NEW WEBSITE: www.ephesians-511.net CAMP: MARGAO, GOA APRIL 4 & 5, 2009
WHAT DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SAY ABOUT YOGA?
A Christian must first understand that we are at all times engaged in spiritual warfare, and that Satan uses new means to deceive according to the times. In today‟s fast-paced stressful, materialistic, consumeristic world, there is a deep
spiritual thirst and a need to find ways to de-stress.
New Age gurus offer self-realisation/awareness classes, mind-exercises, mantra chanting, meditations. And YOGA.
MAY YOGA BE PRACTISED BY CHRISTIANS? The answer, short and simple, is: “NO”.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “CHRISTIAN” YOGA? Again, the answer is an emphatic “NO”.
There are good people who try to “Christianize” everything. They say that anything that is non-Christian can be
“brought under the Lordship of Jesus”. We can agree with them till that point. Everything can, and must, be brought
under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But, they then take a step further, and insist that such things can be used by
Christians. This is where they go wrong. Spiritual practices which are intrinsically non-Christian cannot be used by Christians when the philosophies behind these practices are diametrically opposed to the revelation of the Bible, which is the living Word of God.
May Christians practise pranayama [yogic breathing exercises]?
What about the asanas - the postures or physical exercises of yoga? May Christians practise them?
To that question, the answer is “yes”, but with some qualifications:
Deep breathing is a good thing. The increased intake of oxygen lowers the levels of carbon-dioxide in the blood, and is good for metabolism, and therefore for health. Good posture and physical exercise facilitate improved breathing and blood circulation, and tone up the muscles. So, then, a Christian may do yoga? We did not say that. A Christian may do the breathing and the exercises, but does not need to call it “yoga”. Call it simply proper breathing, and fitness
When we say we are doing „yoga‟, there are usually other implications. If we closely question those who are teaching us yoga, we are certain to find that, along with their faith in yoga, they have accepted other beliefs, philosophies and practices which are not compatible with the Catholic faith and Biblical revelation. While trying to improve their health of mind and body through yoga, they have usually assimilated beliefs that endanger their faith and Christian spiritual life. The system of yoga is not simply a group of physical exercises. It is an eight-staged process that starts at the physical
level [asanas], moves through the mental level [meditational techniques], and finishes at the SPIRITUAL level [self-
realization]. Any treatment or practice that concerns not just the human body but also the human mind and one‟s spirit or soul, is to be examined very carefully.
If yoga were NOT such a system, NOT falling in this category, why would it be mentioned in not one but TWO Vatican Documents? One Document was on meditational systems, the other on New Age spiritual dangers.
THE VATICAN ON YOGA. A POPE SPEAKS, AND TWO DOCUMENTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The first is the „Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation ‟, October 15,
1989, signed by the present Pope Benedict XVI.
Fr. John Bertolucci in Is Yoga Any Good ? in NEW COVENANT magazine, October 1991 says that this “letter issued two
years ago by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith specifically addresses some aspects of Christian meditation. I‟ve found nothing of use- and a great deal of potential spiritual harm- in the technique of yoga. Anyone who has
yielded his life to Jesus Christ and is in an intimate relationship with him through the Holy Spirit has no need for techniques rooted in non-Christian religions.”
The Document expresses grave apprehensions about “forms of meditation associated with Eastern religions and their
particular methods of prayer… The expression „Eastern methods‟ is used to refer to methods which are inspired by Hinduism or Buddhism such as Zen, Transcendental Meditation or Yoga.” [n 2]
„Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique. It is always a gift of God‟‟ [n 23].
About this Document, the Catholic news agency UCAN reported on February 12, 1990, “Father Lucio da Veiga Coutinho,
deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, is former editor of the Indian Catholic weekly The New Leader. A member of the UCA News Board of Directors, Father Coutinho wrote the following commentary.
It appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of ASIA FOCUS: The Times of India, a prestigious daily, recently commented that „the
Vatican has issued a lengthy encyclical virtually excommunicating yoga.‟
Associated Press, an American news agency, interpreted the document more objectively. Urging Catholics to distinguish between spiritual form and substance, the Vatican has warned against substituting Eastern methods of meditation such as Zen, Transcendental Meditation and Yoga for Christian prayer, the agency reported…”
The second is “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life - A Christian Reflection on the „New Age‟ ", February 3,
2003. It says, “Some of the traditions that flow into New Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices, [… ] Yoga and so
on.” [n 2.1] It states that for New Agers “there is a need to experience the salvation hidden within themselves (self-
salvation) by mastering psycho-physical techniques which lead to definitive enlightenment. …Yoga, Zen,
Transcendental Meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfillment or enlightenment.” [n 184.108.40.206]
VATICAN WARNS OF YOGA’S DANGERS by Leslie Childe, Rome, The Independent/ Daily Telegraph, 18 Dec. 1989:
Christians have been warned about the “dangers and errors” of oriental meditation and prayer techniques
in a Document issued by the Vatican‟s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Document, issued with the full
approval of the Pope said the “spiritual restlessness of modern life” was leading people to “seek interior peace and psychic balance in religious movements and techniques which are not of the Christian tradition.”
“Getting closer to God is not based on any technique,” the Document states. It warns Christians who sit cross-legged as
they meditate at the “pleasing sensations which resemble spiritual well-being” that can be produced by “some physical
exercises”. The Document, already circulated to Roman Catholic church leaders throughout the world, deals mainly with the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is signed by West German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a strict disciplinarian. The Document explains: “Human experience shows that the position and demeanour of the body also
have their influence on the recollection and dispositions of the spirit… But to take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life.”
In his book On the Threshold of Hope (1994), Pope John-Paul II denounced the trend among Christian monks and laymen to explore Eastern forms of meditation, says Koenraad Elst Ph.D. He also says, “The book Pope John-Paul II on
(1995) was occasioned precisely by one of the Pope's Eastern Religions and Yoga: a Hindu-Buddhist Rejoinder
statements (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994) condemning the incorporation of yogic practices in the spiritual
discipline of Christian clerics and laymen.” Decolonising The Hindu Mind - Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism,
2001 p. 282. www.amazon.com
SO, WHAT, REALLY, IS YOGA?
Yoga is an „Eastern‟ or „oriental‟ meditational system, like Transcendental Meditation [T.M.], Vipassana, and Zen. It is
based on the philosophy of “monism”, or “all is one”: Creator and creation are one. There is no distinction. This is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. It aims for a union [=yoga, yoking] with the “divine” in which there is the loss of individual identity.
Ignorant and innocent people start with the basic breathing and body exercises, and when they find themselves in better mental and physical shape - which is but a very natural consequence - they explore further and assimilate some of its pre-Christian philosophies, going beyond the physiological and psychological to the spiritual realm. In yoga,
everything has a background, a meaning, a purpose. No propagator of yoga, non-Christian or Catholic, has ever been able to deny them. Or to successfully disassociate from them either in theory or in practice:
“Breathing” is prana-yama- not a moving of atmospheric air, but of prana, the esoteric „life force‟ or „vital‟ energy which
the second Document elaborates on. The padma-asana or lotus posture is to facilitate the psychic [which Christians can boldly substitute with “occult”] kundalini power or female shakti energy to move upwards from its „location‟ in the
chakra at the base of the spine, through five other supposed chakras, to unite in cosmic orgasm with the energy of a male deity in the crown chakra leading to enlightenment, oneness with the Brahman. Then, the realized yogi can claim
aham brahmasmi or „I am Brahman‟, and look at another and proclaim tat vam asi or „Thou art that.‟ He has realized
that we are all one, divine.
WHAT ABOUT HATHA YOGA?
Aren‟t they harmless physical exercises? NO. They aren‟t. Given its deep religious background, Hatha yoga must not be
understod as a mere harmless physical training as is often claimed. The foremost writing of this school, the Hatha Yoga
[1,2] clearly states that it has to be taught only in order to reach the Raja yoga level which is “the integration Pradipika
of mind in a state where the subject-object duality does not exist” [4,77], in other words, only for merging the self with
the impersonal Absolute, which is monism. The attention given to the body in the asanas has a single purpose with a
spiritual goal: for getting total control over the mind and thus liberating itself, uniting one‟s individual consciousness to
the „cosmic consciousness‟. The steps to be followed to attain liberation are similar to the Ashtanga [eight-stage] yoga
We have seen that yoga is meditation - a key element in any Eastern path towards liberation.
It is also SALVATION BY WORKS [self-salvation] which the Bible says is impossible.
Further, the yoga aspirant has to eventually believe in the theories of karma and reincarnation. The goal of the ancients
was to find a solution to samsara, the eternal cycle of birth-death-rebirth, which they believed operated as a
consequence of the Law of Karma (repaying the debts of one‟s actions in past lives through successive purgative reincarnations). Believing that the answer to this problem could be provided by man himself, they sought Mukti or
Moksha, liberation, and in the search for this common goal, many different forms of yoga or margas (paths) evolved:
kundalini / laya / gnana / karma / mantra / bhakti, and raja yoga.
BISHOPS’ COUNCILS, THEOLOGICAL COMMISSIONS AND CARDINALS ON YOGA:
CROATIA In 2003 and 2004, Australian Broadcasting, New York Times, Times of India, etc reported about the Croatian government being forced to abandon the introduction of yoga in schools “after the Roman Catholic Church accused it of
trying to sneak Hinduism into schools.” The Croatian Council of Bishops “slammed such physical exercises as
heretical.” “Hindu religious practice will be brought into the schools under the guise of exercises”, the Bishops said.
KOREA Between 1997 & 2004, there were several reports on the dangers of yoga and zen from the Korean Bishops'
Committee for the Doctrine of the Faith which issued two documents on the “new spirituality movements.”
They were greatly concerned about, and we quote, “the increasing popularity of methods such as yoga, Zen and „ki‟
(„chi‟) energy training among Koreans, Catholics included, who say these techniques help them achieve soundness of body and mind. The Korean bishops have warned Catholics about such new spirituality movements. According to the bishops, such movements are in serious conflict with „the essence of Christianity‟ on matters such as the understanding
of God, Christology and ecclesiology. The committee noted that, since the 1970s, meditation, yoga, zen, Ki-gong and breathing techniques have been widely practiced among Koreans, with the danger for Catholics of practicing them as religions or objects of faith.”
IRELAND In “A NEW AGE OF THE SPIRIT? A CATHOLIC RESPONSE TO THE NEW AGE PHENOMENON”, prepared by
the Irish Theological Commission in 1994, the Bishops warn Catholics against practicing yoga. We read, “a flood of
gurus… came to teach the west how to meditate. They introduced yoga, transcendental meditation, mantras and
related teachings, but without reference to Christ, the Church, or revealed truth. Many Christians have participated in these exercises, even thinking they could 'Christianise' them by using Christian language to explain what is essentially non-Christian, for example the use of so-called 'Christian' mantras, and putting Christian explanations on yoga or TM practices. But these gurus taught the only thing they knew, which is Hinduism, and the Hindu Pantheon. Because of the western presentation of these eastern spiritual exercises, vast numbers of Christians have involved themselves in them, some claiming to have 'christianised' them.
MEXICO Under „Non-Christian Meditation‟ in „A Call to Vigilance- Pastoral Instruction on the New Age‟, Cardinal thNorberto Rivera Carrera [on 7 January 1996, six months after his appointment as Archbishop of Mexico] said:
#31 [A] phenomenon that is especially disconcerting to the Catholic faithful is the inexplicable enthusiasm with which certain priests, religious and people dedicated to teaching the faith have embraced techniques of non-Christian meditation. #32 Frequently imported from the East, forms of asceticism historically far removed from Christian spirituality are practiced in retreats, spiritual exercises, workshops, liturgical celebrations and children‟s catechism courses. These
practices were unquestionably born as spiritual disciplines or religious acts within traditional religions as in the case of Zen, tai chi, and the many forms of yoga… At times an attempt is made to “Christianize” these forms, as occurred for
example with “centering prayer” and “focusing”, but the result is always a hybrid form with slight [= little] Gospel basis.
#33 However much proponents insist that these techniques are valuable merely as methods, and imply no teaching contrary to Christianity, the techniques in themselves always involve serious drawbacks for a Christian:
a) In their own context, the postures and exercises are designed for their specific religious purpose. They are, in themselves, steps for guiding the user towards an impersonal absolute [Brahman]. Even when they are carried out within a Christian atmosphere, the intrinsic meaning of these gestures remains intact.
b) Non-Christian forms of meditation are, in reality, practices of deep concentration, not prayer. Through relaxation exercises and the repetition of a “mantra” (sacred word), one strives to submerge himself in the depth of his own “I” in search of the nameless absolute.
Christian meditation is essentially different inasmuch as it consists in openness to the transcendent and a relationship with someone who addresses us in a personal, loving dialogue.
c) These techniques normally requires the one who practices them to turn off the world of his senses, imagination, and reason to lose himself in the silence of nothingness. At times the intent is to achieve an altered state of consciousness that temporarily deprives the subject of the full use of his freedom… [Catholic International, August-September 1996].
MORE CATHOLIC STATEMENTS: BISHOPS AND PRIESTS ON YOGA
MALAYSIA The Catholic agency UCAN report of December 15, 2004 quotes Malaysian Jesuit bishop Paul Tan
Chee Ing of Melakor-Johor as saying, “The new world [New Age] movement is a typical example of an agglomeration
of Catholics who, while claiming to be Catholics, have assimilated Buddhists ideas, practice Hindu yoga and
meditation, and toy with esoteric mysticism."
SPAIN The Catholic News Agency CNA report of February 14, 2007 reports that the Archdiocese of Burgos in Spain
as ordering that “no Catholic facilities would be allowed to be used by pseudo-religious sects associated with movements and philosophies such as the New Age, Yoga, transcendental meditation, Reiki, Dianetics, and others.”
USA When yoga classes were started at Blessed Pope John XXIII Church in Fort Myers, “the area's highest-ranking
Catholic leader, Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, ordered the classes disbanded” wrote Jennifer Reed
in http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070331/NEWS0117/703310483/1075, March 31, 2007.
Fr. John Bertolucci, in Is Yoga Any Good ? in New Covenant magazine, October 1991 says:
QUOTE Vatican II‟s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” [Nostra Aetate] does state
that the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is “true and holy” in other religions and that they “often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.” The Document emphasizes, however, that the Church is “in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life” [John 14:6] and urges us to enter with “prudence and charity
into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions” (n 2).
The 1989 Document “Letter to the Bishops on Christian Meditation” specifically addresses some aspects of Christian
meditation. It affirms that Catholics can take “what is useful from other religions so long as the Christian conception of
prayer, its logic, and requirements, are never obscured” (n16). I advise Catholics not to use these techniques. I am
especially against their use with young adults who usually do not possess the level of spiritual maturity nor the educational background necessary to discern “what is useful from other religions”. Furthermore, I believe that anyone
who has yielded his or her life to Jesus Christ and is in an intimate, loving relationship with him through the Holy Spirit, has no need for techniques and practices rooted in non-Christian religions.” UNQUOTE
THE LIE OF THE SERPENT. YOGA IS NEW AGE
The objective of yoga, as we have seen, is the liberation and consequent deification of man. When mystics talk about „becoming one‟ with Brahman, they are describing experiences very different than those of Christian mystics lost in God. The dualistic theism of Biblical Christianity [Creator-creation distinction] is diametrically opposed to the advaitic monism of yogic philosophy which, like the ideologies of New Age, embodies the „Lie of the serpent‟ [Genesis 3:4, 5]:
“[When you eat of the fruit…]You shall not surely die [reincarnation] …then your eyes shall be opened
” [gnosis – and, [enlightenment] …you shall be as gods [self-deification] …you will know good from evil
a fourth basic principle of New Age ideology, the subjectivity of right and wrong, and rejection of the concept of sin].
In yogic thought, as in New Age, there is no objective understanding of sin as Christians have. Concepts in Hindu
philosophy have no accurate parallels in Christian theology, though futile attempts are ever made to reconcile them. Moksha (salvation) which is a liberation from the human condition and a flight into nothingness can be obtained by one‟s own efforts, through doing good works or attaining enlightenment through the various margas or yogas which preclude the need for a personal Saviour in Jesus Christ. Christian salvation on the other hand starts in the here and now. It is the overcoming of sin, reconciliation with a personal God, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Yoga cannot be reduced to a mere form of psycho-physical therapy. It has always been considered a path towards self-realization or „transcendence‟, a way of surpassing the world of illusion and reaching the Ultimate Reality. Its character,
content and aspirations were and will always be religious. This aspect has never been doubted by its Eastern practitioners. Despite Western modifications, its goal has never changed. It still aims to annihilate man‟s psycho-mental
life and anything that can define personhood.
Yoga requires the suspension of one‟s will and the silencing of one‟s mind [Yoga Sutra 1, 1-3]. But the Word of God
exhorts us to “have the mind of Christ” [1 Corinthians 2:16]. The Christian is enjoined to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God” [Romans 12:2], “gird up the loins of his mind” [1 Peter 1:13], “sing [God‟s] praises with the mind” [1 Corinthians 14:15]. The Bible also belies karma [in the yogic
understanding of it] and reincarnation: “For it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this, the judgement.” [Hebrews 9:27]
Let us prayerfully consider the following Scriptures [New American Bible] in the light of what we have read earlier:
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful
If you will give these instructions to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ spirits and demonic instructions…
Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching you have followed.
Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion; for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God,
who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things... Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands
. [1 Tim. 4: 1, 6-11, 14, 16b] of the presbyterate, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to youAren't these exhortations applicable to practices like yoga, where people are more concerned with their physical well-being than with the Word of God and the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit they have received through the Sacraments in the Holy Catholic Church?