Vedic roots of Yoga: Meera Nanda distorts yoga - II
by Panikkath Krishnanunni on 20 Dec 2018 11 Comments

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of the most popular Hindu philosophers who introduced yoga and Vedanta to the West, made a place for Hinduism in the cultural map of the world. Meera Nanda accuses Vivekananda of glorifying occult powers (siddhis) mentioned in Patanjali yoga sutras. Siddhis are obtained when yogis practice intensive meditation for many years.


While Meera Nanda has only Logic to depend upon, Vivekananda had two sources of knowledge - Logic and Intuition. Interpreted as Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) by modern science, Intuition is a rare faculty that enables one to know what is actually happening in any part of the globe without the aid or use of modern technology and without the need of physical / personal / empirical verification. Even after many years of yogic meditation, most of the present day yogis and sanyasis do not have this rare gift, which few like Swami Vivekananda had. Others known to have possessed it include Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (Shankaracharya of Kanchi), and  Mata Amrutanandamayi. The list is only indicative.


Erroneous conclusions


In her article, “Science in Saffron”, Meera Nanda states:

1)      “Patanjali has nothing to do with physical asanas, which belong to Hatha yoga. The yoga of Raja yoga is not the yoga of asanas, for which Vivekananda had nothing but disdain.

2)    Vivekananda admits that Patanjali “does not lay much stress on prana and pranayam. For Patanjali, prana is simply breath – air going in and out of the body.

3)     Occult powers are of very great interest for Patanjali.

4)    “Far from being the crown jewel of Hinduism, yogasanas were looked down upon by Hindu intellectuals, including Swami Vivekananda, as fit for sorcerers”.





On Asanas: Raja Yoga (Patanjali yoga is part of it) is a combination of various types of yoga, such as mantra yoga, jnana yoga, kundalini yoga and bhakti yoga. Patanjali includes a few useful asanas of Hatha yoga, which serve the purpose of minimum good health and physical fitness. Patanjali advices that the goal or purpose of asanas is not merely physical fitness, but is a means to an end, i.e., to achieve the highest goal of self-realisation. An unhealthy body is an impediment to self-realisation and here asanas have a role to play. Patanjali is not an ignoramus. He is wise enough not to over-estimate or under-estimate the role of asanas prescribed by Hatha yoga.


The importance of asanas has been beautifully explained by Paramahansa Yogananda thus: As Kuntibhoja adopted and reared ‘Kunti’, so does asana support the ability to invoke the life energy in preparation for the practice of pranayama. When mastered, the correct posture or asana becomes, as expressed by Patanjali “steady and pleasant”. It bestows body control and mental and physical calmness, enabling the yogi to meditate for long hours without fatigue.



Vivekananda, from the point of view of raja yoga, just explained the limited role of asanas, but this should not be construed to mean that he treated hatha yoga with disdain, as Nanda suggests. Food and medicines have limitations. We cannot consume any amount as we like. This rule applies to all forms of yoga. That was all that Vivekananda meant, but Meera Nanda cleverly uses /misuses and misinterprets him to suit her agenda. Just as she tried to de-link hatha yoga from Vedic origin, here too, she attempts to delink hatha yoga from Raja yoga. A conspiracy is suspected. Delink to disrupt connectivity and continuity of Hindu traditions, de-hinduise and ultimately destroy Hinduism. The motives of Meera Nanda are therefore questionable.


On Prana: Nanda contends that Patanjali did not lay much stress on prana. This is far from truth. All practioners of yoga know well that Prana and Pranayama are the central focus in Raja yoga. It is the scientific technique of Pranayama that enables the yogi to disconnect his mind from the physical body and carries him to the highest state of consciousness - Samadhi - a state in which he realises his true nature, “Tat tvam asi” (you /Self are That, i.e., Brahman).


Nanda states that for Patanjali, prana is nothing but breath - air coming in and out. This completely exposes her ignorance about prana. To put the record straight, Prana is not breath, but the Life-Energy Principle that manifests itself in the phenomenon of breathing – an external symptom that Prana is functioning in the body. Pranayama is not breath control, but control over prana, resulting in the control of breath. Here too, Nanda misinterpreted Vivekananda, an adept at Pranayama.


Meera Nanda on occultism: Nanda ridicules and cheapens both Patanjali and Vivekananda, reducing them to the level of cheap magicians by stating that they were very interested in occult /magical powers. Far from it. Patanjali in fact warns that these powers (siddhis) may pose as obstacles to self-realisation (vibhuti pada, verse 52 and kaivalya pada verse 29).


Extensive research using scientific methods and equipment has established the health benefits of yoga, resulting in a big boost to its popularity. Contrary to Meera Nanda’s contention, yoga has indeed become a “crown jewel of Hinduism”. The voluntary participation of over one hundred countries on World Yoga Day (June 21) during the last two years speaks volumes in this regard.


On Mata Amrutanandamayi: In her article, “The God Market”, Nanda states, “Amma, a self-proclaimed avatar urges her followers to cultivate an attitude of self-surrender with love for the deity (i.e., herself)”.



Never has Amma ever claimed to be a deity. The concept of self-surrender is mentioned in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (yama-niyama). Without an attitude of humility, a student cannot gain knowledge as ego is one of the biggest hurdles of knowledge. Patanjali mentions five types of klesha (affliction), of which ego (asmita) is one (Sadhana pada, verse 3). It is Hindu tradition to prostrate before parents, teachers, and gurus, as a token of love and gratitude for whatever they have done for us (Matru devo bhava, guru devo bhava).


Meera Nanda’s analysis is superficial, steeped in “attitude” rather than knowledge. She would do well to practice surrender to a superior god and benefit from the divine grace.


User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top