|Year : 2020 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 61-64
Do Hindu tradition and Jewish–Christian tradition speak the same language?
Yoga Teachers Trainer of the School for Yoga Teachers of Metamorfosys Association, Via XXX Ottobre 19, Trieste, Italy
|Date of Submission||01-Oct-2020|
|Date of Decision||26-Nov-2020|
|Date of Acceptance||27-Nov-2020|
|Date of Web Publication||23-Dec-2020|
Via Della Tesa 20, 34138 Trieste
Introduction: The globalization in progress brings cultures and religions, that were once distant, ever more close, sometimes in a conflictual way. Often, the discussion has a superficial character because knowledge of the roots of one's own culture is being lost. Therefore, it is difficult to study other cultures in depth. In particular, in studying yoga, it seems appropriate to refer to the texts that are at the basis of both Western and Indian civilizations. The comparison of texts could add a little more understanding of a practice that has recently become an intangible heritage of humanity.
Material and Methods: In this article, texts in hand, we intend to offer an example of how two cultures, the Hindu one, with particular reference to yoga, and the Jewish–Christian one, present common contents. For reasons of space, the Jewish and Christian traditions have come together in that they, although present very different characters, share a good part of the same sacred book, the Holy Bible, as their foundation. For Hinduism, yoga and Vedānta have come together in that aimed, in different ways and languages, to the same purpose: the realization of the identity between ātman and Brahman. The texts taken as an example in this case were the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad and Yoga Yājñavalkya.
Results: We found textual evidence of commonality between the concepts of vital breath and speech, present in both traditions. In addition, the functions attributed by the texts to both these concepts – that is, to give life, remove demons and blot out sins – appear to be common.
Discussion: Yoga has been defined by Sri Krishnamacharya as the “India's biggest gift to the world.” However, in the West, it is increasingly becoming “simply” a sporting practice. The comparison between the two traditions therefore appears necessary to recover the knowledge of both, the common traits and, ultimately, to deepen all that yoga has to offer regarding the understanding of life itself. The short comparison of texts we made in the present article reveals similar conceptions regarding fundamental concepts, such as vital breath and speech, and suggests the possibility of finding broader commonalities.
Keywords: Breath, Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, Holy Bible, India , sacrifice, West, Yoga Yājñavalkya
|How to cite this article:|
Bianchi T. Do Hindu tradition and Jewish–Christian tradition speak the same language?. Yoga Mimamsa 2020;52:61-4
In dealing with a confrontation between religions, two extremes are still present. The one affirms that all religions preach the same thing and believe in one God. The other poses as irreconcilable points of view that appear, at least on the surface, very different. Between these two extremes lies the study of comparative religions which, texts and professions of faith in hand, tries to understand what the convergences are and what the radical differences are. The comparison, if well conducted, adds a further understanding of the respective doctrines, even without concluding for one or the other extreme. This article, far from claiming to be exhaustive, intends to propose a sample of this way of proceeding and to be a stimulus to more extensive studies. We will therefore analyze some statements on the vital spirit and the meaning of sacrifice contained on the one hand in the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad and in the Yoga Yājñavalkya for the Hindu tradition and on the other hand in the Jewish–Christian Bible.
”Then they (i.e., the gods) said to this Breath in the mouth (āsanyaḥ prāṇaḥ): 'Sing for us the Udgītha'. 'So be it', said the Breath, and sang for them. They (i.e., the devils) knew: 'Verily, by this singer they will overcome us'. They rushed upon him and desired to pierce him with evil. As a clod of earth would be scattered by striking on a stone, even so they were scattered in all directions and perished. Therefore the gods increased, the demons became inferior. He increases with himself, a hateful enemy becomes inferior for him who know this” (Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, first Adhyāya, third Brāhmana, 7) (Hume, 1921, p. 98).
”Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (The Holy Bible. Genesis 2, 7).
”So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you'. When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained” (The Holy Bible. Gospel of John 20, 21-23).
The Upaniṣads are considered to be the first texts of Indian philosophy, by some Western scholars who distinguish between “philosophical” Upaniṣads and “religious” vedas. Indeed, they come after – both chronologically and logically – the religious texts of the vedas, of which they represent the completion and the explanation. With the vedas, the Brāhmaṇa, and the Āraṇyaka, they form the Śhrūti, that is, the revealed truth received through listening. Up to a certain point in history, their transmission was secret. In fact, they contained truths that are difficult to understand, reserved to the priestly class or, at least, to that of the warriors from which the kings came. They were therefore esoteric texts. Up to a certain point in history, the Bible was also an esoteric text. In a Jewish environment, the Old Testament was reserved for the elected people or even only for their priests. In a Christian environment, for centuries, the Old and New Testaments were read only by those who could read and write – and they were not many – and knew Latin – and they were even fewer. Today, almost global literacy, the press, and even more so the web have put the Bible in the hands of anyone. The Upaniṣads too can be consulted by everybody. Are they no longer esoteric texts? It would seem not, at least considering the quotes above. They speak of arguments that are in a certain sense still mysterious, which need exegesis, explanation. Yet they are very clear. The breath of the singing mouth drives away demons. The breath of God creates man. The Holy Spirit gives the power to forgive sins. A first question that arises when comparing these texts is “Is it the same breath?”
Now, we all know that breath, for aerobic beings, is an indispensable element of life. Of course, it is not the only one, but when the breath goes away, life goes away. Or when life goes away, the breath goes away. That it was God who initially insufflated it into man is not widely accepted. That the techniques of yoga or of those who dive in apnea can slow down the breath ad libitum is instead a proven fact. However, when the breath is no longer there, life stops. “When You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, and they die and return to their dust. When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the surface of the ground” (The Holy Bible. Book of Psalms 104, 29-30).
The quoted passage from Genesis is therefore confirmed by experience. Man needs vital breath to live. But, what do we evaluate what the Gospel of John and the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad say? Can the breath of life repel demons and sin? Obviously, we need to have a particular epistemological approach because this question makes sense. It is in fact necessary to accept the existence of individual incorporeal spiritual beings such as demons and to have a morality that calls sin what transgresses it. In Hindu terms, the closest concept to the Christian concept of sin is that of karma. I perform an action that goes against ṛta or dharma and in doing so I worsen my karma. Several Indian yoga masters have taught that yogic practice, especially prāṇāyāma, purifies karma. There seems therefore to be an agreement between the words of Jesus and the practice of yoga on this point.
Later, the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad returns to the subject. In the first Brāhmaṇa of the third Adhyāya, in paragraph 3, the hotar Aśvala asks the brāhmaṇa Yājñavalkya as follows: “Yājñavalkya, since everything here is overtaken by death, since everything is overcome by death, whereby is a sacrifice liberated beyond the reach of death?” And Yājñavalkya answers: “By the Hotṛi-priest, by fire, by speech. Verily, speech is the Hotṛi of sacrifice. That which is this speech is the fire, is the Hotṛi. This is release (mukti), this is complete release” (Hume, 1921, p. 107). Here, there is not the reference to āsanyaḥ prāṇaḥ (the breath that resides in the mouth) mentioned above, but to the Speech, that we can certainly think of as its expression. The juxtaposition to the Logos with which John's Gospel begins may therefore be appropriate and the mention of the fire recalls some Gospel passages in which Jesus refers to it. The two traditions – the Vedic one and the Jewish–Christian one – are distant, in space and time, but also in language. Yet, the concepts return to confirm that perhaps what we are talking about are universal experiences. The breath and the Speech are the most powerful things the creator has given us. With them, we can erase sins and drive away demons and death. But, not everyone is given this power. Or rather, it takes something more. The text of the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad is clear: the Speech must be that pronounced by a brāhmaṇa in the context of sacrifice, just as the existential experience of Jesus is totally sacrificial. It seems that it is precisely the sacrificial event that (re) confers its powers to the breath, to the Speech.
Sacrifice is the act of entrusting certain goods to the sacred. Often, when it is about inanimate objects such as incense, the entrusting involves burning them. If, on the other hand, it is about animated beings (animals or humans), the offer can take the form of killing them (bloody sacrifice). However, it doesn't always have to be like this. The priests of numerous religious traditions are sacrificed beings, that is, people who have abandoned the profane world to devote themselves to the sacred. This is why they are defined as “consecrated.” In more secular terms, today, the term “sacrifice” also applies to those who dedicate their lives to a particular cause. The Vedic sacrifice was based on a complex ritual, entrusted to the brāhmin. Yājñavalkya was one of them (”yājña” means “sacrifice”), and it seems significant that a text on yoga, Yoga Yājñavalkya, which has taught yoga practitioners a lot over the centuries, is attributed to him. Obviously, it is not the same person. Yoga Yājñavalkya has been composed after the 2nd century AD, and the Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad between the 9th and the 8th centuries BC. Therefore, we may suppose that the author of Yoga Yājñavalkya wanted to take an illustrious name to give prestige to his saying. However, what can be the reason that the author of a text on yoga went to retrieve the name of a brāhmaṇa of 1000 years earlier? It is known that sacrificial practice over the centuries has increasingly become something relevant to the private sphere, first family and then even personal – a path that has gradually replaced the great Templar choreographies with the body. Over time, the ritual has been internalized and the individual practice of yoga would represent the culmination of this internalization. Perhaps, this path is to be attributed to that process of degeneration of the times that places us, as early as February 18, 3102 BC, in the increasingly dark era of the Kali Yuga. In any case, there would be a further correspondence with the Jewish–Christian tradition. For historical–political reasons, in both the Hebrew and, for reasons more related to the preaching of Jesus, the Christian, there was an abandonment of the Temple in the direction of a greater emphasis on the personal experience of the sacred. “What? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God, and that you are not your own?”, St. Paul goes so far as to say in the First Letter to the Corinthians (The Holy Bible. First Letter to the Corinthians 6, 19), sanctioning that the equivalence between body and temple is that we also see in yoga. The temple was the place where sacrifices were made. Now that place is the body. And yogic practice is the heir of the Vedic sacrifice, during which one reconnects to the divine present in the body, that ātman which is Brahman, whose identity is affirmed precisely by the Upaniṣadic teaching. Yājñavalkya still says in this regard in Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka-Upaniṣad: “Lo, verily, not for love of Brahmanhood is Brahmanhood dear, but for love of the Soul (ātman) Brahmanhood is dear” (second Adhyāya, fourth Brāhmana, 5) (Hume, 1921, p. 98). Yes, because the main purpose of the sacrifice, not only Vedic, is to re-establish the “friendship” between the human and the divine world and to raise the first to the level of the second. But, this can only be done by venerating the part of divinity present in each individual as ātman. The identity between Brahman and ātman affirmed in the Upaniṣad, is also taken up again at the beginning of Yoga Yājñavalkya, where the homonymous sage says, with slightly different terminology: “Yoga is the union of the individual self (jīvātmā) with the divine (or supreme, paramātmā) self” (Chapter I, 44) (Mohan, & Mohan 2013, p. 11). We know that the different darśanas of Hinduism all point to the same purpose, with gradually different means that are expressed in “technical” languages that are also different. The Vedānta, which has its own reference texts in the Upaniṣads, would therefore not differ in scope from yoga. But, what about Christianity? We have already said that the two traditions are distant, however in analyzing the texts, we can find numerous similarities. As regards the supreme purpose of human, we find in the Psalms, one of the books of the Bible, a statement that will then be taken up and explained by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Psalm 82 in verse 6 says in fact: “I have said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” (The Holy Bible. Book of Psalms 82, 6). There are certainly differences. The Jewish tradition interprets the words as referring exclusively to the elected people. The Jewish–Christian tradition then interprets the relationship between the divine and the human as a personal relationship of sonship. Such a view seems absent in Vedānta and yoga. However, we find the same call to seek the divine (hidden or ignored) present in every human, a personal divine that acts as a trait d'union with the divine itself.
Comparisons between religious texts and doctrines may increase the comprehension of the religions compared. As far as yoga is concerned, comparing it with other doctrines can make explicit its original religious matrix. This approach may seem superfluous for an Indian public who already well understands yoga as an ascetic and mystical practice, that is, aimed at that reunion with the divine that has been spoken about. However, it is not without meaning in a Western context, where yoga is sliding more and more along the side of a practice of well-being and “simply” sports. In fact, initially, yoga outside India carried out a re-evangelization function of an audience of researchers who, in an increasingly secularized West, could no longer find credible answers to their mystical inspiration. Over time, this inspiration has been running out, becoming Western yoga a way to feel good with your body and, in some cases, with your mind. In fact, we have ceased to speak of the soul, as a concept still too tied to the sphere of the sacred. Now, everyone can choose the direction in which to turn, be it directed to the spirit or to the matter. However, to understand yoga in its entirety, it seems necessary to explain its religious matrix.
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There are no conflicts of interest.
| References|| |
Mohan, A. G., Mohan, G. (eds.). (2013). Yoga Yājñavalkya. Svastha Yoga Pte Ltd.