‘Purpose of Yoga is achieving freedom but health benefits are significant’

India Post News Service

NEW DELHI: Dr Christopher Key Chapple is Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology and founding Director of the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He believes that Yoga is part of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and many more. To fully understand the history and philosophy of Yoga, one must be familiar with Jain and Buddhist contributions. On his India visits every year, he brings graduate students to study Jain Yoga in the summer and often participates in conferences in the winter. During a recent visit to the International School for Jain Studies in New Delhi, he agreed to an e-mail interview with India Post. The following are excerpts from the interview:

What brought you to the Jain Institute? What is the relationship of a yoga institute with a Jain institute?

After completing my PhD on karma theory and will in the Yogavasistha in 1980, my second major research project focused on the topic of nonviolence (ahimsa) which brought me into Jain Studies and the discovery of the uniquely Jain approach to Yoga. The foundational ethical practices of the Yoga tradition, the Yamas, the first limb of Patanjali’s classical Yoga, are identical with the five vows of Jainism as documented in the Acaranga Sutra (300 B.C.E.). Jainism also discusses karma in ways similar to that found in the Yoga Sutra, and both systems share the goal of freedom from affliction, known as kevala in Jainism and kaivalyam in Yoga. In the 8th century, Haribhadra Yakini Putra wrote a text called the Yogadrstisamuccaya that aligns Patanjali’s eightfold Yoga with Jain spiritual practices. To fully understand the history and philosophy of Yoga, one must be familiar with Jain and Buddhist contributions

 How often do you visit India and to what purpose?

Most years, I bring graduate students to study Jain Yoga in the summer and often participate in conferences in the winter. I just presented a paper at Sanchi University near Bhopal during a conference on Shakta Tantra.

 Do you have any links with yoga institutes in India?

Yes, I have been visiting S-VYAS in Bangalore since 1989, and have good relations also with the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, with Kaivalyadham in Pune, and with Paramartha Niketan and Swami Rama Sadhak Gram in Rishikesh and Dr. Bhavanani’s Yoga program at Mahatma Gandhi Hospital in Pondicherry, as well as others.

There is a resistance to yoga studies outside India on the fear that it is related to Hindu religion and as such an activity of conversion. How do you overcome that in LA?

I gave deposition in the Encinitas School Board case on this topic. Yes, Yoga originated in India and it is part of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and many more.

In an interview with ‘Sutra Journal’ in 2015 you say, “The biggest challenge was reconciling Buddhist emptiness and no-self teachings with the consciousness and self-realization teachings found in Hindu traditions and in Yoga. It took until the PhD dissertation to sort this out.” Can you describe in brief the conclusion you arrived at ?

The answer is in my first book, Karma and Creativity (SUNY Press, 1986).  Purification of the mind is central to the good life. This takes place through study and association with people of good intentions, supported by daily practice of Yoga and meditation.

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Dr Chapple with Prof. Shugan C. Jain, Chairman – International School for Jain Studies in New Delhi

The UN has declared an International Day of Yoga in June every year. How do you react to that? Has it had an impact on admissions at LMU Yoga studies?

Unfortunately, the summer solstice falls at a time when university campuses are fairly fallow, and when most high schools and some colleges are in the midst of their own graduations and celebrations. We initiated a Yoga Day at LMU in 2013, generally the third week of September. The fall equinox is a much better time to acknowledge Yoga and all things scholarly… it is shortly after back-to-school time and fits well within the calendar of the western hemisphere. The June Yoga Day, though gaining a little attention, does not seem to have made a big splash outside India.

What is your assessment of the state of Yoga in India?

Yoga has been in India for so many years, both associated with sadhus and with the more mainstream work of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda, Swami Kuvalyananda, and so many others. With the advent of new modes of communications, Yoga has become more accessible to the masses. With the rise of a consumerist, health-conscious middle class in India, and with the corresponding rise in stress levels, Yoga is appealing to a new demographic in India. And it is important to keep in mind that simple household pujas are also a form of Yoga, and these take many different expressions.

Generally yoga is practiced in the US (and elsewhere) for its health benefits alone. What is the percentage of people interested in a deeper study of the actual purpose of yoga?

Health benefits are connected with overall wellness and must be deemed to be significant. The actual purpose of Yoga is achieving human freedom. Mental, physical, and emotional well-being are part of this process. Yoga provides relief on all these levels.

Are you preparing yoga teachers at LMU? Is it becoming a profession?

Yes, most of our graduate students at LMU are Yoga teachers. In addition we have offered extension courses leading to Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist certificates starting in 2002, and have trained more than a thousand individuals recognized by Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Yes, the teaching of Yoga has been a profession in the US and elsewhere for several decades. Our graduates and certificate holders are well placed in the world of Yoga studios, in schools, aligned with various wellness practitioners, and at colleges and universities.

A 2016 study says among yoga practitioners in USA, 72% are women and 28% are men. Why this vast difference?

This is a very good question! When I started Yoga in the 1970, the numbers were fairly even. The rise of so many women providing leadership within the Yoga world might be a contributing factor.

Is it true that those who have had a difficult or traumatic life turn to yoga in USA?

The answer to this question might lie in the first of the Buddha’s Noble Truth: the reality of suffering. The acknowledgement of duhkha for many has been the gateway into seeking the solace that Yoga brings.

What brought you to yoga?

I started Yoga as a teenager, having discovered the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Buddhism and the need for nonviolence in the world. Also, I had a back problem that over the course of many years became healed through Yoga. I trained in classical Yoga for more than a dozen years at Yoga Anand Ashram, a community established by Calcutta-born Anjali Inti in 1972 in Amityville, New York, while simultaneously earning BA, MA, and PhD degrees in Indian thought with a specialization in Sanskrit (and Tibetan) languages. I have published more than twenty books on topics largely related to Yoga.

How many students in the yoga course? Is the interest increasing?

A few hundred students are involved with the study of Yoga at LMU each year, including undergraduates, certificate students, and students in the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies. We admit approximately twenty new graduate students each year. We are seeing greater interest with the launch of our hybrid program, which allows distance learners to participate.

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