Learning from Other Religions

Commentary by Ben Bowen King

"Lokah Samasta”
by Miten with Deva Premal
from Soul in Wonder

As conspiracy theories go, the new one about people being “brainwashed” while taking yoga classes is thought-provoking.  Brought to you by the same type of folks who pushed the idea that “rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music,” the new “boogeyman” is something called kirtan music.

In short kirtan is a style of music based on the ancient religious chants of India. Generally the chants grew out of prayers for concepts like “inner peace” and to honor various Hindu deities—not a type of music with the potential to sweep America.

But by adding modern pop music touches, as well as a smattering of sitars and other ethnic influences, kirtan has become the soundtrack for thousands of yoga classes nationwide. So while the rest of the music business suffers, kirtan percolates along via its “underground” exposure in yoga classes and spas.

The Sonny & Cher of the kirtan sound is a couple known as Miten & Deva Premal.  Raised in a non-traditional home in Germany, Deva grew up immersed in the vocal music of India and various world religions. Miten, from Australia, sports a strong pop music background. 

The sum of these two musicians’ talents and backgrounds results in some catchy music. Who isn’t going to start humming along with their CD while mastering the “downward facing dog” yoga pose?

But what you don’t know, according to the conspiracy camp, is that “you’re worshipping Indian devil gods” while you’re listening to kirtan tunes.  In some towns there’s even been a move to ban yoga from the public schools because of the Hindu/kirtan/yoga link. 

But the whole “going to hell via yoga” question isn’t that simple.

For example on “Lokah Samasta” mention is made of salutations to such Hindi deities as Brahma and Vishnu. So it wouldn’t seem like the type of music committed Christians should be listening to while exercising. That is until you flip over to Wikipedia and read that generally Hindu gods are considered different manifestations of the one God.  Hmm…that sort of sounds like the way the “mystery of the Holy Trinity” was explained to me in catechism class. And to make the subject trickier “Lokah Samasta’s” lyrics also ask for God’s peace—never a bad idea in most people’s books.

Speaking from personal experience, I’m not sure this “brainwashing” thing is working.   A few weeks ago I found myself at “kirtan ground zero” in a downtown Los Angeles hotel ballroom packed with more than 3,000 kirtan fans. The singing, led by a full band, went on for over an hour.

I liked it. In fact, I felt “lifted up” by the experience. But I still went back to my regular church the next Sunday. Actually I noticed I felt the same way after the kirtan performance as I do after one of those special Wednesday night fellowship dinners where somehow amid the fried chicken and potato salad everyone manages to sing several classic gospel songs in perfect harmony.

I’ve been listening to Miten and Deva Premal’s Soul in Wonder CD, and I must say I'm entranced by the rhythms, textures and melodies of their music. Heck, these guys even do a version of the old gospel/Rolling Stones classic “You’ve Got to Move.” Of course, that Rolling Stones connection would put the CD in the devil’s songbook, according to some folks.

PRACTICE:    Reflect on this old joke: “St. Peter is taking a group of newly arrived souls on a tour of heaven.  As the group looks around they notice a fence. One of the “newbies” asks St. Peter: “Why is there a fence separating one group of God’s children from another?” St. Peter replies:  “Oh that’s for the (fill in the name of the denomination/religion).  They’d be crushed if they found out they weren’t the only ones God let into heaven.”

Here are a few questions to consider: Can we benefit from knowledge of other religious paths?  Can you still be a Christian and find value in the spiritual practices of non-Christian religions? How fragile is your personal faith?   What do you see as the tipping point  between appreciation of another faith and practicing that faith?


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