Exclusion of “Aum” – Problem With Yoga in Westchester County, NY, Malaysia And Indonesia

Editor’s Note: The correct pronunciation of the practice of the popular discipline is “Yog” and not Yoga as it is called in America and the rest of the world.  To see the difference in the effect, we ask every reader to say yoga and then say Yog by spending more of the breathing energy on a slow pronunciation of “Yo” to end softly in “g”. You will notice the difference in the impact on your breathing system. So, in this article we will refer to the practice as “Yog” and not as “yoga”.

A few weeks ago, during a bus ride in Manhattan, we picked up a newspaper left on a seat and saw an interesting story about a school in Westchester County, New York and its problem with Yog. The school wanted to introduce Yog classes for their physical benefit but the Parents objected to their children reciting “Hindu” mantras or “Hindu” chants which accompany the exercises.  Apparently, the Yog instructors decided to teach the physical exercises without the Sanskrut words.

We remembered this story while writing our article about “One Universal Entity, One Universal God – Virtues Of Indian Dharma – I”. In that article we described the truly universal nature of Sanaatan Dharma (or Indian Dharma) as it was established and as it is practiced to this day in India.  The Sanaatan Dharma teaches that:

  • There is One Universal Entity to which different scholars give different names, thus creating different faiths and religions; 
  • When a devotee prays with True Devotion to the God with the name of his or her choice according to the tenets of that faith, they essentially pray to the same Universal Entity.

That is why followers of Sanaatan Dharma fail to understand the fear and the chagrin that those parents in Westchester felt about their children saying Sanskrut words. 

But, the parents of this Westchester County school are not alone in this stand. They are in the excellent company of the  Muslim Clergy in Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to Wikipedia, Malaysia’s top Islamic body  in 2008 passed a fatwa against Muslims practicing Yog, saying it had elements of “Hindu spiritual teachings” and could lead to blasphemy and is therefore prohibited. Muslim Yog teachers in Malaysia criticized the decision as “insulting” and Sisters in Islam, a women’s rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said they would continue with their Yog classes. The fatwa states that Yog practiced only as physical exercise is permissible, but prohibits the chanting of religious mantras. In a similar vein, the Council of Ulemas, an Islamic body in Indonesia, passed a fatwa banning Yog on the grounds that it contains “Hindu elements”.

Islamic scholars in India, including those at the Darul Uloom Deoband, stepped into this issue. Their ruling states that they do not find anything objectionable in Muslims practicing Yog. Chanting mantra like Aum that have religious connotation, they add, is not necessary for Yog and Muslims can replace them with verses from the Quran or references to Allah.

According to Wikipedia, in 1989, Vatican, the Christian Church in Rome, declared that Eastern meditation practices such as Zen and Yog can “degenerate into a cult of the body.” (Zen is a derivative of the Sanskrut word “dhyan” via the Chinese ‘c’han” per wikipedia).

To us, this is the philosophy of exclusion.  Many people tend to gather in groups, sects or religions and membership in that group, sect or religion is a form of identity to them. This sense of identity is used to exclude others, to impugn or slander others or to convert others into the membership of their own group, sect or religion. This sense of identity is used by the leaders to enfuse and enslave its followers by preaching that the way of their group, sect or religion is THE ONLY way to either heavenly bliss or earthly rewards.

Frankly, the followers of Sanaatan Dharma simply do not understand or get this narrow, prejudiced thinking. This is true of Indian Society as a whole. As an enduring Virtue for 5,000 years, it has enabled Indian society to accept, assimilate and make a part of its mosaic every culture or religion that entered India. That is why today’s India shows influence of cultures long lost to history and that is why Indian society is the most diverse society on earth.

But, the world today is made of exclusionary forces which seek to compartmentalize religions and compete in converting others into their own exclusionary embrace. This is why religious leaders tell their followers to NOT learn other thoughts but to ONLY follow what the leaders lay out for them. 

In such a world, the timeless virtues of One Universal Truth and acceptance of other paths as other forms of its own have become a dangerous Vice of Indian society. Leaders of exclusionary beliefs are finding fertile ground in Indian society which, in its tolerant philosophy, allows such groups to spread their message of religious superiority and exclusion. These groups are engaged in induced or forcible conversions of weaker, poorer sections of Indian society while lecturing Indian leaders to keep true to Indian traditions of tolerance and acceptance.  

Finally, to get back to the Yog story, let us examine the Sanskrut syllable “Aum” and see why it creates such a furor in Westchester County and Muslim South East Asia.

The syllable “Aum” (pronouned as “Om”) is probably the most chanted sound symbol in Indian society. It is made up of the letters A (phonetically as in “around”), U (phonetically as in “put”) and M (phonetically as in “mum”). The sound emerging from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as “A”. With the coming together of the lips, “U” is formed and when the lips are closed, all sounds end in “M”.

All auspicious actions begin with Aum. It is said that it has a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and also on the surroundings. Most mantras and vedic prayers start with Aum.

Every Sanskrut concept has been the subject of countless interpretations by scholars during the past 5,000 odd years. This is even more true of the first sound “Aum”. But the most common interpretation is that “Aum” symbolizes the eternal Truth or the vocal representation of the Truth.

In this context, the word “Aum” seems to share commonality with the Hebrew word “Amen” which, according to wikipedia, is translated in to English as “Truly, Verily or Let it”. Whether these two words share a common heritage, we leave for the readers to find out and decide*. 

In any case, we frankly do not see how and why recitation of a single syllable “Aum” can create such discomfort in Westchester county parents or the Muslims clergy in Malaysia, Indonesia or India. Such thinking is simply beyond us. 

* The simplest way to do so is to go to wikipedia.com and search for Aum and Amen. Wikipedia is the source of some of the material used in this article.

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