You may not think or feel that it matters how you look at Yoga, but understanding what it is and what it is not, can have a profound effect on your beliefs, conditioning, and view of the world around you. To begin, let's compare the definitions of religion and philosophy as presented in The Living Webster
Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1971 (I love this old book as it captures the perspective of the formative times of my young adulthood).
Religion Latin Root
Recognition on the part of man of a controlling Superhuman power entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the feeling or the spiritual attitude of those recognizing such a controlling power with the manifestation of such feeling in conduct or life; the practice of sacred rites or observances; a particular system of faith in and worship of a Supreme Being or a god or gods; a practice of devotion or conscientiousness.
Philosophy Greek Root
The love or pursuit of wisdom; the study or science of the truths or principles underlying all knowledge; any one of the three branches: natural philosophy, moral philosophy and metaphysical philosophy, accepted as composing this science; the study or science of the principle of a particular branch of knowledge; a system of philosophical doctrine; as the philosophy of Spinoza; a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs; wise composure in dealing with problems.
My personal involvement with religion and Yoga began in my childhood. My mother, who was a Mormon to the outside world, was a mystic in her private world. As a disciplined student of Metaphysics since the 1950's, she focused her studies on Eastern esoteric studies that included the teachings of the Sikhs through Kirpal Singh, the Sufis through Dr. Bob (Robert Gibson) and Yoga through Paramahansa Yogananda. By the time I was 16, I was ready to jump into my own devoted study and practice, to walk my own path. My way opened up when I, along with my parents and younger sister, moved to Ohio and left the Mormon "Land of Zion" Utah. For the first time in my life, I was not living in the heart of one religion, one mindset. My world was now full of people and ways of thinking and being that included people from Eastern European backgrounds and Afro-Americans. It also was a blessing to have a Yoga teacher who had trained in India, as my new neighbor and friend. Through the Edgar Cayce Research Foundation that was flourishing nearby in Cleveland, my mother and I were welcomed into an established group of fellow students of metaphysical philosophy.
I now had the opportunity firsthand to expand my understanding of the difference between religion and philosophy in my new community where I was the only Mormon in my new high school and all the high schools in the area were basically segregated. My school had one bi-racial student out of 2600! And high school just down the road 6 miles was all Black. No more all-white, all Mormon world for me! Most students thought me a bit strange due to my family's association with the Mormonism as it was considered a cult, but being estranged was a gift: it gave me the time and space to pursue my studies and art.
As I dove into my Yogic studies, I started having more experiences that blew my mind wide open. Meditation and self-observation became part of my daily routine. And moving my mind to a point of deep concentration just prior to sleep, allowed me to surrender to many unforgettable experiences of the Gunas (Modes of Nature) and the exploration of the Subtle Plane (Mental). By the time I graduated high school, I was heading straight into the arms of my "Pluto in Leo" generation ~ hippies and Vietnam protests and Free Love. I embraced it all and found that freedom from the restraints imposed by religious guilt and shame was a true blessing for my spirit and soul.
By the time I was twenty, I had experienced both religious and philosophical life. I understood why both approaches exist. I realized it has more to do with personality and conditioning; what make you comfortable while living on this planet. For people who like to follow others, religion offers the comfort of belonging to a closely-knit group of like-minded members. The organized religion appeals to those who seek a leader - one person who receives guidance from the Superhuman power and disseminates it to his/her followers. Religion provides a leader who makes followers feel safe and comfortable. On the other hand, if you love freedom and want to be personally responsible for your own choices, you are more apt to choose a time-proven philosophy that supports your personal evolution towards peace within and in the world. You belong to a loosely-knit group of fellow philosophers that exist anywhere in the world and are yet tied together through a given philosophy, such as Yoga. Or you may choose to believe in no Superhuman power and just live your life the way you choose. Or you may believe you are the Superhuman who is destined to rule others; that you are flawless and above the laws of both man and nature.
My point is it doesn't matter how or what you believe or if you believe at all. I feel every individual has the right to his/her own belief or approach towards Life. For me, I find Yogic philosophy with its ancient roots in Eastern thought has served me well on my life's journey. Though my path was private and personal until I was 33, all that changed when I was asked by others to talk about what I had come to know and understand about life. This shift became my life's work: Visionary Voice & Sound which you find on this website, in my Patreon publications and through private sessions with me.
It is nearly 40 years since the birth of my public life as a teacher of Yoga and a Visionary Philosopher. I have met many wonderful people along the way and each one has led me to a deeper understanding of myself and mankind. I love and embrace those whose hearts and minds are open to the teachings and who choose to personally benefit from them. I also feel profound gratitude to those who have rejected me and the teachings I offer. These people keep me aware of personal bias where I am not seeing the bigger picture. They expose it so I can observe it, can ponder it and choose to keep it or remove it. This is the gift of being a Visionary Philosopher: to observe what is going on and ponder it with distance from my feelings (which arise within egoism).
So no matter where you are in the world, no matter your bias and conditioning, give yourself permission to see and feel where others are existing in their minds. People are driven by fear of the unknown and hatred for those who are different in skin color and belief. They pose a threat. Fear and hatred are powerful forces that close the doors to rational thinking and close hearts to empathy and compassion. Fear and hatred are rooted in ignorance and those who spew words that fan these dark feelings in others, will eventually pay a great price as the karmic wheel returns home to bring about personal decay and destruction. Darkness and shadows disappear when light shines!
Since the consciousness of mankind is now under the cosmic sway of Aquarius for a nice long stay (20 years), we will see a gradual rise in tolerance and peace as the real concern for human existence becomes apparent due to climate change. This common issue will unify the various political and religious factions as the threat of extinction looms large and brings devastation in its wake. Suffering brings the best out in people and Mother Nature is the Superhuman power that demands obedience now! So whatever path you choose to follow, be sure it resonates with your body and mind and sustains you on your journey today and tomorrow.
OM Peace, Melinda