T. A. McMahon and Caryl Matrisciana discuss Yoga.
In today’s program, Tom addresses the question “What’s Wrong with Yoga in the Church?” Joining Tom is Caryl Matrisciana, producer, director, and writer of Yoga Uncoiled.
Now, with his guest, here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks Gary. Our topic for today, as Gary mentioned, is “Yoga.” We’re particularly concerned about the influence that it’s had upon Christians here in the US. Our guest to discuss this subject with us is Caryl Matrisciana, the producer, director, and writer of Yoga Uncoiled, which is without a doubt the best documentary on yoga from the perspective of biblical Christianity that I know of. Caryl, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Caryl: Thank you, Tom, for having me as a guest. I’m really privileged. Thank you, indeed.
Tom: Well, Caryl, I know, but maybe our listeners aren’t aware…you have produced dozens of other documentaries, the subjects of which…well, we could do a month of programs! Seriously!
Caryl: (laughing) Yes, I think I’m almost at 80 documentaries.
Tom: (also laughing) Wow! Wow! Well, the Lord willing, we will get to some of those in the future, but for this two-part series, I want to zero in on “yoga.”
Let’s start with real yoga and work our way up to the homogenized version that’s popular here in the West.
But first, Caryl, tell us about your background in India, growing up with real yoga.
Caryl: I was so privileged to be born 5th generation in India. My father went out in military service, and my grandparents before him, in all sorts of different aspects of British military colonialization. And, so, honestly, India is my home; I love the Indian people, the Indian culture, I just love everything about it.
But without a doubt, the very fundamental essence of Hinduism, which is the religion of India, is yoga. I mean, there’s no yoga without Hinduism, and there’s basically no Hinduism without yoga. And a true yogi—one who practices yoga—will tell you that it’s intrinsically entwined in the spiritual life of India.
You know, a lot of people don’t realize that there are lots of religions in India. I mean, when I grew up I had Muslim friends, and I had Christian friends, and there are Buddhists and Hindus. So, all religions are available in various different percentages in India. And, interestingly enough, the Christian culture there has also involved some of the mystic aspects—the sort of idea that there is a type of syncretism that we can learn from all religions. So, I [think] the fundamental thing with Hinduism is that it’s very syncretistic.
Caryl: It’s that all things, all paths, lead to God. We are all deity. I mean, in Hinduism there are over 330,000,000 gods. Growing up in India, I was very aware of the deity or the divinity of everything, in the sense [that] the trees had to be respected as divine, and there were rat temples there. And, you know, here in the West we look at the rat as a sort of little rabid, poisonous creature. But there, there are actually temples for the rats. The cow, of course, is considered sacred…
Caryl: …the monkey is considered sacred. There are monkey temples. So, there is a huge respect of life—and the idea at the very concept of yoga and Hinduism is that we are all sacred; we are all innately divine, in the sense of within us is divine potential of fire spark…
Caryl: …and, so, we have to respect one another, as a sort of divinity.
Tom: Caryl, let me jump on that just for a quick second here. You see, what you’re describing…boy, it just sounds ideal. It sounds perfect. It sounds like, if these things were implemented—and you’re talking about temples to rats, temples to monkeys, and so on. You’d think, wow, this would work out in a way that the land would be just beautiful.
Now, speak to that for a minute (chuckling), would you please?
Caryl: Well, I think that’s the shocking part of it. That the spirituality—which does call, by the way, it does say that all reality is maya, or illusion—that what you see isn’t really reality. So, there are incredible mind games that have been played.
So, when, for instance, I’d go to school—and one time I remember there was a dead body in front of me on the sidewalk, and, you know, you had to walk around this dead body on the sidewalk. You didn’t acknowledge it, because there is no such thing as acknowledging something as cruel, or ugly, or desperate, because, really, that dead person in front of me— their suffering was a result of their karma, or what they had done in past lives. So, you just left them.
And the much, much lower castes then of—that is a group of people that aren’t even born into any type of acceptance within the Hindu culture—then come and take this dead person away, because they’re the lowest of low people.
So, there are horrible extremes of extreme wealth, extreme beautiful palaces, lavish clothes, and then the extremely poor, garmentless people walking around.
But, you see, none of that, in a strange sense, is meant to be reality. So, I have to tell you, Tom, in a—I grew up in India for 20 years, and for 20 years I absolutely had to acquire a type of apathy to the cruelty around you, because nothing makes sense.
Caryl: Hinduism embraces the god of confusion, so there is—confusion is seen as deity, darkness is seen as lightness. Lies [are] seen as truth. So it’s a very confusing and complex philosophy.
Caryl: And you just have to, sort of, remove yourself from it. And so, the idea that all is unity, and even what you see, the ugliness of what you see is divinity, is very strange. Because, I remember as a child, being attacked by a madman. I was about fifteen years old and walking along the sidewalk, and this naked and very dirty, smelly, human male grunting like a sort-of dog—he was actually on all fours—jumped up at me out of the gutter and absolutely terrified me and started grunting and [was] all over me. And it was very, very scary. The friend that was with me kicked him off, which is a horrible way of treating a human being—to kick them off you, and fight them off a little fifteen-year-old child. But then—this was what was the extraordinary thing—after that, several people in the crowd that had seen this started running up to me, in order to touch me, because I had been touched by holiness!
Caryl: So, I was double-terrified now, with people coming up, and sort of touching me as a holy object, because I had been—well, although I hadn’t been raped, but I had been abused and assaulted by this horrible creature. But this madness…insanity is next to godliness!
Tom: Right. Caryl, I just want to add one more thing to that. And you could explain some of this to our listeners.
I remember some footage that you guys shot over in India, at Kumbh Mela, seeing these so-called holy men, really insane, in terms of their actions. They’re following elephants and they’re picking up the elephant dung and eating and wiping it across their body. Now, what’s with that?
Caryl: Well, you see, excrement—I know it sounds revolting to us—but that is considered holy. Feces is holiness.
Caryl: Because it does come from the body of deities, whether they be cows or elephants, are in a sense, holy. Now what you’ve got to understand with Hinduism, is it’s a religion of ritual. So, them wiping themselves are rituals, very much like—and I don’t mean to be disrespectful in this, but I was raised a Roman Catholic and I remember when we walked into church, we put our hands into a vessel at the side of the door way that had what was called “holy water” in it. And walking into the church we put our fingers in the holy water and then crossed ourselves to cleanse ourselves and bring us into a sort of ritual, if you will, a cleansing ritual in order to be able to walk into the church in a cleansed state. So that is very, very similar to the pagan ritualistic coverings or wiping off the dust, like a lot of the people that you’re talking about with the crowds that were following guru, or the god-man, the man who had believed to have become enlightened, who had found himself to be divinity, enlightened divinity, who had realized himself as a god-man.
The very dust, the dirt on the ground that he walked on, was what his followers smeared on their own foreheads and bodies to cleanse themselves, just like other followers I saw actually catching the urine of the god-man, or the guru, the enlightened master and drinking it. Because that supposedly purified their insides, realizing that they see all of that as divinity.
Tom: Now, Caryl, at the beginning, you said yoga is Hinduism. Without yoga there is no Hinduism; without Hinduism there is no yoga.
Now, I want to pin down Hinduism. Obviously we don’t have a lot of time, but let’s just talk about some of the basic beliefs. We addressed some of the manifestations; some of the so-called fruit, or really unfruitfulness of Hinduism. But what about some of its basic beliefs?
You mentioned, well, reincarnation, transmigration; explain that a little bit for our listeners.
Caryl: Yes, well, you see here again, because all is everything, because all is unity, and all is divine and humanity is divine, what we’ve got to do, Tom, if you’re a Hindu, a believing Hindu, is you’ve got to change your consciousness to embrace the insanity of these statements. And in order to embrace that, you’ve got to go through a discipline, which is called yoga, which is the practice of changing your mind, transcending the illusion of this world, escaping from what you actually see, so that you can become into a sort-of transcendent, tranquilled, filled mind. In fact, they call it “stilling the mind,” be still and know that you’re god. But all of these things is a sort of escapism of ugliness or the materialism of the world so that you can come to some realization of an ultimate reality which supersedes everything; which actually you have to go inside of yourself through various disciplines: through breathing…
Caryl: …through repeating the names of the gods, through doing various poses, or asanas, or positions of various deities. And all of this is part of yoga, even though the West thinks that there are lots of different yogas, they’re actually all different practices, if you will, within the school of Hinduism that you have to transcend everything. So, they’re just all different aspects like those—karma yoga, and bhakti yoga, and Jnana yoga, which is the yoga of knowledge. These are all different aspects: raja yoga…
Tom: Or hatha yoga.
Caryl: …are different aspects of the same thing. So, when you ask the question about how does reincarnation fit in with it, suddenly that seems to be, “Oh my gosh, what a strange concept that is!” Well, not if you realize that life and death and life and death and life and death is all part of this unity, if you will, and in order to escape death, you have to practice yoga. And it’s deeply ingrained in the teachings of yoga and Lord Krishna says, “This is what you have to do in order to escape death.” You have to be involved in yoga.
In fact, he says that, “Anybody who loving,” this is lord god Krishna, and this is in bhakti yoga that he says, “You have to contemplate in me, with supreme faith, and I, after attaining me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world, because they have attained the highest perfection. So those who have entered into me through yoga, through uniting through yoking, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration.”
So it is truly believed that if you practice yoga, you can bypass death. It’s actually an exercise to prepare yourself for death, which you go beyond, and “you thus shall dwell with me,” says Krishna, “hereafter, he who serves me through yoga, fixes their mind on me, etc., etc…”
Caryl: “…will experience true liberation.” So, it’s a sort of surrender to this will of confusion that shall liberate you (they call it) from all your sins. But they don’t believe in the concept of sin because the sin is actually the ignorance of you not realizing that you’re divine.
Caryl: So, once you tune into this yoga, which in Hinduism means to “yoke, to become one with this consciousness,” then the heart within you and the heart within the ultimate goal of life becomes one. And there you are with this filled mind…
Tom: So, Caryl, to put it in…well, let’s spell it out in simple terms, without oversimplifying, yoga’s their best shot to not have to go through what’s called the “wheel of samsara,” the “wheel of sorrows,” this constant reincarnation, or transmigration, where you’ve got to reach perfection. So yoga would be similar to in Islam, you know, the way to get to paradise—the best way, according to them—is through “jihad” through dying a martyr’s death and supposedly Allah will open the gate for you through that.
But back to Hinduism: So, you’ve got a process here. I need to perfect myself here in order to reach moksha, or that peace, or to have a union with God, to really be drawn into God, because really, God is in everything. But, if we don’t realize this—you pointed that out earlier—if self-realization doesn’t take place, I’ve got to keep doing it over and over and over again. And what gets in my way? It was something called, well, what’s the term?
Caryl: Well, it’s the self, you know, you have to die to self. You have to die to ego. That’s basically what the guru or the yogi will tell you, or that Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita—which, by the way, spells all this out. When people say that you can do yoga without any spiritual connection, within Hinduism, Krishna, who is the originator of jnana yoga, or the yoga of knowledge, argues that you have to let self pass through this body and recognize that nothing that you see out there in the material world really exists. It’s really an illusion.
So, I mean, I remember when I was involved in yoga, before it was even called the New Age, Tom, because subsequently after that, as these things all morph into other things, it sort of started becoming the New Age, and now it’s become a sort of, come into Christianity and merged and become a type of new Christian exercise. But the idea of this spiritual exercise, it was so confusing because you had to keep on trying to die to ego and self, and yet you were consumed by self…the very fact that you had to go into yourself, imagining, kind of going through self-hypnosis, and igniting or lighting up this coiled cobra, this kundalini, as it’s known in Hinduism, this power that lays within you that can awaken psychic energy so that you can come up into this enlightened state.
Tom: Well, Caryl, it’s incredibly…not only confusing, it’s contradictory. You see, if you’re dying to self—what’s the goal of dying to self? It’s self-deification. It’s to become god. You’re moving to ultimate self; self-realization is that you’re God. So there’s the contradiction.
And, Caryl, the aspect of karma…that if I do something on this earth and this plane and I step on an ant, well, doesn’t karma teach that now I have to come back as an ant, in which somebody is going to step on me. I mean, it’s a reiteration of sin. They wouldn’t call it sin, as you mentioned, but it’s just—there’s no way out of it.
Caryl: Well, the cruelty of it, Tom, is that you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong. So it wasn’t until I became a Christian and had a personal relationship with a personal God, that moved me out of this relationship I had had with a consciousness—now, remember within Hinduism, even though they call it God, it’s really not God. It’s an impersonal consciousness, because it’s a force that is everywhere. It’s a life force that is in the trees, in the birds, in the cow, in the monkey, and me. So what knits us all together is this breath, or this life force that it’s called, which is an impersonal, cosmic energy. Well, then I’m suddenly accused, if I do walk on an ant, which [is] your illustration—how do I even know that I’ve done that? And I’m trying to blend and not be a person, but now I’ve got to take a personal atonement for something that I personally did on walking on an ant. So, it becomes extremely confusing, and it also makes a very cruel mockery of the character of God, because it’s a god that really doesn’t care for the individual.
Caryl: In Hinduism, it’s a cruelty, because all these spirit beings, which is ultimately what these 330,000,000 gods are all about—spirits out there.
Caryl: Spirits are very cruel and play mind games with you all the time.
Tom: We’ve got about four minutes left in this segment, but Caryl, I remember you telling my kids that yoga is not for health, but for dying. I mean, you know, I’ve got my kids sitting at the table, they were all in their early twenties, and you told them about your life in India. And I remember you saying that yoga was only practiced by elderly people. And that blew them away! Now explain the dying aspect of yoga for our listeners.
Caryl: Well, there again, within Hinduism, I mean, it’s perfectly understood that young children, you know, that’s their cycle. We’ve got parents that then take responsibility for their children, and then they’re working, providing for their families, and then the next stage of life is the grandparents that are looking after life in general. There are three stages before the fourth stage where the elderly person then goes into an ashram, which is a sort of monastery, or it’s a place where the guru lives, or the enlightened master.
And by the way, almost every family in India—good Hindu family—will have a guru that they follow in a school of his thinking that they will be connected to. So, when the elderly person goes to his ashram, that person has basically decided that now they’ve got to seriously get into the disciplines of yoga to be able to prepare for this cycle of reincarnation and hopefully be able to stop it and not return as something awful, you know, a cockroach, or a rat, which they don’t really want to be. They want to come back as something better, but they would prefer not to come back as anything at all if they can be enlightened, which of course they never have the assurance of. So, then you go into the ashram; you learn yoga, and you learn to control all your emotions, you learn how to breathe less, be emotionally involved less, eat less, be motionless with your postures; with your yoga postures and basically, just start winding down under the discipline of a god-man to help you prepare for death.
Tom: Mm-hmm. That’s the antithesis of yoga here in the West. Now, we’re going to get to that, the Lord willing, in our next program. But, Caryl, we’ve got about a minute and a half here. You mentioned kundalini yoga. Just give us a brief definition of that.
Caryl: Well, it’s believed that within all of us—I mean, I think we’ve got something like 80,000 psychic spots and energies, and central networking systems in us. Psychic chakras—and these are wheels, or psychic wheels, that go from the bottom of the spine up to what the Hindu would believe is the third eye of wisdom between one’s eyebrows in the middle of one’s forehead, and then there’s a chakra even above that which is when you attain enlightenment.
But the idea is that there is a snake, or a cobra, a kundalini, coiled at the bottom of one’s spine, asleep and waiting to be woken up through yoga disciplines of your mind going way down to the bottom chakra and waking this snake up so that the snake will come up the spine to ultimately—and the snake is seen as a male, as Shiva—it will ultimately come up to the third eye and have union with the goddess…the feminine idea in the third eye to eventually bring this cosmic revelation which becomes very sexual in a yoga called tantra kundalini yoga, tantra yoga. But the idea is fusion with male and female psychically in the third eye, which brings across this incredible cosmic realization that we are one with the cosmic universe.
Caryl: So it’s about waking up this cobra, this kundilini, this serpent power, which is seen as female wisdom—waking this up so that we can become god…
Caryl: …you know, so the cobra—you see it in all—I mean, growing up in India, I saw the cobra above Shiva, Shakti, as a cobra coiled around the neck of Krishna, I mean the snake power is the very essence. The gods are sitting on the snake and the cobra is fanned over the head of the gods, and this is what has to be woken up in each of us through yogic exercises.
Tom: Caryl, we’re out of time for this session, but in our next installment, I want…well, first of all, I wanted our listeners to get an understanding from you about Hinduism and about yoga. And now the question is: How could this possibly come into the church? And I’m talking about the evangelical church. Well, we’re going to cover that, the Lord willing, in our next session.
Thanks, Caryl, for being with us.
Caryl: Thank you so much, Tom.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T. A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of materials to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at P. O. Box 7019, Bend, Oregon, 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at www.thebereancall.org.
I’m Gary Carmichael, thanks for tuning in and we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.