, or prana, moving within your body. When it is on the upswing, you feel strong. A tremendous feeling of wellbeing fills your mind and body. But then it wanes, and you feel weak and cold, as if your very life is draining out through your fingers. It is a terrible experience. Once, because of this practice, I clenched my hands in fists for five months, unable to open them, until they cracked and bled!
Don’t worry, they have a remedy. If you are “fortunate,” the gurus share their secret with you. “Touch your thumbs to your forefingers, especially when you meditate. This will stop the draining by recycling your life-force back into your body.”
“Thank G-d! Thank G-d!” you think. But then, after some time, maybe a month, a year, a lifetime, you begin to wonder, “Why do I have to hold my thumbs to my forefingers in order to keep my life-force in my body?”
Now look at the picture (above) that is featured on the Web site COLLIVE. You see what appears to be a religious Jewish man who says that he is teaching “kosher yoga meditation.” Look at his thumbs. They are purposely touching his forefingers, just as the books of Eastern idolatry teach. I doubt that he knows why his yogi guru taught him to hold his fingers like that, but I do.
Jewish meditation brings proper, higher spiritual awareness. The “life-force” that we seek is a not a waxing and waning feeling of energy that we have to keep in our body by holding our thumbs to our forefingers. Nor is it the “mystical powers” (siddhis) that the yogis lust so much. The Life-Force that we seek is Hashem, Who is everywhere at all times. It is the revelation of Hashem’s presence that we seek, not a feeling of energy or power. These energy experiences lock you into lower distinctions, and force you to ignore the Universal One. Worse yet, in the beginning, you feel like you have this amazing power, then later, you see that the amazing power has you.
There are many different types of yoga, and all of them are Hindu religious practices. For instance, besides the common hatha yoga (physical exercises and positions), there is bakti yoga which teaches devotional attachment and service to a deity. There is raja yoga which teaches the Hindu meditation techniques. There yogacara which teaches the Eastern “enlightenment,” and Jnana yoga which is the way of Hindu knowledge. One of the main goals of these yogas is “Moksha – freedom and trying to come to the realization of your identity with the Supreme Being.” This is called, “G-d realization.” Do you know who teaches this in the Torah? The Serpent in the Garden of Eden says the same thing! “…And you will be like G-d.”[iii] The “G-d realized” guru will say, “I am god.”
Actually, there is an entire yoga dedicated to this serpent and its power. It teaches a certain meditation system where you try to raise energy up your spine. This energy is called the Kudalini, or “Serpent Power.”
There is karma yoga which stresses detachment, and tantra yoga which is also called sexual yoga, on and on. There are dozens of these types of Hindu (Brahmanism) religious practices, all called yoga. How could anyone possibly say that yoga is kosher?
Their ways are not even good for the non-Jew. These idolatrous practices, even when done without spiritual awareness, are extremely dangerous. They act as antennas for unclean spiritual experiences. The insidious problem with those who defend yoga is that they do not know that there is a spiritual reality to these practices. To them, “yoga” means touching your toes and breathing deeply! They are wrong. You must not even have books, pictures, or names of these yogas in your possession. Even if you do not use them, they invite severe spiritual confusion into your life.
There are many pure, Jewish meditation techniques, and there are many fine, non-spiritual, physical and stretching exercise systems. There is no need to look to Eastern idolatry for guidance.[iv]
p.s. Today, there are many people giving spiritual opinions about dangerous things that they simply have not experienced, or experienced them superficially without real depth. For instance, one writer “proves” that yoga is not always spiritual by informing us that even karate fighters use yoga. That writer does not know that when a karate fighter gets to be a fifth degree black belt (very accomplished) he is taught to “call upon spirits” to help him with such acts as tamishewata (breaking bricks with his bare hand).
As far as the comment that if you forbid sitting cross-legged you will make all sitting forbidden, see that the yoga position is not merely cross-legged as a person would usually sit when sitting on the floor. They sit in the “lotus position.” One leg is folded over the other leg an additional time, and the arms are held in an unusual and uncomfortable position. This is a unique posture, and although no philosophy or religion owns any position, one has to ask, “Why is he sitting like that?”
If you see someone making a sign of the cross on his chest with his finger and then kiss his finger, what would you think? Even though he might be thinking, “chochma, binah, daas” (wisdom, understanding, knowledge), since that movement has for so many centuries been associated with the “catholic trinity,” a Jew should not do it [Reb Akiva adds, as a known religious practice of the gentiles a Jew is forbidden from doing it].
Their meditation practices are unhealthy, and merely changing the idolatrous words (as one well known rabbi suggests) is not enough. For instance, mantra meditation endlessly repeats a word (often the name of an idol) in order to erase, or ignore all other thoughts. This is an attempt to try to come to “singularity.” Changing the name of the idol that is being chanted to a kosher name will not make this system spiritually healthy.
This technique attempts to eliminate the mind’s function, and tries to bring the meditator to “emptiness.” Jewish meditation strives to bring you to the awareness of G-d, not emptiness. It is not just their names and their techniques that are wrong. Even their goals will take you away from proper spiritual objectives. You cannot mix in even a tiny principle of another religion, or you will pollute your spiritual life.
Reading the many articles and opinions on this subject shows just how widespread and deep the ignorance about idolatry is in the Jewish world. One woman wrote that an “Orthodox rabbi” in her yoga class has no problem with the statue of ga-nish (an Indian god that is part elephant and part person) that is in front of them when they meditate, because the “rabbi” says that he has no intention of worshipping it! We are taught not to even pick up a coin that you dropped in front of an idol, because it might look like you are bowing down to the statue.
Would that “Orthodox rabbi” sit in a treif (non kosher) restaurant, even if he did not eat anything? Of course not! Sitting in front of an idol and meditating is much worse than sitting in a treif restaurant! Sitting in a treif restaurant fools others. Sitting in front of an idol, fools others and it also fools you. He began by saying that yoga is parve –neutral - and ended up meditating in front of an actual idol!
Afterward by Reb Akiva...
There are some who shout "zealots, you would ban everything!" in response to our words on yoga. Dear rabbis who would say such, the Mishnah in Pirke Avos writes Avtalyon said: Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. The students who come after you will drink of these waters and die, and G-d's Name will be desecrated.
When YOU write on web sites representing G-d fearing Torah organizations that "yoga" is ok, or publish a picture of a chossid doing yoga, or hold a "kosher yoga" class at your school, Chabad house, outreach class, etc, YOU ARE PUTTING A HECHSHER ON YOGA.
Why do I say that? We have received tens of emails and comments about "this rabbi says yoga is ok, that rabbi says yoga is ok", etc. I doubt if I called these rabbi's up and asked them if they think Kandaline Power (Serpent Power) is an acceptable religious practice they'd say it is. Yet by endorsing even the slightest amount, they unintentionally endorse it all.
That's called maris ayin at the very least. And if they're uninformed and just endorsing what "sounds ok" without doing any research, well, what religious rabbi would eat a hashgacha he's never seen before without a little research?
"It's just exercise." No, it's not.
[i] Available from www.thereisone.com or from Amazon
[ii] Rashi, Genesis 25:6
[iii] Genesis 3:5
[iv] See Taming The Raging Mind-105 Jewish Meditation Techniques & the Mystical Experiences They Can Produce by Gutman Locks
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא