Hatha Yoga and Krishna Consciousness

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By Sita-pati das

As the owner of a hatha yoga school and an initiated disciple in the branch of the Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage represented by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada I read with interest the recent opinion article of His Holiness Danavir Goswami.

I’d like to offer what may be perhaps another angle of vision on the relationship between hatha yoga and Krishna Consciousness.

I personally believe that every hatha yoga school in the world should teach the practice of yoga asanas, which are a form of physical exercise, in the context of Krishna Consciousness. In fact, I personally believe that everything should be taught in the context of Krishna Consciousness.

Manasa deho geho yo kichu mor, apilu tuya pade nanda kishor - “My mind, body and family, everything that I have, I offer to the lotus feet of the son of Nanda Maharaja”, yes, including the yoga school, the courses taught there, the students, everything.

As I consider myself “within ISKCON”, I consider that what I do is “within ISKCON”. The teachers at our yoga school are a mixture of initiated grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada and aspiring grand-disciples of Srila Prabhupada who have been introduced to ISKCON through association with the devotees who teach there.

As we proceed in our mission to Krishna-ize the entire planet we have to think deeply about what it means and will mean to “be within ISKCON”, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and be careful and precise about the language that we use.

I would like to add that our yoga school, Atma Yoga in Brisbane, Australia, does not use the name of ISKCON or an ISKCON facility, so perhaps in that way we are not “within ISKCON” in the sense that Maharaja uses the term, and Maharaja’s presentation is not directed at us. I’d just like to clarify that, however, because nobody likes to feel like they are being told that their service and offering to the mission is bogus.

I take Maharaja’s main point to be that hatha yoga should not be taught in ISKCON temples or using the ISKCON name, because it’s not our core mission, and I have no problem with that - in fact I couldn’t agree more. Since opening a hatha yoga school with my wife 8 years ago we have never taught hatha yoga in an ISKCON temple, or used the ISKCON name in this connection.

I feel that the article Maharaja has written could be read by some as going further than this, however, into a condemnation of teaching of hatha yoga by Vaisnavas.

Our core mission is to make everyone and everything in human society Krishna Conscious, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see the appearance of Krishna Conscious hatha yoga, nor should we unnecessarily condemn it.

I’d like to point out that there are Vaisnavas who teach hatha yoga, let’s call it “outside ISKCON” to indicate that they don’t use the name or facilities of ISKCON, and they are not impersonalists or spreading impersonalist teachings, nor are they necessarily sense enjoyers and so forth, an impression that might be gained by a cursory or superficial reading of Maharaja’s piece.

I don’t feel that a lot of the generalizations that His Holiness has made about yoga courses are accurate descriptions of the yoga courses that we teach at our yoga school. I wonder if he could be a bit more specific about the yoga courses that he is referring to in order to avoid “tarring everyone with the same brush”. I don’t believe that Maharaja is personally familiar with our school or our courses, and the invitation is open for him to visit anytime to know directly what we do.

There are a number of ISKCON Vaisnavas around the world who work as hatha yoga teachers and are who are working together to develop a Krishna conscious hatha yoga system where interested persons can learn to teach hatha yoga in a bona fide Krishna conscious context. It’s a job, just like a gym instructor or computer programmer, and householder devotees have to make a living somehow. If they can get their hatha yoga instructor certification in a Krishna Conscious hatha yoga system, then so much the better. Otherwise devotees still have to find their way in a world that largely has not been Krishna-contextualized yet.

We need Krishna conscious computer training courses, Krishna conscious metal work courses, Krishna conscious media studies courses, Krishna conscious martial arts courses, Krishna conscious everything. While the core mission of the ISKCON organization is to provide the “Krishna conscious” part, we should be careful, while maintaining our purity, not to condemn the manifestation of Krishna consciousness in human society when it does occur. Otherwise we run the risk of shooting ourselves in the foot as we try to advance. After all, we’re trying to make everyone and everything Krishna conscious aren’t we?

To my reading Maharaja is concerned that the practice and teaching of Krishna Conscious hatha yoga not replace or become mixed with our core activities of Bhagavat-sravanam-kirtanam in our temple facilities, and that any condemnation of Krishna conscious hatha yoga teachers and systems is merely apparent, and unintended, collateral damage.

I don’t personally feel that Maharaja is condemning me or what I do, I’d just like to clarify this point so that his presentation is not taken to be a blanket condemnation of those of us “within ISKCON” who practice and teach hatha yoga, and are happy to use our activities as another opportunity to bring people in contact with Krishna consciousness.

Here is a verse that I meditate on each day:

“Lord Kapila, the Personality of Godhead, who is the highest authority on yoga, here explains the yoga system known as ashtanga-yoga, which comprises eight different practices, namely yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. By all these stages of practice one must realize Lord Vishnu, who is the target of all yoga. There are so-called yoga practices in which one concentrates the mind on voidness or on the impersonal, but this is not approved by the authorized yoga system as explained by Kapiladeva. Even Patanjali explains that the target of all yoga is Vishnu. Ashtanga-yoga is therefore part of Vaishnava practice because its ultimate goal is realization of Vishnu.” SB.3.28.1

I feel that when people become initiated Gaudiya Vaisnavas through studying at a Vaisnava hatha yoga school that this is bona-fide astanga yoga practice, as they have reached the goal of Visnu-saranam.

My personal conviction is that I will not stand aside and allow hatha yoga to be misused. Everything must be utilized in Krishna’s service. Everyone must be saved.

with humble obeisances, Sita-pati das (DAS)

(More info about author: http://www.atmayogi.com)

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1 Suresh das

Congratulations for all your hard work and efforts. What a wonderful service you are doing. I am sure Krishna will bless you more and more and give you the intelligence to do the right things in His service and the service of Srila Prabhupada in spreading Krishna Consciousness.

Comment posted by Suresh das on September 27th, 2006
2 sita-pati

Thank you for the encouragement and blessings Suresh Prabhu. Any credit is really due to my Guru Maharaja, His Holiness Devamrita Swami, whose appearance day anniversary is today. Everything is going on by his mercy and by his expert guidance. Whatever is good that is there is due to him, and whatever failings are there are my own iniquities.

Comment posted by sita-pati on September 28th, 2006
3 Suresh das

I am glad to hear that your yoga school and efforts are being guided by a senior ISKCON leader and guru. This is perhaps the solution to the yoga issue - keep the hatha yoga outside of the temple grounds, but still have it be guided by elevated and qualified members of our society.

Yoga is so big today. Millions of people are taking it up. Most, unfortunately, are only doing it for health, or for fitness. A small percentage is interested in self-realization. The very process of yoga however, guides one to gradually to accept such principles as vegetarianism, sense control, and to inquire about spiritual knowledge.

We shouldn’t outright reject Hatha Yoga though, because we would be missing out on a very large, potential population of sincere spiritual seekers.

Comment posted by Suresh das on September 29th, 2006
4 NandanandanaDasACBSP

Very interesting and congratulations. This article really inspires me as I was just recently invited to give classes on Bhagavad-gita to a hatha-yoga group. This group is very big in Mexico, of course we start with kirtan and use Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gia as it is. Hatha-yogis can be our big coustomers too.

Comment posted by NandanandanaDasACBSP on September 29th, 2006
5 Unregistered

I am aware of the fantastic work of the devotees of H.H.Devamrita Swami and their use of Hatha-Yoga, this is a way of making a links with individuals and by association become attracted to Krsna Conciousness through association. This with the most amazing results.
However I would like to point out an incident close to were I live, (I must stress not run by devotees of H.H.Devamrita Swami) I got talking to a number of people and when I mentioned the name Krsna, the reply back was that guys amazing the Yoga hes developed the way you hold the positions for such a long time you really have to concentrate. It was so sad to hear and when I gave them the true meaning of Krsna quite rightly they felt cheated.
It is just a thought but one we have to think about, as long as it is used to develop and direct individuals to the glories of Bhakta Yoga it surely isnt a problem

Comment posted by DJH on September 30th, 2006
6 Unregistered

Dear Prabhu,

I also pracitse hatha yoga, I learned it from sivananda ashram and I am still doing asana and pranayama. I have recently learned Vaishnava philosophy and it is so much intresting and right, but still I do believe that Hatha yoga is no bad to become a devotee. Infact it is good for any person to get there chakras moving into right direction and once they start working right then mind automatically starts thinking about spirituality and keeps positive towards acheiving perfection of spirituality i.e. KC. In my own expereience I would have never came into any kind of spirituality if I was not introduced to Hatha Yoga first as it was the only one thing that intrested me into spiritual knowledge and once it started then it is not difficult to digest perfect knowledge. I would like to say much more but hope that my feelings will be understood in this much.

Comment posted by shiva das on October 1st, 2006
7 Suresh das

The practice of Hatha Yoga is very similar to a Japa walk. If we can teach people how to move, breath, and chant Hare Krishna simultaneously, their yoga might be transformed into a perfect spiritual activity.

Comment posted by Suresh das on October 2nd, 2006
8 Unregistered

Hare Krishna,
I am also a hatha yoga practicioner and I am very happy for this practice. Although I have been chanting ever since my childhood the quality of my rounds have better ever since I started practicing pranayam and hatha. I see devotees old and new chanting and sleeping all the time, going to bhagavatam class and sleeping, going about their days like zoombies… (I am sorry for the expression but a devotee who eats late at night and then wakes up early morning just looks like it). There are those serious devotees who make serious efforts to improve their standards and this is not for them. But for those who are battleing with sleep all day here is my message: please do some yoga and stop snoozing japa! and as far as Danavir Maharaj’s message I think he would benefit from yoga too! if he would give it a try and relax then he would see what are we talking about! Buena suerte Sita pati!

Comment posted by amdd on October 2nd, 2006
9 Danavir Goswami

“A thirtyish, unmarried, Indian gentleman finishing up his engineering Ph.D., has come [to Portland] with the devotees from Seattle and asks for a meeting with His Divine Grace. Once facing our spiritual master, the man explains that he has seen some of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples dozing off during their chanting of japa in the morning. “I can teach them some pranayama yoga practice which will help them stay awake,” he offers. Srila Prabhupada politely declines maintaining that it is unnecessary. The man insists, “Oh no, they really need to learn the breathing exercises and the sitting postures. This will help them to stay awake when they’re chanting.” Once again Srila Prabhupada rejects the proposal. Then for the third time the man makes his demands and this time Srila Prabhupada strongly concludes the discussion, ‘No, even though they are deficient, they [his disciples who are practicing bhakti-yoga] are still better than anyone else! There is no need for any additional yoga practice.’” (An excerpt from Chapter 6 of the book “His Divine Grace,” authored by Danavir Goswami)

Comment posted by Danavir Goswami on October 3rd, 2006
10 Suresh das

Srila Prabhupada must be right then in his decision that ISKCON not teach Hatha Yoga. There must be great danger for us as devotees, which we may not be able to understand at this time, in the practice of Hatha Yoga, and Pranayama. I can now understand, in reading Danavir Maharaj’s quote, why ISKCON and its leaders wish to purely follow Srila Prabhupada wishes and instructions, and not involve themselves in teaching or practicing Hatha Yoga or Pranayama breathing.

For years I have been tuning out whatever my yoga teachers have been saying, and concentrating on my own method of chanting Hare Krishna instead. Usually, when there is any philosophy all they speak of is Buddhist-Voidism, Mayavadi philosophy, or just ordinary materialism. Lord Krishna’s name is rarely mentioned in my yoga school, and the Lord is never worshiped or seen. In the teachings of the Yamas and Niyamas, my teachers of Ashtanga yoga are afraid to even mention the word “celibacy”, which I find sad and laughable at the same time. There is little philosophy of any kind taught, and when it is, I feel like I am back in Elementary school compared to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.

Even with these short comings, I choose to continue my method, which I have developed for myself, of simple yoga asanas (such as Sun Salute, etc.), deep Ujjai loud breathing (victory over the mind), and silent chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, because I must. I don’t desire to stop, nor will I be able to. I find it very beneficial for me, because it brings peace and joy to my spirit. It is what is needed for me as an individual with special needs.

It is unfortunate that ISKCON devotees are never seen in my yoga school or yoga world. Special programs could be arranged with devotional bhajans, distribution of Prasadam, and literature. Many of the students enjoy chanting and singing, and would like to meet ISKCON devotees (provided they come in the right spirit of love and kindness, without promoting themselves as having the only way, putting down other teachers, or their spiritual practices).

The music of Rasa, for example, has regularly been played for many years in most yoga schools all over the world. The songs of Bhaktivinode Thakur have been regularly heard by thousands of yoga students. One of my teachers, who admitted he dislikes chanting the name of Krishna, told me he enjoys chanting the name of Gopinath instead, and this taste came from regularly hearing the song “Gopinath”, on a Rasa CD.

It is unfortunate that there is virtually no presence of ISKCON devotees in the yoga world, and for this reason atheists, Mayavadis, and the other agents of Kaliyuga are allowed to rule there unchallenged.

Comment posted by Suresh das on October 5th, 2006
11 sita-pati

Suresh prabhu et al: take a look at this additional article published on Dandavats about Loft Preaching, which details some of the work that devotees are doing in this area.

Comment posted by sita-pati on December 10th, 2006
12 Suresh das

I have been rising early, and taking a three mile japa walk before work every day. I have been doing this daily for the past three months. Tonight something odd happened to me for the first time. I just couldn’t find the attraction to go to the Monday night yoga class. I stayed home and took another japa walk instead.

Comment posted by Suresh das on December 12th, 2006

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