Substituting Hindu Spirituality for Christian Faith (July/ August 2008)
The July/August issue of Horizons, the magazine for Presbyterian Women, is
meant to help women ‘focus” on themselves as ‘beautiful members of God’s
creation.” The authors and editors for the most part look at the emotional,
mental and physical outlook of their readers, attempting to provide them
with both practical and spiritual ways of dealing with everything from
tragedy to everyday stress.
Most of the articles are helpful, but they are not strong enough in their
biblical viewpoint and content to counteract another article meant to
introduce the reader to a spirituality with roots in Hinduism. The article
is ‘The Integrated Christian: Cultivating Practices for All of Me.”’ by Jud
Hendrix. Because the article leads Christians away from faithful
discipleship it needs to be carefully and completely addressed. This review
will focus on Hendrix’s article.
Hendrix’s article is meant to introduce the reader to the practice of Yoga,
which seems innocuous at best. In fact, most Christians who advocate for or
practice Yoga simply see it as a helpful exercise. While Hendrix does state
that Yoga ‘is not a religion and can be practiced without changing one’s
religious commitments,” he goes on to stress its spiritual and religious
In this review I will first look at the spiritual side of Yoga as Hendrix
presents it, putting in bold those parts of his statements which most
reflect a religious content. I will next explain the religious foundation of
Yoga. Finally I will look at the way Hendrix has mixed Scripture with the
practice of Yoga, showing how his biblical analysis is not valid.
Here are the religious points Hendrix gives in his statements.
He writes of hatha yoga, stating that it basically has to do with body
‘poses and postures.” Of its helpfulness Hendrix writes, ‘These postures
align the body, strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, open energy
channels, cultivate concentration and bring the mind to rest.”
‘Flow practices enhance our embodiment of God’s realm through opening and
purifying our energetic channels. Yoga is not designed to pass on
theological doctrines or intellectual knowledge of God, but is designed to
purify our senses and align our bodies with our minds so we can more fully
experience God’s spirit flowing through us into the world.
Yoga opens and aligns my energy system so the Holy Spirit can flow through
‘Living in a global culture of religious and spiritual diversity allows us
access to transforming practices of the world’s great wisdom traditions.”
In a box on page 22, among other tips, the author writes, ‘Find a teacher or
studio that encourages holistic Yoga and appreciates the spiritual
dimensions. Look for a studio or teacher who incorporates as many aspects of
the eight limbs of Yoga as possible.” Hendrix directs the reader to page 21
where another box gives information about different kinds of yoga and lists
the eight limbs ‘(according to Patanjali  ).”
Yoga is mainly a Hindu practice. Some scholars believe that originally it
was not linked to any kind of deity but was linked to an ancient seventh
century B.C. philosophy called Sankhya. As it evolved in India it became
connected to devotion to a lord or god. But it has evolved in different
directions over the centuries.1
There are now many branches of Yoga. There is raja-yoga of Patanjali (see
Hendrix above) who lived in the ‘fourth or fifth century A.D. and compiled
earlier Yoga traditions into the classic work Yogasutra.”2 There is the
hatha yoga that Hendrix writes about. There is also Siddha Yoga connected to
tantric Buddhism. Kundalini Yoga has to do with energy channels and is
considered ‘serpent power Yoga.”3 Needless to say Yoga is more than
exercise and has, as was shown in one of Hendrix’s boxes, a wide meaning
Yoga is based on a particular religious view of humanity. John A Hutchison,
in his textbook on world faiths, writes of Yoga:
Yoga holds the human ego to be immersed in ignorance and affliction. From
the bondage humans can be emancipated by a realization of their spiritual
nature. However, what is distinctive in Yoga is the way in which this
realization is achieved, namely by an eightfold series of steps, demanding
full participation of both mind and body.4
So the religious foundation of Yoga is basically Hindu. Humanity is in
bondage, ignorant of their spiritual or divine nature. According to this
view, it is not redemption that humanity needs but enlightenment. The
eightfold ladder is the means of gaining enlightenment. Hutchison likens the
eightfold steps to climbing a ladder which holds salvation (enlightenment)
at the top. In the West as Yoga has evolved the emphasis has shifted toward
a more therapeutic understanding of ignorance with more emphasis on reaching
enlightenment or a higher state of consciousness.5
Part of the religious foundation of Yoga has to do with God and reality.
Most Yoga practitioners in the East hold a monistic pantheistic view of God
and reality. That is the belief that all is one. In monistic pantheism there
are no distinctions, no I and thou. All differences are illusion (maya); and
such illusion is the bondage in which humanity is trapped.
But in the West, often, groups and individuals practicing Yoga as a
spiritual discipline replace pantheism with panentheism. In contrast to the
biblical view that God is other than creation, they believe that everything
is a part of God yet God is not everything. Or to put it another way, God is
to creation as the head is to the body.
In either religious viewpoint the goal of practicing Yoga would be to reach
a state of enlightenment or the ‘realization of one’s essential unity with
the divine.”6 This is called Samadhi. Hendrix, in his box on page 21, gives
the definition for Samadhi as ‘joy, oneness, merging of consciousness with
the object of meditation.” This is actually the first stage of Samadhi.
Hutchison’s definition is the final stage, ‘Emancipation by successively
transcending all objects and thus achieving pure consciousness.”7
For those Yoga adherents who consider themselves both Christian and
Panentheist (Hendrix for example), this might be called reaching Christ
consciousness. In this case Christ would be seen as separate from Jesus, and
Jesus would be someone who had reached Christ consciousness, leading the way
Another part of Yoga has to do with what Hendrix calls ‘energy channels.”
In many Yoga systems these are called chakras. Also the idea of chakras is
connected to Kundalini Yoga. In Eastern Yoga the chakra system is
complicated and esoteric, focusing on what is called ‘serpent power,
Kundalini, energy or power in the form of a serpent” which blocks the
body’s energy channels.8
Putting such ideas into a Western and New Age context, the important point
is that those thinking in terms of energy channels or chakras perform
various kinds of Yoga, breath control, postures, etc., in an attempt to
remove blockages to the chakras. Such manipulating of energy is a spiritual
technology which has it basis in a non-personal view of God. Through
manipulation one realizes one’s own divinity or one’s unity with the One.
This is different from God reaching out to humanity with compassion and love
in the incarnation.
The Bible, discipleship and Yoga.
Hendrix begins his article with Romans 12:1-2. Using the NRSV he writes, ‘I
appeal to you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you
may discern what is the will of Godwhat is good and acceptable.”
Hendrix attempts to connect the phrase ‘presenting our bodies” to the idea
of connecting our devotion and worship to our physical bodies. This
seemingly bolsters his idea that Yoga is helpful for the spiritual life of
Christians. But, Paul’s appeal for Christian disciples to present their
bodies for sacrifice is so much more profound and demanding than physical
body action in worship.
Instead the Christian is meant to think of a living animal sacrificed upon
an altar. And here the Hebrew understanding of the person as a whole being,
both body and soul, is meant. As the study note to The New Oxford Annotated
Bible suggests, ‘Bodies, as often in Paul, means selves.”’ The kind of
sacrifice Paul is insisting on in this text can be seen in the words of
Jesus when he tells his disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he
must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes
to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and
the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34b-35)
Also Hendrix has left out the first part of Romans 12:1. I appeal to you
therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your
bodies as a living sacrifice ” The therefore’ and mercies of God’ reach
back to all that Paul has written in the earlier parts of Romans. He has
just explained the awful sinfulness of humanity and proclaimed the
magnificent and wondrous grace of Jesus Christ. In light of such love and
grace, in light of the cross, Paul is asking, not that believers be involved
in unbiblical spiritual practices, but that they give all of themselves to
the Lord of life.
Leaving aside biblical texts, Hendrix misrepresents the Holy Spirit. He
writes ‘Yoga opens and aligns my energy system so the Holy Spirit can flow
through me, doing the work of making God’s love tangible in the world.”
There is no biblical text that comes even close to suggesting that in order
to have the Holy Spirit work through us we need our energy channels opened
Rather the biblical texts tell of the Holy Spirit flowing with rivers of
living water in the believer’s life. (John 7:37-39) This is a metaphor for
the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. It
has nothing to do with anything flowing through energy channels. Calvin
connects the presence and gifts of the Spirit to the Christian’s faith in
Jesus Christ. And he writes of this flow of the Spirit, ‘But Christ’s
meaning is quite straightforward. People who believe in him will never lack
any spiritual blessings. Christ calls it Living water’ whose spring never
grows dry and whose flow never ceases.”9
Finally, Hendrix suggests that fulfilling the greatest commandment, ‘You
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind,” would be helped by practicing Yoga. But a
spiritual philosophy with a totally different view of humanity and God could
only lead believers away from their faith. We do not need to be enlightened,
led to some inner divine self or gain Christ consciousness, but rather as
sinners we need forgiveness and transformation through the Savior, Jesus
1John A. Hutchison, Paths of Faith, third edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill
Book Company 1981) 151-152.
2 J. Isamu Yamamoto, Hinduism, TM & Hare Krishna, Zondervan Guide to Cults &
Religious Movements, Alan W. Gomes, editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1998),
3 Ibid, 67.
4 Hutchinson, Paths, 152.
5 Elizabeth De Michelis, A history of modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western
Esotericism, First paperback edition, (London: Continuum 2005).
6 Christopher Partridge, ‘Indian Religions,” in New Religions: A Guide: New
Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities, Christopher
Partridge, editor, (Oxford: Oxford university Press 2004)159.
7 Hutchison, Paths, 152.
8 Thomas J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition, The Religious Life of
Man series, Frederick J. Streng, editor, (Encino California: Dickenson
Publishing 1971), 127.
9 John Calvin, John, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Alister McGrath,
J.I. Packer, Editors, (Wheaton: Crossway Books 1994), 196.