Today, two different people mentioned to me that the Pope declared that yoga is Satanic.
Well, not exactly.
It was not the Pope; it was Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s former chief exorcist. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, Amorth did say that “Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter.“*
And while I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I take issue with this statement for obvious reasons.
Satanism is a Christian concept; a deliberately distorted, fun-house-mirror perversion of Christianity.
Yoga is a non-Christian tradition that comes out of the same South Asian cultural/spiritual ecology as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. In that spiritual ecology, there are lots of blue and black and red beings running around with an excessive number of names and incarnations (shouldn’t three be enough for any One?), not to mention an excessive number of arms waving swords, tridents, skulls, and all manner of weird objects. And if you are a) unfamiliar with South Asian religious iconography b) not able to clearly distinguish the difference between non-Christian and anti-Christian and c) deeply steeped in a religious tradition with a long-standing habit of literally demonizing other religions’ deities, I can see how one might jump to conclusions.**
My personal opinion is that the practices, philosophy, and guidelines provided by yoga are the tofu of spirituality, in that they can blend well with and take on the flavor of any religious tradition when used by an intelligent and educated practitioner.
Theoretically, I suppose this could include Satanism too, but I personally have never met nor am I aware of any Satanists who practice yoga.
But I digress.
My understanding and experience is that yoga teaches us that humans create our own suffering through our own ignorance, selfishness, greed, etc. We don’t get to attribute our own inner demons to an evil Adversary, and we can’t expect a Divine authority figure—or anyone else–to wave a magic wand or kiss our boo-boos and make our suffering go away. Yoga can teach us to recognize that we cause suffering, how and why we cause suffering, to take responsibility for the suffering that we create, and how to cultivate the emotional, mental, and physical discipline that will help us reduce suffering within ourselves and around us.
*Obviously, Amroth has never read The Golden Compass.
**Whether or not yoga actually is a religion is an interesting question, and the current issue of Yoga Journal has a great discussion on the topic (alas, not available online). Personally, I think not, as it doesn’t involve worship, but it does include practices such as meditation, a set of ethical guidelines, and a rich artistic and philosophical tradition, which most (all?) religions do as well.