I have the following opinion: that although yoga is a spiritual path, it does not have to be a religious one.
There are a variety of viewpoints on this matter, some contentious. I believe, however, that the ethical precepts espoused by Patañjali, for example: the yamas and niyamas, are universal in nature and applicable to anyone who desires to partake in conscious living.
Because yoga has its roots in pre-Vedic Indian traditions, the major theistic adoptions of yogic practices have historically been in Hinduism and Jainism. Sanskrit, the language of ancient Hindu texts, was the lingua franca in that period of history and thus was the language used by Patañjali when the Yoga Sutras were penned. The philosophical underpinnings of the Sutras, are however, by no means restricted to any specific religion.
In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, the learned Swami Satchidananda stated the following:
“Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. Buddha got it. Patañjali got it. Jesus got it. Mohammed got it. The answer is the same, but the method of working it out may vary this way or that. (page 115)”
The ultimate goal and the final limb of Raja Yoga is Samadhi, and I assert that each individual has the right to form an opinion and interpretation of what this means to him or her. In Buddhism, the term nirvāṇa (enlightenment) is used. In Christianity, one can arguably draw a parallel to what they call salvation. Father Joe Pereira, an ordained Catholic Priest and a student of B.K.S. Iyengar, said the following:
“Yoga has nothing to do with any religion, not even Hindu. The kind of yoga that we use for health and wellbeing and for wholeness and holiness is a combination of science and faith. It is definitely a spirituality, but a blend of the body, mind and soul. The kind of yoga Guruji (B.K.S. Iyengar) taught was absolutely secular and had no reference to any form of religion. However, one was always free to integrate it within one’s faith.”
Father Joe Pereira even went as far as to equate the Antaryāmin to the spirit of the risen Lord (in his book “Yoga for the Practice of Christian Meditation“) – saying that Jesus was the ultimate yogi because he taught and practiced union with God.
Further, scholars have long recognised the universality of the search for the a deeper truth, and it has been said that:
“…the quest for truth is the quest for God. This is the core teacher of all religions. The Scientist’s motivation is to seek the very kind of truth that Krishna speaks about in the Bhagavad Gita.” (Prof. Harvey G. Cox, Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard University)
On the topic and practice of meditation, I was fortunate enough to be to attend several talks by Professor Nagaraja Rao, who commented that the object of the meditation is inconsequential – it could be Jesus, Mohammed, Lord Shiva, the universe or even a candle; the pivotal aspect is that we seek union with the Divine – a Higher Power of own your personal understanding.
Wishing you peace and contentment,
(post adapted from original writeup published at http://path8yoga.org/spirituality/)