Question: Is yoga something anyone can apply, no matter what their religious background?
Jagad Guru: Absolutely. Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a process of self-discovery, a process of uncovering or clearing away what’s keeping us from understanding our true identity and value. It’s a process that one follows to clear the cobwebs of the mind, intelligence, and heart so that he can see and understand himself, others, and the world clearly, as they are.
The truth of our identity is intrinsic and inseparable from us. Realizing one’s true identity is therefore not a matter of artificially changing one’s dress or memorizing a new dogma which is common in religions. The path of yoga is a personal journey that you yourself must follow to uncover your true identity through direct experience and perception. In that sense, yoga is a science, not a religion. It’s not something you join or quit; it’s not something you just believe. It’s a process. Those who are self-realized are those who have themselves gone through this process of uncovering the true nature of things.
Question: The fact that one can join a religion but one cannot “join” yoga is an interesting distinction.
Jagad Guru: Yes. Usually with a religion, people are looking for something to join. Then after they join that religion, it becomes referred to as “their religion.” But yoga is not something to join; it's something to practice.
Many people are under the false impression that yoga is like a religious faith or a group, sect, or a team that you join and you get your strength and happiness from being a part of this bigger group.
Yoga is a process; it includes tools, values and virtues, which one must apply in one’s personal life to achieve optimum physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. One cannot “join” a process—one can only apply it.
This tendency to want to join something is not what yoga is about. Yoga is about an individual cultivation of ever-greater wisdom and spiritual love and concern for others. An individual must get his strength from within himself—not from being a member of a team or group.
One of the most important things to know about yoga is that it does not entail any blind believing or joining any team. It also does not entail quitting any team. Because yoga is not something you can join, it is also not something you can quit.
With religion, a person can join a particular faith [religious order or religion], and he can quit that religious faith and join another faith. So for example, a Christian may decide to become Buddhist. Or a Muslim may decide to become a Christian. Or a Buddhist might decide to become a Muslim.
While a person is believing in Christianity, such people identify themselves with their faith. For example, they say, “I am a Christian.” Or they might say, “I am a Buddhist.” So in this way a person’s religion or faith can change. But according to yoga, there is an essential aspect of our self which is unchangeable. The yoga process is a process of discovering or uncovering that unchangeable aspect of one’s being.