Yoga is Vidya

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Often people ask, "Is yoga a religion?" Yoga has to be seen not from the religious perspective but as knowledge. The purpose of knowledge is the upliftment of human life. People argue that the purpose of religion is the same. In the Indian tradition the word 'yoga' has not been used in relation to religion, always in relation to vidya, knowledge, as yoga vidya, yogic knowledge.

The purpose of vidya is to express righteousness and positive qualities in life. If your thoughts and thought processes are correct, if your behaviour and actions are proper, then these are considered to be in accordance with yoga. The purpose of yoga is the development of one's personality.

What is religion?

People link yoga with religion because they do not understand religion. They think that sannyasins are propagators of religion. I am not a propagator of religion, I am not a pandit or priest, I am not Shankaracharya. I do not have any religious institution. I am a sannyasin. A sannyasin renounces all religions, belief systems, faiths, and surrenders himself to Guru and God. A sannyasin is not a follower of any religion. I am neither a Hindu, nor a Christian, nor a Muslim. A religion is a narrow mentality and a limited philosophy. Religions are made by limiting the omnipresence of God and defining it in a few words. That is not possible. What people take to be a religion is only a social code of conduct, not religion.

Sanskriti shashtra, kala viheen sakshat pashu pooch vishaan heen.

That person who lives without any culture, the person who does not have any knowledge, the person who has no idea about music and art, his condition is just like an animal without a tail.

The beauty of an animal lies in its tail. With the tail chopped will the animal still look beautiful? Similarly, if vidya is cut from a person's life, darkness enters. When a person's life is connected with knowledge, then development, upliftment and progress begin.

The sages never accepted yoga as a religion. Bhagawat religion kept its separate identity. Shaiva religion kept its distinct identity. The great sages and sannyasins kept yoga safe in the form of sadhana and vidya. They never connected yoga with any religion. Be it Vasishtha, Vishwamitra, Pantanjali or Gheranda, be it Swami Sivananda or Swami Satyananda, in whichever age they have come, they have propagated vidya and not religion.

Who makes religions?

When Lord Buddha came, he spread knowledge. Fifty years after his death, Buddha's ideas became a religion, not at the time of Buddha. When Jesus Christ came he never talked about establishing a religion; he talked about spiritual life. Christianity developed not in Jerusalem, but in Rome fifty years later.

People form religions, not sages. Each and every sage and sannyasin only gives teachings; if you follow these you will become better and blessings will be showered on you. No sage talks about either a religion or establishing a religion. Religion has been developed by the people of society who connect a tradition to a belief. When tradition and belief unite a religion is formed. When tradition is separated, then it is a culture. When the belief system is separated, then it is vidya or knowledge. When tradition and belief unite and mix, they become a religion.

—18 September 2014, Tyagaraj Sports Stadium, Delhi, India