In the wee hours of the morning while my kids are sleeping, I found an article about a recently released book claiming that practicing Yoga and reading horoscopes can lead to possession by the devil. Oh no, I’m doomed. So here I am, serious yoga practitioner, getting totally freaked out at 3 a.m.! It doesn’t scare me that I practice yoga, or that I indulge in my horoscope from time to time, what creeps me out is the viewpoint that would consider this practice satanic and immoral.
I find that my tendency towards this is to create judgments of my own, which is not a response but a reflection of my own tendency to condemn what I do not understand. So, in recognition of this moral shortcoming, I feel compelled to explore, and hopefully understand, more fully the basis for these conclusions. The statement comes from a book Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism In Scripture And Practice, published by the Catholic Truth Society and written by a leading British clergyman and exorcist to the Cardinal, Father Jeremy Davies. I will not claim to understand anything relating to Catholocism, especially exorcism, but the Catholic Truth Society website states that its mission is to help people understand and practice the Catholic faith. Sounds like a good place to start.
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The CTS mission statement acknowledges its work to provide “completely reliable publications about the faith, teaching and life of the Catholic Church… It desire[s] to communicate these treasures both to the faithful and all other enquirers by way of inexpensive and accessible English language publications.” This sounds like an honorable and noble mission. But, I keep getting stuck, how does the “fear” illicited by publications such as Father Davies’ support this mission? In short, this is where I keep getting stuck. Why is fear necessary?
In yoga, we hold ourselves accountable to certain moral observations and restraints (very similar to other faiths), but failure to uphold these standards leads us only to deeper ignorance and lack of awareness, not into the path of demonic creatures or harsh punishments. There is no place of damnation only accumulated karma that must be encountered again and again until awareness unfolds. The only judgment in Yoga is the judgment of the self, and for me that can be scary enough.
Many teachers today are pointing to the path of greatest resistance, encouraging us to explore what we avoid and dive into what we fear. The seeds of unhappiness that stem from our habitual patterns of resistance, they say, can only be eliminated by fully understanding it from first hand experience. We are not told to take what is said as truth, but to test it in our experience again and again. This seems to be a fundamental difference between the path of yoga and the publications offered by the CTS. Followers of this path are told to believe what they hear without doubt or experimentation, and fear what is unknown or uncovered about the self.
Doing my best to be in a space free of judgment and open to understanding, I offer two comments on the claim that yoga can lead to demonic possession. One: yoga is not so much a path to the “devil,” as it is an experience of uncovering karmic demons. Without practice, the seeds of past actions plant deeper and deeper and grow into a self-created “hell.” With practice we expose and dispose of these inner “devils,” and find liberation. Two: if Father Davies finds yoga so demonic and evil, I would encourage him to “lean against the sharp points” of his fears (as Pema Chodron puts it), and try it for himself. At the very least, this will find his judgments based in authentic experience rather than blind assumption, and maybe I’ll be able to take my damnation a little more seriously.