Encinitas yoga trial: ‘The purpose is to become one with Brahma’

Day two of the Encinitas yoga trial featured testimony from the opponents’ main expert witness: religious studies professor Candy Brown.

Here’s the heart of things via the U-T San Diego’s coverage:

“The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is to become one with Brahma,” she said, referring to a Hindu deity.

Brown also said there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Children in the district’s program do not chant or use terms associated with Hinduism, but Brown said that does not make the yoga secular.

“Jois is very, very clear that the practice may appear physical, but that is very, very wrong,” she said. “It produces spiritual transformation.”

Citing written statements from teachers in the district, Brown said there is evidence that some children have chanted while performing poses. Judge John Meyer suggested that those students may have learned the chants outside of school, but Brown said it still demonstrates that they have an understanding of yoga’s spiritual ties.

Brown also said there is anecdotal evidence that even conservative Christians who begin practicing yoga and have no interest in other faiths gradually begin to accept that all religions are equal.

If I’m not mistaken, that anecdotal evidence comes from Brown’s own research. (Should we add: Oh, the horror! All religions are equal! And should we add: How to you control for other things that might be the catalyst for the change in opinion, such as being exposed to a more diverse group of people?)

As I’ve suspected, the more explicitly “religious” nature of Ashtanga (the Jois version, not Patanjali) as compared to exercise programs that seem just to market themselves off of the word “yoga” is coming to the front during this trial. I’m not sure this lawsuit would have happened if it had involved a Iyengar foundation or, certainly, Power Yoga to the People or something along those lines. Brown’s pretrial statements for the court focused on quotes from Pattabhi Jois and others about “seeing God in all things” and similar.

Does Bikram ever talk about stuff like that?

You’ll note, for instance, that her quote in the text above focuses on the purpose of “Ashtanga yoga.” The potential upside to this is that this trial might not end up setting precedent about yoga, more generally, being practiced in schools. I’m not judicial expert, but my sense is it will come down to whether the opponents can convincingly argue that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and that the program in the Encinitas schools is, also, inherently based on Ashtanga yoga.

If I had to guess, I’d say the former of those points will be easier to prove, judging by the material I’ve seen. To extend that to all yoga seems a tougher case. It then will be up to the judge to decide whether the program being taught in the schools is more Ashtanga or more “yoga.”

Again, what we saw at the Confluence seemed more exercise-based.

Update: Final version of the U-T story (also in comments below) is here.

Posted by Steve

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

18 thoughts on “Encinitas yoga trial: ‘The purpose is to become one with Brahma’”

  1. it’s like the franciscans giving out soup, no? only the franciscans have learned that as a rule it’s better to let the hungry come to the soup.

  2. I think this will effect anything called yoga even though many types of yoga are far from the more formal schools. If it was calisthenics or some other sports oriented name and sports oriented organization bringing it into a school there wouldn’t be a court case. Jois Yoga is a a place of worship they have a huge statue of Ganesh and other deities all over the place. I don’t see how they can win this the internet is filled with Guruji talking about God all over the place. You don’t have to convince me that it doesn’t make a christian or a jew a hindu. I believe you can practice yoga and if anything it will enhance your religious and spiritual affiliation because they aren’t actively trying to convert you. At the same time Yoga itself is mentioned in so many religious Hindu texts. Yoga is as much part of Hinduism as putting on tallit and teffilin in judaism. We all know it’s beautiful and wish everyone could share in the non violent, non judgmental and compassionate nature of yoga but as they say.

    “Among people who believe that there is only one truth-and they are in possession of it-tolerating other points of view is, by definition, impossible.” – Hella Winston (from her book Unchosen The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels)

  3. It’s basically discrimination. If we’d sue against everything with hidden Christian meaning, we’d never get out of trial. But of course, Christianity is something different and it’s no problem to bombard our kids with prayers, Jesus Christ, crosses and so on… it’s a witch hunt and if Christians know how to do something than how to hunt witches 😉 (and since we’re talking about American – does anyone really believe that there’s even the smallest chance of winning for Jois yoga?)

  4. Separation of church and state. As soon as you bring God(s) into it, it’s over (i.e., crossing the line), whether we’re talking Christian or Hindu gods. It comes down to keeping religious values out of public schools. I feel like Ashtangis who support this initiative are playing a bit of a shell game — Guruji talks about how the practice is a vehicle to see/find God all the time.

  5. The debate about whether this will affect all yoga is in the UTs full story.

    Here’s a link to the full story: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/may/22/tp-scholar-at-trial-says-schools-yoga-is-religious/

    “Attorney David Peck, who joined the case on behalf of the group Yoga for Encinitas Students, asked Brown if she thought all types of yoga are religious. Brown said they were not, but that Ashtanga is the most religious form.”


    1. Hmmmm………isn’t that a bit like asking, ‘Are all forms of christianity religious?’ and getting the answer, ‘No, but catholicism is the most religious form’ !!!!!

  6. I find it incredibly bizarre that there is a witness in a trial talking about the purpose of ashtanga yoga and I disagree with what Brown said. Yoga is not a religion. People of different faiths can practice yoga without there being any conflict. Where is Brown getting her information about ashtanga yoga? Also, why is she being asked to be a witness in this trial? She doesn’t seem to have any particular expertise relevant to the trial. According to her bio at Indiana University, (http://indiana.edu/~relstud/people/profiles/brown_candy) she works on religion in the Americas, which would not seem to make her particularly able to comment on the relationship between yoga and Hinduism.

    1. As far as scholars go she is qualified there is an old post on this blog somewhere from the opening arguments and she makes an informed argument. I think the problem is that Jois called it Yoga instead of Asana Practice. Yoga is mentioned in many of the great Hindu texts but these texts don’t really delve into the asana practice from what I have read in my arm chair position here. “Yoga” itself is one of the philosophical arms of Hinduism. There is a lot of tolerance in the wording and texts which often is quite different from the actual daily life and practice and interpretation. I havent read the most recent court docs but i’m interested to seeing who jois uses as a credible witness to argue their side saying Yoga isn’t religious.

      1. She is certainly not qualified as a scholar to speak to yogic practices since all of her work is on Christianity in the Americas. Just because she is a professor of religion doesn’t mean she can speak to what are or aren’t religious practices everywhere. She is also a professor in the American Studies program at Indiana, which again speaks to her expertise in the Americas, not in South Asia. Since there are many scholars who have years of training specifically in South Asian religious practices, I wonder why one of those scholars is not on the stand. It makes me think Brown was the only scholar they could find who wanted to participate in the trial and make the claims she does. This is an incredibly controversial issue and bringing in a religion scholar who works on Evangelicals in North and South America has no relevance for the questions at hand.

      2. While the debate on yoga as a spiritual practice continues, one aspect is rarely discussed. The purpose of Jois yoga, and presumably the foundation, is to “bring the philosophy, teachings, and values of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois to as many people as it is able to reach”.  So no matter where one falls in the debate on yoga as a spiritual or a physical practice, the foundation is not doing what they set out to do: if they promote a physical practice divorced from all things spiritual that’s most certainly not in line with Guruji’s view of things. If they do believe what they promote is a spiritual practice but in need of obfuscation in order to be palatable to the mainstream school system then they are bending their 1st limb beyond what’s healthy (the bit about being truthful), and that can hardly be in line with Guruji’s tenets either. It looks like the foundation is trying hard to do good, but it’s all poorly thought and carried out.

    2. http://kpjayi.org/the-practice

      “The six poisons: A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In the yoga shastra it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.

      This forms the practical and philosophic basis of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.”

    3. Light On Yoga ~ BKS Iyengar
      6 pages in after acknowledging his guru Krishnamacharya

      “I salute Adisvara (The Primeval Lord Siva) who taught first the science of Hatha Yoga–a science that stands out as a ladder for those who wish to scale the heights of Raja Yoga.

      I just don’t see how religion doesn’t fit into all of this?

      1. That prayer is actually the second or third sutra of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a primary source text of hatha yoga which Guruji knew well enough to quote repeatedly in Yoga Mala.

  7. This could all be completely over in a second if government would put enough funding back in schools to pay for a PE (physical education) teacher and start having PE classes again! We wouldn’t have to look outside our school systems to keep our children in good health. It’s pathetic. Physical Education classes should be a major component of a school day and it would help take care of the obesity problem.

  8. Yoga Mala ~ Sri K. Patthabi Jois

    “Yet we should accept scriptual authority, as the Lord in the Bhagavad Gita has ordained: “Tasmat shastram pramanam te karya akarya vyavasthitau (Therefore, the sacred teaching (shastra) is your measure in determining what is to be done and what is not to be done).” If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter— if we practice without fail, we will then attain physical, mental, and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood toward the Self.”

    P. 3
    “The practic of yoga is not new to the people of india. It is a noble, desireless action, coupled with reighteousness……………….”

    There is no doubt that Yoga is philosophical but it is deeply entwined with religion Just open Yoga Mala again and start reading.

    I’m no expert just an arm chair enthusiast. But there is definitely a difference between Western books on Yoga and those of Indian Gurus. The Western Books leave out God. The only analogy I can think of is how most people celebrate Hanukah and or Christmas and will argue they aren’t celebrating a religious even.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s